Or at least, the US does. Why don’t things like this exist? Adults like to have fun as much as kids do, although maybe the urge to play has either died down naturally or been repressed by responsibilities. Playgrounds are a great way for kids to run, jump, and get some exercise while enjoying themselves, but what like that exists for adults? If you want fun, it’s usually either expensive or relatively sedentary like walking or hiking. If you want cheap exercise … lace up those running shoes. (And I don’t deny that some people gain enjoyment from running, but I sure don’t.)
I’d never even thought about this point – that there’s free, fun exercise equipment for kids all over the place, but nothing similar for grownups – until our recent trip to Heerenveen, in the Netherlands, and discovered that such a thing actually exists. Right in downtown Heerenveen, there’s a park with ….
a Sky Surfer!
According to their website, the company mostly makes playground equipment for kids; but the Sky Surfer is an adult-sized item that is supposed to mimic the feel and experience of windsurfing. I don’t know about that, having never windsurfed, but it sure was fun.
Jonathan has talked about sky surfer in Heerenveen for years, and when my dad was there alone with him two years ago they tried it out together; mom and Ryan had also gotten a shot at it before we’d arrived, so John and I were the only newbies. I bravely (and excitedly) volunteered to ride first. (And since I was on the sky surfer, the following photos were taken by Jonathan.)
If I’d seen Ryan’s mischievous face, I might not have been so eager.
So here’s how it works. One person stands on a platform on one end, holding on to the handles, and the other person begins to push them around.
The axis of rotation is tilted slightly off the vertical, so you’re being pushed upward, while the handlebars at the other end of the beam move closer to the ground. The person on the ground pushes the person on the platform one entire rotation to build up some momentum, then waits for the handlebars to swing around in his direction as the platform-rider swings upward again.
When the handlebars reach the lowest point, he grabs them and runs until his feet no longer touch the ground. At that point he can swing, pull, twist, spin around in the air – the handlebars rotate freely, so the hanger can do whatever he or she likes until they’ve reached the low end of the rotation again, when it’s time to run, then swing, then run, then swing, as the rider on the other side hangs on for dear life.
It’s fun at first…
But if you have a very vigorous runner and swinger on the handlebar end, it gets a little scary.
I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to wrap your entire legs around the post, but whatever. Better to look ridiculous than die, I always say.
After Ryan was tired out and I was exhausted from terror, John wanted to give it a try; he was braver than me, though, and started out on the handles while Ryan rode the platform. I think they give a better sense of how it’s actually supposed to work.
Here’s John first catching the handlebars:
Then as he swings around, Ryan’s actually leaning out, fulfilling the sky surfer’s windsurfing-emulation goal.
See? He’s not holding on for dear life, but still managed to survive.
I probably should have taken a page out of his book. Leaning backward like that increases his moment of inertia, and should actually reduce the rotational velocity a little. Clinging to the center post, if anything, probably made my ride faster.
Here’s a full rotation, as it ought to go. John runs …
… reaches the point at which he has to jump …
… flies off the ground and swings around as Ryan sky surfs …
… until he reaches the point where he can reach the ground, and touches down to begin running again.
I have a lot more pictures, but I don’t want to clog up this post; I think I’ll put up a second one later with more of the sky surfing photos. But you get the idea for now – it’s tremendous fun and pretty good exercise. The accompanying sign says that it’s twice as efficient as running – i.e. if you play on the sky surfer for 10 minute’s you’ve gotten the equivalent amount of exercise as running for 20 minutes. Better yet, it’s exhilarating riding on the platform (when you’re not worrying about falling off) and great fun spinning and twirling, hanging off the handles also. It’s good entertainment for the observers, too; I’m pretty sure I and the rest of my family burned a good handful of calories laughing at my first few attempts on the handlebar end.
So why do you think things like this don’t exist in the US? Liability issues? (But if so, why not add warning signs like on unsupervised swimming pools?)
Would you play on the Sky Surfer if there were one in your neighborhood?