NCL Finals 2017

By Nat Deegan.

 

The most anticipated domestic event of the Aussie Ninja Competition League calendar would have to be the annual NCL finals at Ninja Academy.

Several out of town ninjas descended on Perth for a last chance training session the Thursday morning and were still at Ninja Academy when Drew Drechsel arrived with gym owner Dave Ravi around noon. Drew strolled in with the casual style I expected from the guy who goes by the Real Life Ninja and I immediately saw some ninjas in the gym became star struck realising who he was! The gym closed not long after for the course reset.

On arrival back at Ninja Academy on Saturday morning for the first day of Finals, the atmosphere inside was buzzing. A mix of nervous anticipation and excitement. Almost everyone was sussing out the new course obstacles in the Finals stages, with a few noticeable changes in the summary to follow.

Day 1, Stage One (Saturday)

Stage One Obstacles:

1) Quintuple steps

2) Spider Walk

3) Ball and Chain

4) Peg Pyramid

5) Limbo Rail

6) Rings to Cones

7) Devils Steps to Teeter Monkey

8) Small Warped Wall

A field of 55 ninjas took the field for Stage One, with the lowest ranked competitors running the course first. Early in the run list was youngster Caitlin Hagdorn, who cleared the Peg Pyramid comfortably after a few females had fallen victim to it already, but unfortunately missed her grip on a cone transfer, falling and silencing the crowd. The Compound Training owner Clem Vertigan was up not long after, out for “pegboard revenge” from last year. Just when I thought he’d conquered the board, he lost his grip…

Pegboard 2 – Clem 0.

Clem responded, “I’m going to build the biggest pegboard ever!

Youngster Matthew Bowles stepped up soon after to become the first finisher. A mixture of results continued during the morning; some finishers, but a number of casualties were claimed either by the Ball and Chain or the Peg Pyramid. Meanwhile well-known ninjas seemed to cruise through their run to finish; including Ashlin Herbert, Ben Leeper and Shaun McCarthy… seeming unfazed by the moment. The morning session wrapped up with Steph Munchkin making a few impressive saves during her run, but eventually ending up becoming another scalp by the infamous Peg Pyramid.

After lunch the energy seemed to pick up. Locals Cody Thomas followed and Jeremy Soffe stepped up and blitzed the course easily. Shortly after was the much anticipated run of Kiwi “local” India Henry. She cleared the Peg Pyramid using a controlled monkey technique, and made her way carefully through the next few obstacles. The crowd became electric as she safely passed the Teeter Monkey, knowing the baby warped wall would be a synch. Congrats Indy on becoming the first female finisher of a NCL Finals Stage One course! This was definitely a hard act to follow, and with more ninjas including Georgia Bonora falling victim to the day 1 ninja killer otherwise known as the Peg Pyramid.

My run was up after local David Ferraloro who finished with ease. I wasn’t too nervous, I had my plan; but knew I needed to execute well. The first three obstacles were OK, one minor save on the last cannonball and I was safely to the platform and on to the Peg Pyramid. I’d cleared it straight across in my qualifier, but this path was different with some ups and downs. I backed my “ape arms” and used the monkey style. For some reason I switched to matching pegs once I’d finished the up part of the path, placed the first peg down with my left hand…. and just like that the peg in started to spin, I tried to move the 2nd peg, lost my grip and it was all over. The competition continued with Celeste Dixon and Leo Lion from Victoria becoming further Peg Pyramid scalpings.

I couldn’t see any upsets on the cards in the top 12 competitors, with Dave Ravi finishing calmly; who was followed immediately by little brother Mark aka the “ Commissioner”. Mark looked comfortable on the pegboard path at the backend of the moving pegs, seemingly about to swing himself to safety. Next thing I knew I couldn’t believe my eyes as he’d somehow fallen to become pegboard victim #14. He was joined shortly thereafter by Paul Ranger, who become the last victim of the Peg Pyramid, with the final run of ninjas seeing the remaining crop of locals cruising their way to safety and claiming a spot in Stage Two the following morning.

So we were left with the much anticipated run of Drew Drechsel. Drew had looked composed all day cruising around, watching ninjas and chatting here and there with spectators, kids and ninjas. The moment he was called up the platform the crowd became a mini paparazzi with about 100 smart phones focusing on him and immediately hitting record. I realised was in a bad viewpoint for a short ass so frantically climbed to the top of the Academy container for a bird’s eye view. We all knew we were about to witness something special. Once his run started  it was clear the Real Life Ninja had his every move and swing planned to a tee, clearing obstacles in the Stage One course effortlessly. The crossover technique he used on the pegboard was what I was going to attempt, but I chickened out at the last minute… not Drew! Meanwhile the paparazzi were struggling to find a clear view for their filming. On making to the warped wall he cruised to the top, and graciously came down to thank the fans. Dave Ravi stepped up and called “Day 1 … and that’s a wrap, see you all tomorrow, unless you’re eliminated in which case you can stay and course test”. Day 2 competitors were escorted out while I got stay and play on some of the Stage Two & Three obstacles.

 

Day 2, Stage Two (Sunday morning).

