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The Gravity-Defying Ups and Downs of Extreme Pogo

A merry band of pogo tricksters are proving that their burgeoning sport is anything but child’s play

Twenty-five-year-old Dalton Smith was 10 when he first hopped on a tiny spring pogo stick and bounced off the ground. “It matched perfectly with my tiny spring body and brain,” he says. And so, he kept jumping. “I was a spastic kid who needed an outlet to radiate this electric charge,” he tells me. Now, 15 years later, that charge has taken him to 11 countries and almost every state. He holds multiple Guinness World Records, and he’s won gold at the world championships of pogo for the last seven years in a row. “One day I started jumping, I blinked, and now here I am emerging on the other end as what I am now,” he explains.

If you watch any of Smith’s or his friend’s recent viral videos you immediately recognize a complete disregard for gravity’s limitations. But pogo wasn’t always so vertical. In fact, prior to 2004, it was inconceivable that someone could jump high enough on a pogo stick to attempt a backflip. There were, however, a handful of folks who were doing tricks on a traditional steel spring pogo. Dave Armstrong, the godfather of extreme pogo, had even created a forum — — to share pictures and videos. 

Then, in September 2004, pogo enthusiasts were finally given the tool they needed to fly. SBI Enterprises, the makers of the original pogo stick, released the Flybar, a high-powered pogo designed by Bruce Middleton, an MIT dropout who had suffered a “‘moral crisis’ over the detachment of science from real-world problems like global poverty and dropped out,” per Smithsonian Magazine

Around this same time, Bruce Spencer, a retired firefighter, had nearly finished developing the Vurtego, the first air-powered extreme pogo stick ever sold. Suddenly, there were pogo sticks capable of catapulting human beings more than six feet in the air. And in 2009, after the first Pogopalooza, a four-day extreme pogo competition that draws jumpers from around the world to Pittsburgh, concluded, a new extreme sport was officially born. 

Will Weiner, the current CEO of Xpogo, first joined the traveling band of pogo jumpers in 2012 when he was asked to be the announcer at Pogopalooza. He was working at IBM at the time, making a cushy six-figure salary as a consultant. But in 2018, after years of lending his voice to the extreme sport, Weiner decided to make pogo his career instead. “I got well-integrated in the community and really fell in love with the sport, and this guy who was running the business needed to step away,” he tells me. And since there weren’t too many other people in the pogo world who had a business background, Weiner was their only hope. In addition to growing the sport, his main goal has been to help guys like Smith earn a decent living while jumping off rooftops on an air-spring pogo. 

“My favorite trick is the slingshot flip,” says Smith, which, he explains, gets its name from the fact that if you don’t land it correctly, you’re going to be slung every which way. “Think of it as a front-flip leapfrog starting from the reverse,” he continues. “It’s tricky. It’s dangerous. It’s drawn blood and chipped bones many times. But it’s glorious. I didn’t come up with that trick, but I was the first — and for many years only — person to land it.”

Extreme pogo’s most recent viral video was shot in early March at Paradise Valley Park in Phoenix. Aaron Homoki, better known as Jaws and one of the greatest skateboarders in the world, captured the session. It features tricks that shouldn’t be possible: Backflips into front flips. Front flips into 360 spins. Rail grinds. And one-footed flips off rooftops. “That whole shoot, we got lucky,” says Weiner. “There were a couple scares, but these young kids we got with us, it’s like they’re made out of rubber or something. I don’t understand it.”

But as rubbery as they may be, they aren’t immune to injury. To that end, when Smith was 13, he went to his first world championship in Salt Lake City. “I qualified for the finals, which I was shocked to make at such a young age,” he tells me. As a result of that shock and excitement, he decided to attempt a double backflip dismount at the end of his final run. “It all built up to that moment; the hype got me buzzed up, and I was ready to fly. I sent the double!” Smith recalls. But he opened up his body too early. “I basically belly-flopped, knees first, into the concrete,” he says. 

He would spend the next four months in a wheelchair after shattering both of his kneecaps, all the toes on each of his feet and his nose. (He suffered a major concussion, too.) It hasn’t exactly paid either — at least in terms of dollars and cents. “Most jumpers have another job to supplement like Uber or Grubhub, odd jobs or other service industry stuff,” says Smith. “I make roughly 25-30k a year and live in a converted sprinter van.” 

A major barrier to extreme pogo’s growth, per Weiner, is the sport’s steep entrance cost. “You’ll have a video blow up and all these people will get excited until they see it’s almost 500 bucks for a professional pogo stick,” he says. “Or you can get a spring one, but there’s no step in between, so we lose out on a lot of potential athletes because of the economics.” Which is why Weiner has been working with Vurtego to hopefully have a $150 air-powered starter stick by Christmas.

Currently, the team makes most of its money from performances and stunt shows at halftime shows and corporate events. “I’d like to get our media to the level where I think we’re making really, really good stuff,” Weiner tells me. “I don’t think anyone’s trying to be a millionaire off of this, but if we can get a bit more money where everybody’s able to Pogo full-time, that’s the goal.”

As for whether or not they’ll get there, he says, “Who the hell knows? Sometimes we talk about what it’s going to be like when we make it. At the same time, we just spent a weekend with Jaws, pogoing. So maybe in some aspects, we already have made it.”