BROKEN ASPHALT scars the parking zone between the buildings of the deserted Gladstone Faculty in Pittsburgh. Concrete staircases sit unused. Rusted iron fencing encircles the recess yard. Graffiti covers brick partitions. Even the sky, as if understanding the setting, is overcast.

However on this heat Could day, this ghost city quantities to an city playground for a band of extreme-trick artists. Their autos of alternative: pogo sticks. Inside minutes of arriving, six jumpers start sizing up the obstacles over which they’ll bounce, flip, and spin.

A small, fenced enclosure catches the attention of 19-year-old Konner Kellogg, who stands five-foot-nine. He steps onto his pogo’s pegs and inside three bounces is crusing greater than 8 toes into the air. Whoosh-whoosh-whoosh. Because the others cease to soak up the scene, Kellogg—or simply “Logg” to his gravity-defying crew—hurdles a 5-foot part of fence, windmilling the stick counterclockwise in entrance of his face. Toes again on the pegs, he touches down and goes skyward as soon as extra, this time throwing his stick upward and slamming his palms on the foot pegs earlier than grabbing the handlebars once more (a transfer known as the no-foot cannonball). With the ultimate bounce he soars straight above one other piece of fencing and sticks a flawless touchdown.

“Logg’s line was so sick,” says Henry Cabelus, a 23-year-old who backflipped over a handrail seconds earlier than.

“Dude, it’s psychological havoc, bro!” replies Kellogg, eradicating his helmet to disclose a mop of dirty-blond hair.

Welcome to excessive pogo. Take the ethos honed by skate boarders, switch it to a stick that springs up and down, and you’ve got the concept.

For 20 years, a small group of madcaps has radically probed the physics of what many contemplate a easy kids’s toy. The pogos they experience, nevertheless, are something however. Engineered to be able to unimaginable top, their sticks open the game to ever extra spectacular feats.

The gang hoists Dalton Smith in celebration after he completes a record-setting 12-foot pogo leap. Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet

“It by no means ceases to amaze me,” says Nick McClintock, the 35-year-old co-founder of Xpogo, a Pittsburgh-based firm that acts as governing physique for the burgeoning sport. “We thought leaping over 6 toes was by no means going to occur. It’s actually insane.”

Xpogo organizes classes just like the one at Gladstone a number of instances a yr to deliver collectively the geographically dispersed few who can bust out jaw-dropping tips—and encourage them to push their limits. The group additionally places on expos (at NBA halftime exhibits, for instance) with its stunt workforce, an assemblage of a dozen of the very best jumpers, together with Cabelus and Kellogg.

This all leads as much as the org’s largest showcase, Pogopalooza. Now in its nineteenth yr and anchored close to Xpogo HQ simply exterior Pittsburgh, the June occasion is its model of the X Video games, that includes about 20 elite stunt artists from all over the world hovering excessive and exhibiting mind-bending feats. There are 4 aggressive occasions, together with Massive Air, which provides riders 60 seconds to carry out their most spectacular strikes, and Greatest Trick, which is self-explanatory.

What Pogopalooza lacks, although, is mainstream reputation, and it’s that outsider standing that pogo’s elites need to change. In any case, isn’t skateboarding within the Olympics? “We simply need to be part of the remainder of motion sports activities,” says Dalton Smith, a 25-year-old from Tennessee and an Xpogo stunt workforce member who holds the document for highest leap: 12 toes.

A leap like that requires a sure diploma of athleticism: energy within the legs to push off, power within the arms to carry your self regular. Tips, in the meantime, demand ability and precision. Take a transfer Kellogg pulled off at Pogopalooza 2021. He hit the identical no-foot cannonball he did on the Gladstone Faculty, however earlier than touchdown, he grabbed a handlebar and spun the stick behind him by means of his legs. Two maneuvers in a single, seconds earlier than he hit pavement.