Stage Two Obstacles:

1) Tilting Path

2) Ring Toss

3) Hanging Rock to Circuit Board

4) Bungee Boardwalk to Cannonballs

5) Hanging Pipes

6) Salmon Ladder to Swing City

7) Middle Warped Wall

Cruising in at 10am to an upbeat atmosphere, walking in I knew instantly what was on almost all the remaining competitors’ minds. The Circuit Board. The biggest hanging puzzle maze you could imagine… well almost. Competition kicked off with no course demo, as the official testers themselves were exhausted, so it was over to the ninjas to show us what they had. India was up second. She put up a huge fight, making it to the second section of the board but sadly her grip gave way. This trend continued for quite some time ninja after ninja being claimed by this monster, branded pretty quickly the “Ninja Killer”. Finally Shaun McCarthy looked like he’d solved the darn Circuit Board… but tragically fell on the dismount with the key slipping on the final lock out losing his grip and it was over.

Not long after we at last saw a competitor who survived the Circuit Board! Local Donny Byrne showed us he had monkey grip and nerves of steel, finishing the maze and safely onto the landing platform. The crowd erupted. He continued on completing the next two obstacles comfortably with enough time to finish the course before the seven-minute timer ran out. Then on to the Salmon ladder which was to become his downfall. Despite this he received a massive reception from the crowd at the end of his run. Aside from Donny, just two other ninjas conquered the Circuit Board (excluding the Real Life Ninja). Barefoot Ninja Dan Mason showed us his versatility using a leg wrap technique to save his grip moving through the circuit maze, making it across; before losing grip on the cannon balls in Bungee Boardwalk. Local Luke Shelton also made it across the ninja killer and Bungee Boardwalk before becoming a casualty to the pipes. Josh “McNurries” was another “odds on” favourite to make it to the backend of the course. He unfortunately miscued his dismount from the end of the Circuit Board and fell short of the platform.

So once again at the end of the day it was over to Drew Drechsel to take on the course. Again, he looked calm and calculated. I found out later he plans every move on every course he competes on… no surprise really. Drew cleared the first two obstacles and he was on the ninja killer before I knew it. It was evident this wasn’t going to take him out. He had his path and executed cleanly through the maze sections; making it safely to the platform before taking time out to let his grip recover. This was the trend for the next two obstacles. Execute – recover. That’s how you do it. When he reached the Salmon Ladder Drew took a massive time out. He knew this thing was a beast having no doubt witnessed Donny’s run. He stopped, asked the judges how much time he had remaining, gave the crowd a wave… and possibly changed the tune on his iPod before climbing over to the Salmon Ladder bar. We were watching in much anticipation. I don’t think anyone could believe their eyes when they saw what happened next. Drew missed the first transfer up. The dude is human. He was gracious in defeat, and took a minute before proceeding to finish the course…. Because well, the Real Life Ninja can do whatever he pleases. Once again he gave a gracious wave to the spectators on clearing the middle warped wall. Stage Two was over and with Drew’s unfortunate fall, Perth arborist and father of two Donny Byrne, who put off his family holiday to compete, officially earned the title of Last Ninja Standing at the NCL Finals in 2017 and earning himself $1,000.00 in prize money.

Up next Stage Three… well since no one finished Stage Two, the Ravi brothers offered the top five ninjas a crack at Stage Three after a short lunch break. With no demo, Drew offered to take on Stage Three first. Effortlessly he cleared the first two features, and on to the Bird Cage. With minimal fuss he made one of the trickiest obstacles look fairly simple. This was followed by the Floating Doors to a minuscule Vertical Limit where he stopped to give Dave Ravi some feedback after losing grip on a “vertical limit” otherwise known as the cardboard ledge. He continued on after the fall and what we saw next was Drew in his element. A Crazy Cliffhanger with a 180 degree transfer which he took easily before finishing the Cliffhanger. He wasn’t too happy with the distance of the floating bars (too close together… of course Mr real life ninja!), but got to the end of the course… and made the 4.5m (or 15 foot wall) look like it was a backyard fence, grabbing the top with ease. Not an easy act to follow! The remaining competitors each had a crack at Stage Three, most becoming frustrated at some point by the bird cage obstacle. Nonetheless their one arm swings, pegs drop and stabs at the pegholes were entertaining for the remaining spectators.With that the NCL season was over, set to start up again in 2018, hopefully with even more gyms contributing athletes and more ninjas involved.

 

Over to the boss, Dave Ravi to wrap up proceedings, congratulating Donny for taking out the 2017 NCL title and of course thanking Drew for his huge efforts. Dave announced it was “ninja play time”, with 2 clear rules… (as he himself was exhausted so this was all he could muster up):

1) One Ninja at a time per obstacle

2) Run in the direction of the course … DON’T GO BACKWARDS!!!

And before you knew it there were 40 something ninjas tackling almost every obstacle in the joint! A fitting finish to the finals weekend.

 

A message from the Commissioner:

I’d just like to take a moment to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who put their time and energy into competing in the NCL this year.

This competition has dominated the bulk of my waking hours since I first pitched Dave on the idea in November 2016 and to see it come to fruition with the Finals event in such spectacular fashion was almost overwhelming.

While I’d have liked to have seen someone take on Stage Three officially, the amazing crop of ninjas were not disheartened by the difficulty of Stage Two, but rather motivated to figure it out and eventually conquer it.

I’m sure they’ll all be back with a vengeance next season to have their chance at being the first to conquer all stages of the NCL Finals course.

For me, I’m just hoping to finally make it past the Pegboard in the Finals after being taken out by it for three straight years!

There are big changes in the works for the NCL next year which should provide a bigger, better and more exciting competition with even better prize support.

If you own or run a ninja gym outside of WA and are interested in running a qualifier for the NCL in 2018, please email Mark Ravi at commissioner@ninjachallengeleague.com for more details.

NCL Finals

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