UB student Steven Bennett doubles as Extreme Pogo professional
When Steven Bennett was 12 years old, he waited for his parents to leave the house, grabbed his pogo stick and dragged his mattress into the backyard.
He had his sights set on something extreme – to complete a full backflip on his pogo stick.
“I just thought to myself, ‘this would be awesome if I could do it,’ so let’s go outside and try it,” Bennett said.
He had been performing backflip dismounts – a trick where he does a backflip off of his pogo stick – since the age of nine or 10, but on that day, his attempt at a full backflip on his pogo stick failed. Justifiably, he was too afraid to go over the top on a backflip while carrying his 13-pound pogo stick.
Seven years later, pogo stick backflips are routine for Bennett, who in addition to being a sophomore computer science student at UB, moonlights as a professional Extreme Pogoer.
Since he was 15 years old, Bennett has been signed to Xpogo, a company that travels the country to put on Extreme Pogo shows and host competitions. The sport’s trademark event, Pogopalooza, has made way for Bennett to travel to cities such as Paris, Los Angeles, New York, Pittsburgh and other landmark spots to compete with the best Extreme Pogoers in the world.
Xpogo started in 1999 as an online forum for extreme pogoers to discuss the sport and post videos of their tricks. Bennett, who began extreme pogoing at the age of eight, learned the sport by posting videos of himself to the xpogo forum attempting tricks and getting feedback from fellow extreme pogoers.
“My mom got me and my sister a bigger pogo stick and a smaller pogo stick for Christmas one year,” Bennett said. “I think it was about three months later I saw a video on YouTube of somebody doing a backflip on a Pogo Stick and I’m like, ‘that’s awesome.’”
For years now, Bennett has been one of the faces of the sport. Xpogo no longer ranks its competitors, but in the most recent world rankings three years ago, Bennett was ranked fifth in the world. At the most recent Extreme Pogo World Championships, known as “Pogopalooza,” he was the top money winner of the competition, walking away with $750 behind a first place finish in “best trick,” second place finish in “high jump,” and sixth place finish in “freestyle.”
“I’m doing new tricks that I’m the first person in the world to do and that’s a very, very cool feeling,” Bennett said. “To be like, ‘wow, I’m the only person in the world who can do that thing.’”
Before he was even 10 years old, Bennett was watching videos of some of the most difficult pogo tricks in the world, trying to emulate them in his own backyard. When he was younger, he would practice for two hours a day.
The first trick Bennett learned was how to bounce on his pogo stick with no hands. To do this, he squeezes his knees to the center of the pogo stick and starts bouncing.
A big step for Bennett came when he was 12 years old, and he attempted his first full backflip. Bennett’s first attempt at a full backflip failed because he was afraid to go all the way around while still on his pogo stick. Fear is the biggest detriment to an extreme pogoer. Once Bennett can overcome the fear of doing a trick, he can perform it.
“I did that mattress thing [for the backflip], couldn’t get it and then the winter came around and I went outside into the snow, and I ended up throwing one into the snow where I didn’t land it, but I got around with the pogo stick, and landed on my feet,” Bennett said. “Then, the summer rolled around and I wasn’t afraid to go over anymore [on the backflip], and I just tried it into grass and landed it.”
In a lot of ways, the story of the action sport Xpogo and Bennett himself, have been parallel journeys. As the relatively new sport has come of age, Bennett has done the same. Now 19 years old, Bennett knows his career in extreme pogo is dwindling and as the sport continues to attempt to slowly progress towards national relevance, he’s left with the bittersweet feeling of knowing that although he is one of the sport’s original greats, it’s unlikely he will still be jumping by the time the it truly grows in popularity.
“It was very small when I started, there were like maybe 40 of us who were doing the sport talking to each other,” Bennett said. “I think it could get to a point where Xpogo is a big, respected extreme sport. At the moment, I don’t think it is and during my career I don’t think it will make it to that point, but I definitely see it in the future it could be.”
Extreme pogo is a sport that was built for the Internet era. Crazy tricks and highlight videos are eye-grabbing, quick to watch, and fun to share on social media. The xpogo Instagram account currently has 35.3k followers. The sport was born on the Internet and its biggest chance at becoming nationally relevant and respected as an extreme sport will come online. It’s still far from becoming nationally relevant, but if it ever does get there, Bennett’s fingerprints will be all over its foundation.
Although there are people who make a living in extreme pogo, Bennett says he has never considered taking that career path himself. He wants to be a software engineer and expects to retire from the sport around the age of 27.
Extreme pogo is such a tough sport on the body, that it’s typically dominated by teenagers. According to Bennett, “it’s not out of the blue to see a 13-year old at world championships.”
Bennett has suffered many injuries in his career, including broken fingers, broken toes, a dislocated ankle and damage to his joints. As much as he loves the sport, he’s not sure how much longer he will physically be able to do it.
“We’re jumping 10 feet in the air, hitting concrete from 10 feet is not fun and it’s definitely bad on the body,” Bennett said. “As you get older, it’s a lot harder to get the height and do the tricks.”
Furthermore, these days, school comes first for Bennett. He can no longer practice as much as he used to. When he’s at school, he only has time to jump once every two weeks. When he does jump on campus, it’s typically at Kunz Field, where he has become something of a Snapchat superstar to those who happen to catch a glimpse of him and his pogo stick.
“There are times when it’s a little tough and I miss out on doing gigs because I have to stay here for an exam or I have to study,” Bennett said. “It’s definitely harder than if I was just a student, but I think the fun of being able to do all these things and travel is worth taking the extra time.”
Bennett’s best trick winner from Pogopalooza this year, called “the floppy ball,” is one of the most difficult tricks ever pulled off on a pogo stick. Since he landed it at Pogopalooza this past summer, the trick has not even been attempted by anyone else, including Bennett himself.
“I probably won’t try it again,” Bennett said. “That’s usually how best trick goes is that you try it the one time and then once you land it that’s the trick... because it’s such a difficult trick that it’s like, ‘man, I don’t need to do that again.’”
Bennett invented the floppy ball a few years ago at Pogopalooza and came in third place for best trick. The trick he won with this year was a more advanced variation of the original floppy ball.
“I throw the pogo stick under my leg, I pull it up into the air, touch both the pegs with both my hands, spin it 360 with the pegs and land back on it,” Bennett said.
The most surreal moment of Bennett’s extreme pogo career came at Pogopalooza 2014 in Paris. His phone and wallet had been stolen on the second day of the two-week trip. Bennett, just 17 at the time, was sitting under a tree with his pogo stick, eating a French baguette sandwich, when he looked straight ahead and saw the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe in the background. For a moment, he forgot that his phone and wallet had been stolen as he pondered the unlikeliness of the whole situation.
“I’m sitting there and I’m like ‘wow, I never thought pogo sticking would take me to this point where I’m sitting under a tree, eating a sandwich, looking at two world landmarks,’” Bennett said.
When he’s on campus, Bennett blends in with the crowd. Walking by him in the hallway, you might not know it, but through a lot of pain and a lot of practice, he has become one of the first legends in a sport that isn’t going away.
Eventually, he will hang up his pogo stick once and for all. Nobody can be extreme forever and Bennett seems to be fully prepared for the moment when he can no longer jump 10 feet off the ground on a pogo stick.
He’s at peace with what he’s accomplished and excited to see the sport continue to grow.
“Who ever would have thought jumping on a pogo stick would get me to travel the world,” Bennett said.