Excessive pogo athletes have appeared on Late Night time with David Letterman, YouTube channels, and Instagram pages, and the game occupies its personal class in Guinness World Data. Nonetheless, the pastime hasn’t fairly transcended quirkiness, however some veterans really feel a change is coming. “It’s positively at a tipping level,” says Fred Grzybowski, who pogoed on Letterman and, at 33, is one thing of an elder statesman.

Pumping up air pressure in special pogo stick
Tone Staubs (far proper) makes use of a motorbike pump to spice up the air strain in his Vurtego pogo stick for optimum bounce. Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet

Xpogo tries to nudge this alongside by taking its stunt workforce on the street to avenue festivals and festivals. It collaborates with corporations like GoPro, which makes movies of pogo athletes. In March, Xpogo acquired a lift when Aaron Homoki, a prime professional skateboarder, posted an Instagram video of stuntmen doing tips at a park in Phoenix, Arizona.

However the principle distinction of late? A technology of younger weapons using pogo sticks to larger heights and pulling wild stunts older jumpers haven’t seen. “They’re doing issues that we by no means imagined we’d be doing,” says 30-year-old Tone Staubs.

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This yr, Kellogg and others are taking goal at Smith, arguably the game’s greatest: He’s gained Massive Air the final seven years. Profitable at Pogopalooza, although, as these lords a-leaping will let you know, is about greater than attempting to unseat a champion. It’s one other probability to stake a declare for pogoing as a legit excessive sport—by throwing tips which can be larger and extra harmful than something that has come earlier than.

WHEN TRICK POGO emerged within the early 2000s, the spring-loaded contraption youngsters usually discard in grade faculty was all its earliest devotees had at their disposal. Medium air, so to talk, was the very best that guys like Grzybowski, Staubs, and McClintock might obtain. Within the absence of sufficient cling time to tug a flip, the stunts have been extra technical than showy: spinning the bars, leaping and grabbing a foot peg, hopping with one leg draped over the handlebars in a transfer known as the sweet bar. In locations throughout the US, these pioneers have been making a sport.

They discovered one another on-line. Earlier than Xpogo integrated in 2012, it was merely an web discussion board the place folks posted video after video of assorted exploits. The primary Pogopalooza, in summer season 2004, was seven dudes from throughout the nation in a church parking zone in Lincoln, Nebraska. Prime prize was a bag of path combine. “That was all people who was doing tips on a pogo stick,” says McClintock.

Previous-school sticks retailer potential vitality (i.e., how a lot oomph they’re able to offering) in a spring, which conforms to fundamental, linearly proportional legal guidelines: Compressing a coil to half its prolonged dimension causes it to carry on to twice as a lot power. When the spring returns to its uncompressed state, it gives sufficient boing to nail an under-the-leg bar spin (pogo’s equal of skateboarding’s 360-degree kickflip), however the fastened bodily properties of the gauge, or thickness, of the metal restrict a coil’s potential. The most effective air one can hope for is 6 toes. You could possibly make a pogo keep on with a thicker gauge to gin up extra potential vitality, however heftier metallic makes for a heavier experience that’ll overwhelm the jumper.

Diptych: Kellogg and Phillips do extreme pogo moves
Left: Konner Kellogg backflipping throughout Pogopalooza 2022. Proper: Tyler Phillips pulls an under-the-leg bar spin, the pogo equal of skateboarding’s kickflip. Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet

What occurred subsequent was fortuitous. A number of inventors noticed making pogo sticks for adults as a singular engineering problem, one price taking on only for kicks. Bruce Spencer, a former Northrop worker, his son, Brian, and Bruce Middleton, a Massachusetts Institute of Expertise graduate turned stay-at-home dad, all sought to design not a toy, however a high-flying machine.

