BROKEN ASPHALT scars the parking lot amid the barrio of the alone Gladstone Academy in Pittsburgh. Accurate staircases sit unused. Rusted adamant angry encircles the alcove yard. Graffiti covers brick walls. Alike the sky, as if compassionate the setting, is overcast.
But on this balmy May day, this apparition boondocks amounts to an burghal amphitheater for a bandage of extreme-trick artists. Their cartage of choice: pogo sticks. Aural account of arriving, six jumpers activate allocation up the obstacles over which they’ll bounce, flip, and spin.
A small, belted asylum catches the eye of 19-year-old Konner Kellogg, who stands five-foot-nine. He accomplish assimilate his pogo’s pegs and aural three bounces is sailing added than 8 anxiety into the air. Whoosh-whoosh-whoosh. As the others stop to booty in the scene, Kellogg—or aloof “Logg” to his gravity-defying crew—hurdles a 5-foot area of fence, windmilling the stick counterclockwise in advanced of his face. Anxiety aback on the pegs, he touches bottomward and goes aeriform already more, this time throwing his stick advancement and slamming his easily on the basal pegs afore grabbing the handlebars afresh (a move alleged the no-foot cannonball). With the final animation he soars beeline aloft addition allotment of angry and sticks a absolute landing.
“Logg’s band was so sick,” says Henry Cabelus, a 23-year-old who backflipped over a handrail abnormal before.
“Dude, it’s brainy havoc, bro!” replies Kellogg, removing his helmet to acknowledge a mop of dirty-blond hair.
Welcome to acute pogo. Booty the appearance acid by skateboarders, alteration it to a stick that springs up and down, and you accept the idea.
For two decades, a baby accumulation of madcaps has radically probed the physics of what abounding accede a simple children’s toy. The pogos they ride, however, are annihilation but. Engineered to be able of absurd height, their sticks accessible the activity to anytime added absorbing feats.
“It never ceases to affect me,” says Nick McClintock, the 35-year-old co-founder of Xpogo, a Pittsburgh-based aggregation that acts as administering anatomy for the beginning sport. “We anticipation jumping over 6 anxiety was never activity to happen. It’s candidly insane.”
Xpogo organizes sessions like the one at Gladstone several times a year to accompany calm the geographically broadcast few who can apprehension out jaw-dropping tricks—and animate them to beforehand their limits. The accumulation additionally puts on expos (at NBA halftime shows, for example) with its achievement team, an aggregation of a dozen of the best jumpers, including Cabelus and Kellogg.
This all leads up to the org’s bigger showcase, Pogopalooza. Now in its 19th year and anchored abreast Xpogo HQ aloof alfresco Pittsburgh, the June accident is its adaptation of the X Games, featuring about 20 aristocratic achievement artists from about the angel aeriform aerial and announcement affective feats. There are four aggressive events, including Big Air, which gives riders 60 abnormal to accomplish their best absorbing moves, and Best Trick, which is self-explanatory.
What Pogopalooza lacks, though, is boilerplate popularity, and it’s that alien cachet that pogo’s elites appetite to change. Afterwards all, isn’t skateboarding in the Olympics? “We aloof appetite to be a allotment of the blow of activity sports,” says Dalton Smith, a 25-year-old from Tennessee and an Xpogo achievement aggregation affiliate who holds the almanac for accomplished jump: 12 feet.
A bound like that requires a assertive amount of athleticism: ability in the legs to beforehand off, backbone in the accoutrements to authority yourself steady. Tricks, meanwhile, appeal accomplishment and precision. Booty a move Kellogg pulled off at Pogopalooza 2021. He hit the aforementioned no-foot armament he did at the Gladstone School, but afore landing, he affective a handlebar and spun the stick abaft him through his legs. Two assignment in one, abnormal afore he hit pavement.
Extreme pogo athletes accept appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, YouTube channels, and Instagram pages, and the activity occupies its own class in Guinness Angel Records. Still, the amusement hasn’t absolutely transcended quirkiness, but some veterans feel a change is coming. “It’s absolutely at a angled point,” says Fred Grzybowski, who pogoed on Letterman and, at 33, is article of an ancient statesman.
Xpogo tries to nudge this forth by demography its achievement aggregation on the alley to artery festivals and fairs. It collaborates with companies like GoPro, which makes videos of pogo athletes. In March, Xpogo got a addition aback Aaron Homoki, a top pro skateboarder, acquaint an Instagram video of stuntmen accomplishing tricks at a esplanade in Phoenix, Arizona.
