Students who want to swing through the air with the greatest of ease but are turned off by the cost of the flying trapeze now have a free alternative: the travelling rings in Riverside Park.
The set of ten metal hoops, a cross between the ring apparatus in male gymnastics and monkey bars, are located at 104th St. and Riverside. Built two years ago, they were designed to give park visitors an opportunity to unleash their inner Tarzan.
"It feels like you're flying," said Ben Lipson, a frequent swinger. "It's just tremendous."
Lipson and other Morningside Heights residents have been "flying" over Hudson Beach since the rings were built in December 2003.
The idea arose when Dorlene Kaplan, a neighborhood resident and childhood swinger, read an article in The New York Times about the traveling rings at Santa Monica's Muscle Beach, then the only adult set in the country, and decided that New York City needed rings of its own.
She approached Jim Dowell, president of the Riverside Park Fund, and KC Sahl, Riverside Park administrator, about funding the installation of a set of rings on Hudson Beach.
After doing some research, Dowell, who had never heard of traveling rings before speaking with Kaplan, agreed that they would fit in nicely at the park.
"It struck me as something that people would enjoy and something that we could add to the park without displacing anything else," he said. "We've had a lot of positive feedback. People really like them."
To date, the Riverside rings have yet to attract the kind of attention enjoyed by their counterparts in Santa Monica.
"It's a totally different culture here," said Kaplan. "The rings don't attract the same element."
Dowell agreed that the rings in Riverside Park serve a very different constituency.
"These [rings] are largely installed for the amateur," he said, "whereas I think the ones in Muscle Beach are more for people who devote a considerable amount of time to fitness and body-building."
The Santa Monica rings have formed the focal point for a cult of swingers that includes homeless people, high schoolers, and Hollywood stuntmen, as well as hundreds of tourists.
Riverside Park attracts a slightly different crowd, bringing in dog-walkers, families with children, and college students running to combat beer and pizza pounds.
Some locals did not know what the rings were for and most couldn't imagine swinging on them.
"I don't know who's using them," said Elaine Goff, a neighborhood resident. "They're only for musclemen!"
Kaplan, however, contends that most people can learn to swing with a little bit of effort.
"If you've never done it before and you're physically fit, just get out and keep trying," she said. "It can take two or three weeks."
She does, however, agree that the rings are not accessible to small children. To combat the problem, a smaller set of rings will be installed for younger park-goers in November.
Dowell doesn't think that children will be the only ones to get use out of the new rings.
"I wouldn't be at all surprised to see adults starting out on them also," he said. In the meantime, Kaplan hopes that Columbia students will come out to the big rings in full force.
"The Santa Monica people are way ahead of us," she said. "We need some Columbia athletes to come and teach them some tricks."
The rings have remained largely under the radar of the University community, and although everyone who manages to use the rings successfully has overwhelmingly positive things to say about them, swinging is not without its side effects, as Dave Berlin, CC '07, discovered.
Ring swinging "was really awesome. It would be a fun skill to develop, even though it's kind of obscure," he said. "But, man, did it give me some serious blisters."