By Carol South
Special to the Record-Eagle
TRAVERSE CITY — On the slopes since they were 3, Cristina Porter's sons added snowboarding to the mix more recently.
With an eye toward safety, she brought Dakota, 15, and Garret, 12 as well as nephew Sawyer Bak, of Elk Rapids, to the Big Air clinic Saturday evening at Water's Edge Gymnastics. She hoped the class, the first of two clinics held just prior to ski season, would boost both skills and confidence.
The Traverse City mom appreciated the clinic's emphasis on safe techniques for jumping, landing and aerial instruction. Her friend Dayna Ryan instigated the two-hour class and invited the family to participate.
"If the kids are going to be out their doing tricks, it's good for them to be trained," said Porter, a Traverse City resident.
Brian Johnson, 14, honed existing skills and practiced some new, helping pass the time as he waited for slopes to open.
"We're learning safety tips in the air," he said of the clinic.
Chris Cuddeback, co-owner of the gymnastics facility, taught eight students the basics from the ground up. Or down, in this case: His first lessons were on falling.
Starting with mats, attendees soon moved over to the gym's new foam-block pit, which provided the perfect cushion for falling backward from 7 feet up while keeping the body tight and tucked.
Cuddeback worked students methodically through more complex falls as well as basic lateral axis twist maneuvers, with a reluctant side trip into gainers. Students used the pit and a small trampoline as well as a larger trampoline and the TumblTrak, equipment at the USA Gymnastics-certified facility well suited for this training.
Cuddeback drilled students in their posture at takeoff, which provides a strong foundation for a maneuver, and discussed the physics of spinning. Practice and his coaching also helped students gain air sense — being aware of the body and how to control it while airborne.
"They're going to do it anyway, so we might as well teach them to do it safely," said Cuddeback, who will teach another Big Air clinic on Saturday at the gym. "[I taught] some inversions but we don't key on it; there are no ski hills in the area that allow you to invert."
Gavin Mortensen, 10, a student at Central Lake Elementary School, is an avid skier who aspires to master tricky maneuvers. He loved learning all the big air spins and practiced moves again and again.
"The funnest part of it is getting as high as you can and getting the best tricks and best spins," he said.
Bottom line at the evening's end: Spinning successfully through the air is a matter of mind over matter.
"It's all about commitment: Once you commit, you gotta do it," Sawyer Bak said.
For more information or to pre-register for the Big Air clinic on Saturday, call 941-7551. The cost is $20 if pre-registered and $25 at the event.