State Fair revs up ‘extreme sports’ to broaden its appeal

Published February 1 2018
Updated February 3 2018

TAMPA ó According to basic laws of physics, if a person leaps off a 30-foot tower they will be traveling about 30 mph when they hit the ground.

Thatís flying.

Zak Self flies.

But not only does Self fly, he flies 400 to 500 times a year in front of thousands of people, propelling his body off a 30-foot scaffold.

In the air, Self flips, twists and turns, and then for good measure ó about 20 feet ahead of where he leaped ó he falls through four giant bursts of flames.

Feet first, he lands on a 4-by-5 foot mat.

The crowd cheers.

Welcome to just one of the jaw dropping feats performed in the "Ninja Experience," one of several new shows at the Florida State Fair, which opens Thursday (Feb. 8) and runs through Feb. 19.

"I really canít wait to perform this time because I feel like Iím coming home," said Self, a 26-year-old who attended both Plant City and Jefferson high schools before heading off to the Navy and then to the Ninja Experience. "Iíve gone a long way to come back. Itís exciting to be here and be a part of all this."

To be sure, this ainít the old bearded lady and haunted house side shows.

This is hip.

The Ninja Experience, for example, had a version of its act on Americaís Got Talent, where the performing folks (before Self joined) leaped, flipped, broke boards and bricks and got thumbs up from the judges.

From there, owner/producer Kyle Palmer decided to keep going with his traveling shows, several of which heís bringing this year to the Florida State Fair:

ē "The Ninja Experience," offering variations of the American Ninja Warrior television show; daily at 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. | Midway Sky Eye

ē "BMX Freestyle Madness" where motorcycle riders fly 85 feet high and flip and twist; daily at 2 p.m., 5 p.m., 8 p.m. | Grand Prix Arena, Equestrian Center

ē "Monsters Extreme," a mini monster truck extravaganza performed by kids and teenagers; Friday (Feb. 9) and Saturday (Feb. 10) at 3 p.m., 7 p.m. | Stampede Arena.

ē "United States Lawn Mower Association Racing," competitors of all ages race in modified lawnmowers; Feb. 17 and Feb. 18 at 1 p.m. | Stampede Arena

ē "Demolition Derby," cars crash and smash until one is left; Feb. 17 at 7 p.m. | Stampede Arena

"We donít hold anything back," said Palmer, who grew up in a family of traveling performers, including mom and dad who once operated one of the nationís leading monster trucks. "Many of the stunts we perform are extremely dangerous."

Fair officials say the addition of the extreme sports acts are part of an overall effort to broaden the appeal of the annual event.

"The Extreme Sports Series is definitely a thrill for the whole family," said Florida State Fair director Cheryl Flood. "We are incredibly excited to have these death-defying acts all throughout the Florida State Fair and all included in the price of admission.

"We know the whole family will be on the edge of their seats to see the shows."

Flood also sees families enjoying some of the other new attractions added this year, including: Paw Patrol and Rusty Rivets (Meet and greet the Nickelodeon characters); Teen Stars Live (Featuring performances by Disney and Nickelodeon stars); an inaugural dance championship where Dance Moms celebrity Chloe Lukasiak will help choose a winner Feb. 17); Little Farm Hands presented by Mosaic (a free hands-on exhibit where children ages 3-10 learn where their food comes from by picking produce, gathering eggs, milking a cow, etc.).

For more information, visit or visit the Florida State Fair Facebook (@FloridaStateFairgrounds) or Instagram page (@FLstatefair).

Contact Scott Purks at [email protected]