“This is exactly what kids think they’ll do when they grow up,” my friend Ashley joked as we stood with a group of friends in the fading sunset. Sixteen of us were decked out in ridiculous camo gear, equipped with sleek light-up guns, and ready to laser tag each other to glory: A child’s fantasy of the kind of fun they’ll have as adults.
We were at Ashley’s Upcountry family farm to experience Maui Laser Tag’s mobile setup. Our “game master,” owner Joshua Harper, travels around the island with a big white van full of gear: speakers, lights, big white obstacles he places strategically for cover, guns, and a screen to check stats after each round. He gathered us around his van to talk about game rules, demonstrate the equipment, and send us off into the bushes with some perfectly-chosen hype music.
This scene is getting more common in backyards and parks around Maui. Harper bought the business in January with his wife, Rebecca. The couple, with two kids and one on the way, run their business in a family-oriented fashion that emphasizes community and fun. And this model seems to be working; they had a busy summer, with 112 parties around the island.
“We’ve done birthday parties, two celebrations of life, staff parties for restaurants like Down the Hatch and Paia Fish Market. We partner with a couple of hotels, like the Hyatt, Marriott, Sheraton,” Harper told me. “We did several fundraisers.” The couple helped raise $15,000 for the family of Tavin Hashimoto, a Kula 10-year-old who tragically succumbed to cancer earlier this year.
“I’m absolutely enjoying it,” Harper said, “and after eight months, I can kind of breathe.” Along with laser tag, he offers arrow tag, and plans to soon add Nerf wars so there are more daytime options.
Maui Laser Tag’s mobile rig can set up pretty much wherever people want to play. We went for a backyard setup, but party planners have plenty of options. “We’ve built a great relationship with Maui County, and we can set up at beach parks, public parks, community centers, and hotels. Any place you want to meet, we can set up. You pick the venue, we take care of the rest,” Josh told me. “It takes the stress off of party planning. We can help take care of the entertainment side.”
At the farm during our adults-only night, we dashed out to hide behind farm equipment, jumped in bushes, and scrambled for cover behind sheds. The first round was Elimination: eight people to the game, and everyone for themselves. We sprinted out, trying to get the high ground. Some slid into hiding places; some went along the back fence field boundary.
There was a bit of a learning curve. Growing up in Ha‘iku, the only kind of warfare training I had was pretty low-tech and involved rotting guavas, so it took me a few minutes into the first round to figure it out. You have to grip the gun with both hands, trigger hand ready and cupping under the barrel with the other. That’s the only way to shoot, but it puts you at a disadvantage – your gun lights up, making you a target.
After several rounds of every man for himself, completely sweaty and covered in stickers from the bushes, full of boast or shame, we came to the van to check our scores, hits, rank, and accuracy.
The next few rounds were team games. We randomly picked up guns, and didn’t know who our teammates were until they lit up either green or red. I sprinted for the hills and dove into the middle garden with my friend Brendan as we attempted to cover ourselves; snipers zeroed in on us, and the opposing team ambushed us. I crouched in the bushes, holding my laser gun down to avoid my enemies, and returned fire. Someone was up on a small mound, sniping those sprinting around.
With 16 of us, We sat out every other round or so during our two hours of game time, heckling from the sidelines and hanging out with Harper near his van. The move of the night went to our friend Kiera, who rolled out of a kids’ playhouse like a tiny ninja with a war cry, curls flying, to join the fray.
The last game of the night was Zombie, and Harper kindly busted out his reserve guns so that everyone was in. During this game, one gun randomly lights up red, and that’s the zombie. The zombie’s goal is to shoot humans. After five hits, a human becomes a zombie, and turns to hunt humans. Harper blasted Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and we scattered for the hills. My husband was the zombie, of course, and he took off after us. Humans can also shoot humans; alliances quickly formed and broke as humans turned against each other. The winning strategy turned out to be primarily evasive tactics. Somewhat anti-climatically, the last human standing had no kills.
Overall, the night was epic fun, and as a bonus was also exceptional exercise, judging from our sweaty faces. Maui Laser Tag is obviously fun for kids, but it was also a blast for adults, with play being an essential but under-prioritized part of life. Maui Laser Tag was organized, professional, and enthusiastic. The owner gave good explanations, but half the fun is just figuring it out. He has packages that depend on the amount of time, players, and type of games wanted.
I asked Josh what he wants Maui residents to know about Maui Laser Tag. “We are a family-run company here on Maui,” he said. “We have two little boys and a baby on the way. We pride ourselves on providing safe fun for kids and adults. We offer the best value for a party environment. We want to give back to the community as a first focus – community first. We want to be known as the most value-minded party and the most fun. ”
The fun part, they have down.
For more information, visit Mauilasertag.com
Images courtesy Maui Laser Tag