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Launch Pads

Written by Michele Maciejewski

Launch Pads

Trampoline gyms help develop air awareness, assist in precision jumps, and provide a great source for learning rolls, which may explain why they’re popping up everywhere.

Trampolines propelled traceur Samuel Aylestock to the 50th Grammy Awards, where he bounced and tumbled across the stage with the Cirque du Soleil  cast for a Beatles tribute in front of more than 17 million viewers. He credits the trampoline with honing many of the skills he uses in circus and parkour. “Precision jump is a skill that if you own that skill, you can do a lot of things,” Aylestock says. He learned to own vaults, kongs, and dashes on the trampoline, the extra hang time allowing him to visualize his movements and not get lost in the air.

Aylestock also admires the trampoline’s surface as a training resource. It offers the best material for learning front and lateral rolls — skills that can prevent injuries on hard surfaces if a move goes badly. “The jump to a step on a set of stairs needs to be very accurate, so it’s safer to practice on more forgiving surfaces first,” he says. “I feel lucky that I was exposed to trampoline and parkour at the same time.”

Many on the hunt for improved athletic skill, fluid movement, and solid lands and leaps agree, which helps explain the growth in trampoline gyms. There are at least 140 recreational trampoline facilities in the U.S. alone, 10 more in Canada, and numerous others for competitive training.

Curt Skallerup, owner of Altitude Trampoline Park (ATP) in Fort Worth, Texas, opened his 33,000-square-foot facility in April, and plans to launch five more parks and franchise another 10 – 15 throughout the Midwest and Southern states. Before he opened his gym (which features 220 trampolines and numerous benches, blocks, and side trampolines), Skallerup hadn’t seen a traceur in action, but he credits them with representing about 5 percent–10 percent of the 10,000 visitors who came in during his first months of operation. “It’s a by-product, really, versus something we identified,” Skallerup says. Now, ATP has plans to offer parkour-specific classes.

An increase in the number of gyms around the country is just the latest leap for trampoline enthusiasts. The United States Trampoline & Tumbling Association (USTA) formed in 1971 and counts more than 6,000 members. Trampolines entered the Olympic Games roster in 2000, prompting an “Olympic bump” in interest. Leslie King, vice president of communications for USA Gymnastics, credits the Olympic publicity with a 5 percent–15 percent increase in interest in the sport, driving more people to trampoline gyms.

Jeff Jay, owner of Hardkore Parkour (HKPK) in Las Vegas, understands the rise of trampolines more than most. A former stuntman, inventor, and one-time Guinness World Record holder for tallest stilt walk, Jay opened his gym in June 2012. He wanted to introduce movement disciplines to a city that he says was unaware of parkour and freerunning. To aid in that mission, he added trampolines and a “trampwall,” a platform where people bounce back-first off a trampoline and run or jump on top of a solid wall. Jay used to have his own trampwall in his backyard, and thought gymnasts and traceurs would naturally gravitate toward it. “Once you start doing it, it’s addicting,” Jay says, adding that at least 75 percent of the traceurs who go to HKPK use the trampoline equipment.

Trampolines can be a tool for practitioners in numerous other activities. Skyriders Trampoline Place in Richmond Hill, Ontario, is a non-commercial gym that trains not only Olympian trampolinists, but also skiers, divers, skateboarders, and other athletes. Helen Saari, program coordinator for the gym, says that the main reason people from a variety of athletics come to Skyriders is to increase spatial awareness. “Trampoline is the easiest way to learn flips and then transfer them into another sport,” Saari says.

Take the Red Bull BMX team. A training video of the team visiting Skyriders earlier this year shows riders like Corey Bohan and Mike “Hucker” Clark, legends in their sport, drifting 10 feet in the air or doing double backflips onto landing mats, sans bikes. Most of them had never done any serious trampolining before.

And though gyms like San Francisco’s House of Air may not yet work parkour classes into their regular gym schedule (House of Air offers classes only once a year, taught by members of Team Tempest), the skills they teach translate to the body mechanics used in the discipline. “We build them up, so when they do it for the first time outside of House of Air, it feels familiar to them,” says Andreas Apostol, House of Air’s programs and safety manager.

If nothing else, trampolines are a way to improve balance and burn some calories (Aylestock burns over 1,000 an hour). But the biggest draw may be the simplest and most obvious: It’s a chance to fly.