Meet Nic Patino, a professional stunt pogoer from West Philly.
• Dream trick: “I am specifically maintaining my pogo skills to create one moment in the future to be able to backflip in front of my (future) kid, mostly just to freak out the other parents at their birthday party.”
• Strange magic: “The most impactful thing I’ll take away is all of the random strangers I’ve made smile on the street. Because life is strange and I believe that is the core fact of life — that it is strange. So I love being a spellbinder of strange experiences.”
Nic Patino didn’t start pogoing because it was cool.
“It was strange,” he said. “Everybody was confused.”
But when Patino’s dad died in a motorcycle accident a month before his 13th birthday, he pulled an old pogo stick out of his family’s garage and put all of himself into it.
Life, he couldn’t control, but the bounce, that, he could master.
“When you’re doing this, you have to be absolutely present, so it allowed me to do away with my pain, that grief, and those emotions,” Patino, 23, said. “The pogo stick saved me.”
And then, the pogo stick showed him the world.
At 16, Patino joined the premier pogo stunt team, Xpogo, and ever since, he’s been traveling the globe, performing death-defying tricks at NBA exhibitions in China and at velvet-walled theaters for anonymous billionaires in the Seychelles islands.
“I’ve stumbled upon this formula through pogoing that has allowed me to create a damn ideal life,” he said. “I’m so psyched how it’s gone so far, and I was almost ready to turn around and walk a different direction when I realized it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Patino grew up in New Hope where his dad, who immigrated from Mexico, owned a folk art gallery (Milagros) and then a Mexican restaurant (The Blue Tortilla). It was his dad who taught Patino how to skateboard (which remains his first love) before buying him a classic pogo stick.
The year his world was upended by his father’s death, Patino asked for a pneumatic pogo stick for Christmas. Powered by compressed air, pneumatic pogo sticks can bounce up to 10 feet. As more air is added, the bounces get higher, but the stick also becomes more difficult to control.
”It’s kind of like riding a bucking bronco,” Patino said.
Patino taught himself how to pogo by watching online videos, joining pogo forums, and practicing every day after school until dark.
“The advice I always give kids is that I could explain to you how to do it, but you’re still going to need to try 1,000 times, so I recommend you start trying 1,000 times,” Patino said.
When he was 15, Patino attended Pogopalooza, a touring championship put on by Xpogo. Though he didn’t qualify for the final round, Xpogo organizers asked if he wanted to participate with the team in the Rose Bowl Parade that year.
From there, Patino joined the Xpogo team and was paid for gigs around the world, from South by Southwest in Texas to performing during intermissions at NBA exhibition games in China.
Patino’s mad skills have also landed him appearances on Good Morning America, the Today show, and ESPN2. He even taught actor Neil Patrick Harris how backflip on a pogo stick for Harris’ 2015 variety show, Best Time Ever.
By the time he was 16, Patino was making upward of $16,000 a year as a pro pogoer while (sporadically) attending New Hope-Solebury High School.
When Patino enrolled at Temple University four years ago, he slowed down his appearances with Xpogo, but he still competes in Pogopalooza every year. This year, he came in third in freestyle and high jump.
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And there was that time he got a call from his Xpogo boss while sitting in a math class his freshman year at Temple, asking if he could travel the next day to the Seychelles, in the Indian Ocean, to perform for a group of extremely wealthy people (whose identity still remains a mystery to him).
“It was in the most ornate velvet-walled theater … There were dancers from South Africa, Russian bar performers, fire-eating jugglers,” Patino said. “We realized we were about to be a part of the biggest show of exotic performers.”
Patino’s favorite place to pogo, however, has always been on the street, where he can “come up with creative ways to flow through” the environment around him, as he did on a recent chilly day at Thomas Paine Plaza outside the Municipal Services Building in Philly. Patino bounced between oversize Sorry game pieces and pogoed off massive dominos with so much power he shook the plaza’s cement blocks and many passersby, who laughed and stopped to film him.
But Patino can’t pogo like this forever, or even, for much longer. Of the 25 or so professional pogoers in the world, not one is over 30 because the sport is so physically demanding, he said.
This spring, Patino graduated from Temple with a degree in management information systems, but quickly realized that a career in his major wouldn’t bring him joy.
So he set out to determine what would, and after taking self-discovery classes, he became a lifestyle design coach this year. Patino works with clients over Zoom to help “align one’s lifestyle with their purpose and their innate passion so that you create a life that is joyful and deeply fulfilling.”
It was through losing his dad and finding the pogo stick that Patino found himself — and he said he wants to help others bounce back and find themselves, too.
“I’ve grown to love the fact that my dad lives on through me,” Patino said. “I recognize him when I live my life.”
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