Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness challenge: Flying trapeze

Each week intrepid reporter Rachel Grunwell will try out a new form of exercise to bring you the lowdown.

Rachel Grunwell's muscles ached for days after her adrenaline-filled trapeze lesson. Photo / Michael Craig
Rachel Grunwell's muscles ached for days after her adrenaline-filled trapeze lesson. Photo / Michael Craig

What is it? A "performer" climbs up a ladder to a platform, jumps off while holding on to a trapeze swing, and does tricks while "flying" through the air.

What's needed? Guts. And clothing that won't restrict movement or get in the way.

The experience: "The first time is for fear, second time for fun," says circus instructor Mike Baker, before urging me to leap off a platform and fly through the air on a trapeze swing.

It's okay for him, he's got his feet on the ground. It's me whose teetering on the edge of a platform that's the height of a two-storey building.

I'm at Inflight Entertainment, a kind of circus "school" and I can't believe I've climbed a wobbly ladder up to this platform. I can't bare to look down. It's hideously high.

Photographer Michael Craig sympathises: "It's not natural to want to step off that height," he says.

But I've chalked up my hands and am good to go.

Mike yells instructions from the ground: hang my toes over the edge of the platform, with feet spread shoulder-width apart, and stand tall so I don't get off-balance. A fellow "flyer" hands me the trapeze swing and I'm told to "over-grip" my right hand on to it so I don't slip off. My left hand holds the ladder.

"Keep smiling, you'll be fine," reassures Mike, who then asks if I'm ready. I breathe in deeply and nervously nod.

Mike yells "hup!" - the circus term for "Go for it!"

I leap off the edge, releasing the ladder and pulling my left hand on to the other side of the swing. I fly through the air screaming. I scare myself silly.

When the swing slows, Mike tells me to let go and fall several metres on to my bum and into the giant safety net below. Phew. I survived.

The second time I jump for the swing, my fear is replaced by a sense of fun, just as Mike promised. I'm smiling and soaking up the adrenaline-pumping thrill of flying trapeze. This. Is. Crazy. Good. Fun.

By my third go on the swing, Mike convinces me to hang upside down, and I do.

And the next time Mike reckons I'm ready to attempt a circus-style trick called a "knee-hang-to catch". This sees me hurtling through the air fast and hanging upside down from my knees. Then in a pendulum-type motion I let go of my knees and am in mid-air when I reach my arms out to be caught by a "catcher", Geoff Mills, who is swinging upside down on another trapeze just metres away.

Mike cues Geoff and I when to go at precisely the right time for Geoff to catch me in mid-air. It's all about timing.

Geoff catches me and I'm buzzing. Wow. I actually did that? What's more, I managed to do it again!

In-between each of my attempts on the swing, I watch members of the group I'm with take their turns. They include computer whiz Geoff (my mid-air catcher) and three women, whose occupations vary from podiatry to exercise instruction. Annie Minton is in her 50s and is inspirationally lithe.

It's incredible watching them twist, turn and try different tricks.

Mike guides each of us through every attempt on the swing and watches like a hawk to make sure we're all safe. He too is attached to each "flyer" via ropes and each flyer wears a harness in case of a fall.

After a 17-year career, Mike is an expert on the trapeze. He learned how to do tricks in America and enjoyed it so much he wanted to bring the entertainment here for Kiwis to try. Bringing the giant net into New Zealand via excess luggage, a customs officer asked him what kind of fish he hoped to catch. He told the man "actually I hope to catch people". It took some time to convince the man that Mike was not fibbing ...

Mike says he gets a buzz out of helping Aucklanders to "fly".

I reckon that's the craziest and coolest thing I've ever done.

How much? $35 (90-minute lesson).

Worth it? Amazing fun, great workout. My core and biceps ached for days afterwards (I could barely lift an arm to brush my teeth).

Try it: Contact Mike at mike@inflight.net.nz or check out inflight.net.nz. The training venue is at The Waitakere Gymnastics Stadium, Portage Rd, New Lynn.

Rating: 10/10

- Herald on Sunday

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