Fisherman’s wharf, Monterey and 17-mile drive, Horseback riding on Half Moon Bay, Sonoma Valley wine country. These are all great things to do and see in San Francisco, but they are NOT the reason I went there on my spring break.

Diving off a 3 ft by 6 ft platform held 35 ft in the air, hanging on to a 1.5 inch round bar and flipping off, falling gracefully into the net below… now THAT’S a vacation! This year I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a week at Trapeze Arts in Oakland, CA learning how to fly on the trapeze (yup, just like in the circus). My family thinks I’m nuts, and you may too, but if you’re an adrenaline junky the trapeze is a great way to get a quick and lasting fix.

My first day went something like this:
Arriving at the warehouse that houses Trapeze arts, I stepped into a world of ropes and rigging, dominated by a huge structure holding up two trapezes and of course the safety net. After signing my life away and promising not to sue if catastrophe struck, Stephan (the owner and head coach) helped me into a simple belt harness with two metal loops. I received about 10 minutes of instruction on the basics, with firm warnings to listen to the commands given to me above all else. Then I climbed the ladder. Suddenly I was really high in the air, standing on a platform that I thought was way too small. My heart pounded, and it felt like I had run 3 miles instead of slowly climbed a ladder. Laura was on the board to help me, and quickly clipped a safety line to each of my harness loops. Then with a hand holding on to the back of my safety belt, she asked me to lean out and grab the bar. Surprise, the thin and light looking bar is really heavy. Immediately I envisioned plunging off the board to my doom. Fortunately, Laura knew exactly what she was doing and I wasn’t going anywhere. Slowly I let go of the rigging and grabbed the bar with both hands. From the floor, I heard `HEP!’ the cue for me to jump off the now seemingly safe and secure board into the air. With my heart in my throat I plunged into the air. It was amazing! As I came to the top of my first swing I heard `LEGS UP!’ meaning I should bring my feet up to the bar, through my hands and hook my knees (think back to cherry drops off the jungle gym in elementary school). Getting through that step I heard `LET GO WITH YOUR HANDS!’ Now I was hanging upside down by my knees, swinging through the air with the greatest of ease…. a couple of swings and I was instructed to grab the bar again, unhook my legs, and let go to fall into the net. I did a very circus like dismount and was back on solid ground. I WAS HOOKED! I immediately wanted to do it again, and again. Soon it was time to catch. Catch? Yup, catch.

Unbelievably, I hooked my knees, and this time instead of just swinging back and forth a couple times, I reached out and was plucked off my trapeze like a ripe piece of fruit. Swinging through the air holding on to the catcher was even scarier than holding on to the bar! But I made it, and fell to the net in a roar of cheers. (Okay, it was the other 4 people in the class clapping for me, but it felt like a crowd of hundreds).
Over the next 7 days, I advanced from the now simple knee hang to more advanced tricks like the bird’s nest, splits, whip and pull over shoot. All of them were amazing, difficult, and most importantly fun. Sometimes I worked up to a catch, sometimes not. I got bruised and sore, and my hands started to look like a day laborer’s rather than a pampered business school student’s, but I was in heaven. The best part was taking off the safety lines on my second to last day and swinging completely free.

During the week I met lots of great people, some who have been involved in the circus arts for years, and others who had there first swing while I was there. I saw others come off the net for the first time, and could immediately tell if they were hooked like me or if this was their first and last time on a trapeze. Which category would you fall in? Next year, when contemplating your spring break plans, think about doing something a little weird, a little hard, and a lot of fun. Go fly!

April 2, 2001
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