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Hammocks Offer Way to Relax That’s Sway Cool : With Many Varieties, the Key to Comfort Is Bound Only by One’s Imagination

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The lawn’s mowed. The garden’s tilled. The garage is cleaned out--and you’re exhausted.

Oh, to be back in that resort hammock, lounging under swaying palm trees with the soft cotton cords enveloping your body like a gentle cradle, swirling breezes around you, instantly cooling you and instantly gratifying.

Nothing says relaxation like a hammock.

But you don’t have two nicely placed palm trees to hang a hammock from, and your carpentry skills are such that you feel lucky just to hang a plant.

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Don’t despair.

There are many ways to hang a hammock, and with today’s varieties, you might want to have one outside and inside.

“I tell people I’m in the relaxation business,” said Paul De Smit, 47, who owns Exotic Hammocks in Encinitas and who boasts he can hang a hammock anywhere. With flip-flops, beach shorts, T-shirt and tan, he looks like he’s been plucked by central casting for the part of a hammock salesman.

“I can go into anyone’s home and backyard and find places to hang hammocks,” he said.

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He added that his knowledge emerged from his background, when he worked construction during the winter and sold hammocks during the summer.

“The best tool to figure out where to hang a hammock is your imagination,” De Smit said. “Children are great at figuring out where to put hammocks.”

A few suggestions he offered were to string up hammocks between walls inside a house, from ceilings to walls, on patios, between a wall and a post, between two posts, a tree and a post, a garage and a tree and even between cars and trucks.

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After you find a place, you’ll need to insert posts, find the studs in the walls or locate the ceiling beams, which usually can be found over doors and windows.

A stud finder, which can be purchased in a hardware store, is a fast way to discover them. Once you find the beams and studs, you’ll need to install either a pivot hook, a “J” hook or a plate hook and some coil chain.

You don’t want to hook the hammock directly on the hook because the friction will wear out the hammock connection.

De Smit’s hammock connection began 20 years ago after a trip to the Yucatan Peninsula resulted in a business venture with a friend. They bought 100 hammocks and endured a harrowing trip to get them into the United States.

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“I do it much better now,” he said, recalling the trip that at one point had him driving his white Volkswagen Thing convertible with a shattered windshield down the highway with him and his buddy wearing dive masks and using snorkels to compensate for not having the windshield.

“We were quite the sight going through the border,” he said. Needless to say, he didn’t make it across without being stopped.

With his Yucatan hammocks, he was a permanent fixture during the summer along Laguna Canyon Road from 1977 to 1986, affectionately called the Hammock Man by the locals.

“It was great. I would drive up, hang my hammocks up, read, soak up the sun and sleep. When someone would come along, I would sell them a hammock.”

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He moved to San Diego County from Laguna Beach in 1986, saying Orange County had “grown out of proportion,” and he has been selling hammocks full time ever since.

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Eight years ago, he moved to his current location, which looks like a set left from a Jimmy Buffett tour, complete with thatched roofs and hammocks hanging all over the frontyard and store.

“When most people think of hammocks, they think of the traditional American hammock,” he said, dodging in between his different hammocks outside, plopping down into each one he talked about it. “But they aren’t the most comfortable.”

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De Smit favors the one he started with, the Yucatan, which is sometimes called the Mayan because it’s handmade by Mayan Indians.

The Yucatan is different in many ways in that the double version is made of nearly two miles of tightly hand-woven cotton or nylon cord. It’s brilliantly multicolored and can support as much as 1,200 pounds. One of the most interesting features is you lie in it crosswise, instead of the traditional lengthwise.

“We had nine adults in [a family size] one at a party,” said Kevin Olenick, 27, the general manager for Swings N Things in San Diego’s Seaport Village, who has hammock hooks in every room of his house. That hammock stretches to 15 feet across and 13 feet in length.

Like De Smit, the Yucatan is his favorite.

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“I still have and use the one I bought when I was 13 years old,” he said.

De Smit said as much as he likes the Yucatan, which is good for inside and outside use as well and is a popular item to put on boats (between the forestay and mast), it’s not for everyone.

“I wouldn’t recommend it for families with small children,” he said, because hammocks with spaces in them can be a hazard for children, who can get fingers and legs caught.

He recommends the Textilene hammock, which is made of polycoated fabric that breathes like a traditional hammock but is weather-resistant, easy to clean and doesn’t have loops and holes in it. Canvas hammocks also are good for families, he said.

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A trend he’s seen is decorators coming in and buying hammocks for homes they’re working on. The fringed, canvas and crocheted Brazilian, El Salvador and Tropical hammocks are all popular for this use, as are the multicolored canvas varieties.

They are easy to hang between two walls and can be folded up and placed on one hook for easy storage.

Other popular items are hammock chairs, which can be hung in any room or outside.

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“They are very popular with college kids, who put them in their dorm rooms,” said De Smit as he demonstrated how the hammock chair stretches out to a full-length hammock.

Hammock sales have been on the upswing, so to speak.

“This is a product you don’t really need,” De Smit said, “but with the improved economy, people are working harder and want to relax more.”

Paul Danninger, owner of Hammex Hawaii in Fashion Island Newport Beach, agrees.

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“I think people are beginning to appreciate the value of stress reduction and the quality of [their] relaxation,” he said.


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