Earlier this month at the Ultimate Trampoline Dodgeball Championship, players - mostly guys in their 20s to early 30s – bounced up and down on a dodgeball court made of trampolines. Five players on each side gripping cantaloupe-sized balls, waited for the chance to use them to peg members of the other team. One ball sits in the middle of the arena, waiting for the bravest and quickest team to grab it Hunger Games style.
As the red ball zoomed toward players on the other side, they dived and ducked out of the way. Others couldn't move fast enough. After the thunk of a ball hitting a body, a ref yelled, "Out!" and the targets were done.
"Running On Walls"
Rick Platt came up with 3-D Dodgeball eight years ago at his company, Sky Zone, a chain of indoor trampoline parks. It caught on, growing into regular tournaments throughout the country. With a $25,000 prize on the line, the tournament attracted teams to Los Angeles from all over the U.S. and Canada.
"Most of us played dodgeball growing up, but the difference here is instead of it being played one-dimensionally, on the ground basically, you’re playing it here on the surface and five, 10 , 15 feet in the air and the walls are trampolines. They’re at a 50-degree angle, surrounding the flat surface," Platt said. "So you will see people running on walls, jumping, dodging, falling back.
Ben Lye of Indianapolis was wearing a muscle-hugging, green shirt with the team name Shell Shockers, in honor of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Lye says his training was actually college basketball. Then he joined a court dodgeball league on stable ground. A few months ago, he made the transition to trampoline dodgeball.
"I think we walked in, not knowing the intensity it was going to be and how fast-paced the action was going to be and we were very surprised. And it was a lot of competition when we showed up there," Lye remembered. "But that’s how [we got into it], kind of on a whim, just deciding to do something fun. Ended up falling in love with it."
The game’s pretty fast paced. The team with the most balls has to get rid of them within 15 seconds. Most rounds only last a couple of minutes.
Balls can fly as fast as a speeding car. Lye says it doesn’t hurt to get hit ... most of the time.
"If you get hit in the face, it hurts for a little bit. It’ll sting for a little while," Lye said. "The key is to duck, be small, stay low and try to cover the money maker!"
Dave Kutner, 28, wears a red T-shirt with moose antlers on the front. He’s with the Canuckateers from Toronto, Canada, one of 21 teams at the tournament. Kutner says he didn’t take up trampoline dodgeball until about a year ago. He says people are surprised when they find out.
"They usually ask me to repeat myself. Then people don’t believe me," Kutner said. "It’s hard enough to tell people that I play competitive ... regular dodgeball. And then when you add the trampoline element to it? I mean, they ask me the same funny questions: Are you serious? What kind of balls? Do you play with Ben Stiller?"
A Different Kind Of Throw
Kutner says he likes trampoline dodgeball because he can use the same skills as on the baseball field. A lot of his dodgeball teammates played baseball in high school and college.
"When you’re in your mid- to late 20s, early 30s, there are much fewer leagues to play in and so this is an adaptation of a lot of the same skill set: throwing, catching, positioning, strategy," Kutner said. "It’s all stuff that we emphasize. It’s not just pick up a ball and whip it. There’s a lot more to it."
But Kutner says there is a learning curve to go from throwing a ball on a flat surface to throwing one on a trampoline.
"On the court surface, your legs drive a lot of your power. When you’re on the trampoline surface, it’s a lot more difficult to get your legs behind a throw. So there’s a lot more torque with the arms. There’s a lot more positioning," Kutner said. "You have to time two throws at the same time because it’s not often that one throw is overpowering enough because it’s hard to get the same power behind it."
But does that mean trampoline dodgeball players aren't getting hit as hard?
"Oh, we still get hit hard," Kutner said, laughing.
For Joshua Knowles of the Orlando-area team called En Fuego, the sport goes beyond skill and strategy.
"Since dodgeball happened in my area, I’ve met so many more people ... I would not have the ability to meet," Knowles said. "I met a lot older people and a lot younger people. And I think, like I wouldn’t have ever met them if dodgeball hadn’t happened."
Of course, that doesn’t guarantee a win on the trampoline court. Knowles’ team made it to the consolation round, but it's hard to be negative when you're playing dodgeball on trampolines.
"The loser’s bracket," Knowles said. "But we will be the best of the worst, if that makes any sense."
This segment aired on November 24, 2012.