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Q&A with the founder of the Jackalope Festival, Virginia Beach's newest action sports frenzy

The Jackalope Festival will make its first appearance on U.S. soil at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront in June 2023.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — In recent months, several high-profile festivals have left the city of Virginia Beach.

Pharrell Williams' Something in the Water festival is now in Washington D.C., after an inaugural event in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic. The Patriotic Festival, hosting big-ticket country music acts, moved across town to Norfolk.

In his 2022 State of the City address, Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer announced the arrival of a festival that would step in to fill that void.

Virginia Beach City Manager Patrick Duhaney described the Jackalope Festival as "an adrenaline junkie's dream."

Just about one year away from the festival's debut in Hampton Roads, 13News Now spoke with Micah Desforges, the founder and executive producer.

Q: So, what exactly is the Jackalope Festival?

A: "We're Canada’s biggest action sports festival. We’re celebrating our 10th anniversary this August. It's basically a combination of skateboarding, rock climbing, base jumping. We have break dancing we’re adding this year with athletes from all around the world. It started really small and then grew to something really big. Before the pandemic, we were working on building out an international tour. We're kind of like the the next 'X Games' on the block. After 10 years in Canada, we’re coming to the U.S. starting in Virginia Beach.”

Q: Where did the idea come from, and how did you get started in the first place?

A: "We [Montreal] had the Summer Olympics in 1976, but since then the stadium wasn’t really used. In 2012, the government invested money into the esplanade, and there is a history with skateboarding. Because of the Olympic games, they unintentionally created a concrete ramp where athletes could walk into the stadium. They wouldn't know at the time, but they sort of created the first half-pipe out of concrete and that created a legacy for Montreal as a whole. Athletes would come from around the world, and there is a really good skateboarding scene. So in 2012, we proposed this concept called 'Jackalope,'" Desforges said. 

“2012 was the first edition, we had 6,000 people. It started as a free event outdoors, then we started doing ticketing and now it's the biggest of its kind in Canada. It’s got 15,000- 20,000 people now.”

Q: So what's coming to Virginia Beach then?

A: ”Rock climbing, base jumping off the Hilton hotel, break dancing in Neptune Park. Skimboarding, bouldering. Lots of things are happening as we speak, I think there is an intent to bring Canadians into the market and people from the surrounding states to celebrate action sports and make it a home for years to come."

Q: What part does Virginia Beach play in the festival's expansion?

“We needed to secure our national hosts, so at least for the next 3 years we’re there in Virginia beach and hopefully for at least the next ten years. We’re going to carry the Virginia Beach flag to places like California and Texas because those other cities -- where we will run events -- will actually be regional qualifiers."

Q: How did Virginia Beach become the city, of all other cities you were scouting, to act as the flagship location?

A: "I just happened to bump into some fellows who work with the city of Virginia Beach at a buffet. I didn’t know them, so it was really organic. We sat down and I started talking about Jackalope, 'Blah blah blah.' But a couple years back in Ocean City, Maryland there was the Mountain Dew Tour, and it created a massive hype around action sports on the East Coast. But the Dew Tour decided to pull out and go to another market. So it created a void, and that void on the East Coast was up for grabs for someone to pick up that momentum for action sports. Virginia Beach wasn’t on the radar at first, but it’s always been a cool beach destination."

Desforges went on to say, that after site visits and learning more about the culture of Virginia Beach, it became an ideal opportunity to make the partnership work.

"You could feel an appetite, and an opportunity to bring a major event here. We’re not as known as X Games or Mountain Dew Tour, but the play here is that we’re young, and in 10 years we think we will become the next 'X Games.' It’s a vision here to work together to build it from the ground up.”

Q: What are the expectations for the first year?

 A: “Goal is to generate tourism, economic and marketing impact. We’re establishing  key performance indicators, we’ve projected some numbers that are a little too early to comment, but we’re expecting 15,000 to 20,000 people to attend the first year over that three day period.

The festival hits the Oceanfront from June 2 to 4, 2023.

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