Morgan Jenkins wanted a fun place to take her then-3-year-old son about a year ago when her second son was born. After an online search, the city of Orange resident found nearby Rockin' Jump Orange County, in Santa Ana.
It turned out to be a perfect fit for the new mother, allowing her son to get out all of his toddler energy while she watched from the sidelines or from the comfortable lounge area where she could keep an eye on him from a TV monitor while she nursed the baby.
"For a whole year he's been wanting to have his birthday party here," said Jenkins, who granted her son's wish with a birthday party at the indoor trampoline park in mid-November.
Don't think it's only for kids. Adults love jumping for fun and exercise.
Whitney Costanzo of Laguna Hills has been visiting Big Air USA's Laguna Hills location since its grand opening in 2013.
"My husband and I love to jump ourselves," she said. "I figured that was better than walking or running — it sounded more fun to me."
Long considered a training and competition tool of gymnasts, the trampoline is nothing new. But the concept of an indoor trampoline park open to the general public didn't come around until 2004, when the first Sky Zone Trampoline Park opened in Las Vegas, according to the company CEO, Jeff Platt.
Since then trampoline parks have exploded into a $1-billion industry with about 700 parks globally, said Platt, who is a founding member of the International Assn. of Trampoline Parks and sits on its board of directors.
But that wasn't actually the original concept at Sky Zone. Platt said the idea was to start a new professional sport where a Sky Zone game would be played on top of a trampoline.
Then children and teens from the nearby skate park started peeking in to admire the trampolines, and the business model went from sport to indoor trampoline for the masses, he said. And it took only a few months to realize the huge market potential. Month one saw 1,000 guests; month two welcomed 2,000; and month three jumped to 10,000, said Platt.
"That's when we knew the business model was gonna work," he said.
With corporate-owned locations as well as franchises, Sky Zone parks can be found across the United States, Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and Mexico, including two franchises in Orange County. Jim Bellino, husband of former "The Real Housewives of Orange County" star Alexis Bellino, opened Sky Zone Anaheim in May 2012 and Sky Zone Westminster in May of this year.
"It's not an overly complex business model. You are not dealing with food or spoilage," said Platt of the industry trend. "You're selling an experience, not a product."
Fitness, fun — and pain?
Of course, the threat of injury adds to the pressure of owning a trampoline park.
NPR, reporting in August the results of research published in the journal Pediatrics, says the number of trampoline-park injuries has soared. The article noted the story of a 13-year-old who in the process of jumping, bounced off the wall, fell and broke both the bones in one arm, requiring surgery and the insertion of two pins.
NPR adds that the study authors estimate that the number of emergency room visits from injuries incurred at indoor parks rose to 6,932 in 2014 from fewer than 600 in 2010.
Even so, the industry is governed by safety standards developed by the International Assn. of Trampoline Parks.
"Injuries do happen," Platt said. "Jumping on a trampoline, like any other activity, involves a risk, but the rules, when followed, are effective in mitigating risks."
Kevin Odekirk, president and CEO of Big Air Trampoline Park, said injury rates "are actually below other active sports like football, baseball, soccer and even volleyball."
Many of the locations have staff monitoring the play areas.
Often, they will be observing more than simple acts of jumping up and down.
Pretty standard offerings are dodgeball played on a trampoline and basketball played on a trampoline, in addition to a large trampoline main court and foam pit that guests can trampoline into, according to Odekirk.
Founded four years ago in Redlands, and now with two additional corporate locations in Laguna Hills and Buena Park, Big Air offers a few "standout attractions" as well, according to Odekirk. Both Orange County locations offer a mechanical bull ride over small inflatable structures that children and adults bounce off as they land on them. Then there's a rock-climbing wall built over a foam pit.
"If you fall, you fall into some soft foam," Odekirk said. "Falling into that foam pit is a big part of that experience."
So is this a pastime targeted more toward kids or adults?
The answer is somewhere in the middle: It's often viewed as a family outing.
Olivia Acosta of Tustin discovered Rockin' Jump in May and has since been visiting the park with her 5- and 7-year-old daughters at least three times a week. Though she tried one of the fitness classes once, it was a bit too intense for her. She does continue to jump once a month on family night, when families receive an hour of jump time, pizza and a pitcher of soda at a discounted rate.
"I always feel energized after it," Acosta said. "Helps keep the stamina up."
Costanzo and her husband, who started out going to Big Air USA for their own exercise routine, now regularly visit the trampoline park with their 1- and 3-year-old daughters.
"We started taking them as soon as they could crawl," she said. "It's a good way to keep your family active."
Added Odekirk, "One of the most fun parts of my job over here is seeing families connect with each other."
At Rockin' Jump in Santa Ana on a recent weeknight, the level of joy emanating from the children running from trampoline to trampoline was almost palpable. The time (wristband entry into the park is sold by the half hour) sped by as they jumped through the various trampoline activities (dodgeball, basketball, jousting over the foam pit) as well as the non-trampoline activities — like a harnessed rock-climbing wall and a room featuring a laser light game.
Beyond the sheer entertainment value, there's the undeniable fitness component.
"Our theme really is competition disguised as fun," said Stephanie Courtillier, marketing director of the Rockin' Jump Orange County franchise.
Odekirk added that at a time when obesity is a problem, indoor trampoline parks are a healthy outlet for families looking for exercise and entertainment.
In addition to the inherent athleticism of spending half an hour or more jumping up and down on a trampoline — participants say they definitely feel it the next day — Rockin' Jump also offers fitness classes for children and adults.
"We use the trampolines for the cardio portion of the workout, and also use the pads and outside benches for stationary upper- and lower-body-focused workouts," Courtillier said. "We encompass a full body workout in every class."
A Birthday Business
Still, it's a kid-centric business in many respects.
In addition to programs like Toddler Time — allocated days and times when toddlers get full use of the space — trampoline parks naturally are places to congregate for birthday parties.
In October alone, Rockin' Jump hosted 207 events — averaging about 200 a month, according to Courtillier. Though most of them are kids' birthday parties, Rockin' Jump also hosts corporate and team events. It offers full event planning and catering, with food made in-house at its cafe, which is also open to guests.
Big Air also offers everything parents need for their child's big day, including food — also prepared in an onsite cafe — planning and cleanup.
"We are a birthday business first and foremost," Odekirk said. "We make it really easy for Mom."
Courtillier added: "Moms love us."
Big Air also hosts events like soccer team parties, where a group can gather for a presentation, pizza and jumping.
In addition to catered parties, Rockin' Jump offers private jump time for home-schooled children that meets their physical education requirement and also a special jump time every Sunday for special-needs children. One of the franchise owners has a child with special needs who responded very well to trampolines, said Courtillier.
But when it comes down to it, trampoline parks are a good time for anyone looking for a unique form of entertainment and fitness.
"You just become a kid again," said Courtillier of the adults who decide to hop on. "It's just a good place to be."
Sky Zone's price ranges for Westminster and Anaheim are the same. Jump pass prices, no matter the age, start at $12 per jumper for 30 minutes, $15 for 60 minutes, $20 for 90 minutes, and $25 for 120 minutes. Parties start at $150.
Rockin' Jump's prices are $10 for 30 minutes, $15 for one hour, $20 for 1.5 hours and $25 for two hours (includes the socks). Socks are mandatory and are $2.50. Parties start at $250.