Ian Dallas - The Unfinished Swan
Interview by | photos and video courtesy of Vurtego published | august ‘09

Brian Spencer

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Q&A with Brian Spencer, co-founder of Vurtego Pogo Sticks

The Arc Magazine: How did your obsession with pogo-sticking begin?

Brian Spencer: I had a pogo stick as a kid, just like most people – but it broke after a few weeks, and ended up in a scrap pile somewhere. It really wasn’t until 20 years after that, when my cousin Josh said "Why don’t we build a pogo stick that goes like, 6 feet in the air?" and I was completely bowled over by that thought. From that moment, I knew in my heart that it would happen and I guess that was when the obsession began. But it was less an obsession in pogo sticks, as much as it was an obsession with creativity and originality, and the possibility of creating a whole new genre.

The Arc Magazine: What makes the Vurtego different from the original pogo stick?

Vurtego pogo stickBrian Spencer: Regular pogo sticks always had metal springs. The Vurtego Pogo Stick has a simple air spring – lightweight, never wears out, and fully adjustable. It’s made more for adults and aggressive youngsters, and is really over-engineered. I’ve been trying to break these things for years, and haven’t had much luck. They are much bigger than your traditional pogo stick, so although the balance and movement is similar to an old-school spring stick, you spend a lot more time above the ground. But even though you might be able to jump over a car with it, you can also take air pressure out, soften the bounce a little, and just cruise around at low altitude for a great cardio workout.

The Arc Magazine: How would you describe being on a Vurtego pogo stick?

Brian Spencer: Imagine if you could, a walk on clouds – it’s almost like bounding around through the sky, from puffy white cloud to puffy white cloud. It’s just a whole new perspective. And there’s something about bouncing that just makes you feel good. I think it’s the way that it affects your lymphatic system, combined with the intense exercise – but when you’re done bouncing, you always have a huge smile on your face, and are usually drenched in sweat. It’s also a very rhythmic thing to do, so can get into really fun rhythms while bouncing, especially if you’re listening to music in the 60 beats per minute range – because its downbeat becomes your downbeat. And when you’re bouncing to the beat, you feel kinda’ neat.

The Arc Magazine: For the average person who probably pogo sticks little to never, how difficult is it to become comfortable on a Vurtego stick?

Brian Spencer: Pogo sticking is certainly not for everyone – just like skateboarding or anything else. But if you’ve ever been on a pogo stick before, it’s just like riding a bike. The Vurtego sticks are a little bigger, but the balance of it and the general movement of it is exactly the same. For someone who’s fairly athletic, they are usually able to pick it up right away.

The Arc Magazine: What sort of safety precautions do you take when you pogo stick?

Brian Spencer: We always wear sturdy shoes and a helmet at a minimum, and if we’re riding more aggressive lines, or doing flip tricks, and other big air stuff, gloves and elbow pads are always a good idea too. We make it look more dangerous than it is. It’s actually much safer than most other action sports, because you’re not really dealing with speed – you’re just going up and down.

The Arc Magazine: Where is your favorite place to pogo stick and why?

Brian Spencer: Generally speaking - probably behind random grocery stores. They usually have retaining walls, loading docks, dumpsters and other obstacles and terrain that are really fun to ride on and around. But I would have to say that my favorite place so far was 53rd street in Manhattan, where I got to jump over a New York City taxi cab. I would usually get in trouble for something like that.

Taking Health to New Heights

The Arc Magazine: Could you give some details about the health benefits pogo sticking offers?

Brian Spencer: Pogo sticking is one of the most efficient forms of exercise known to man. You’re battling gravity directly so your body really responds well to it. It improves your balance and coordination, increases your bone density, improves your lymphatic flow, tightens skin and muscles, and increases your vertical jump, among other things. The same benefits apply to bouncing on a trampoline, which NASA researched in the 60s as a way to rehabilitate astronauts after being in space. It’s just that on a pogo stick, you’re mobile – so you add the elements of balance and reaction, and voila! It could very well be the perfect exercise. Many athletes use it for cross training. Motocross guys like Mike Metzger, Jeremy McGrath, Travis Pastrana and skaters like Andy MacDonald use pogo sticks – even actors like Matthew McConaughey and Allison Hannigan use them for cardio exercise.

The Arc Magazine: How often do you pogo stick?

Brian Spencer: Almost everyday. It’s the type of thing that you can do in your driveway for ten minutes and have a blast. You don’t have to drive to the beach or the mountains (and buy a lift ticket), you can do it just about anywhere. And you get the same type of adrenaline rush and workout as some of those more well known action sports.

Building the Pogo Empire

The Arc Magazine: You recruited your dad, an aerospace engineer, to help you design and build your pogo sticks. What was it like building a business together?

