STICK IT TO THE MAN

According to Nick Ryan, the whole idea for extreme pogo (Xpogo) began around the time that the Summer X Games really started growing in popularity. Tony Hawk was throwing down 900s, Dave Mirra was doing double backflips and Travis Pastrana was dislocating his spine, and then riding again the following year. If that wasn’t radical enough, these formerly obscure lifestyle pursuits were now being called “sports.”

While skateboards, bikes and even rollerblades were the popular tools in the extreme sports workshop, for Ryan and a few of his friends, the pogo stick was their instrument of expression.

“Extreme pogo stick” is probably an alien term to most people and that’s understandable. This is an extreme sport, with a dash of childhood nostalgia which others can’t claim. Granted, these are not the same pogo sticks you had lying around when you were kid, but the methodology is all the same. The thought that went through the head of every kid who ever bounced around on a pogo stick became a driving force behind Xpogo: Higher!

Xpogo(extreme pogo, for the uninitiated or those not fond of brevity) is coincidentally the name of the sport, as well as Nick Ryan’s company, which started 15 years ago. Xpogo is probably most responsible for the birth and overall development of extreme sticking.

Ryan started inventing tricks on regular, run-of-the-mill pogo sticks, but the desire to jump higher was always in his blood. Ryan and his crew, with the help of various manufacturers, developed some of the very first extreme pogo sticks.

“Instead of going a couple inches off the ground, you can go, like, eight or nine feet in the air,” Ryan says, “which basically allowed for there to be a lifestyle and an extreme sport, same as with biking, skating or surfing.”

As you reminisce about that old sunflower-yellow pogo stick you hawked at a garage sale for 10 bucks back in the day, you realize that witnessing some of the aerial tricks these young riders have invented defies logic. Take, for instance, the can-can peg grab, which entails getting at least four or five feet off the ground, swinging one leg off the peg and in front of the stick while simultaneously pushing the stick backwards with your other leg and grabbing the free peg with your hand. Then there’s the heel-clicker, which involves getting a decent amount of air, throwing both feet over the handlebars and smacking your feet together before safely landing back down on the ground.

According to Ryan, while the sport hasn’t exactly exploded, it has gained a lot of coverage, especially over the past five years due to the “novelty” of the sport itself.

“Novelty, in the sense that nobody originally had seen guys jumping nine feet in the air and doing a backflip over a car on a pogo stick,” explains Ryan.
Good Morning America, The Wall Street Journal and even ESPN have all paid homage to this extreme variance in the sporting world. The shock factor of extreme pogo has helped the sport gain international attention as well. The sport has had several tour stops across the pond, most recently in Montpellier, France during the 2014 Pogopalooza. Ryan and his group of riders have traveled as far as Macau, China to perform for interested onlookers. According to Ryan, his team of riders makes about 250 appearances on average each year. Downtown Jacksonville’s Hemming Park plays host to the 2015 Pogopalooza US Open, which will be held on June 5 and 6. The top 10 riders at this event will be automatically entered into the Pogopalooza World Finals, which happens in Philadelphia on July 3 and 4.

“We’ve been everywhere,” Ryan says. “Almost every single day, year-round, we have guys either demonstrating, running clinics or performing all across the country.”
Everywhere they go these days, they attract more fans accordingly. Ryan believes it’s the nature of the tricks — the different grabs, flips and overall rotations, which are very similar to the types of antics you would see at a BMX or Motocross event — that helps people relate to the sport.

“The younger they are, they crazier they are,” Ryan says in regard to the practitioners of the sport he helped kick-start. “The stuff 14-year-olds are doing now and will be doing at this event is stuff that’s beyond anything I’ve ever done.”

Florida’s very own pogo prodigy, Michael Mena, is currently ranked No. 2 in the world of extreme pogo, after finishing the 2014 Xpogo World Championship just eight points shy of the lead. For the 22-year-old Oviedo native, the road to Xpogo started about 10 years ago inside a garage on one boring, rainy afternoon.

“It was all on the little pogo sticks, before the big ones had even come out,” Mena said.

“I had been doing all the little tricks before anything really crazy got invented.”

Mena went pro when he was 19 and he’s come quite far since those garage days of doing little tricks with his amateur pogo stick. He’s invented several tricks along the way and currently holds the title of first person to successfully land a “stickflip,” which sounds like Xpogo’s version of the classic skateboard trick (kickflip), but is actually nothing like it. The stickflip involves kicking the pogo stick sideways, spinning it in a circle (clockwise or counter-clockwise) with your hands and then placing your feet back on the pegs after it makes a complete rotation. Sounds easy, right? Not.

As a professional rider, Mena makes his living from various performances around the country and the prize money awarded to the winners of the annual Xpogo World Championship, called Pogopalooza. With money comes competition but, according to Mena, the attitude among the riders is that everybody is just there to have fun.

“It’s a really tight community,” Mena said. “Everybody pretty much knows each other, which is a unique thing to have. Obviously, with sports like skateboarding, it’s just too big for everyone to know each other.”

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