Heads turn when Michael Kozar springs across campus.
In the throngs of students who walk, bike and skateboard through Foggy Bottom, the junior from Shamokin, Penn. gets to class on spring-loaded neon green and orange stilts.
Kozar said he picked up the sport, called powerbocking, while watching a video of powerbockers during a high school art class. The sport’s rareness made it most appealing to him.
“I’ve always wanted to be better at something than anybody else, and it had to be obscure enough that I could actually be really good at it,” he said.
The sport, which Kozar described as a twist on urban parkour, has two functions – exercise and entertainment. While many practicers of the extreme sport do tricks, including flips and acrobatics, Kozar uses them to stay fit.
The attention Kozar gets as he practices his skills around campus has its ups and downs. Often he wears headphones and sunglasses to fend off photos and questions, though other times he welcomes the interest.
“At first I kind of enjoyed the attention. There’s times when I want to show off, but then there’s times when I want to buckle down and practice,” Kozar said. “I’ve been yelled at by metro cops [saying] that what I’m doing is dangerous and illegal.”
Powerbocking, shortened to “bocking,” is named after the German inventor Alexander Boeck who created the stilts in 2004. Its relative newness lends to a small, elite community of practicers.
“With a little practice, power stilts will make you feel like being a super hero, because you can run around at 25 miles per hour and jump five feet high,” said David Churchill, owner of DC Power Stilts, the only local vendor of powerbocking equipment.
Churchill is also the organizer of the largest powerbocking meet-up in the country. Capital Bocking USA will be held Oct. 5 to 7 and will bring together both those who are new to powerbocking and the experts.
Kozar’s hopping hobby comes with high risks, though. Powerbocking puts a strain on individuals’ backs, and there’s always the chance of falling.
His worst fumble occurred in front of Townhouse Row.
“The blades are mechanical, so they’re always moving,” Kozar said. “Like any moving parts, they get worn out or loose, so I was up six feet in the air and could feel them wobbling. I just kind of landed in a crumpled heap.”
Kozar has also broken his equipment on several occasions – and it isn’t cheap to replace. With aircraft aluminum braces and fiberglass springs, stilt prices can run from $200 for entry-level models to several thousand for professional brands. Kozar said powerbockers often customize their stilts. He uses a custom pair of snowboard straps, and his fiberglass blades are wrapped in two layers of hockey tape and one layer of electrical tape to protect from chipping.
Kozar said he does not plan on competing or adding tricks to his springs through freestyle powerbocking. Instead, he prefers to use his stilts for exercise and introduce friends to powerbocking. Despite his intimidating height and near-bionic blades, he said he is more than happy to tell curious bystanders what powerbocking is all about – as long as he’s not in the middle of a workout.