Not lengthy after the primary Pogopalooza, Middleton launched the primary new scheme to spice up potential vitality with a stick known as the Flybar. It featured 12 elastomer bands—massive items of rubber, mainly—fitted contained in the cylinder that kinds the principle physique of the gadget. Initially, this gave the impression to be the reply. The bands have been a lot lighter than metallic, and every generated 100 kilos of power, greater than sufficient mixed vitality to launch somebody skyward. By 2005, folks using Flybars have been touchdown full backflips, a trick jumpers might by no means have executed simply 5 years earlier.

An excessive amount of use, although, robs rubber of its elasticity. For the Flybar, meaning finally the bands get stretched out and wish changing. Doable, however annoying.

Two years later, the Spencers bounced onto the high-end pogo scene with Vurtego, a stick that makes use of compressed air, which overcomes elastomer’s failings. Air is lighter than rubber and doesn’t put on out. Bonus: Riders can modify it on the fly. Low strain means much less of a bounce, giving jumpers extra management. For giant air? Escape the bike pump. A Pogopalooza-ready stick—most opponents use the Vurtego V4—normally holds between 70 and 100 kilos of air per sq. inch. Evaluate that to a basketball, which holds about 8 kilos of air per sq. inch. One of many tires in your automotive? Someplace between 30 and 50.

“That’s after I really feel like pogo actually took off,” says Patrick Cooper, a professor at Duquesne College and Xpogo’s unofficial in-house physicist. “Pressurized air simply allowed for lots extra creativity in how they work together with the pogo stick.”

With these new sticks, riders started pushing the boundaries of their imaginations. Dan Mahoney, a 29-year-old Canadian who’s credited with increasing the catalog of tips, landed the first-ever entrance flip on a Flybar in 2008. He invented the Mandy, named after an ex-girlfriend, whereas using a Vurtego. It’s certainly one of excessive pogo’s most iconic acrobatic acts: Bounce excessive into the air and whip the stick above your head. Because it swings round, it turns the rider round too, till they land again on the foot pegs.

Such maneuvers are scientific phenomena unto themselves. As soon as airborne, flipping relies on lowering a metric often known as angular mass or second of inertia; the decrease the inertia, the higher the rotation. How do you do this? The identical means an Olympic gymnast or determine skater manages an advanced spin, says Cooper: by tucking your self right into a ball.

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When pogo tricksters lean into their sticks, holding them near their our bodies, they lower their second of inertia, which in flip will increase their angular velocity—how briskly they’re spinning.

Phillips and Smith do extreme pogo jumps
Left: Tyler Phillips punctuates his backflip with a midrotation clap. Proper: Veteran pogoer Dalton Smith releases his stick in flight throughout a no-foot cannonball. Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet

Vurtego sticks are what the overwhelming majority of jumpers use immediately in competitors. Going massive is what grabs the eye of different athletes and the Pogopalooza judges. When Dalton Smith invented the slingshot flip in 2014, everybody took discover. To realize this transfer, he bounced and nailed a leapfrog—flinging himself excessive of the stick—and planted his heels, not his toes, on the foot pegs. He then flipped ahead in that place whereas passing the stick beneath his legs so it was again in entrance of him simply earlier than he hit the bottom. Solely Smith, Staubs, and 29-year-old Michael Mena, a stunt workforce member who’s been excessive pogoing for nearly 20 years, have ever landed it.

A leap ahead, although, normally entails an injurious trade-off. At Pogopalooza 2021, Grzybowski fell off his stick doing a sweet bar and broke his again. Mahoney has two titanium face plates and a break up proper calf muscle, amongst many different accidents.

Smith’s harm story, in the meantime, is preserved on YouTube. At his first Pogopalooza, in 2010, he leaped up excessive with the intention of dismounting with a double backflip. As a substitute, he belly-flopped onto the concrete, cracking his kneecaps with a cringe-inducing thwack. “It took about three months of holding my legs straight after which one other two months of rehab and restoration,” he says. “However all I might assume was, When can I leap once more?

