Life In The Balance
They say life is all about balance,
but they weren't thinking of handstands and backflips, slacklining and pole-dancing, yoga balls and climbing walls. They missed out, big time.
I'm a wannabe gymnast. I've always wanted to be able to walk up a flight of stairs on my hands, and wanted to be able to do a backflip. So when Carl Paoli, the founder of Naka Athletics and an ex-gymnast who can perform both feats with ease, told me that the former would take a little while to learn, while the latter could be accomplished in an hour, I signed up for a private backflip lesson. He does group lessons too, but if you're a picky athlete, or a competition-winning break-dancer, a Cirque-du-Soleil acrobat, a parkour trickster, a pole-vaulter, an Olympic skier, or some other kind of hotshot, getting your own personal coach is the way to go. Carl's as badass and knowledgeable as you'd expect for a guy who's spent more than half his life competing in gymnastics, and as friendly as only Europeans are. I spent the first half hour warming up, practicing the motions, and thinking about not falling on my head. And then, during the next 17 minutes, I did five backflips (with Carl's minor spotting.) Every time -- JUMP! STRAIGHTEN! KICK! TUCK! FLEX! LAND! -- it was awesome and thrilling and astonishing, and impossible to recollect precisely, because your brain (and your eyes) can't quite process the maneuver. All I know is: It was, foremost, fun as hell. Carl told me it'd take about 495 more backflips to build the muscle memory and neuron pathways to get the flip down pat, and I plan on getting in the practice.
When it comes to monkeying around, nothing beats a big old tree. Second best is a climbing gym. Mission Cliffs and Planet Granite have everything you need to get started, and offer all kinds of classes for when you get addicted. Newbie alert: Mission Cliffs can be kinda intimidating when it's busy, which is, like, almost always.
Poke around Golden Gate Park and the Panhandle, and you'll find climbers setting up slacklines, which are just tightropes made of nylon webbing. It's super simple, and super difficult, and super fun once you figure it out. Still, it's super easy to slip and land on your crotch and super hurt yourself. Also advisable: not securing your slackline to a picnic table.
If horizontal and wobbly isn't your thing, how 'bout a vertical pole? Pole dancers are made, not born -- so pick your skill level (pole kat or celestial virgin) at Pole La Teaze and take it from there. Both companies offer private lessons and group classes, though only one focuses on eye contact and lap dancing, too.
Too kinky? Too fleshy and animate? How about balancing good old inanimate rocks on the beach. (NOT AS EASY AS IT LOOKS!)
I spent most of the summer of 2003 balanced on a Vew Do board, and haven't found a better balance toy yet. The homemade version -- a skateboard deck with a 2-liter bottle of water -- works pretty well too. Careful not to send the board flying into any windows, frames, or nearby TV's.
Once a month, down at SFSU, the Pacific Leadership Institute offers "open play days" at the Fort Miley Adventure Course. Such progams fulfill or exceed your daily balance requirements: tons of fun, cool instructors, creative, and goofy games that make you feel like a kid again.
Good luck, and may balance be with you