Finding your takeoff

Flying trapeze works a bit like a line of dominoes. In order to make them fall in the pleasing pattern you want, you need to set them up carefully because each domino is affected by the one before it. If the first domino is off slightly, the effect can ripple through the rest of them, changing the overall pattern. In the domino pattern that is your swing or, more significantly, your trick (whatever trick you may be doing), the first domino is your takeoff.

A ‘good’ takeoff positions you well for what comes next. In the case of the swing or backend tricks, this means preparing your body for an effective and well-timed sweep. Even for set tricks and the knee-hang, your body position immediately after your takeoff can have an impact on how easy or how hard it is to get into your ‘first position’. Bottom line: your body position at the moment you hop off the board is the first domino. It affects everything that follows it.

So what is ‘good body position’? The takeoff happens at the ‘back peak’ of the swing. Before you begin to descend—or go ‘down the hill’ as we say—your body should be positioned such that your head is in a neutral position (relative to your torso) and your torso should be as close to perpendicular to the ground as possible. You could even think of being leaned back and away from the bar a little. A common pitfall is allowing your torso to angle forward, facing ‘down the hill’. Your feet (and legs) should end up slightly forward, creating a ‘seven-like’ position.

The rationale for this is that you want your feet to be leading the way ‘down the hill’. If your torso is angled forward at the moment of the takeoff, you run the risk of your chest leading you into your sweep, instead of your feet and legs. This reduces your ability to effectively sweep, which in turn, takes away from the overall height of your swing. Remember: height is good.

In the early stages of learning a one-handed takeoff, flyers often overlook the importance of ‘lifting’ the bar. Lifting the bar to at least eye-level is the key to maintaining your upright torso position. Quite often, people will angle themselves forward as they reach their second hand out for the bar. Again, this changes the position of your torso and takes away from your ability to sweep. One suggestion for overcoming this tendency is to think of lifting the bar up to reach your second hand, rather than your second hand reaching for the bar.

This, of course, brings us to the rub: finding a way to position yourself on the board so that you feel able to lift the bar while keeping your head and chest upright. “Lift, hop and grab” is an oft-repeated mantra for the take-off. But how to ‘lift’ (the bar)? Everyone’s body is different, so where to position your feet and your hands will vary from person to person. What follows are some general guidelines (building your start position from the bottom up):

Your feet:

  • A wider stance will provide you with a greater sense of stability
  • Balance this with the knowledge that going too wide makes you shorter—and thus makes it harder to reach the bar
  • Standing an inch or two (that’s all) closer to the left rise arm can make life easier for those who are not-so-tall

Your left hand on the riser ladder (or cable):

  • Aim for somewhere between ear height and shoulder height
  • The lower you grab, the more you’ll lean forward initially (which can feel weird), but it also allows you to bend your knees more in preparation for your hop

Your right hand on the bar

  • The goal is to end up centered on the bar
  • The closer to the center of the bar you grab, the easier it is to lift it
  • Depending on the trick you’re about to do, you’ll need to move your hand further out

With all of these, please note that it takes some experimentation to find what works for you. Ask an instructor to help you find the stance that works for you.

Once you’re in position, try not to think of lifting the bar solely with your right arm. Lifting the bar is a whole-body affair. Bend your knees to swing (push) the bar down and away. It’s ok if your torso angles forward as you bend your knees in preparation. Pull back on the riser ladder with your left arm as you hop up and back. Think of squatting and then standing back up with the help of the riser ladder. As you do all of this, pull on the bar. Pull it back towards you (which, given the way pendulums work, means it comes up as well). Keep your head up the whole time. As the bar and your body come up with your hop, watch the bar come up to meet your left hand. Bring your feet (slightly) forward, snap your legs together, squeeze your butt muscles and get ready for what comes next!