A crowd of parents and other well-meaning looky-loos silently stood behind tall, black mesh netting, gathered as a makeshift audience to observe a lesser-known sport none of them quite understood.
Urban gymnastics “tricking,” a relatively new sport to those who have even heard of it, has quickly become the fastest-growing and most popular class offered in the Air Academy at Cloud 10 Jump Club in Goleta’s Turnpike Center.
Professionally trained gymnasts describe it as a freestyle flip with a literal twist, with forward and backward versions allowing the more flexible among us to perform the aerial trick that’s less bound by the traditional gymnastics rules.
A blend of martial arts and gymnastics was the easy explanation offered by Cloud 10 aerial jump coach James Hunt, a fourth-year UC Santa Barbara student.
Seven grade-school students — six boys and one girl — launched into deep lunges, cartwheels and butterfly stretches inside the netted Air Academy and its bouncy 7-inch spring floor before moving to the Top Flight trampoline court to try tricks.
The court features trampoline surfaces on the floors and walls, similar to those on the nearby open jump court, dodgeball and basketball courts and 40-foot half-pipe with a stunt airbag.
“Keep your body open,” Hunt said as kids took turns making the tricky jumps look easy. “Good flexibility, boys.”
Strong, clean tricks warranted a high-five or approving look from the young teacher.
Hunt likened “tricking” to parkour, which originated as a fluid way to use invasive moves to get from Point A to Point B, jumping or flipping off objects. Parkour enthusiasts next turned to free running and then tricking about 10 years ago.
“It’s really its own sport at this point,” said Hunt, a walking encyclopedia on the subject.
What kids can practically do with these skills matters less than getting them interested in exercise at all, said Suzanne Wolfe Jewell, vice president of operations and safety for Trampolines Unlimited Inc., the company that built Cloud 10 and soon-to-be 23 other parks across the country.
Gymnastics in particular has not been popular in this area, something Wolfe Jewell often hears from parents. She would know, having 23 years of teaching experience that includes operating Beach Stars Gymnastics in Carpinteria, where her family lives before opening Cloud 10.
Since the trampoline park opened in its high-ceilinged, 19,000-square-foot facility in February, nearly 19,000 people have come through the doors to jump — a third of them return visitors.
Maybe two percent of kids in gymnastics will do so competitively, Wolfe Jewell said.
“We teach the other 98 percent,” she said. “It’s fun. It’s such great exercise. We get cheerleaders in here all the time. It’s just a stress reliever.
“You can’t frown on a trampoline.”
Eight certified coaches taught six packed summer camps, offered to members who pay $50 a year.
Wolfe Jewell was happy to report just two injuries since the park opened —in the open jump court — and that boys make up at least 60 percent of most classes.
“Is she wearing you out?” Wolfe Jewell asked a class.
“It’s fun!” said 12-year-old Santa Barbara resident Kylee Heather, who added an enthusiastic nod.
The tricking class is so sought-after, Wolfe Jewell said, that another section was added.
She can’t wait to see the response the Air Academy gets after another six months in business.