For those yearning to defy gravity and tame their fear of heights, here's a Christmas wish list item: flying trapeze lessons on Maui.
Founded three years ago in Seattle, Emerald City Trapeze Arts has launched a flying trapeze and aerial arts facility in West Maui. Using sledgehammers, workers pounded stakes into lava rock to anchor a $20,000 flying trapeze rig at 111 Ulupono St., mauka of Walgreen's and the Lahaina Gateway Shopping Center and near Star Noodle restaurant.
"It's not really a ride," said Hoku Kirkland, Emerald City Maui director and aerialist, last weekend while instructors and performers worked on their technique - swinging and tumbling from the flying trapeze two stories off the ground, finally falling into a 10-by-50-foot safety net.
Chris Johnston returns to the trapeze after a catch and release by Brian Flint
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"It's really something you have to do, the trick at the end of the day," she said. "It's very rewarding as you learn things and you progress and you make them happen. It's an exciting thing and addictive."
A flying trapeze class takes about two hours and costs $129 for visitors and $90 (for the first class) for residents, Kirkland said. There are "frequent flyer" discounts for residents who want to pursue training on the flying trapeze.
"We want the people here who may feel that flying trapeze is a hobby for them, (for it) to be an affordable activity," she said.
Kirkland, 28, who has been training as an aerialist for nearly three years at her father's business in Seattle, moved to Lahaina about three weeks ago to set up the new business.
Students wear harnesses, and instructors use safety lines to control descent and to prevent novices from taking hard falls, she said. While students build trust in their instructors, they develop self-confidence and greater upper-body and core strength.
"It's a great workout," said Kirkland, who relies on strength and flexibility to lead to more advanced tricks.
"I never really got in shape until I found circus because it gave me a reason to be in shape," she said. "As you get in shape, you can do more things, bigger tricks and it stays interesting and exciting.
"In circus, you're always looking at the people that are better. There's always bigger tricks and higher tricks and more strength and more flexibility. There's always somewhere to go," she said.
Kirkland said working on the flying trapeze is both a sport and an art form.
"Trapeze and aerial arts are where sport meets art because it's not born out of a competitive nature, like gymnastics or martial arts," she said. "It's really born out of a show, a performance. There's a lot of attention to the detail and the appearance of all of it."
And, "it's a lot of work, too," she said. While performers appear to do tricks with ease, as if it's second nature, that only comes with body control and strength and many hours of practice.
"The work that we do on the trapeze and off the trapeze is what it takes to make that happen," she said. "When it does, it's a thrill."
Seattle resident and chief instructor Brian Flint, 48, said he became addicted to the flying trapeze when he was introduced to it 16 years ago while working as a windsurfing instructor at a Club Med resort in the Turks and Caicos Islands in the West Indies.
"You kind of get addicted to the adrenaline rush," he said. "It's one of those adrenaline sports like sky diving and bungee jumping."
But there's more to the flying trapeze than just falling, he said.
"You've got to use your body to create some movement. That's where the artistic part comes in," he said.
Flint trained with world-class flier Richie Gaona in Los Angeles for four years and another year with Tony Steele at Trapeze High in San Diego, according to his online biography. His professional debut came in 2004 with the flying Casares at Monumental Circo in Portugal. Later that year, he became a Cirque du Soleil apprentice. And, in 2009, he was cast in Cirque du Soleil's Mystere show in Las Vegas as a catcher for the aerial high bar act.
Flint said he expects to remain on Maui three to four months for Emerald City's "first rotation" of instructors, then return to Seattle.
He acknowledged that there is risk involved in working on the flying trapeze, but safety and accomplishment come from the "discipline in the physicality and knowing what you're doing up there."
"Being focused is a big part of it," Flint said.
Kirkland said the new business was registered online with the state a couple of weeks ago and has a $1 million insurance policy.
Starting a flying trapeze school in Seattle was the dream of Kirkland's father, Gary Kirkland, who retired after a career as an entrepreneur and as a sales representative in the backup power industry, she said.
"He became the biggest fan of flying trapeze that I've ever seen," she said. "He does do trapeze. He catches. He teaches. . . . He started this school in Seattle just out of love of trapeze, and he has a dream to make it the best school he can make it."
After the school became established in Seattle, the business began seeking an outdoor location to expand "because flying trapeze outdoors is where it's really meant to be," Kirkland said.
So, Hawaii became Emerald City's first outreach location.
"Maui is a beautiful island with decent tourism," she said. "We want enough traffic to be able to support the business."
The Big Island appeared to be too slow, and Oahu was too busy, she said. "We like the more laid-back feel, more relaxed."
As the business grows, there are plans to do performances, incorporating Polynesian themes and working with local performers, Kirkland said.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.