Park Spy — Spring 2023


The question: I wanted to call ahead because I have big hair, which can sometimes make wearing a helmet difficult. What if the helmet doesn’t fit?

One would think all park staff would appreciate a guest calling ahead to check on something that might cause an awkward situation in person. In our small sample size here, more than half of the parks we called did well handling what we thought was a fairly benign question. The other half? Yeesh.

We wondered if this question might be a dud—as in, too easy for staffers to answer so not a lot for you to learn from (or be entertained by)—but as it turns out, staffers provided plenty of fodder for what to do (ask good questions, be kind, provide accurate information, be relatable) and what not to do (act completely disinterested, make things uncomfortable, not be nice). Success!

Hey! Send some questions for the Park Spy to ask other parks to [email protected]. We won’t tell anyone the question came from you if you would prefer to be anonymous, and we won’t call your park. For that Spy mission, anyway.



First contact: Female.

API: Stated question.

Staff: Umm, yeah. You have to wear a helmet, for insurance purposes. I am not sure what to do if it doesn’t fit.

API: OK. Would I be able to bring my own helmet?

Staff: Yes, you can.

API: Oh, OK. Then I can bring one that I know will fit me.

Staff: Yes.

API: OK, thank you.

Staff: Yep. You’re welcome, bye.

Score: 2

Comment: She was not friendly and frankly seemed annoyed by my question. I could practically hear her eyes roll when I suggested bringing my own helmet—which she should have suggested in the first place. That is, if it’s actually allowed. At most parks, it is not permissible to use outside equipment on the course.



First contact: Female.

API: Stated question.

Staff: I haven’t seen a head yet that we haven’t put a helmet on.

API: OK. Because I have locs, so I wasn’t sure if I would have any issues.

Staff: Well, ya know, without you being here and us being able to tell, it’s hard to say over the phone. You will have to wear a helmet.


Staff: Umm, I mean, I used to have dreads and I could always fit my head in a helmet. My husband also had dreads and he could fit his head as well. So, I think it would work.

API: OK. I will just try it when I come then.

Staff: Yeah, we’ll hope for the best, but like I said, I’ve seen some big heads and we’ve so far not found one that the helmet didn’t fit.

API: OK, great thank you.

Staff: You are welcome! Bye.

Score: 7

Comment: It was refreshing that she made me feel normal for asking a question like that. Relating to a guest’s question is always comforting.



First contact: Female.

API: Stated question.

Staff: Umm, well you have to wear a helmet for sure on the zip line. We do have different sizes of helmets that are adjustable. But, umm, how big is your hair? (chuckles)

API: Um, I just have locs so it’s just kind of bulky.

Staff: I gotcha. Well, we have fit it over big hair before, but it might be difficult at times. But if you can make it as small as you possibly can before you come, that might be the best thing to do.


Staff: But, you know, we do have different size helmets.

API: OK. Can I bring my own helmet or is that not an option?

Staff: Um, we really prefer that you use our helmet, just because it’s all tested and inspected. But let me ask real quick. I feel like someone has done that in the past, but I am not a hundred percent sure. Just hold on a second.

API: OK, thank you.

(brief hold)

Staff: So, they said that you have to use our equipment just ‘cause of insurance and safety. So, we cannot allow any outside equipment.

API: OK, thank you for asking.

Staff: No problem. Have a great day.

Score: 8

Comment: I’m sure it was uncomfortable for her to ask details about my hair, but she kept it light and made me feel normal. And it’s always a good idea to put someone on a brief hold to get the correct answer instead of taking a guess. Nice work.



First contact: Male.

API: Stated question.

Staff: Um. We do require that you wear a helmet.

API: Right. Do you have bigger sizes or is it just one size for adults?

Staff: No, we have a few different sizes that should work.

API: Do you frequently run into people not being able to fit into the helmets?

Staff: No, it isn’t very often.

API: Ooo-K. Could I bring my own helmet?

Staff: No, with insurance we do not allow that.

API. Alrighty. Thank you.

Staff: Yep. Have a good day.

Score: 3

Comment: Holy crap, that was like pulling teeth. Not everyone needs to be a conversationalist, but, dude, don’t make the caller do all the work.



First contact: Female.

API: Stated question.

Staff: Um, can you restate that question, hun?

API: (restates question)

Staff: Oh, we have different sized helmets. We will get the helmet on you, hun.


Staff: And if we can’t get the helmet on you and can’t get you out there, we will issue a refund for that.

API: Oh, OK, great.

Staff: Yes, because I don’t believe in keeping your money if we’re not going to allow you to leave the office. Does that make sense?

API: Yes. Thank you.

Staff: So, we will be able to get the helmet on you as such. Shouldn’t be a problem but in the event that we can’t, I will refund you for your spot.

API: Great, thank you. Do you often run into issues where people can’t get the helmet on?

Staff: No, it is very rare.

API: OK, great to know. Thank you for your help.

Staff: Of course, hun, goodbye.

Score: 8

Comment: Well, she was warm and reassuring. I appreciate her making me feel comfortable and assuring me that the helmet should fit. Knowing she wouldn’t keep my money if it didn’t was really nice, too.



First contact: Female.

API: Stated question.

Staff: Um, for the zip line?

API: Yes.

Staff: I mean, you can put your hair in a ponytail. You should be able to make it fit. I mean, I have never heard of that question.

API: Well, I have locs, so sometimes it’s kind of bulky so I didn’t know if it would be able to fit.

Staff: I mean, we have had other people with big dreads and stuff. So, it should be fine.

API: Are there different sizes?

Staff: Yes.

API: OK. Could I bring my own helmet?

Staff: What’s your name? I will have someone call you.

API: (gives name and phone number)

Staff: OK. Someone will be reaching out to you.

API: Thank you.

Staff: Yep, goodbye.

(no one ever calls me back)

Score: 1

Comment: I mean, really? It’s one thing to tell someone you’ve never heard their question before and be delighted to help, but it’s an entirely different thing to point that out in a way that makes the caller feel uncomfortable for asking. Her attitude and approach make me doubt she even wrote down my name and number.



First contact: Female.

API: Stated question.

Staff: So, we do have bigger helmets that typically accommodate most styles of hair. In the case that it doesn’t fit, I can make a note on your reservation and offer a refund.

API: OK, great. I just wanted to call ahead and make sure so I don’t drive all the way there and can’t go.

Staff: Yeah, of course. I know we have been able to accommodate more now that we did get the bigger helmets. So, it does accommodate most hair styles, but I know it has been an issue for a few people. Typically, there really are no issues, though.

API: OK. Well, thank you for your help.

Staff: Yeah, no problem. Have a wonderful day.

Score: 9

Comment: Nicely done. She was very kind, made me feel comfortable, provided a pretty good explanation, and made sure I knew I wouldn’t be stuck paying for something I couldn’t participate in if the helmet didn’t fit.

Identity Revealed: Zip Lost Pines


Believe it or not, the issue of sports headwear not being able to accommodate those with big hair has come up a lot recently—swim caps, bicycle helmets, equestrian helmets, etc.

In fact, the New York Times ran a story in March titled “Black Equestrians Want to Be Safe. But They Can’t Find Helmets.” API reached out to helmet manufacturers to see if any of them are addressing the issue, or at least looking into it. None we spoke to currently are.

Similiar to someone calling ahead about the weight limit at your park, it takes guts to ask a stranger if a physical feature of yours may preclude you from participating. Be sensitive to that. Be kind. It’s easy to do.


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