Doing the Mnemonic Hop

Can bouncing on a floating trampoline really massage the memory?
November 30, 1992

My father was a mathemagician with a fabulous memory for numbers. He could astound people by reeling off the first 20 digits of pi, or the entire railroad timetable for Valley Stream, N.Y., or the box score of a game the Yankees played on, say, May 12, 1925. Yet after talking to my mother in our living room with a ball game on television, he often couldn't recall the conversation's having taken place.

I, too, suffer from memory lapses. My father never forgave me for the one I had in fourth grade during a classmate's birthday party at Yankee Stadium. To snare foul pops, I had taken along my Uncle Leo's treasured catcher's mitt—the one autographed by Carlisle Littlejohn, an obscure pitcher who once played for the St. Louis Cardinals. By the third inning, bored and popless, I tucked the glove under my seat. I didn't think about it again until the game was over and we were halfway out the gate. As Yankee fans foamed into the street, I squirted up the ramps to the upper deck. I searched and searched and searched some more, but it was no use. The glove was gone. In the 30 years since, I've often wondered about its fate. Sometimes I dream of Uncle Leo's mitt dangling just beyond my reach.

The mitt memory jolted back into my consciousness last August on the Hawaiian island of Maui while I was performing feats of levitation on a Watertramp, a seaworthy trampoline that promises to be the sporting equivalent of the petite madeleine crumbs in Proust's tea. The Watertramp, which may be the hottest thing to hit the Hawaiian surf since the sailboard, is really just a piece of strong polyester stretched tightly over a 20-foot-wide, four-foot-high circular air tube. From a distance it resembles the spaceship in that famous film...well...give me a minute and I'll think of it.

Springing up and down on this floating trampoline can ward off heart disease, reduce stress and—wonder of wonders—sharpen your memory, or so the Water-tramp's inventor claims. "The cells that burn up food to create energy for memory require oxygen," says Di Boyd, whose husband, Peter, designed the Watertramp. "Hopping on a rebound surface increases the heart's pumping action, thereby forcing oxygen to the brain at a faster rate. Fully oxygenated, the mind becomes clearer and memory improves."

A reformed beach bum and daredevil windsurfer, the 31-year-old Peter got the idea to tramp on water in 1989. "He felt there had to be a way to play in the ocean without polluting the environment with gasoline or frightening marine life with noisy, motorized ocean toys," says Di.

On this languid August day on Maui, the Boyds, using a vacuum cleaner set in reverse, blow up a Watertramp and anchor it 30 feet offshore. The Boyds now have five Watertramps bobbing in the waters off Japan, Oahu and Maui. Eventually, Peter says, he would like to anchor at least five Watertramps near one another and hold "aquanastics" competitions.

"How far off is that?" I ask.

Peter pensively presses his fingertips together and gazes out at the Watertramp. "Wait a minute," he says at last. "I need a memory boost."

He wades out to the trampoline and begins to bounce on it. Watching him execute several high-flying stunts, I'm reminded of Dudley Moore's classic film comedy Bedazzled, in which an order of nuns bounces on trampolines to be closer to God. When Peter comes back to shore, he says, "The answer is, it'll take years."

In the meantime Peter is spreading the word by selling Watertramps to hotels and resorts around the world. The trampoline costs $11,895 and can be ordered by calling Watertramps International at (800) 283-4417.

On Maui, I turn to my four-year-old daughter, Daisy, and ask, "Is there anything you have trouble remembering?"

"Jokes," says Daisy. "I can't remember jokes." Though her delivery is as smooth as Nolan Ryan's, she invariably forgets the punch line.

So Daisy and I make a pilgrimage to the Watertramp. Daisy merrily tumbles high in the air, flipping and flopping.

Back on land, she says, "What has meat on the inside, skin on the outside and sings like a canary?"

"I give up."

Daisy smiles triumphantly and says, "A hot dog."

"A hot dog doesn't sing like a canary!"

"I know," Daisy says. "I just put that in to make it harder."