Story by Shannon Wianecki
Photo by Sue Hudelson
The flying trapeze rig rises two stories into the air at the top of the industrial park in Lahaina. First-time flier Brooke Mahnken clips into a harness, climbs the ladder and hangs his toes off the aerial platform. He’s wearing a spaceman outfit; costumes are encouraged here. Before he’s distracted by the panoramic view—or the knucklewhitening height — his instructor shouts, “Ready!” He bends his knees. At “Hep!” he leaps into the air, grasping the swinging bar. At the apex of his arc, he hooks his knees over the bar and lets go. To dismount: a backward flip that’s easier than it looks. He lands on the net like a pro, adrenaline pulsing through his body. His flushed smile indicates he’s ready for the next trick: getting caught in midair by another flier.
Since Emerald City Trapeze Arts Maui opened last December, Islanders have been learning the ropes during hour-long classes three days a week. Some people come on dares, others on dates. A few come to confront their fear of heights. “Adults are consistently intimidated but kids are fearless,” says instructor Dorian McRae, who should know: He joined the circus when he was two years old. The veteran acrobat hails from California’s Circus Vargas.
Emerald City draws top instructors from around the world. The owner, Gary Kirkland, first tried the flying trapeze at a Club Med resort in the Caribbean. One swing and he was hooked. His age—nearing 60—didn’t stop him from returning home to Seattle to open a trapeze school. Four years later it’s one of the nation’s largest and supplies Club Med with instructors. Gary’s daughter Katie Kirkland helped launch the business and discovered she has the natural flexibility of a contortionist. The father-daughter team sought somewhere warm to set up a second rig because Seattle’s weather doesn’t allow outdoor training. Maui was the obvious choice. Katie, who goes by Hokulani since relocating to Lahaina, hosts monthly Cirque du Sunday parties at the Maui school. For $10 anybody can take a swing. Newbies can expect sore muscles the following day; flying trapeze is a full-body workout. But mostly it’s an exhilarating exercise in letting go.