ON THE LAST Saturday of June, a sweltering 90-degree day, the impulse to leap will get going nicely earlier than Pogopalooza 2022 begins within the afternoon. Subsequent to the competitors course, arrange alongside Xpogo HQ within the Pittsburgh suburb of Wilkinsburg, Vurtego-wielding athletes take turns working towards stunts. An inflatable pad the size of two queen-size mattresses ensures any flop will finish in a pillowy embrace.

Konner Kellogg is in line, as is Dalton Smith, who landed his record-breaking 12-foot leap on Friday. Henry Cabelus, who completed second behind Smith in Massive Air in 2021, needs to be warming up too, however he’s out. Throughout a kickoff occasion downtown final evening, he crashed to the concrete throughout an try to interrupt the high-jump document and broke his left foot.

Staubs and Kellogg celebrate
Tone Staubs celebrates with Konner Kellogg, who capped his remaining routine with a transfer known as the Bruce Lee to win Pogopalooza’s Massive Air competitors. Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet

Some are sporting helmets. Some aren’t sporting shirts. Most of those guys are doing dry runs of what they hope to tug off in competitors. The vibe is extra household reunion than cutthroat, with rock and rap music blasting from audio system and cans of Yuengling on the cracked pavement. Nonetheless, they need to win—for their very own glory, and to achieve recognition for excessive pogo. “It positively has gotten extra intense than it has ever been,” says Kellogg.

The course itself has an analogous really feel to a skate park. Varied field obstacles, 2 to six toes excessive, are strewn about, together with rails for pulling peg grinds—utilizing the underside of a foot peg to slip—and slanted platforms for foot-plant tips, all atop a tough asphalt parking zone. Subsequent to a wall made for hurdling on the higher a part of the lot is an impediment the athletes name the Loss of life Field: Anchored to a different wall, with a pair of 2-by-4s beneath for extra assist, it’s 8 toes above the pavement. Some opponents leap over it; others use it as a launchpad for sky-high, Evel Knievel–like antics. About 150 spectators have grabbed seats within the lone set of bleachers or discovered standing room across the course. The judges, 5 people huddled beneath a tent, embody pogo legend Dan Mahoney.

Many eyes are on Kellogg. That is solely his third Pogopalooza; final yr, the Idaho native completed ninth in Massive Air. “He got here onto the scene only a couple years in the past, and he’s landed stuff that nobody’s mixed within the air earlier than,” says Cabelus.

After the tech contest—a spring-sticks-only class that pays homage to the early days, gained for a fourth time by Tone Staubs—come the qualifiers for Massive Air, the occasion most like freestyle runs in skateboarding, the place pogo’s greatest showcase the toughest tips of their repertoires. That’s when the bike pumps and electrical air compressors seem as athletes be certain they’ve the strain wanted to soar. The ten opponents with the best scores will advance to Sunday’s finals, and pole place issues: Nab the highest spot, and also you go final within the finals, which implies you may scope out everybody else’s strikes earlier than your run. Smith locations third, with Kellogg proper in entrance of him. First goes to Tyler Phillips, a 22-year-old stunt workforce member from Los Angeles who executes three excellent backflips in a row, adopted by a backflip dismount, bouncing excessive into the air off the stick and corkscrewing earlier than touchdown squarely on his toes.

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Throughout warmups on Sunday, Smith, the seven-time champ, sounds uneasy. “All the brand new youngsters are getting me a bit of rattled this yr,” he says.

Kellogg holds up helmet in celebration
Konner Kellogg raises his helmet in victory. He gained two principal occasions: Greatest Trick and Massive Air. Within the latter, he unseated seven-time champ Dalton Smith. Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet

That is the place the strain of the weekend comes into sharp focus, as riders get simply three runs, 180 seconds whole, to show themselves. Judges rely solely the best of their three scores, that are primarily based half on ability (the problem and number of tips) and half on fashion (how good the tips look). Fundamental stuff doesn’t impress, and bailing—failing to land a transfer—prices you factors. By the top of his three runs, having missed a trick every time, Smith sits in seventh place.

