Sky’s the limit for Falcons’ young vaulter
He picked up a pole for the first time as a high school freshman. He initially went out for track & field as a way to improve his fitness for soccer. Today, roughly two years later, threatening the 16-ft. barrier, he’s a legitimate candidate to be the 2023 CIF pole vault champion. Meet Torrey Pines junior Joey Weisman.
The 5-9, 165-lb. San Diego (Carmel Valley) resident has literally burst onto the local pole vault scene. Since clearing a pedestrian 9-9 (9 ft., 9 inches) in an abbreviated three-meet freshman season, Weisman has rapidly mastered an incredibly demanding and technical event. He progressed to 14-0 as a sophomore and after posting a 15-8 personal best at the Mt. Carmel Invitational in early March has firmly established himself as one of the favorites at the May 20 CIF Championships which will also be held at Mt. Carmel.
Physical, fast, explosive, with the strength and coordination to swing himself in the air, Weisman started with some natural tools for success as a vaulter. His coach at Torrey Pines, Kyle Brown, who captured the 2016 CIF pole vault competition while at La Costa Canyon, is impressed by both his pupil’s quick grasp of the event and his potential.
“Pole vault is something that takes a lot of time to learn and understand,” said Brown, who competed at both Yale and UCLA as a collegian. “As a sophomore last year he became a good vaulter and now we’re pushing the run and bringing more speed which allows for bigger poles, higher grip and more technique.
“He’s still relatively new to pole vaulting and in the long run, mentally is where I think he will set himself apart from a lot of other talented vaulters. Pushing higher grips on bigger poles, a lot can go wrong that can cause mental shutdowns. Joey is very confident and resilient—I don’t know if fearless is the right word but he can handle that pressure and is consistently very good at executing under pressure.”
Recently, Weisman took time to talk about an assortment of subjects including his introduction to pole vaulting, his goals for this season and being part of the local vaulting community.
Q—As a youngster you played soccer, baseball and did gymnastics for five years. How did you get involved in track & field?
WEISMAN—Honestly, I was all into club soccer and my parents signed me up for track & field to get me in better shape for soccer. I ended up loving it, specifically pole vaulting. After going through off-season pole vault training the summer before my sophomore year, I decided to drop soccer. I knew I’d really found something.
Q—After deciding to try track & field, how did you get introduced to pole vaulting?
WEISMAN—When I went out for the track & field team at Torrey Pines, I was dabbling in all sorts of events—long jump, high jump, sprints and some middle distance. At a meet one day against Sage Creek, our assistant coach, Ryan Bath, said, “Hey freshman, why don’t you try it, here’s what you do.” It was the first time I had touched a pole and it was pretty scary but I cleared 9-6 that day and tied the top varsity guy on the other team.
I had seen a couple of people doing it. I thought “it looks ridiculous” but at the same time it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I was kind of happy when coach asked me.
At my second meet, against LCC, I watched Garrett Brown (younger brother of current coach, Kyle) clear 17-2 to set a CIF record and that was amazing. I said to myself, “man I want to do that.”
Q—What do you think allowed you to have some immediate success?
WEISMAN—Well, maybe a combination of things. I had some speed that developed through soccer, I had shoulder strength from surfing that is similar to what you use to collect for the vault and my gymnastics background really helped with the agility you need and being comfortable when you’re upside down.
Q—How difficult is the learning curve? What’s the hardest part?
WEISMAN—It’s a slow progression because it’s one of the most technical events of all-time. You have to understand the physics of it, how you go higher and only when you understand that do you start to get better.
For me, the hardest part has got to be the run up—it gives me trouble sometimes. If my step’s off just an inch, it puts me a foot off at the end. The pole I’m on now, I should be jumping about 12 ft. from the pit. If you go at 11 ft., all of the sudden the pole is behind you when you plant. When that happens your arm gets ripped backwards and thrown out of position. Trusting that step and run gives you the confidence to jump higher.
Q—How long is your run-up and what is your thought process during that time?
WEISMAN—I’m currently using a 105-ft. run-up which is 16 steps. I want to be going as fast as possible without “red-lining (going so fast you’re not controlling your own body).” You need to be able to regulate your body placement (hands/arms).
I usually tell myself to just go, be energetic. Then it’s plant, jump as hard as I can and bend that pole forward, explode at the end and then go into my swing upside down. I’ll hang on until I can see the pole is standing straight up and it’s releasing. At that point you give one final push with your hands to generate as much energy and force as you can to go up and over the bar.
Q—What do you think you’re capable of clearing this season?
WEISMAN—This season, I really hope to get 16 ft. I’ve had a few close attempts. In the back of my mind, though, is 16-5 which would be the all-time Torrey Pines record. That would be even cooler. It was set by a guy named Mike Brown (no relation to Kyle) in 1995. Ironically, he now has a freshman daughter, McKenzie, who is a fantastic pole vaulter on our girls’ team. He comes out to practice about two or three times per week, offers an extra pair of eyes and moral support, helping me figure out how to break his record.
Q—The pole vaulting community seems to be a pretty tight knit group. Are you friendly with your competitors?
WEISMAN—I think I’m really friendly and know so many vaulters from other schools. It is a tight group partially because there are not that many of us that take a unique event like pole vault seriously. The top guys tend to go to the same meets so we see each other pretty regularly.
Within the group you’re kind of speaking your own language and lingo with peers—talking about things like techniques, coaching styles, different progressions and a lot of funny stories that wouldn’t make sense to outsiders.
We’re all very competitive but rooting each other on. We know that there’s always going to be one winner every time but if you don’t get somebody on a particular day, you might get him the next.
Q—What does you coach, Kyle Brown, bring to the table for you?
WEISMAN—He has a ton of experience, his whole family has been in the vault world so he knows it well. He knows exactly what to do to get those extra inches. He can watch me at a meet and right away have solutions for what I need to do if I’m having difficulty. His family also owns the poles I need as I go higher which is extremely important. He’s as good as any coach I’ve had, especially for what I’m doing right now when I need the most technical advice.
Q—You mentioned that you like surfing. What’s your favorite local spot? What’s scarier, surfing a 10-ft. wave or pole vaulting?
WEISMAN—8th St. in Del Mar is my go to beach. I would have to say pole vaulting is scarier. I’ve fallen off a 10-ft. wave and walked away but I’ve seen people get hurt at less than 10 ft. vaulting.
Q—Have you given any thought to what’s happening after high school?
WEISMAN—I really hope to compete in college and am trying my best to start making some moves toward that. UC Santa Barbara is one school I like but it’s still early. Most of the initial interest and contact comes the summer before your senior year or during your senior year. Academically, I see myself in something along the lines of a business or economics major.
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