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Look before you leap: Trampoline park injuries on the rise, study says

SALT LAKE CITY — The angle was wrong. Jake Hobbs knew it.

The 22-year-old was attempting a triple front flip at an indoor trampoline park in Provo when, instead of landing safely in the foam pit, he smashed headfirst into the cement corner.

Hobbs woke up in the hospital the next morning with a cracked skull, broken collarbone, broken shoulder blade and three broken ribs.

As an avid snowboarder, wakeboarder and athlete, Hobbs is no stranger to sports injuries.

"I went in knowing I could get hurt," he said. "Obviously, I didn't expect that to happen."

Trampoline parks are popular among teenagers, CrossFitters and Ninja Warrior trainers alike, but parents may want to take caution before jumping on this bandwagon, according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Using data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance, researchers found that emergency room visits for trampoline park injuries ballooned from just 581 in 2010 to 6,932 in 2014.

Over that time period, the industry has grown from about three-dozen trampoline gyms to 280, according to the International Association of Trampoline Parks.

The researchers from Connecticut Children’s Medical Center called the trend "alarming” and recommended that trampoline park workers improve safety strategies as the industry grows.

“Trampoline use carries significant risk of injury to children, and trampoline parks are no exception,” they wrote.

But park owners defended trampoline jumping as safer than activities like football and skiing, and said the study unfairly tarnishes a new industry.

"It's a high-risk activity, but it's not as high-risk as people think," said Ashton Goodell, spokeswoman at Ogden-based Get Air Sports, which operates in 50 locations around the world and was one of the first trampoline parks in the country.

Trampoline injury rates — at 32.8 hospital ER visits per 100,000 people — are much lower than injury rates of popular sports such as football (124.3) and basketball (164), according to the 2014 National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. But compared with activities like volleyball (16.5) and hockey (16), trampoline jumping appears more dangerous.

Still, that data is of limited use because it’s hard to measure how much exposure kids are getting to each sport. Football, basketball and bicycling — among the most popular kids' sports — also have the highest injury rates.

Goodell said trampoline parks are continuing to raise safety standards. To that end, Get Air Sports has raised its ceiling heights, banned extra-bouncy trampolines and separated the play areas for younger and older children.

“We care tremendously about safety,” she said. “It’s all we ever talk about.”

But as trampoline parks have grown bigger and more creative — adding activities like rock climbing, obstacle courses and dunk courts — that hasn't always been met with attention to safety, according to Chris Steele, owner of the Wairhouse Trampoline Park in South Salt Lake.

When Steele was touring trampoline parks around the country in hopes of starting his own, many of the facilities "just took your money and let you loose," Steele said. "We try to do a much better job than that."

Steele said he imposes stricter rules than other trampoline park owners, including no more than one person per trampoline and no special flips. He encourages parents to jump with their children at the trampoline park, but not on the same trampoline.

That last one is because many studies have shown that injuries occur most often when multiple people are using the trampoline at the same time — and the smallest participants are far more likely to sustain injuries than bigger peers.

“It’s probably cost us some business because folks come in and they complain that our trampolines are too small,” Steele said. “That’s for a reason.”

Trampoline parks now account for more than 1 in 10 trampoline injuries a year, according to the study, even though home trampolines continue to make up the majority of trampoline injuries.

Compared with getting injured at home, accidents at trampoline parks are more likely to involve dislocations, lower extremity injuries and warrant hospital admission, the study found.

Hobbs doesn't blame the trampoline park for his accident, although he said that trampoline parks should add thicker padding to their walls and barriers.

He warned other adventure-seekers to be aware of the risks, however.

"Almost every time I go, someone at least sprains their ankle pretty bad," Hobbs said. "I think sometimes people go into there not realizing that."

He added: "Like any extreme sport that you do, you do it knowing you could get hurt."

Email: dchen@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DaphneChen_