Story by Sonny Ganaden
Photos by Sue Hudelson
Ryan Higa is a bona fide twenty-first-century superstar. At 22 he is already the most famous Asian-American entertainer in a generation. You might know him if you’ve ever logged onto the Internet or visited a site called YouTube.
Standing behind a camera before an expanse of grass dotted with fresh duck droppings at Hilo Bayfront Park, I watch that Internet sensation fall flat on his face. Of course, he means to do it. Ryan sprints from off camera to the center of the frame in his now-trademark ninja suit and dives into a face-plant, heels over his head, scorpion style. It’s his comic riff on parkour, the French extreme sport of negotiating obstacles (which he pronounces “park hour”). He’s spent the past few hours jumping off of rocks, kicking off of coconut trees, falling, rolling and tripping on the grass.
This is familiar stuff to those who’ve watched some of the several hundred videos Ryan’s posted on YouTube over the past seven years. He is playing one of his many alter egos, NinjaHinja. In a 2011 video called “The Life of a NinjaHinja,” he sings about jumping over rocks and taking the long way around simple obstacles. At one point in the video, he climbs up to the roof of his Las Vegas home in a style not unlike Harold Lloyd in the classic silent film Safety Last!, the one where the hero dangles perilously over a lethal drop.
“How was that, guys?” Ryan asks, wiping mud and duck poop off of his ninja gi. “Looks like you ate it pretty hard,” his cameraman says. “Perfect,” Ryan says. “Let’s do it again, then try another location.”