Michael Glenn has an armory in his backyard, but don’t call the cops. Instead of heavy artillery, Glenn keeps nearly 300 Nerf blasters in a work shed at his Napa home.
What appears to be a lifelong hobby has materialized only in a matter of month. After receiving a Nerf toy for Christmas, Glenn started reminiscing about his youth and started looking into Nerf products online. While searching online, Glenn found the Bay Area Urban Recreational NERF (BURN) group and learned about Nerf wars, large-scale games of tag involving Nerf blasters and accessory products.
“I was hooked immediately,” Glenn said. “It was so much fun. You’re out there running around. You feel like a kid again, running around, chasing people. It was unreal. I had no idea any of this existed.”
Glenn recruited coworker and longtime friend Jake Lake to join him on a BURN outing and the duo soon became enthralled in the world of Nerf blaster gaming, so much so that they formed Northern Bay Area Coalition of NERF (NoBACoN).
Glenn and Lake host Nerf blaster battles once a month in Napa. People come in from as far as Sunnyvale (where BURN is based), Berkeley and Davis to engage in combat games such as capture the flag.
But there is more to NoBACoN than monthly battles. Glenn and Lake have taken their hobby to the next level and formed JLMG Blaster Factory, their Nerf-modifying outlet that specializes in making NERF blasters as powerful as they can be.
“Nerf blasters are really cool, but you can make them even better,” Glenn said.
Modifying a Nerf blaster includes tinkering with the wiring and springs to give the unit extra blasting power. You can also swap in a stronger battery for extended game play. Glenn and Lake also do custom paint jobs to make Nerf toys look fiercer on the field.
Glenn’s painting is so sophisticated that he taught himself how to hydro dip, a technique used in car customization.
Glenn and Lake have also found ways to manipulate the Nerf magazines to carry more ammunition. When on the game field, Glenn and Lake also wear tactical vests to carry additional ammo and smaller Nerf blasters.
“It’s fun; everyone has their own style of game play,” Lake said. “Some people come out with a blaster they got out of a box and have just as much fun as someone who has modified their blaster. Some people dress up. Others wear helmets and goggles and pads. We have one guy who uses the Nerf swords. He’s a Nerf ninja.”
Lake has nearly 50 blasters, but Glenn has amassed a collection of nearly 300 in just six months, buying blasters on Craigslist and from a storage unit reclaimer based in Petaluma, who sells blasters at $6 a pop. New Nerf blasters retail for $10-$50 depending on the model. Glenn estimates he’s invested $6,000 into his new Nerf blaster hobby.
Glenn and Lake work at Napa-based Upstage Productions, and Lake is also an assistant brewer at Downtown Joe’s in Napa. In their line of work, they meet a lot of people and it isn’t difficult to work Nerf into conversations.
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“People are very curious,” Glenn said. “Nerf is something you remember from childhood, but it’s making a comeback. College students play a game called Humans Versus Zombies, and they use Nerf blasters to ‘kill’ the zombies, so younger people often know what we’re talking about.”
Being young in a Nerf battle has its advantages. During a recent Nerf battle in Napa, a young boy found the group playing and asked if he could join. Glenn sent the boy home with a waiver (required for players younger than 18), and when the boy returned with a signature from his parents, he slipped into game play easily.
“Kids are tough,” Glenn said. “They’re small, so they’re harder to hit, and they’re a lot quicker.”
Lake said the physical prowess used in a Nerf fight sometimes catches first-time players off guard.
“Nerf battles are similar to paintball games, except you won’t go home with welts or bruises at the end of the day,” Lake said. “However, you’re getting more of a workout than you realize. A lot of people tell us they are surprised by how sore they are the next day, but think about it. If you have a desk job, when’s the last time you were running around like a kid, shooting, jumping, squatting and hiding? You’re going to feel it the next day, but it’s so worth it.”
Glenn said he keeps track of his steps on his cellphone and averages 12 miles per event. Nerf battles can be so physical that both Glenn and Lake have purchased athletic sneakers, a type of shoe neither has worn since they were kids.
“You just get into it,” Lake said. “It’s fun. When you’re not playing, you’re working on modifying a blaster and testing it out, getting ready for the next game.”
NoBACoN events typically draw 12-15 people. Games are held from noon-5 p.m. and then the group goes out to dinner to hang out and chat about the game. Glenn arms his blasters with cameras, so he downloads the video for the players to watch during their victory meal.
For those interested in joining NoBACoN during an event, but aren’t’ quite ready to invest in souped-up blasters, Glenn has blasters to loan out to new players who want to get a feel for the game. They also rent NERF darts so you don’t have to worry about ammunition.
“If you’re looking to blow off some steam or live your ‘Walking Dead’ zombie slayer fantasy, NERF battles are a lot of fun,” Lake said.
“Well, it’s just fun all the time,” Glenn said.
“That is also true,” Lake said. “It’s just something you have to try. Once you try it, don’t be surprised when you get hooked.”