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Flying trapeze school comes to Central Coast

SB Trapeze Co.

You no longer have to join a circus to become skilled on the flying trapeze. Schools focused on the art now operate across the country, and there’s one on the Central Coast—the Santa Barbara Trapeze Company opened last fall.

On a recent visit to the school, amidst the sound of safety ropes and instructions, students climb the ladder eager to attempt new tricks.

Flying trapeze has become a popular recreational sport thanks primarily to Club Med and Cirque du Soleil, which introduced it to the masses. 

“This wasn’t something you could learn if you weren’t in a circus family,” said Lili Gaudreau. “You were born into a circus family, it was passed down generationally father to children.”

Gaudreau and her husband started Trapeze Arts in Oakland, California. Gaudreau estimates the school has introduced 20,000 individuals to flying trapeze since the year 2000—that’s when they opened their current facility. As for fitness benefits, she said there are many.

“There’s an aerobic component, there’s a strength component, so you’re getting a work-out but you’re also having fun while you’re doing it because you’re working on a skill,” Gaudreau said.

Shane Weaver has been teaching trapeze for 17 years. He’s now in Santa Barbara. Weaver said flying trapeze is a full-body workout and an option for all ages.  

“As long as you can hang by your hands from a pull up bar for 10 or 15 seconds,” Weaver said. “You will easily be able to do the trapeze.”

In Santa Barbara, one can see the trapeze rig from U.S. Highway 101, located in the parking lot of the Earl Warren Showgrounds. The rig is equipped with safety lines and nets, and the platform is 24 feet high. Students wear harnesses and sign a release form. 

Santa Barbara local Shelley Rickard saw the rig as she drove through town, so her family gave it a try.     

“I think it’s one of those things that is everybody’s fantasy to run off and join the circus and it looks like just so much fun,” Rickard said. 

Rickard said she didn’t have safety concerns because of the controlled environment with harnesses and nets. 

“They’re always giving you clear instructions,” Rickard said. “I never would have let my 11-year-old go up there and do it if I didn’t feel it was safe.”

It’s too soon to say if Santa Barbara will become the next big training ground for trapeze artists, but the option now exists for interested flyers on the Central Coast.  

Beth Thornton is a freelance reporter for KCBX, and a contributor to Issues & Ideas. She was a 2021 Data Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, and has contributed to KQED's statewide radio show The California Report.
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