Lady and the Tramp
On a recent Saturday afternoon as I refereed my first game of trampoline dodgeball at the House of Air, I realized I have the best job in the world.
I watched in amazement as children and adults bounded around, flinging squishy balls at each other as hard as they could. These red projectiles were slapping arms and thighs, then ricocheting off the trampoline floor and walls. The players were all smiles, but occasionally things got serious.
“I saw that!” I yelled, calling out an adolescent cheater who got nailed and then tried to pretend it never happened. I had inadvertently left his only remaining teammate, a preteen girl in braces, to fend off five thick, brutal men on the opposing team. Oops.
It seemed she would be instant oatmeal, but that’s not what happened.
The girl sprinted from one side of the court to the other, through a gauntlet of zipping balls, and scurried up the inclined trampoline wall to avoid a low throw. She dove, she ducked, and she straddle-jumped. After about three minutes of this heartening (and hilarious) spectacle, she tried to hit a guy and instead he got caught her ball. Then it was my duty to let all the players back in for another game.
You may be wondering how I came to have this dream job. Well, like the little brace-face dodgeball prodigy, I acted fast.
About a month ago, I learned from a friend that a new trampoline park was opening in the Presidio. Five minutes later I was clicking the send button on my job application for House of Air. Here’s the thing: As a child, the most fun I ever had was on the trampoline.
While other kids were watching Star Wars , I was falling off balance beams, ripping my palms open on the uneven bars, and being commanded to squeeze my butt.
In the gym five days a week, I tested the limits of my bruised body with dreams of becoming an Olympian. Such was the world of a competitive gymnast, even if I happened to be taller than most full-grown gymnasts – a lanky 5'5" – at the age of 10.
My misguided ambition prevented me from having typical kid fun. But in the gym, when I got breaks from serious training, I always made a run for the trampoline. That sleek, enormous toy helped me fly, and I wanted to be in the air, twisting and flipping, all the time.
Although my masochistic love affair with gymnastics ended after I broke my foot in sixth grade, the desire to be on trampolines stayed with me. My parents refused to get me one (too dangerous), so to satisfy my boing cravings, I became best friends with a classmate who had a trampoline. When she wasn’t around, I embarked on covert missions to jump on strangers’ trampolines.
In my adult life, I’ve continued seeking out other peoples’ trampolines. With a job at House of Air, I’d have constant access to 67 trampolines at perhaps the most innovative bouncing facility in the world.
I was pretty nervous about whether I’d get the job. But it turned out that becoming a flight crew member at House of Air only required demonstrating adequate social skills. The interview went something like this: Do you like trampolines? Yes. People? Yes. Great. You’re hired.
There were about two dozen of us aboard before the park opened. My first training happened on a Saturday, when we all showed up at 8 a.m., some of us more hung over than others. The near-complete facility was being erected in an old airplane hangar at 926 Mason Street, a location with stunning views of Crissy Field and the San Francisco Bay.
The owners, Paul McGeehan and Dave Schaeffer, didn’t suck either. Both are avid snowboarders in their early 30s who happen to resemble ’80s heartthrobs Judge Reinhold (Paul) and Judd Nelson (Dave). They met seven years ago when Dave’s rental house in Tahoe burned down and he wound up crashing at Paul’s. As it turned out, both dreamed of having more fun at work. Soon they were talking about opening trampoline parks in Tahoe, San Diego, and even Tokyo.
“We want everyone on the planet to have as much fun as we do,” Dave says in characteristic moments of giddiness.
After years of epic talks, their flagship enterprise was coming to fruition.
As we strapped on our blue and black sneakers for a tutorial, we learned that House of Air would contain four jumping areas (three more than most trampoline gyms around the country). We were then led around on a two-story catwalk connecting most of the facility’s attractions – including two large jumping areas, a children’s bouncy house, and an upstairs party room.
We peered in amazement at the 42-trampoline Matrix, which would soon allow jumpers to go on trampoline journeys and practice flips. At one end of the Matrix, there would be a first-of-its-kind trampoline double half-pipe and jumping platform.
Next door to the Matrix, a smaller section called the Colosseum housed a 22-tramp dodgeball and basketball court, where dunking is ambitious but possible. In the Colosseum, operations manager Courtney Walker taught us to land and fall properly. When falling, she explained, don’t put your arms behind you. “Give yourself a hug.”
The only jumping area not connected to the catwalk is the Training Ground, a tall exhibition platform at the front of the facility.
Situated before a retractable glass door big enough for an airplane to fly through, the Training Ground includes three competition-grade trampolines. Each of these beds is accompanied by a harness and the tramp in the middle is octagon-shaped. That unique shape allows athletes to practice aerial moves on a bounce board or voda board – the trampoline equivalents of a snowboard and a wakeboard.
Here’s the thing about the Training Ground tramps: They bounce people about twice as high as regular tramps. That’s dangerous, which means that nonprofessionals must hire an instructor and be harnessed. But surely there were exceptions for employees?
Three weeks have passed since I started working at House of Air, and the physical comedy has been off the charts. The frailty of the human body is never more apparent and hilarious than when balance is lost on a trampoline.
Friends who have double-bounced each other have visibly lost bladder control. Adults racing each other across the Matrix have tripped and collapsed into heaps of limbs and laughter. Once, I watched two children attempt an airborne high-five that ended with a double face-plant. I’ve also seen a 300-pound man try to flip over a mat and instead crash onto it, losing his pants and exposing his cavernous asscrack in the process. (FYI, flipping over mats is not allowed.)
The only thing that makes me happier than these bloopers is hearing bouncers express their enjoyment. Numerous times a day, I hear people say, “This is so much fun.” It feels good to be part of that. Also rewarding: When the park empties out, I can practice my own tricks.
Since I was hired, I’d been begging Dave and Paul for a shot on the Training Ground tramps. But there always seemed to be a reason I couldn’t go up there. It was too early, or too late, or too dangerous.
But on a random Wednesday afternoon, I finally got my chance.
An Academy of Art camera crew had shown up to make a video for a class project, and the park was pretty empty. Paul wanted it to look hoppin’ but nobody had signed up for Training Ground lessons that day. Did some of the staff want to get up there?
At first I thought I misheard the question. Paul repeated it, and I didn’t even answer. I just started running toward the platform.
As I hoisted myself up and rolled across the mats, the air instantly felt crisper. Because it was a totally clear day, I could see the Bay through the glass window. I breathed in and stepped onto the octagon.
It dipped slightly beneath my weight and I stood there for a second, aware that as much fun as I was about to have, I would never again have this moment of anticipation.
I bent my knees and bounced gently, then more deliberately. The trampoline flung me ever higher, making a whooshing sound each time I lifted off. I tucked my knees up, spun, and landed in a seat drop. I did a front handspring. Before anyone had a chance to tell me not to do any unharnessed backflips, I snuck one in. For almost 30 minutes I jumped increasingly higher on the special trampolines, in awe of my ridiculous luck.
At the end of the jumping session, I scraped part of my hand on the bed, and it started bleeding. I didn’t mind the pain. As it had during my years of competitive gymnastics, that torn hand meant I was working hard at something I loved.
For an unparalleled trampoline experience, just walk into House of Air at 926 Mason St., hand over $14 for the first hour ($10 for each additional), strap on the shoes provided for you, and hit the tramps. The facility also accommodates birthday parties and corporate events, which you can find out more about on the House of Air website at www.houseofairsf.com .