21 Nov The Providence Traveling Rings
I was fortunate enough to be driving through Rhode Island last weekend, and having heard of a Traveling Rings set there, I packed my ring grips, chalk and gloves in advance, and plotted out my drive to Brown Street Park, just adjacent to Hope High School, and close to Exit 23 on I-95.
Fair disclaimer, I am a pretty inexperienced swinger, having just started in early 2012, and the only other set I have been on is the Hudson Beach set in Riverside Park. I have yet to make the trip to Mecca – the original rings set at Santa Monica Beach.
I was not expecting much in Providence, having heard of the rings there described as a “junior set” and seeing a rather small image of them on google maps. My first impression did not do much to improve that perception. There appeared to be no swivel connecting the ring to the chain, the supporting columns were set extremely close to the center bar (leaving little room for horizontal maneuvering), and the set was mounted in a playground with woodchips below, and large wooden barriers set almost flush with the edge of the ring set between the wood chips and the grass. The set appeared inflexible, cramped, and rather dangerous.
Luckily, first impressions are not always correct, and that was mostly true in this case. Firstly, the swing is extremely smooth. The rings do indeed have swivels, but they are strangely mounted on the top s-hook where the chain meets the top bar, rather than down at the ring. This gives the chain an odd twisting appearance while in motion but does not seem to significantly alter the swing. Unlike the Hudson Beach set, the Providence set has its brackets mounted in the correct direction (parallel to the top bar, rather than perpendicular), which is quite a respite from the jerking motion you get in New York.
The wood chips below the set turned out to be quite soft and well ground-up, with thick soil below them, and as long as you avoid the wood barrier (around 6 inches in depth) and can land on the woodchips or grass, all of the landings are smooth. I also enjoyed the height of the rings. I am six feet tall and had to stand on my tip-toes to grab the starting ring, and perform 3-5 build-up swings to reach the second ring (in NYC I can grab the second ring with just one launch). I enjoyed having to use the extra power to get started, and as much as I like the idea of kids getting into the sport at a young age, there’s a selfish pleasure in knowing that you won’t have to wait a long time for your turn while hordes of children are enjoying themselves spinning around on a single ring.
The seemingly-claustrophobic support bars did not turn out to be as much of a problem as I thought they would be. I’ve begun to develop the peripheral awareness to always be mindful of where my legs are, and I only dinged them once on a side column during a particularly wide swing. However, I did have to constantly lift my knees or crunch my legs to avoid a painful collision. The closeness of the support columns combined with the uncertain texture of the ground around the set definitely mentally inhibited my swing and made me more cautious… which is not always a bad thing I suppose.
One aspect that I feel neutral about is the shorter length of the set – it has six rings only, versus ten at the Hudson Beach and Santa Monica Beach sites. On one hand it gives you less time to pick up your momentum before you hit each end, but on the other, I found myself getting less fatigued and enjoying the end-spins more.
I was at the rings around 11 AM on a Monday, certainly a quiet time at any ring set, but the playground was empty save for three parents and a few toddlers, and no ring swingers came by. However, most of the passersby seemed unaware of my existence, so I think it’s fair to say that people are used to seeing the rings in action and that they must get a decent amount of use.
Overall, if you have the opportunity, I’d definitely recommend stopping by these rings and checking them out. It may be a bit cramped and potentially dangerous, but the smoothness of the ride is worth it, particularly if you are used to the herky-jerk set in New York. Nonetheless, I’m excited to get back to the Hudson Beach set where I can swing with more freedom and assurance of a soft landing.