Story & Photography By Jason Hudson
When I was a kid, the coolest kid on the block was the one with a trampoline. My younger brother and I would disappear over to Jeremy Parker’s house for hours to play all sorts of trampoline-oriented games with the other kids from the neighborhood. With a metronome of screeching springs and children’s voices, we would bounce all day long. We were a gang of grass-stained misfits with one thing in common — a love for the rusted-spring bounce of the trampoline.
As kids, the idea of a warehouse full of trampolines and padded walls was nothing short of a dreamland. We would lie on our backs, stare up at the clouds and discuss with passion the potential of such a place.
“Think about it,” my brother would say, “trampoline basketball, trampoline dodge ball, trampoline tag,” as if simply putting the word “trampoline” before anything took it to the next level — a level of extremity, an element of danger, backed by the freedom of flight.
Cut to 2015, and trampoline parks are beginning to pop up everywhere. Originating in Las Vegas in 2004, SkyZone was the first to open its doors to high-flying freedom. Just this year the unaffiliated DefyGravity opened in the Wilmington area, making my personal dreams of a trampoline-filled room a reality.
Like Scrooge McDuck diving into his vault of money, my excitement for access to 23,000 square feet of trampolines was beyond control. Arriving at the warehouse on N. Market Street and welcomed by the friendly staff, I made my way through a short safety check and liability waiver (in the inevitable and probable event that I sprain an ankle or knee a kid in the face).
The muffled sounds of kids’ laughter and pop music echoed down the hallway as I entered the trampoline church. Initially, I was feeling way too cool to jump around like a maniac, so I staked the joint out. In the front room is a massive plane of multiple square tramps, and a group of girls were running across them, hopping from square to square as they raced back and forth. In the back right corner was what sounded like a very intense game of dodge ball. I watched as a lone, acrobatic 7-year-old was defying all odds, picking his opponents off one by one as he dodged their futile attempts. At one point, to the cheers of his team, he leapt from a trampoline on the wall and flew high in the air, taking out two very athletic teenagers with one throw — very entertaining stuff.
I made my way into the back room, where I found the foam pit. Multiple pits are filled with green and blue foam squares, some with slack lines, rope ladders, diving platforms and, you guessed it, trampolines.
“This place seems pretty cool,” I said as I stepped onto the trampoline, still feeling a bit apprehensive.
“I’m a grown man; I’m not going to make a fool of myself,” I thought. “Sure, trampolines are amazing but…” The surface accepted the weight of my foot and body as it transferred off the hard surface onto the black canvas. The feeling of my childhood, the complete freedom of playing after school, the carelessness, the disregard of consequence, the desire to fly high like a super hero, immediately washed over me.
The surge of energy took me higher and higher with each bounce. I began spotting my landing on adjacent trampolines, going bigger, going higher. I did a flip, I felt invincible.
Then almost as quickly as it began, I rolled my ankle trying to avoid landing on the padding between tramps.
After dragging myself to the side in shame, I had a chance to chat with the safety official about the commonality of injuries.
“Most people roll their ankles trying to avoid danger,” he said, nodding to my foot. He lifted his own pant leg to reveal his ankle-supporting military boots. “I sprained mine pretty bad just the other day.”
With all of the commotion of kids bouncing around in diverse activities, safety is a huge concern. DefyGravity has multiple safety officials on watch at any given time to combat this issue. Balancing the roles of announcer, “no running” police and safety watch, the staff members have a keen grasp on keeping things in order, despite the commotion on the surface.
Safety and trampolines seem to be an oxymoron as I remember back to my initial experiences. Every day, someone was sure to bounce off the trampoline onto the ground or get a finger caught in the death trap of rusted springs. Between all the close calls of back flips gone wrong, it is a true wonder my childhood didn’t provide more scars.
But DefyGravity is by far a safer environment than the backyard trampoline.
For me, it was a chance to remember those childhood moments and share them with a new generation. While bouncing with my aching ankle, next to a sweaty 8-year-old kid and Katy Perry’s “Roar” blasting on the speakers above, I looked around and noticed our matching smiles, the unified feeling of bliss. All of us, young and old, were equalized by the feeling of defying gravity.