Santa Monica Pier

By Matt Payne

While the historic Santa Monica Pier, located at the end of Colorado Avenue in Santa Monica is home to a colorful, kitschy assortment of clanking carnival rides at Pacific Park, neither the celestial orbits of the park’s Ferris wheel nor the fifties throwback roller coaster are the Pier’s premiere conduits of the adrenaline rush so many tourists to Southern California crave.

To achieve such a rush, one needs to stop just before Pacific Park at the infamous Trapeze School New York.

As its name suggests, Trapeze School New York began in New York City on the corner of 30th and 10th nearly ten years ago. In May of 2008, Trapeze School New York opened a second school on the Santa Monica Pier where they teach the art of the trapeze to both the curious and the aspiring. I fall into the curious category.

Classes, which are limited to ten participants, run for roughly two hours and while walk on’s are allowed, participants are encouraged to make reservations in advance, particularly on weekends, as classes fill quickly. Weekend prices are $65 for a beginning course. Weekdays are $47 before noon and $57 afternoon. Participants are encouraged to wear comfortable clothing. Pants are preferable to shorts.

Filling out the voucher and liability waiver, outside the window, there is a stocky man in his mid forties who takes the trapeze in his hand and leaps from the platform. In a flash, he has flipped, tucked, spun and contorted in impossible directions, ultimately grasping the arms of another man swinging from another bar across from him. He ends the routine with a flip, landing miraculously uninjured in a net below him.

“That guy is pretty good,” I say to the man checking me in.

He casually agrees, flipping through what I assume is acrobat paperwork.

“He been doing it long?” I ask.

“About two hours,” he tells me.

I stop reading a paragraph indicating that if something goes wrong, that I won’t sue.   “I am going to be doing that?”

“Not in the first hour,” he responds.

I finish signing the paperwork and he turns me over to a young woman with the spritely name of Morningstar.

Morningstar, a cheerful, bright-eyed instructor introduces me to two other instructors and my fellow classmates.  Dana, a trim blonde will be calling “Commands” when I am “flying” and Ryan, an acrobat with intense blue eyes will walk me through the basics of take off.

My only other classmates are spindly Australians twins, no more than thirteen years old with a combined body weight of a hundred pounds. I find false comfort in their apparent lack of physical prowess.

Morningstar cinches me into a harness so tight that I am sure she has damaged at least one major organ. She explains that it has to fit snugly so that it doesn’t come off while in flight and it will prevent impromptu flights into the Pacific Ocean.

I acknowledge her point and make my way to Ryan who walks me through the very basics of flight before pointing me towards a ladder leading to the swing and platform twenty-seven feet in the air.

I watch with Ryan as one of the Aussies manages to cumbersomely attempt to get his knees over the bar after his initial descent.  Upon his completion, he looks confused and uncomfortable.

“Does it hurt?” I ask.

“Does what hurt?” he says back.

“I don’t know…. All of it?”

“Not if you do it right,” he says and with that, I climb.

At the top, the view of the Pacific Coast is spectacular. So spectacular that for a moment I almost forget that I’m about to swing upside down from a trapeze three stories high.

Mouthwatering wafts of corndog batter emerge from the original “Hotdog on a Stick,” located at the base of the pier but the delightful smell nor the gentle pastels of the retiring sun careening slowly into the pacific are enough to quell my nerves as I take a metal trapeze bar into my hand.

Once again, Morningstar is there to help me with my plunge. I put my hand into a dusty bucket of chalk that is somehow supposed to make the whole event easier on my hands. Once my hands are a nice corpse-like color of white, she tells me it is time to go.

“I am pretty sure that none of this is safe,” I tell her.

Ignoring me, she adjusts my harness and safety ropes one last time. As I am yanked and pulled, she tells me about a cancer survivor in her sixties that managed to successfully complete each excercise just a few weeks ago. I had just seen one of the twiggy Australian teenagers manage to do it with relative ease and I was fairly certain that he wasn’t even capable of successfully doing a push up.  I have to be able to do this no matter what my mind tells me.

I think about all the times that I’ve mocked people who are afraid of sharks or snakes and I send them a silent apology. Somewhere below me, Dana yells “Hep,” which is acrobat-speak for “go.”

“Uhhh,” I say, for some idiotic reason.

“Hep!” Dana yells again.

“Probably can’t get out of this, can I?” I ask.

“Go!” says Morningstar says, with non-negotiable enthusiasm, and with that, I leap.


For a moment, the Pacific is my sky and my sky is my sea.  At once I am both gliding on ice and tumbling around like an ice skate in a dryer,yet somehow I feel in complete control. I’m hanging from my knees on a trapeze! The whole thing seems impossibly ridiculous yet here I am and there is no stopping it.

As quick as it begun it ends and I dangle from the bar over the net laughing hysterically. My appendages and pride seem intact. I’ve somehow survived and am acutely aware of all of the joys around me.

I can smell a corn dog and it smells delicious.

“Let go of the bar and land in the net on your back,” says Dana. I hear her, but choose to hang there a second longer, taking in the sunset and all that is good in the world.

Finally, I let go, landing delicately in the net and flip my way onto the ground, which suddenly feels significantly more real and while I’m grateful for the solidness of terra firma, I can’t wait to get back up there on top of the world and give it another go.

To learn more about Trapeze School New York please go to