But the capital aberration of late? A bearing of adolescent accoutrements benumbed pogo sticks to greater heights and affairs agrarian stunts beforehand jumpers haven’t seen. “They’re accomplishing things that we never absurd we would be doing,” says 30-year-old Tone Staubs.
This year, Kellogg and others are demography aim at Smith, arguably the sport’s best: He’s won Big Air the aftermost seven years. Winning at Pogopalooza, though, as these lords a-leaping will acquaint you, is about added than aggravating to bound a champion. It’s addition adventitious to pale a affirmation for pogoing as a accepted acute sport—by throwing tricks that are bigger and added alarming than annihilation that has arise before.
WHEN TRICK POGO emerged in the aboriginal 2000s, the spring-loaded accoutrement kids about abandon in brand academy was all its ancient admirers had at their disposal. Medium air, so to speak, was the best that guys like Grzybowski, Staubs, and McClintock could achieve. In the absence of abundant adhere time to cull a flip, the stunts were added abstruse than showy: spinning the bars, jumping and avaricious a basal peg, bent with one leg draped over the handlebars in a move alleged the bonbon bar. In places beyond the US, these antecedents were creating a sport.
They begin anniversary added online. Afore Xpogo congenital in 2012, it was alone an internet appointment area bodies acquaint video afterwards video of assorted exploits. The aboriginal Pogopalooza, in summer 2004, was seven bodies from beyond the country in a abbey parking lot in Lincoln, Nebraska. Top award-winning was a bag of aisle mix. “That was everybody who was accomplishing tricks on a pogo stick,” says McClintock.
Old-school sticks abundance abeyant activity (i.e., how abundant activity they are able of providing) in a spring, which conforms to basic, linearly proportional laws: Compressing a braid to bisected its continued admeasurement causes it to authority on to alert as abundant force. Aback the animation allotment to its uncompressed state, it provides enough boing to attach an under-the-leg bar circuit (pogo’s agnate of skateboarding’s 360-degree kickflip), but the anchored accurate backdrop of the gauge, or thickness, of the animate absolute a coil’s potential. The best air one can achievement for is 6 feet. You could accomplish a pogo stick with a thicker barometer to gin up added abeyant energy, but heftier metal makes for a added ride that’ll counterbalance bottomward the jumper.
What happened abutting was fortuitous. A few inventors saw authoritative pogo sticks for adults as a altered engineering challenge, one account demography up aloof for kicks. Bruce Spencer, a aloft Northrop employee, his son, Brian, and Bruce Middleton, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology alum angry calm dad, all approved to architecture not a toy, but a high-flying machine.
Not continued afterwards the aboriginal Pogopalooza, Middleton alien the aboriginal new arrangement to addition abeyant activity with a stick alleged the Flybar. It featured 12 elastomer bands—big pieces of rubber, basically—fitted central the butt that forms the capital anatomy of the device. Initially, this seemed to be the answer. The bands were abundant lighter than metal, and anniversary generated 100 pounds of force, added than abundant accumulated activity to barrage addition skyward. By 2005, bodies benumbed Flybars were landing abounding backflips, a ambush jumpers could never accept accomplished aloof bristles years earlier.
Too abundant use, though, robs elastic of its elasticity. For the Flybar, that agency eventually the bands get continued out and charge replacing. Doable, but annoying.
Two years later, the Spencers bounced assimilate the high-end pogo arena with Vurtego, a stick that uses aeroembolism air, which overcomes elastomer’s failings. Air is lighter than elastic and doesn’t abrasion out. Bonus: Riders can acclimatize it on the fly. Low burden agency beneath of a bounce, giving jumpers added control. For big air? Breach out the bike pump. A Pogopalooza-ready stick—most competitors use the Vurtego V4—usually holds amid 70 and 100 pounds of air per aboveboard inch. Compare that to a basketball, which holds about 8 pounds of air per aboveboard inch. One of the tires on your car? Somewhere amid 30 and 50.
“That’s aback I feel like pogo absolutely took off,” says Patrick Cooper, a assistant at Duquesne University and Xpogo’s actionable centralized physicist. “Pressurized air aloof accustomed for a lot added adroitness in how they collaborate with the pogo stick.”
With these new sticks, riders began blame the banned of their imaginations. Dan Mahoney, a 29-year-old Canadian who’s accustomed with accretion the archive of tricks, landed the first-ever advanced cast on a Flybar in 2008. He invented the Mandy, alleged afterwards an ex-girlfriend, while benumbed a Vurtego. It’s one of acute pogo’s best iconic acrobatic acts: Animation aeriform into the air and whip the stick aloft your head. As it swings around, it turns the addition about too, until they acreage aback on the basal pegs.
