Aerial revolution

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A Presidio sunset worth flipping over at House of Air
PHOTO BY EMILY APPELBAUM

Consider the rise of the extreme athlete: generations of youngsters (and increasingly, brave older folks) competing to see who could pull the sweetest stunts and survive. Ever wonder how is it that a person can make the transition from earthbound and bipedal to gravity-be-damned dare-devilry? When exactly is the moment that a skater, skier, or snowboarder just lets go and trusts their body to take them up, over, around, and (hopefully) gracefully down to the ground?

Last Tuesday, I attended a press event at House of Air – the newest member of Crissy Field’s collection of renovated airplane hangars in San Francisco’s historic Presidio – where I was treated to a glimpse of how such a transformation might become reality. Not to mention a new way that a public sports facility can play with its community.

Given the Presidio’s military history, you may have been tempted to think the newly opened space at 926 Mason is home to helicopters and jets. But the pilots in House of Air aren’t crew-cutted cadets, and the only high-tech equipment in the corrugated steel hangar is an impressive array of custom-made trampolines. Every day in this house-of-bounce, tomorrow’s extreme sportsters are earning their wings – and there isn’t a major commander in sight.

House of Air is the brainchild of Dave Schaeffer and Paul McGeehan, two extreme sports aficionados who trained together on the Lake Tahoe snowboarding circuit. Their concept was helped off the ground (so to speak) by former Olympic skier Jonny Moseley. All three use trampolines to perfect their aerial artistry, and could commiserate over the difficulty of finding a facility where they could train with their respective equipment. According to Moseley, who raised eyebrows as a youth by flipping over his skis in a gymnastics studio, trampolines were few and far-between and most were used for coaching gymnasts and tumblers.

Large-scale trampolines provide the air time necessary for an athlete to teach his body to do tricks like corkscrews and 360s, serving as crucial incubators before a pro takes to the water, pavement, or snow with a new trick. But until House of Air, the idea of a dedicated facility for extreme athletes was unheard of. Now, the studio fills the void with over 2,000 square feet of trampoline space where serious athletes can perfect their skills in a safe (and soft) environment – and where, I was thrilled to find, even the not-so-extreme can have a blast.

House of Air provides lessons to beginners and more serious students of all ages. Instructors with backgrounds in everything from professional snowboarding to circus acrobatics use a specially designed high-performance trampoline deck to teach techniques to budding athletes. The center's growing team also supervises two segmented jumping arenas, each about the size of a regulation basketball court, complete with angled trampoline enclosures that extend the bounce factor right up the walls. The facility also includes a kiddy bounce house for the younger set, special event rooms, lockers, and showers.

An average person arriving on the scene would begin their foray into the art of flight by checking out a pair of special House of Air shoes – modified wrestling shoes that provide ankle support. They would then have the option of renting some basic bounce time, participating in an organized game (think P.E. classics gone crazy: dodgeball or volleyball are both served up with a side of spring), or taking a class on the foundations of flying, which is where I wound up bouncing on my visit.

I was a bit apprehensive (read: terrified) as Moseley ushered me up to the trampoline deck and demonstrated a few tricks. He flopped through some sick twists, turns, and flips without missing a beat in our conversation. Then it was my turn.

 

Our intrepid reporter takes to the air at SF's bounce palace. Photo courtesy of Jonny Moseley

I started with the aptly named “butt-drop”: a move in which the trampolinist replaces a single bounce with a fall on their bum and then – this is the crucial part – returns to her feet without missing a beat. After that, I moved onto “swivel-hips,” wherein the butt-drop is supplemented by a 180 degree revolution on the up-swing. For my final trick, I tried my hand at the sequence that leads up to a front flip: a jump, a fall to all fours, and then a forward rotation that landed me flat on my back. All in all, I wasn't quite ready for the X Games, but it was killer on the knees and had my quads burning. I had new respect for the little groms busting board-grabs and aerials -- and for the brave adults who come to House of Air for the “air conditioning” classes and company team-building sessions. Trampoline dodgeball: a fantastic way to build office camaraderie, or at the very least a good excuse to pummel that passive-aggressive co-worker with a deluge of flying foam rubber.  

Final impressions from the House of Air? Besides the sore thighs, of course? The center seems to be re-thinking the role of the public sports facility, from its boardrooms for the business set to its specially-manufactured props that emulate sports equipment for practicing athletes, like lightweight foam snowboards and a tow rope akin to what a wakeboarder would utilize on the waves. Even the layout of the building itself, which makes use of those large hangar doors to provide jumpers with such an excellent view of the bay one gets the feeling that with one wild leap one might land in the waves, helps to make House of Air a unique resource for the SF community.  

Given the chance to train in a facility like this one as a child, Moseley says he would have been thrilled – and possibly less banged-up in the bargain. “This is the way kids learn to be professionals -- without getting hurt.”

 

House of Air, 926 Mason, SF. (415) 345-9675, www.houseofairsf.com

 

 

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