They’re enough to fulfill anyone’s dreams of bionic powers: jump six feet in the air (and over cars, if you’re in the mood), run at 25 miles an hour or more, and stride nine feet at a time. But, instead of costing Six Million Dollars, you can invest in a pair of “powerbocks” for just a couple of hundred. And not only will you be part of a sport that can help you lose weight, build strength and reduce cholesterol, but you’ll also be drawn into a craze that’s swept the world from Korea to Canada.

Mankind seems to have a compulsion to get off the ground. In the late 1890’s stilt walking gripped Europe, with Sylvain Dornon walking from Paris to Moscow on stilts in 58 days and, in 1894, a 273 mile stilt race across France. (Incidentally, the art of stilt walking was developed in Gascony, France, where shepherds used them to move efficiently around the marshy landscape!).

America went crazy for the pogo stick in the 1920’s, where even Hippodrome chorus girls in NY performed on them, and marriages vows were exchanged on them. And, in the 60’s, trampolining took off as a competitive sport, with the first world championships held in 1964.

Powerbocks are the logical endpoint for these various obsessions, a cross between stilts and a pogo stick that harnesses energy in the same way as a trampoline. Each boot consists of a foot-plate with snowboard type bindings, a calf-cuff which fastens just below the knee, a rubber foot pad which is also commonly called a hoof, and a fibreglass leaf spring. Once strapped on, the 3 foot long springs use the body’s own weight to generate power. Like a trampoline, the spring accumulates, stores and returns the amount of energy put into it.

The inventor of the Powerbock, German aerospace engineer Alexander Boeck, apparently studied the movements of kangaroos in order to develop his original prototype (patented in the US in 2004). And the Powerbock, essentially, allows humans to extend their own Achilles tendon to approximate the length and power of those in animals like roos and ostriches. As a result, exercising using the stilts reduces wear and tear on feet and knees while still giving the body a full workout.

Enthusiasts heartily endorse Powerbocking as a form of exercise, claiming you’ll burn calories five times faster than jogging, and that it employs 95% of the body’s muscles. Certainly, a test group at a university in Korea lost, on average, seven pounds after using them for five weeks. They also shed an inch off their waistlines, and saw HDL cholesterol (the good one) increase while bad cholesterol levels dropped.

But, frankly, it’s not as a novel form of exercise that Powerbocking is making its mark. It’s also an extraordinarily easy form of extreme sport to take up – it only takes about 30 minutes to master the basics – that virtually screams “look at me!”

For a start, you’ll instantly add 18 inches to your height, and finish up looking like a robotic gazelle. And then you’ll be capable of the most extraordinary feats of athleticism. Flipping backwards 20 times in 20 seconds to set a Guinness World record, for example. Or leaping over cars. Or just scaring the bejesus out of passers-by.

They’re an awful lot of fun, and they seem to add a superhuman grace to mere mortals. Its not surprising that they’ve been turning up everywhere – on talent shows, commercials for insurance and even as part of the closing ceremony at the 2008 Beijing Olympic games.

But, be warned, if you’re interested in taking up this sport, you need to know that no-one can agree what it should be called. The equipment is sometimes referred to as power stilts, jumping stilts, spring stilts, kangaroo boots and many more. And then the various brand names include Powerisers, PowerSkips, Pro-Jumps, Fly-Jumpers, Air-Trekkers and PowerStriders. But there seems to be general consensus that the sport ought to be named “Powerbocking” in honor of its inventor, Herr Boeck.

Powerbocks are available through any of the sites linked above, and start from around USD$269.

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