Phillips takes a snug lead in his first run after hitting a flawless double-backflip dismount (accomplished after he tossed away his helmet to hype up the gang). He nonetheless holds the lead as Kellogg, sitting in seventh, grabs his pogo to take his third and remaining run. He’s already tried twice to land probably the most advanced strikes within the sport: a no-foot cannonball onto a 4-foot-high field. Each instances he bailed, the second time so spectacularly that he slammed his pogo persist with the bottom in frustration.

This third strive is completely different. After hitting a backflip off a slanted impediment, he cannonballs completely. With 5 seconds left, he bounces as much as the Loss of life Field after which plummets, kicking his legs on all sides of the stick—a transfer known as the Bruce Lee—earlier than planting his toes on the pegs and touchdown so nicely that even his fellow opponents let loose a whoop. In 60 seconds, he goes from seventh to first, and he takes dwelling the gold in Massive Air.

Spectators at Pogopalooza 2022 in Pittsburgh
The gang at Pogopalooza 2022 was the most important the organizers, Xpogo, have seen within the occasion’s 19-year historical past. Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet

Whether or not these types of stunts are sufficient to make pogo break into the mainstream is what Xpogo remains to be attempting to determine. “That’s the golden query,” says McClintock, who spent the weekend filming your entire contest, whereas his counterpart, Xpogo CEO Will Weiner, emceed and defined every trick. That is the problem of a distinct segment sport. Skateboarding has been round for thus lengthy that many individuals intuitively perceive the problem of assorted strikes. In excessive pogo, translating the complexity of daring aerial stunts is a bit more durable, however Weiner has hope. “When it comes to native attendance, this was the very best one we had,” he says.

Some tips, although, are so eye-popping they communicate for themselves. After Smith posted a video of his record-setting excessive leap on Instagram in June, it shortly racked up greater than 14 million views. ESPN reposted the clip on its SportsCenter Instagram feed, and Slash—the top-hat-wearing Weapons N’ Roses guitarist—shared it too.

Vurtego additionally has concepts of find out how to make pogo an motion sport. Its grasp plan is to deliver to market by Christmas an reasonably priced air-powered stick fitted to youngsters beneath 10—those who aren’t massive or tall sufficient to experience competition-level fashions however who need to strive stunts that may’t be pulled off on spring-loaded pogos. Hook them whereas they’re younger, and domesticate technology after technology of pogo-happy flyboys and -girls. That’s how Kellogg acquired obsessed: He began on a rinky-dink spring stick, and as soon as Vurtego noticed a few of his Instagram movies in 2018, the corporate supplied him a V4 for $150, about one-third of its market value.

“I simply all the time wished to do an motion sport,” says Kellogg. “By no means thought it might be pogo, although.”

By the point the Greatest Trick contest kicks off later within the day, it’s a foregone conclusion that Kellogg will go massive as soon as once more. Via a collection of eliminations, judges choose essentially the most singularly spectacular feat, and Kellogg’s maneuver will get it accomplished. He leaps about 10 toes into the air, banging out an under-the-leg bar spin earlier than windmilling his pogo round in a stickflip, touchdown, and bouncing thrice earlier than coming to a cease. A jubilant Cabelus, on his busted foot, hobbles over for a bear hug. Staubs claps and shouts. And Smith strides ahead to document the group’s celebration. On the first-place podium, Kellogg—a lower on his elbow, an enormous bruise on his left knee—takes a large swig from a bottle of glowing apple cider.

For now, all of them can really feel as if the sky’s the restrict. “I’m glad to be part of this entire group,” Kellogg says afterward. “We do a few of the gnarliest issues you might ever think about. I adore it, man.”

This story initially ran within the Fall 2022 Daredevil Difficulty of PopSci. Learn extra PopSci+ tales.