‘Extreme pogo’ exhibition demonstrates how sport has changed

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Like so many of the several hundred people who crammed to the Allegheny River front at 6 p.m. Saturday to see a pogo stick exhibition, Chris Uhren and Meghan Bray thought they were coming to see some local pogo enthusiasts from a local club who just happened to like this underground sport.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Bray, 23, of Friendship, said. “We heard yesterday that there were these people who were flipping around on pogo sticks and we just wanted to see it.”

“I just figured it was some little local club,” Uhren, 25, said after the show, “not some big company that performs all over the country and internationally.”

Turns out, they, and several hundred other people at the Three Rivers Regatta saw two of the world’s best pogo athletes perform: “Danger” Russ Kaus, 24, of Fairfax, Va., and Michael Mena, 25, formerly of Colorado Springs but recently moved to Pittsburgh, who finished second in the pogo world championships (yes, they have a world championship; the most recent one was in Wilkinsburg).

During their 25-minute exhibition of hard-to-fathom tricks, jumps, leaps and flips, several as much as 9 or 10 feet off the ground, they demonstrated the bounds to which pogoers have just begun to go in the 15 years since the modern, compressed air pogo stick went into production.

No longer limited by less bouncy, spring-fueled pogo sticks many in the crowd said they used as kids, the compressed air sticks are clearly what Winnie the Pooh’s buddy Tigger would choose.

It is also what is fueling what Kaus and Mena’s employer, Xpogo, calls “Extreme Pogo” - hence the company’s name.

The new technology “pushed the sport,” said Rick Ryan, co-founder of Xpogo, who acted as the team’s emcee on Saturday, exhorting the crowd and describing the tricks. “And now we’re at the center of a growing sport.”

Ryan says their big sponsor, Vurtego, and other pogo stick manufacturers, are selling tens of thousands of sticks annually, and they see the interest in the crowds at more than 200 different tour locations his athletes perform at annually.

Xpogo employees 18 full-time Stunt Team athletes like Mena and Kaus, and another 30 or so it supports financially part-time. While Stunt Team members don’t go to all 200 locations every year - it would simply be too taxing physically - they get to about half of them.

Mena said he typically works two weeks on and two weeks off. When he is on, he will perform three or four, 25- to 30-minute shows a day for three or four days in a row, before moving on to the next location, doing 30 to 40 shows every two weeks.

The exhibitions they do are so in demand right now that Ryan spreads his 18-member team out to different shows at the same time. Currently, this weekend, in addition to Pittsburgh, Xpogo has athletes performing at shows in California, Illinois and Philadelphia.

It can be a grind, like any serious athletic outlet is, Mena said, resulting in soreness and pain primarily in a pogoer’s shoulders, lower back and - primarily - their legs.

Still, he said, he wouldn’t trade performing for any job.

“During shows, I really push what I can do,” he said. “It’s motivating.”

He started pogoing when he was 13, and became a professional at 18, a move his parents wholly endorsed.

“They were just hyped I found something I care about,” he said.

Now he gets to travel the world, not only doing exhibitions, but competing in international competitions.

Behind it all is Xpogo, the company Ryan started eight years ago when he had just graduated from Carnegie Mellon University.

The company had been located in New York City, where it was close to many sponsors. But just last year he decided to move its headquarters to Wilkinsburg. It is housed in a former school there known as Community Forge, an organization that Ryan is also part of.

Thanks to Xpogo’s size and influence in the sport, Ryan said that, “It’s true now that Pittsburgh is the world’s capital for pogo because there’s just more opportunity to do it here now at a high level.”

He said he’d like to see the sport continue to grow, to emerge like so many extreme sports like skateboarding, snowboarding, BMX biking and others have over the last two decades, into broader use and acceptance.

And he’s banking on one big part of what makes pogo interesting enough that hundreds of people crammed the banks of the Allegheny River to watch two athletes fly in the air:

“At the end of the day, it’s just fun,” said Ryan. “People just like to jump.”





Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com