Trampoline mats have come a long way since their earliest versions. Both in terms of durability and bounce, they have been designed to handle both heavy use and the elements with ease, standing up to significant punishment and still retaining their properties. Of course, they were not always made of the materials that are common today, and new technologies keep coming out that will continue changing them as time goes on. Still, there is a fascinating history that gets us to modern trampoline mats.
The Original Trampolines
Perhaps the earliest form of “trampolining” was more of a team sport. Some of our earliest records are in the form of documents from the Inuit festival Nalukataq. This annual festival was designed to celebrate the end of the spring whaling season, with successful crews having parties and congratulating one another for a good hunt.
The most notable feature of this festival was the blanket toss, a tradition where people would grab the ends of a walrus skin, somebody else would climb on top, and they would be thrown in the air and caught again. People could go as high as ten or more feet up before coming back down again.
Some records show that a similar activity may have been engaged in in various places throughout Europe, but it appears to have been used as a punishment rather than an amusement, such as in at least one stage version of the story of Don Quixote.
The modern idea of the “trampoline” however was created in the 1930s by George Nissen and Larry Griswold. They envisioned a number of uses, including to train acrobats and tumblers. One less solitary sport they conceived of, Spaceball, had team rules for a complex two-on-two game that they hoped would one day become as popular as baseball or basketball.
In their case, the mats were made of military-grade canvass and stretched on a iron frame. The canvass was able to support the weight of quite a few adults and was resistant to tearing in the center, but over time the grommets that were placed on the edges started to comes loose and not only fall to pieces but also lose some of their springiness.
While some modern trampolines are still made of waterproof canvas, though a much sturdier version with re-enforcement around the areas where it is attached to the springs, most trampoline mats are made of a substance called TenCate Permatron.
TenCate Permatron is made by the Royal Ten Cate company in the Netherlands which has been making materials of various sorts for more than 300 years. Despite several decades on the market, no company has been able to improve on the TenCate Permatron formula.
The way these mats are made is by weaving long cabon fibers with a synthetic polypropylene. This thermoplastic polymer has a variety of uses from packaging to making thermal underwear because of its strength and versatility.
What’s particularly interesting about TenCate Permatron mats is that they don’t actually stretch even though they look and feel like they do. The springs are the things doing the stretching and, while the mat warps under the weight of the person jumping, the fibers themselves stay in the same shape. This prevents them from wearing out with extended use. The lack of stretching and incredibly tight box weave make this material very hard to break with regular use.
Another advantage of TenCate Permatron is that the fibers are thermally interlocked and UV treated so that they won’t break down in the sun and can stand up to a number of different types of weather conditions.
Where Are We Going?
Right now, TenCate Permatron is the gold standard for trampoline mats and it doesn’t look like that will change any time soon. However, with recent advances in materials technology, it’s possible that any day a more durable, more resistant, and more elastic mat will come on the market and replace the familiar feel that so many of us grew up with.
In the meantime, it’s good to know that our trampolines are made the best available material and able to keep us safely enjoying such an exciting activity.