Brian Spencer: My dad has an amazing engineering brain, but he’s actually an old-school action sports guy himself, and it’s probably largely due to him that I started getting into things like motocross and skiing, because I used to watch him tear it up when I was a kid. I remember watching him surf once when I was a teenager and just feeling proud and amazed as he picked a perfect line on this wave and just tore it up. "That’s my freakin’ dad!" And of course he pogo’s too – and can jump higher than most youngsters. Starting a business with him has been perfect because we kind of balance each other out. I’m generally more creative, positive and aggressive with marketing ideas, and he’s much more of a calculated pragmatist. You really have to have balancing elements like that to make a business work. He’s always been the chief engineer, and I’ve always been the chief test pilot.

The Arc Magazine: What were some of the biggest challenges you encountered as you started up Vurtego?

Brian Spencer: The biggest challenge in any new business I think being able to persevere. If you can fight through challenging economics, manufacturing issues, etc. and simply stick with the original vision no matter what comes your way, things are usually going to work out. And I think part of the beauty of a successful business is that it is dynamic – constantly evolving and adjusting. Our ability to take a few lumps and to continue pursuing the vision of where pogo sticking can go is a constant challenge, but it also a constant reward.

The Arc Magazine: What have been some of the best experiences you have had as a result of starting Vurtego?

Brian Spencer: I’ve pogo-sticked with such a diverse range of people - from Mitt Romney to Travis Pastrana, and I’ve had the chance to do stupid stunts on national television. But I think honestly the best experiences are seeing the excitement on kids faces, and the passion that they have for a sport that is really just getting started. We’ve managed to build something that gets kids (and adults) off the couches, and out in the streets getting creative – and to help facilitate other peoples dreams and creativity is probably the most rewarding. Watching my own kids bounce, and seeing where the next generation of pogoists is taking things is just really cool.

The Arc Magazine: What sort of things do you do to promote Vurtego and build your business?

Brian Spencer: Most of what we do to promote Vurtego is grass roots – supporting the kids out there that are taking the sport to new levels. So, we sponsor some of the best pogo stickers on the planet, and they continue to innovate, post their own videos online, and spread the pogo love. We’ve also been fortunate, because pogo sticking is such a visually stimulating thing – to get a fair amount of free media attention. We’ve been featured on Letterman, Today Show, CNN, Fox News, etc. We also have a great event each year called PogoPalooza – the World Championships of Pogo Sticking. Last year, we had it at Knotts Berry Farm in Southern California, and this year it’s in Pittsburgh (www.pogopalooza6.com). Events like this are what really drive kids out there around the world to continue to push the limits of what’s possible on a pogo stick.

Down the Pogo Road

The Arc Magazine: What are some of your hopes regarding the future of Vurtego and pogo sticking?

Brian Spencer: Well, we’ve recently joined the League of Sports and Recreation (LOSAR, www.losars.com), an organization meant to help support sports in need of support, and are excited about working with them to help validate pogo sticking, and get us equal time on TV with other sports like skating and snowboarding. However, to me the future of Vurtego is really more about generating a lifestyle brand. Pogo sticking will always be where it came from, but we plan on venturing into other areas as well. Of course, we always aim to be the best pogo stick company in the world and will continue to innovate on that front. I can see pogo sticking as an X Games sport, even an Olympic sport – I mean, come on! Who wouldn’t love to watch the women’s 100 meter pogo? And one of my goals is to jump on the surface of the moon, where there’s 1/6th of the Earth’s gravity. (Anyone got Branson’s cell number?)

The Arc Magazine: Parting thoughts on the power of the role of creativity in bringing your vision to life?

Brian Spencer: The universe we live in is an extremely creative one and that creativity is immensely powerful – when we can tap into it. In my experience, when you put ideas out there and then commit to them with tangible action, the little things start to happen that conspire to help that vision become a reality. These seemingly magical events, meetings, "coincidences" become commonplace, and to me it becomes much more about really enjoying the creative journey as it evolves, and less about creating a "successful business". I like to call it "fahrvergnugen", or the Joy of the Trip. And the trip is always more fun - if it’s on a pogo stick.

Bruce and Brian Spencer are the founders and, respectively, the Chief Engineer and Chief Test Pilot for Vurtego, a leading producer of extreme pogo sticks.

Bruce's background as an aerospace engineer for Northrop, working on the F-18 fighter, and then as a firefighter for 28 years, gave him the unique skill set necessary to create the most advanced pogo stick in the industry.

Brian's history in sports, marketing and entertainment came together with the founding of Vurtego. He also set the world record for height cleared on a pogo stick at 72 inches (he used a Vurtego Pro). He also hosts for Planet X, a weekly action sports half hour, and is working on a TV pilot called Guys’ Guide – www.guysguide.tv

You can find more about Vurtego and their extreme pogo sticks at: www.vurtegopogo.com

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