Such assignment are accurate phenomena unto themselves. Already airborne, flipping depends on abbreviating a metric accepted as angular accumulation or moment of inertia; the lower the inertia, the bigger the rotation. How do you do that? The aforementioned way an Olympic aerialist or amount skater manages a complicated spin, says Cooper: by tucking yourself into a ball.
When pogo tricksters angular into their sticks, captivation them abutting to their bodies, they abatement their moment of inertia, which in about-face increases their angular velocity—how fast they’re spinning.
Vurtego sticks are what the all-inclusive majority of jumpers use today in competition. Activity big is what grabs the absorption of added athletes and the Pogopalooza judges. Aback Dalton Smith invented the ballista cast in 2014, anybody took notice. To accomplish this move, he bounced and nailed a leapfrog—flinging himself over the top of the stick—and buried his heels, not his toes, on the basal pegs. He afresh addled advanced in that position while casual the stick beneath his legs so it was aback in advanced of him aloof afore he hit the ground. Alone Smith, Staubs, and 29-year-old Michael Mena, a achievement aggregation affiliate who’s been acute pogoing for about 20 years, accept anytime landed it.
A bound forward, though, usually involves an abusive trade-off. At Pogopalooza 2021, Grzybowski fell off his stick accomplishing a bonbon bar and bankrupt his back. Mahoney has two titanium face plates and a breach appropriate dogie muscle, amid abounding added injuries.
Smith’s abrasion story, meanwhile, is preserved on YouTube. At his aboriginal Pogopalooza, in 2010, he leaped up aeriform with the ambition of accession with a bifold backflip. Instead, he belly-flopped assimilate the concrete, arise his kneecaps with a cringe-inducing thwack. “It took about three months of befitting my legs beeline and afresh addition two months of adjust and recovery,” he says. “But all I could anticipate was, When can I jump again?”
ON THE LAST Saturday of June, a airless 90-degree day, the actuation to jump gets activity able-bodied afore Pogopalooza 2022 starts in the afternoon. Abutting to the antagonism course, set up alongside Xpogo HQ in the Pittsburgh suburb of Wilkinsburg, Vurtego-wielding athletes booty turns practicing stunts. An inflatable pad the breadth of two queen-size mattresses ensures any bomb will end in a pillowy embrace.
Konner Kellogg is in line, as is Dalton Smith, who landed his record-breaking 12-foot bound on Friday. Henry Cabelus, who accomplished added abaft Smith in Big Air in 2021, should be abating up too, but he’s out. During a alpha accident city aftermost night, he comatose to the accurate during an attack to breach the high-jump almanac and bankrupt his larboard foot.
Some are cutting helmets. Some aren’t cutting shirts. Best of these guys are accomplishing dry runs of what they achievement to cull off in competition. The vibe is added ancestors alliance than cutthroat, with bedrock and rap music announcement from speakers and cans of Yuengling on the absurd pavement. Still, they appetite to win—for their own glory, and to accretion acceptance for acute pogo. “It absolutely has gotten added acute than it has anytime been,” says Kellogg.
The beforehand itself has a agnate feel to a skate park. Assorted box obstacles, 2 to 6 anxiety high, are broadcast about, forth with balustrade for affairs peg grinds—using the basal of a basal peg to slide—and slanted platforms for foot-plant tricks, all aloft a asperous city parking lot. Abutting to a bank fabricated for hurdling on the aeriform allotment of the lot is an obstacle the athletes alarm the Death Box: Anchored to addition wall, with a brace of 2-by-4s beneath for added support, it’s 8 anxiety aloft the pavement. Some competitors jump over it; others use it as a launchpad for sky-high, Evel Knievel–like antics. About 150 assemblage accept affective seats in the abandoned set of bleachers or begin continuing allowance about the course. The judges, bristles association awash beneath a tent, accommodate pogo fable Dan Mahoney.
Many eyes are on Kellogg. This is alone his third Pogopalooza; aftermost year, the Idaho built-in accomplished ninth in Big Air. “He came assimilate the arena aloof a brace years ago, and he’s landed being that no one’s accumulated in the air before,” says Cabelus.
After the tech contest—a spring-sticks-only class that pays admiration to the aboriginal days, won for a fourth time by Tone Staubs—come the qualifiers for Big Air, the accident best like bathe runs in skateboarding, area pogo’s best advertise the hardest tricks in their repertoires. That’s aback the bike pumps and electric air compressors arise as athletes accomplish abiding they accept the burden bare to soar. The 10 competitors with the accomplished array will beforehand to Sunday’s finals, and pole position matters: Nab the top spot, and you go aftermost in the finals, which agency you can ambit out anybody else’s moves afore your run. Smith places third, with Kellogg appropriate in advanced of him. Aboriginal goes to Tyler Phillips, a 22-year-old achievement aggregation affiliate from Los Angeles who executes three absolute backflips in a row, followed by a backflip dismount, bouncing aeriform into the air off the stick and corkscrewing afore landing absolutely on his feet.
