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Extreme Pogo championships return to Pittsburgh

| Tuesday, July 5, 2016, 4:36 p.m.
Pogopalooza was held in Pittsburgh in 2014.
xpogo.com
Pogopalooza was held in Pittsburgh in 2014.
Athletes from XPogo at a demonstration in Paris.
xpogo.com
Athletes from XPogo at a demonstration in Paris.
XPogo athletes in Beijing
Nick McClintock
XPogo athletes in Beijing

Hopping on pogo sticks isn't just for kids — it's also an adult sport.

The Extreme Pogo World Championships will take place in Pittsburgh this year on July 8 and 9 at Carrie Furnace in Rankin.

Nick Ryan, the CEO of XPogo, which hosts the Extreme Pogo World Championships — known as Pogopalooza — is a Carnegie Mellon University grad. Ryan and some friends invented the sport about 15 years ago.

“We were kids and got pogo sticks for Christmas,” Ryan says. “Unlike all other people, we didn't stop, didn't put them in the garage, rusting away.”

Competitors are coming in from all over the United States, Europe and Australia. Their goal is making the event into an X Games-type extreme sport, and it seems to be well on its way.

“This isn't the tiny pogo sticks that jump 2 inches off the ground,” Ryan says. “Today, they're capable of going over 10 feet in the air.

“At least 20 people in our company are full-time professional athletes — performing, doing demos, getting sponsors. No one's getting rich off of it yet, but it's climbing.”

Ryan got to know Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, who helped him find locations to shoot videos in this quintessential Rust Belt city. When he saw the magnificent rusting hulk of Carrie Furnace, he knew they'd have to do something there someday.

“In terms of Pittsburgh, we have a deep relationship,” Ryan says. “This is the third time in 13 years we're in Pittsburgh” for the world championships.

The Rivers of Steel nonprofit has been opening Carrie Furnace for tours for years. Recently, they've been allowing all sorts of uses, like “American Ninja Warrior,” and the upcoming Thrival music festival. The Pogo World Championships will be inside one of the main buildings at Carrie Furnace.

The current world champion — he's won the last two years — is Dalton Smith, a student in Nashville. He'll be defending his title in Pittsburgh.

“I just had a pogo stick in the garage that we never used as kids,” he says. “I started jumping on it one day, and found I could do ‘no-handers,' down stairs and off benches. I looked online to see if anyone else was doing it. I found this whole community of people who found these giant pogo sticks.”

The competition has three events.

“High jump, like a pole vault, jump over a bar and keep bouncing,” says Ryan, so there's no flopping onto a padded surface. “World record is 10.5 feet.”

Then there's “Best Trick.”

“Some are super technical,” Ryan says. “Double-backflip, which has never been done. People try to land something that advances the sport.”

“ ‘Freestyle' is like the X Games, or part of the Olympics,” he says. “We have a course with a lots of boxes and stairs. Athletes have runs — a blank canvas and can do the best they can do. Impress a panel of judges. Style and skill.”

Smith says he doesn't have a signature trick.

“I do a reverse front flip,” he says. “I jump on the pogo stick backwards and do a front flip while jumping on it backwards.”

Of course, landing on your face is always a possibility.

“Oh yeah, there's a lot of risk to it,” Smith says. “We go in knowing we're putting our bodies in a little danger. I've cracked my hip and broken my kneecap.”

Ryan describes the rick factor as mid-range safety.

“More dangerous than skateboarding, less dangerous than freestyle motocross,” he says. “Everyone has to wear a particular kind of helmet. Some wear chest armor. ... Even though it's dangerous on an objective level, you don't see a lot of injuries.”

The new pogo sticks have a pretty wide price range, from the NSG Flight at $59.99 to the Vurtego V4 Pro at $420. Xpogo sells most of them at xpogo.com.

“There are multiple manufacturers, growing competition,” Ryan says. “Some in California, some in New York, some in France, some in China. We don't manufacture. We're like the Zappos or Amazon. We sell the best.”

Michael Machosky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mmachosky@tribweb.com or 412-320-7901.

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