A spike in trampoline injuries the past two years has WorkSafe inspectors visiting parks across the country, including those in the Bay of Plenty. The inspections follow an accident earlier this month in Christchurch, where a teenage boy suffered serious spinal injuries at Mega Air Trampoline Arena. 48 Hours reporter Dawn Picken spoke with trampoline users, coaches, doctors, parents and park owners to learn more about how the sport can keep its thrills while minimising harm.

Jumpers and Supporters

A wide grin spreads across Max Prizgintas' face as he jumps high, higher, higher ... the 12-year-old has two large trampolines against his house in Otumoetai.

He bounces from one to the other, then performs a back flip 720: a back flip with two full twists before landing.

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"Just being in the air makes me feel like I'm flying," he tells me afterwards.

I've brought my own tramp-mad child, 11-year-old Finley, to the Prizgintas' home so he can learn new tricks from a more experienced bouncer.

His mother, Diana Prizgintas, says she bought Max his first trampoline for his second birthday back in their native California.

When they moved to Tauranga three years ago, the family set up three trampolines.

"When he films in slow-motion, the look of bliss on his face when he's mid-air upside down is so cool."

Mrs Prizgintas says Max learns tricks watching YouTube and friends, and even though she says the sport can be dangerous, she prefers her son play on a sheet of material rather than on a rugby pitch.

"That's running towards a traumatic brain injury."

Mrs Prizgintas says Max's hardest hit was when he landed on an inflatable mattress at a tramp park.

"He went unconscious for a couple seconds ... he doesn't appear to have any long-lasting consequences, but it was pretty scary."

She says most of Max's injuries happen when his legs hit his face.

While Max prefers free-styling, other Bay of Plenty athletes are packing trampoline classes and competitions.

Photo/Supplied.
Photo/Supplied.

Eleven-year-old Jasmine Watene competes in age group tumbling and uses a trampoline to train.

The Aquinas College Year 7 student participated in tumbling nationals in September, coming fourth equal.

"I love it because you get to try new skills and meet new people and work hard," she says. Mum, Charly, says her daughter's coaches mitigate risk.

"They're teaching them to be safe in what they do. You don't start by doing a back flip ... it's elements and breaking down the elements of the sport. Jasmine does 14 hours of gymnastics a week. With that much physical activity, there's gonna be injury."

Argos gymnastics trampoline coach Sarah MacDuff, who coaches Jasmine, says skill progression is important for safety. So is spatial awareness.

"The element of danger would come not so much from [the athletes] but from other people walking in front of them, because once you start a skill, you can't stop."

The club manager at Argos says trampoline classes are nearly at capacity, with 60 children taking part during this term. Class size is limited to eight students.

Tramp Parks Popular Option

I watch with Mrs Prizgintas at Dialled Indoor Trampoline Park in Mount Maunganui as 50 to 60 children bounce on tramps, from high mats, into the foam pit or fall from a low-slung tightrope onto an inflated pad.

A young boy tries a double flip from a trampoline on to a padded mat.

"See, he landed on his head," says Mrs Prizgintas. "That makes it a one and-a-half."

The boy springs up to bounce again.

WorkSafe New Zealand, responding to a 48 Hours inquiry, reports nine separate incidents classified as "serious harm notification" or "notifiable injury or illness" (the classification changed during the reporting period) between January 1, 2015 and October 24.

A notifiable injury is defined on WorkSafe's website as "Any injury that requires [or would usually require] the person to be admitted to hospital for immediate treatment".

Dialled owner Kel Travers, who plans to open a new trampoline/entertainment venue in Rotorua next month, has franchised other tramp parks in Wellington and Manukau.

He says his business has never seen a life-threatening or life-changing accident, and that several incidents involved patrons with pre-existing medical conditions.

"Ninety-nine per cent are fine, but we don't take a risk. We keep them where they are and let the ambulance people decide," Mr Travers said.

He says one in 10,000 jumpers have a serious injury in the park and feels tramp businesses are not the place for tricks.

"A few do double flips if approved by me, but no triples." Dialled offers jump classes, as well.

Flip Out Trampoline Arena opened in Tauriko in May.

Flip Out is an Australian-based franchise with dozens of locations globally.

The purpose-built facility on Taurikura Drive includes two Olympic-sized trampolines, a kids' arena, two tumble tracks and a main area with about 40 trampolines.

Owner Peter Grimshaw says double flips are not allowed during regular sessions.

"We have Ninja classes which teaches kids how to do double flips. For the general public, we have rules which only allow a single flip into the foam pit." He says around 110 children are taking classes at Flip Out this school term.

The sessions also teach young ones how to perform tricks safely and how to bail out of tricks when necessary.

"So when they're doing flips at home on the tramp, hopefully they'll remember some skills they've learnt."

Doctor's advice

It's tough to pinpoint how many Bay children are injured on trampolines.

Clinical Director for Emergency Medicine for the Bay of Plenty District Health Board Derek Sage says he can't quantify trampoline injuries locally because staff don't code where accidents occurred.

ACC released trampoline-related injuries to 48 Hours (see graphic) but a spokeswoman says the organisation's reporting format also does not require an event location.

Dr Sage says trampoline injuries are not unexpected and usually involve head injuries, broken wrists, bumps and cuts.

"I can't recall anyone coming through making adverse comments about tramps or being injured and needing neurosurgery or needing major surgery ... in the grand scheme of things, they probably haven't created havoc for us."

The doctor says any new venue such as a tramp park or ice skating rink usually sees a lot of injuries early on, but those reduce after time to a "baseline level".

Dr Sage says his own children play on a trampoline at the family's home. He says no one in the community has flagged trampolines as an issue.

"We see injuries from lots of different sports. We wouldn't want kids to stop ... the last thing I want to do is be labelled a killjoy."

Lakes DHB Clinical Director and Acting Emergency Department Head Peter Freeman says: "I don't have a good feel for numbers as they are relatively infrequent. What I would say is that new spring-less enclosed trampolines are much safer. Falling off an open trampoline causes the most injuries, like broken wrists in children."

Christchurch emergency doctors reported 28 injuries in just two months from indoor trampoline parks in the city, including two people who broke their necks, according to a recent report in the Herald.

Mr Travers says: "Tramp parks are opening left, right and centre and anyone with no experience can own and operate a tramp park ... I'm 100 per cent confident we're fine, but we'll go through the process to comply with what Worksafe need."


WorkSafe Tramp Tour

New Zealand's health and safety watchdog has launched a nationwide initiative aimed at tramp parks across New Zealand.

WorkSafe assessment inspectors last week started visiting trampoline parks to ensure the businesses meet obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

General Manager Operations and Specialist Services Brett Murray says: "We will be reminding the operators that they have a requirement to notify WorkSafe of health and safety-related incidents. WorkSafe is aware that there has been a spike in injuries relating to trampolines since 2014 when the commercial trampoline park industry began to expand. Part of the proactive visit programme is to get a clearer picture on this emerging industry to help define what, if any, follow-up action may be required."

In addition to educating businesses about health and safety obligations, Mr Murray says Worksafe wants to take a closer look at designers and installers of parks to ensure they're managing risks for staff and users.

Flip Out's Mr Grimshaw says New Zealand has no trampoline park standards, which WorkSafe NZ is trying to fix.

"We are willing to assist them in creating a New Zealand standard."