io once saw an inspirational video of a man teaching himself to backflip in a park, with a mattress behind to break his fall. He got closer and closer, but kept landing on his knees. The breakthrough moment came when he realised the 20cm mattress was taking up space. Il cushion that kept him safe was also keeping him from his dream. He removed it and completed the flip. I wept. It’s not about jumping, ok? It’s profoundly existential.
The jumping did suggest an urgent question, anche se: could I do a backflip? Do you have to be Superman, or one of seven lords-a-leaping? I never dared to learn. The optics of dragging a mattress into a park – especially when some people are already confused about how you earn a living – are not good. Ancora, with Olympic spirit still hanging in the air, the timing is right.
I am not using a mattress in the park and I don’t recommend you do, either. (If you land upside down in dog mess, on your head be it.) Anziché, I have come for a personal coaching session at OverGravity, an adult gymnastic space in Bromley-by-Bow, Londra est. Imagine a warehouse of giant Lego, but it’s all soft and there are no children in sight. Imagine paradise, if that is easier. All abilities are welcome. Total beginners learn tumbling, tricking and handstands, while movie stunt performers work out action choreography. I watch a woman leap on to a gunman, straddling and pinning him, then neutralise a second assailant with the confiscated weapon. I feel giddy.
My instructor, the studio co-owner Davide Buzzi, comes over to say hello. I was expecting Henry Cavill, but Buzzi’s even more compact than me. We are not seven lords a-leaping, credo; we are more likely going to be two small men falling over.
Then he takes his glasses off and flies. Demonstrating a routine, Buzzi powers down the runway, morphing into a catherine wheel. He is executing multiple handsprings so fast that he looks like Sonic the Hedgehog. I can hear gold rings spilling everywhere, far more than five. He dives vertically upward, time slowing. Gaining enormous height, he flips back and over like a dolphin, legs straight. Touchdown is soundless – my jaw makes more noise as it hits the floor. A new thought occurs: I am going to break my spine.
Buzzi senses my fear, because I voice it several times. He takes me to a 1-metre square block – it’s a coordination test, to see if flips are in my future. I leap from standing, swinging my arms like an orangutan, landing two-footed on the block. “Perfect,” he smiles. “You have the power.” Has anyone ever said this to you? Other than in a flyer for a broadband provider? It’s really very encouraging. I take to drills with vigour, learning to kick my knees into my body, extending my arms. We take it to a trampette. I’m going to do this, credo. I can do anything.
The mechanics of a backflip are simple and Newtonian; a rotation about a single axis, maximising angular velocity. The real hurdle is psychological. To direct their rotation, the flipper needs to throw their head backwards, eyes open, opening their chest. The self-protective instinct is to tuck the neck and stiffen, which inhibits spin, increasing the risk of injury. Puoi risolverlo, to succeed, I must throw myself wholeheartedly into that which I cannot see, trusting my body. I told you gymnastics was existential.
My mind is bursting with new experience; unfortunately, so is my body. My sports shorts are very tight, and being upside down doesn’t help. I feel faint, certain my next hurl will be oesophageal. I sit on the floor and ask Buzzi questions instead. Why did he set up OverGravity? Because no one else was teaching adult gymnastics – especially in southern Sardinia, where he grew up. Can anyone learn to backflip? Almost – he has a female student who is 70 and can flip. Erm, how does he like his pancakes?
“Do you want to call it a day?" lui dice.
A week later, I return. Never give up! I put in another hour of yoinking myself backwards. We mount a camera so I can watch my form. Lentamente, I finesse my technique. All that is left is to stick the landing – no wobble – but we are running out of class time. “One last try,” Buzzi says, looking in my eyes. I settle myself. Breathe.
Do I make that last attempt? No. I tense up, unfolding my legs too early. Does he give me another go, because he believes in me? Of course he does. Do I succeed? No. I overtuck, roly polying off the mat. But is there a last ditch effort? There is! And in the course of that third and ultimate attempt, do I finally land my perfect backflip? Also no. This isn’t YouTube.
Almost anyone can backflip; I can’t. I am an unspirational video. Call me a dolphin stunt performer, because I am not-quite Flipper. I flipped out. I am a flip-flop. As for those seven lords, they were probably only a-leaping to a-void inheritance tax. Don’t follow your dreams; life is pain.
The next weekend, I honour Newtonian physics by staying in bed. A body at rest wants to stay at rest.
5 in theory, 0 in practice. Average: 2.5.
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