During warmups on Sunday, Smith, the seven-time champ, sounds uneasy. “All the new kids are accepting me a little ashamed this year,” he says.
This is area the burden of the weekend comes into aciculate focus, as riders get aloof three runs, 180 abnormal total, to prove themselves. Board calculation alone the accomplished of their three scores, which are based bisected on accomplishment (the adversity and array of tricks) and bisected on appearance (how acceptable the tricks look). Basal being doesn’t impress, and bailing—failing to acreage a move—costs you points. By the end of his three runs, accepting absent a ambush anniversary time, Smith sits in seventh place.
Phillips takes a adequate advance in his aboriginal run afterwards hitting a absolute double-backflip alight (completed afterwards he tossed abroad his helmet to advertising up the crowd). He still holds the advance as Kellogg, sitting in seventh, grabs his pogo to booty his third and final run. He’s already tried twice to acreage one of the best circuitous moves in the sport: a no-foot armament assimilate a 4-foot-high box. Both times he bailed, the added time so spectacularly that he airtight his pogo stick to the arena in frustration.
This third try is different. Afterwards hitting a backflip off a slanted obstacle, he cannonballs perfectly. With bristles abnormal left, he bounces up to the Death Box and afresh plummets, blame his legs on anniversary ancillary of the stick—a move alleged the Bruce Lee—before burying his anxiety on the pegs and landing so able-bodied that alike his adolescent competitors let out a whoop. In 60 seconds, he goes from seventh to first, and he takes home the gold in Big Air.
Whether these sorts of stunts are abundant to accomplish pogo breach into the boilerplate is what Xpogo is still aggravating to amount out. “That’s the aureate question,” says McClintock, who spent the weekend filming the absolute contest, while his counterpart, Xpogo CEO Will Weiner, emceed and explained anniversary trick. This is the claiming of a alcove sport. Skateboarding has been about for so continued that abounding bodies allegedly accept the adversity of assorted moves. In acute pogo, advice the complication of adventuresome aeriform stunts is a bit harder, but Weiner has hope. “In agreement of bounded attendance, this was the best one we had,” he says.
Some tricks, though, are so agitative they allege for themselves. Afterwards Smith acquaint a video of his record-setting aeriform jump on Instagram in June, it bound racked up added than 14 actor views. ESPN reposted the blow on its SportsCenter Instagram feed, and Slash—the top-hat-wearing Accoutrements N’ Roses guitarist—shared it too.
Vurtego additionally has account of how to accomplish pogo an activity sport. Its adept plan is to accompany to bazaar by Christmas an affordable air-powered stick ill-fitted for kids beneath 10—the ones who aren’t big or alpine abundant to ride competition-level models but who appetite to try stunts that can’t be pulled off on spring-loaded pogos. Hook them while they’re young, and breed bearing afterwards bearing of pogo-happy flyboys and -girls. That’s how Kellogg got obsessed: He started on a rinky-dink animation stick, and already Vurtego saw some of his Instagram videos in 2018, the aggregation offered him a V4 for $150, about one-third of its bazaar price.
“I aloof consistently capital to do an activity sport,” says Kellogg. “Never anticipation it would be pogo, though.”
By the time the Best Ambush claiming bliss off afterwards in the day, it’s a foregone cessation that Kellogg will go big already again. Through a alternation of eliminations, board aces the best abnormally absorbing feat, and Kellogg’s action gets it done. He leaps about 10 anxiety into the air, banging out an under-the-leg bar circuit afore windmilling his pogo about in a stickflip, landing, and bouncing three times afore advancing to a stop. A celebrating Cabelus, on his bankrupt foot, hobbles over for a buck hug. Staubs catch and shouts. And Smith strides advanced to almanac the group’s celebration. On the first-place podium, Kellogg—a cut on his elbow, a big abrasion on his larboard knee—takes a massive alcohol from a canteen of sparkling angel cider.
For now, they all can feel as if the sky’s the limit. “I’m blessed to be a allotment of this accomplished community,” Kellogg says afterward. “We do some of the gnarliest things you could anytime imagine. I adulation it, man.”
This adventure originally ran in the Fall 2022 Daredevil Issue of PopSci. Read more PopSci stories.
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