Pogo athletes seek new heights | ParkRecord.com

Pogo athletes seek new heights

Alisha Self, Of the Record staff

Fifteen-year-old Max Gano is used to turning heads. Whether he’s doing a backflip off a set of stairs or teetering on a 10-foot ledge, the fact that he’s on a pogo stick always seems to stop people in their tracks.

Gano is one of 32 athletes who will bring high-flying, gravity-defying feats to Redstone Center on Friday, Aug. 20, for the qualifying rounds of Pogopalooza 7, the world championships for extreme pogo-sticking.

If you’re envisioning neighborhood competitions in which you out-jumped your friends, think again. Extreme pogo involves performing twists, flips and tricks while bounding to heights of more than six feet off the ground.

According to Nick Ryan, co-president of the Pogopalooza Organization, the sport has been around for about 10 years. It started when Provo native Dave Armstrong set up xpogo.com, a small web-based community where pogoers posted photos and shared tricks.

In 2004, a group of athletes decided to get together for a mini-exposition and Pogopalooza was born. "It set a precedent for everyone who is involved in the sport to have a chance to meet each other, compete against each other and raise awareness," says Ryan, who was one of the original participants.

He got involved on the organizational side of Pogopalooza and recently founded an event production company that handles the logistical aspects. The event has become the largest annual exposition of extreme pogo and is akin to ESPN’s X Games for the athletes.

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"It’s grown exponentially to the point where we now invite the top athletes from around the world each year to a different major city in the United States," Ryan explains.

Pogopalooza 7 will bring together athletes from 17 states, Canada and England to compete in four events: the Big Air Competition, Tech Competition, Best Trick Competition and High Jump Competition.

Qualifying rounds will be held Friday from 3 to 7 p.m. at Redstone Center in Park City. Finals will be held Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Gateway mall in Salt Lake City. Admission is free and open to the public.

Tom Richardson, president of the Redstone Merchants Association, first saw extreme pogo-sticking on NBC’s "America’s Got Talent." "I was wowed," he says. "People are going to be blown away. It’s spectacular to watch."

Events at Redstone Center will include qualifying for the Big Air, Tech and High Jump competitions. Contestants will also participate in auxiliary contests testing who can jump the least and most times per minute. Spectators will have the opportunity to try both classic and extreme pogo.

There are two types of extreme pogo sticks, Ryan says. Big air sticks utilize compressed air, rubber bands and other gadgets to enable jumps upwards of six feet in the air. Tech sticks generally have springs and keeps jumpers closer to the ground, making for more challenging tricks.

Gano has been pogoing for nearly a year and a half. The Alpharetta, Ga., teen picked up a stick after seeing clips on "Modern Marvels" and realized he had a knack for the art of the bounce.

"I’ve always been the one in my neighborhood who’s doing crazy stunts," he says. "Pogo sticking was natural for me."

Gano is attending Pogopalooza for the first time and plans to compete in the Big, Air, High Jump and Best Trick competitions. "I’m most excited to go and hang out with other pogo-stickers and see what kinds of tricks they can do and show them what I can do. Not taking the competition too seriously is what makes it fun," he says.

Of course, one thing that extreme pogo athletes do take seriously is the risk factor. Gano has sustained a sprained ankle and a few concussions, which puts him on the fortunate end of the injury spectrum.

"It’s an extreme sport. That adjective basically demands that there is a level of risk that makes it impressive and attractive to a certain type of person," Ryans says. "Extreme athletes are pushing the limit of what is possible and that goes hand-in-hand with the risk. It is dangerous, but it’s a kind of danger that’s recognized and tackled by everybody who does it."

The qualifying events at Redstone Center will take place in the forum across from Beadniks and J.W. Allen & Sons toy store. Sponsor booths and live music will be set up on the premises and Richardson encourages spectators to bring chairs and post up for the duration of the competition. "It should be a fun afternoon, that’s for sure," he says.

For more information about Pogopalooza 7, visit http://www.pogopalooza7.com .