Urban Fitness League wants to make Brooklyn's sport famous
Extreme calisthenics started in Brooklyn — and it's famous everywhere but the U.S. The Urban Fitness League wants to change that, starting on Coney Island.
Brooklyn has a home-grown sport that’s made it all the way to China and Australia, but hasn’t really become a movement here.
Best known as extreme calisthenics or street workout, neither of those terms does it justice. Think more like breakdancing in the air, somewhere between parkour and Cirque du Soleil.
Men and women use only their body weight and the makeshift uneven bars they find on public jungle gyms, turning their workouts into tests of balance, agility and stamina. Oh, you can do a plank? Try doing it hanging backwards from a bar.
The sport took off thanks to Instagram and YouTube, where stars like Brandon “Beastmode” Correa, Simone “Mingja” Ming, Stephen “Brooklyn Tank” Navaretta and Gina Scarangella have inspired people all over the globe from Europe to Brazil, Australia to China. It’s even been broadcast on EuroSport as “street workout.”
Starting next year, they’ll be organized under the banner of the Urban Fitness League, founded by Ben Sturner, president of the sports startup incubator Leverage Agency.
“I found out about UFL by walking down Union Square and watching this guy doing crazy pull-ups and muscle-ups,” Sturner recalls. “I asked his name; he said it was Abs, and he pulled up his shirt — he had a 16-pack.”
Sturner hired him as his trainer, and this July 4 he’s bringing the first major public exhibition of future UFL athletes to Coney Island. Hosted by Mario Lopez and Tyson Beckford, the exhibition at Ford Amphitheater will feature some of the biggest names in the sport from around the world performing freestyle routines and battles with a halftime show by DJ Envy, Jim Jones, Juelz Santana and more. Tickets start at $10.
“We’re the antithesis of the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest,” Sturner says, nodding to the usual main event in Coney Island for the Fourth. “In the U.S., there hasn’t been a big organized event like this — this is the Super Bowl of the sport.”
The event, like the sport, will be family oriented. Inclusivity is a cornerstone of the sport, since the only thing you need is your body and a kid-free playground, and athletes will include a performer without legs, a 16-year-old girl and a man who’s 74. “It’s a great thing for families to come to because it’ll be very motivational,” he says. “They’re going to want to come home and try this.”
Sturner is already lining up the starpower behind Urban Fitness League, which will be organized into teams led by sports icons like Red Sox star David Ortiz in Boston and NBA All-Star point guard Stephon Marbury in China. Marbury will also be at Coney Island this weekend, giving out 1,000 pairs of shoes and signing autographs for fans.
Sturner’s vision for the league is to be a “convergence of sport, style and music,” with all the trappings of other professional sports like a draft, and a reality series. But it all starts in Coney Island, so check out the action on the Fourth of July.