They are an interesting sight in an otherwise dark and empty gymnasium.
East Chilliwack elementary school students Payton Kind and Haley Vermeer have taken time out of their busy days to show your friendly neighborhood sports reporter what they can do with a jump-rope, and they are impressive.
After a few warmup hops, they’re right into it.
The jump-ropes fly left, right, up and down — far faster than untrained eyes can follow.
Comparisons are hard to conjure.
They resemble the Tasmanian Devil of Bugs Bunny fame, bundles of frenetic motion best viewed at a distance. Perhaps an exploding can of Silly String, a balloon that has had the air let out of it or a hummingbird that got into someone’s expresso.
What they’re doing seems like so much chaos, unpredictable movements without rhyme or reason.
But as Kind and Vermeer settle into a rhythym, they start to demonstrate some of the individual pieces of their helter-skelter jump-rope dance.
The criss-cross. The side-swing. The double-under.
Advanced jump-ropers can pull off things like the toad, the elephant, the donkey kick and even the Awesome Annie.
“I can do a triple underside swing,” said 10-year-old Kind proudly. “That’s where, in one jump the rope comes under you three times, and I do a side swing. It took a long time for me to to do it and I can probably do it one time in 10.”
“I can do a triple underside swing cross, and I think I can probably do it nine times out of 10,” Vermeer chimed in. “I once saw someone do a back-flip into a double-under crougar. I was like, ‘woah,’ because I want to be able to do that.”
(according to Wikipedia, the crougar is a trick where the jumper jumps in a normal open jump, but with one arm hooked under the same leg.)
Competitive jump-roping has to be the biggest under-the-radar sport going.
In the last decade, this writer has heard of or witnessed no end of eccentric athletic activities; toe wrestling. wife carrying. cheese rolling.
(note: the latter two are well worth You-Tubing. Toe wrestling, not so much)
But until that afternoon in East Chilliwack, I’d never considered jump-roping anything more than a wimsical playground activity or scene from a Rocky Balboa training montage.
Thankfully, coach Tara Field was there to fill in some blanks on a local club called Vertical Zone.
“We’ve been competitive for five years, starting with a core group of five kids and building up to the 16 (ages 8-14) we have now,” she explained. “It isn’t a mainstream sport. Abbotsford has a team. Mission has one. There’s one on the Island and one in Nelson. So in order for us to compete, we have to travel quite a bit.”
Field first got a taste of the sport at a national championship tournament in Abbotsford.
“It was so different, just the happiest sport ever,” she said with a smile. “I mean, who doesn’t like skipping rope?”
The sport is multi-faceted. There are individual and team events in speed, power and freestyle. Without delving into the minutae (find that at jumpropebc.com), each discipline is exceptionally difficult.
The local squad practices six hours a week, with tumbling classes on the side.
“In freestyle you’ll see hand-stands and cartwheels, and gymastics complements jump-roping very well,” Fields noted.
“You have to have strong arms and legs, because your arms have to turn the rope really fast and your legs have to jump really high,” Kind added. “It’s hard work, but it’s also really fun. I like it and I get to do it with my friends and meet new people.”
Vertical Zone went to Calgary for nationals last year and they hope to travel to Moncton (New Brunswick) for the 2012 nationals in May.
They’ll have to qualify at provincials first. Abbotsford hosts provincials in April.
“There will be about 50 kids at a provincial tournament, and probably 300 or so at nationals,” Fields said.
Vertical Zone has their own event at Rosedale middle school on Mar. 3, hosting four teams at their B.C. Records Day Tournament.
Admission is free for the event that runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The girls hope to see a packed gymnasium, but Vermeer has one word of caution.
“Be prepared to be amazed,” she said. “But watch out where you walk, or you might get whipped.
You’ve been warned.
l Vertical Zone is hosting a St. Patrick’s Day fundraiser dance on Mar. 17 at the Coast Hotel. The event includes a silent auction and draw prizes.
Contact Field by email at email@example.com for tickets or info.