He Flies Through the Air with the Greatest of Ease
Extremely Sports: December 2019
By Kevin Painchaud
Taj Rodriguez, 13, started bouncing on a trampoline when he was 2. Now, he’s a competitive trampolinist who trains at Vargas Academy and placed seventh in the country at the nationals for Trampoline and Tumbling held in Des Moines, Iowa. The Aptos Junior High eighth grader does Jiu Jitzu and has been a Capitola Junior Guard. He enjoys mountain biking, snowboarding, skating and surfing.
KP: When did you first discover the trampoline?
Taj: When I was 2-years-old I saw my dad on a trampoline and I tried to copy some of the things he was doing, I got a front flip around then. Later on when I was about 11, I saw people on Instagram doing a lot of different types of flips and I decided to get into it and I got my own trampoline in the backyard. I wanted to get a double backflip really bad and I did, but it was sloppy. When my friend showed me the gym, Vargas, I decided to try to join a class to make my skills get better. After about a year of recreational classes I joined the competition team.
KP: What do you enjoy about the trampoline?
Taj: What I enjoy is learning new skills and progressing. What excites me about it is like getting higher and doing bigger skills and flips and stuff. I also like the competitions and “mobilizing” (moving up to higher levels) because then I get to do harder skills at competition.
KP: Have you ever been injured?
Taj: In gymnastics, I’ve never actually been injured long term. Gymnastics in general is a very dangerous sport because we’re doing crazy stuff it’s high risk but my coach is very good at keeping us safe and making sure none of us gets hurt by training right.
KP: What about competition?
Taj: I am on the competition team where I compete multiple times in a season. I compete in local competitions and also this year we’ll go to Salt Lake City, St. Louis Missouri, Indiana, and a bunch of local Bay Area comps.
Last year we went to Reno, Pismo, and a bunch of local competitions, Nationals was in Des Moines, Iowa. My best awards were when I placed first in Double Mini at States, second in Trampoline and then was ranked seventh in the nation on Double Mini, and ninth in Trampoline at Nationals. I got a lot of firsts and seconds in the season but those were smaller competitions.
KP: When did you become serious about the trampoline?
Taj: I became a serious trampolinist once I joined the competition team last year. The type of gymnastics I do is called T and T, which stands for trampoline and tumbling. We compete with USA gymnastics. The only difference between us and what most people see on the Olympics is they do artistic gymnastics, which is like what you see Simone Biles do. T and T gymnasts also compete in the Olympics but so far the only event for T and T gymnastics that is in the Olympics is trampoline.
KP: Tell me about your training? How often, how many hours a day?
Taj: My training is on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays. Monday and Wednesday, I do three hours of training a day and on Friday, I do four hours. Gymnastics is a year-round sport. I train all year but we do not compete all year round. I train at Vargas Academy in Scotts Valley.
KP: Are you parents supportive?
Taj: My parents support me fully whatever I want to do with gymnastics. They’re happy that I’m able to do what I love.
KP: What’s the most difficult trick you are able to do?
Taj: The most difficult trick I can do landed on the trampoline would either be a Full Barani or a Rudi Out. A Full Barani is a 360 front flip into front flip 180. A Rudi Out is a double front flip on second rotation you do a 540. I can do more difficult tricks into the foam pit. One of the main tricks that I’m trying to learn right now is a Triffis or a Full Rudi. A Triffis is a triple front flip and on last rotation it’s a 180. And a Full Rudi is a front flip 360 into front flip 540. All of these are in the air then land after the flips not in between.
KP: If other kids want to learn to do what you do, where should they start? What advice do you have for people to learn?
Taj: If kids want to learn to do what I do, they should start in a recreational class in a gymnastics gym somewhere like Vargas. If you’re starting out on the trampoline you should not go for huge skills. You should start with skills that are easier, so that you are safe and don’t get hurt, and practice a lot.