If people aren’t coming to watch your sport wherever it’s being played, maybe it’s time to bring it to the people.
And that’s exactly what Mike Pascuzzo did 4 years ago when he started the Jersey Jumps Beach Vault competition at New Jersey’s famous Jersey Shore in Seaside Heights. “No one goes to track and field events unless they’re watching the Olympics or some type of elite qualifying event, or they’re there for a family member,” he said. “With me being a track guy, I was convinced that people enjoyed watching these types of events, but just didn’t seek them out all of the time. So I decided that we needed to bring it to a place where it can’t be ignored. And with pole vaulting being the most bombastic and high-flying track event, it attracts a crowd.”
After a successful collegiate and US National Team track career, Pascuzzo began Vertical Adventures, which specializes in track athlete training and track camps throughout New Jersey and other cities across the country. He’s a high jumper by trade, but has brought pole vaulting to the Jersey Shore for the largest beach vaulting competition in the WORLD. And the best part? Aside from all of the spectacle of being on the beach and in Seaside Heights, it’s a USATF sanctioned event. Which means that some of the best pole vaulters in the world can come to the beach and have any record breaking or personal best jumps officially count.
Nearly 400 high school, college, and elite level pole vaulters flocked to the beach for the two-day event, which saw 3 pits used in conjunction with homemade runways laying on top of the sand. The competition on Saturday went well into the night, finishing at 9 PM with a hotly contested sudden-death vaulting scenario between two high school girls that went back and forth 6 times before the winning vault finally went unmatched. Crowds lined the sand and the boardwalk nearly 6 rows deep to get a look at the action, with “oooohs”, “aaaahhhs”, and cheers erupted after each made or missed attempt.
In fact, the beach turned out to be just as big of a component to the event as the pole vaulting itself. Which I guess is what Pascuzzo intended, but we were a bit skeptical to see just how pole vaulting was going to look at the Jersey Shore. It couldn’t have been a better event visually – the crashing waves and white sand of the beach were a perfect backdrop for the vaulting and the vaulters themselves resembled beachgoers in their midriff-bearing athletic wear. Sun bathers-turned-spectators watched from their towels and fans from the boardwalk had some of the best seats on the beach, and they themselves added to the spectacle.
Now, it IS at the Jersey Shore, which means you’re less than a block away from the MTV house which tapes a show using the name. The beach scene really does include such cultural specimens as “juiceheads”, “grenades”, and even some “grenade launchers”. But as always, television is an exaggeration of reality, as most of the boardwalk and beach visitors were either families or track athletes soaring through the air.
With the Olympic track and field events beginning at the same time as the event, Jersey Jumps was able to capitalize this year on America’s heightened interest in the sport. “Having people see pole vaulting done at an elite level, they can’t help but be impressed,” said Pascuzzo. “This sport appeals to the surfers, the skaters, and anyone else who loves extreme sports. They just need to see how high some of these athletes can get and they’ll want to go back to school and give it a try,” he added.
Just like any other sport, you need kids to be interested in the sport at an early age to keep the sport growing and competitive. Hundreds if not thousands of kids were able to see pole vaulting in action this weekend on the beach in Seaside Heights, hopefully appealing to many young daredevils out there who want to fly through the air with the help of just a pole. As fate would have it, the very next night Americans were able to watch Jenn Suhr beat out heavily favored and 2-time defending Olympic champion Yelena Isinbaeva of Russia to bring back a gold medal in pole vaulting for Team USA.
Here’s hoping that track and field events regain prominence outside of the Olympics and beyond the high school level. With more events like Jersey Jumps Beach Vault, that shouldn’t be a problem.