Chicagoan, defending champ ready to rock US Air Guitar Nationals

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This weekend, air guitar aficionados from all over the United States will take center stage in Denver, CO to square off in the 2012 U.S. Air Guitar Championships. Now concluding its first decade, the U.S. Air Guitar tour, which is promoted by Plus One Music, started its string of regional competitions in June. U.S. Air Guitar holds competitions mostly in big cities, spanning the country from Boston to Seattle.

Among the contestants in the final bout is Justin "Nordic Thunder" Howard, the reigning national champion from Chicago. Howard, 28, is originally from Wyoming but considers Chicago his second home.

"In most parts of Wyoming the population consists of more cows than people," he said. "I love it there, but Chicago is a great city and a great music city, especially for someone like me."

Better yet, Howard had the pleasure of winning 2011 U.S. Air Guitar national title on home turf during the 2011 championship hosted by Cabaret Metro in Wrigleyville.

Air guitar was something that Howard said, "I always just did for fun," long before there were established competitions, jamming out at parties and for a laugh with friends during his years as a student at Columbia College of Chicago. By 2004, he was getting geared up to work in film and video production editing, his current occupation, but dabbled in the idea of actually doing something with air guitar.

"I was playing air guitar like U.S. geeks do," Howard said, "and I thought about how silly it was but highly entertaining it is to watch air guitar is, too."

The only problem was that Howard ended up injuring himself while rocking out with friends in 2005. The knee injury came as a result of emphatic air guitar riff in which he turned his knee and tore a meniscus. Shortly after, Howard was on crutches when he saw an advertisement for the upcoming 2006 Air Guitar Championships regional competition in Chicago.

"I knew I wanted in," Howard said. He met up with other air guitarists and the promoters during an informational session, and joined shortly after his recovery. Along the way Howard picked his name and developed his rock star persona as Nordic Thunder.

"I have long hair and a beard, and being tall I always thought my look went well with the Viking theme," Howard said. "Although I'm not Scandinavian by ethnicity, I guess you could say I am Viking by inclination."

Not only did Howard as Nordic Thunder make the first cut but he also went on to win the Chicago regional in 2006. Later, he won the Chicago regional in 2008, and back-to-back in 2010 and 2011 en route to the national title.

Those who might think air guitar is just a of pastime AV crew geeks and high school losers might be surprised at the amount of athleticism and preparation that goes into competitions, much less the dedication. All in all, Howard has had major surgery and physical therapy on both his back and knee as a result of playing air guitar. But he also notes the good things that have come from his commitment to the pastime.

"It sounds strange but air guitar has really changed my life and given me the opportunity to see things and meet people I wouldn't have otherwise," Howard said. As a part of the cast of elite competitors, Howard has been able to travel all over the country year after year with the U.S. Air Guitar tour, as well as outside the U.S. to Germany and last year's world championship in Finland, where he placed second.

Howard is psyched not only to defend his status as national champion, but also to represent his adoptive hometown.

"I'm glad to rep for my hometown of Chicago in Denver," Howard said. "Not only for the experience of it but also to hopefully bring the U.S. Air Guitar title home for a second time. I love Chicago and it's where I belong."

Airisol doing flips:
Sixstring General doing Van Halen:
Hosts doing Total Eclipse of Guitar: