Back in the late ‘90s a friend of mine had his career all picked out – he was going to be a freestyle motocrosser. Thanks to endless hours watching videos like “Crusty Demons of Dirt” and others he was hooked, to the adrenaline-fueled lifestyle, to the grandeur of sailing through the air off the tip of a huge dune, to the danger. And for a while he pushed for it, taking his RM-Z250 to any jump he could find in our little neck of the woods in northern California. Looking back, there was something admirable in this limit-pushing attitude, saying to hell with the consequences, chasing that intense experience, that freedom.
Ah, youth. Since then dreams have changed for him but action sports, and FMX in particular, continues on stronger than ever. Travis Pastrana, already a pioneer in FMX back in the late ‘90s, remains influential to this day thanks to his insatiable desire to push the boundaries of what’s possible on two wheels. He’s won AMA Nationals and Supercross championships in the 125cc class, had a string of X-Games gold medals in MotoX Freestyle starting in 1999, and has raced in the Nascar XFinity Series and other four-wheeled events. In 2003 Pastrana started trying his hand at video editing and began producing action sports DVDs and by 2009 that effort resulted in the Nitro Circus television show on MTV. In 2010 Pastrana and his crew took the Nitro Circus show on tour and they have been thrilling audiences with the spectacle ever since.
Not limited to FMX, the Nitro Circus tour features BMX riders, scooter riders, skiers, skateboarders, rollerbladers and more, really anyone dedicated to pushing the limits within his, or her, sport. The latest iteration of the Nitro Circus Live show sets off on October 8, 2015 in Washington D.C., starting the North American leg of the 2015 world tour. We got a chance to catch up with Pastrana by phone to ask about Nitro Circus Live in 2015 and all that goes into it.
Tell us about the Nitro Circus Live show this year, what can audiences expect?
“The beauty of the Nitro tour is that it’s always the best of the best in the world. It’s a place where everyone comes and is like ‘ok, I want to progress, I want to learn from the best and prove that I can not only do that but I can do everything else.’ We’ve got two guys that are trying the quad flip, Jed [Milner] and James [Foster] on bicycles, four flips, they’re out there, and then Sheeny [Josh Sheehan] who did the triple flip will probably be doing doubles at most of the shows.
“They do tricks on a nightly basis that you won’t see at X-Games. Because we can build the ramps however these guys need them. We can build them steeper, we can build the landings steeper or taller or whatever and the crowd won’t really notice that these things are going up and down but if you actually pay attention to the ramps they’re changing for the second half of the show almost every jump. That’s pretty neat for us to innovate the next level of what people are doing.”
Sounds like a pretty big production, is the show planned out in detail beforehand?
“We definitely know what works and what doesn’t. The guys, even if they know what they’re supposed to do and supposed to land, we can say ‘ok you can try a hard trick here but you have to try a trick that you know you’re going to make here.’ The guys are there to do the gnarliest stuff ever, to do stuff that’s never been done and you know a lot of times you’ll get crashes all through the second half of the show. It’s not maybe as good of a show as they could have done, but that’s the beauty of action sports, its freedom, its style, and its guys trying something they’ve never tried before. And some shows everybody lands it, but that’s a rare occasion. So you never know who’s going to be the star of the show and land the biggest thing and you never even know what the guys are trying, most of the stuff happens for the first time ever during the live show.”
That must make for a unique experience, both for the athletes and audiences.
“It’s wild because the energy of the riders is something that’s unique there. The show’s always supposed to keep going and management hates this but if someone tries a trick for a year, two years, sometimes three years and can’t pull it off and then lands it one night, our show stops. Everyone’s out there tackling them.
“One guy, Dusty Wigel, he was trying a boogie board trick, a 360. It’s a boogie board with a metal thing on the bottom with wheels so he’s on his stomach, and as he’s going down he’s just trying to keep it straight. He hits the jump at 35 or 40 mph laying down on this boogie board, he’s got fins and he doesn’t wear anything but a speedo, so every time he falls he has skin ripped off. So by this point in the tour he’s basically got no skin, his butt, his feet, the sides of his legs, his face. Why he doesn’t wear pads is just beyond us, but he said ‘I’m going to do this by the end of the tour.’ In the last show he goes on this boogie board, 360, board varial, throws it under his feet with his flippers on, mind you, and lands on the board and rides it all the way to the airbag at the end. It was right at the beginning of the show, we didn’t expect it, it wasn’t supposed to be a big deal, but the crowd was on its feet cheering. This older guy afterwards was like ‘yeah, the best part of the show was the guy on the boogie board, I don’t even know what he did but I was just so pumped up!”
Did you have any idea of the potential of Nitro Circus when you were making DVDs in your garage back in 2003?
Definitely not. 2003 was a really tough time because my whole life was about being a motocross racer, being dedicated and giving everything to that but I kept getting hurt. I actually sat out most of 2003 beginning with Parvo, then I blew out my ACL when I tried to come back, broke a wrist that year too so I just picked up a camera and started editing just to kill the time.
“It was absolutely unbelievable to watch the progression in freestyle, especially at that time, and every top rider was over at the house and it was a really cool. We now have 50 some athletes making a full time living traveling around the world and doing what they’re passionate about. We’ve got a rollerblader, a scooter rider, we even had a guy on a pogo stick for a while. So if you’re passionate about your sport and you’re doing stuff that hasn’t been done before, come on aboard.”
How do touring and family life work together? I see that Lyn-Z is still skating in the live show?
“When we’re on tour it’s so awesome because we have 50 or some babysitters, not babysitters technically, but friends that we trust and are around on a daily basis and that are awesome, passionate people. Addy, our oldest, from probably about a year old was just being passed around busses and airplanes and now when she goes on a normal plane that’s not all filled with her friends, she is sort of bummed wondering why she can’t go play with the other kids. It’s a really good family time for us, whereas now, in between tours, I’m doing press or editing a lot. At races I can spend time with my family but the one on one time isn’t quite as good when you’re focusing on getting everything out of the bike. So the tour’s a good time for us.
Do you and Lyn-Z train together?
Yes and no. I probably put over a 100 miles a week on a road bike, nothing too strenuous. Lyn-Z will come on shorter rides, but she doesn’t like to go much more than 30 miles. She’s really good in the pool, so whenever we get a chance we try to get to a gym that has a pool on the road. She kicks my ass there.
So there’s been another big event in the Nitro Circus family recently, when Josh Sheehan successfully pulled-off a triple flip. That’s a trick that had stumped you for quite a while right? How did it feel to step away from that?
“It wasn’t really stepping away as much as bringing in the best. I mean I’m old, you know for action sports. Sheeny does double flips like nothing, I mean there’s only four people in the world that have ever done a double flip and he’s doing them every night. He’s just so dialed and so strong and so good at getting the rotation, getting the bike around. And he’s using that 450 which is more power.
“I brought him and Pages [Thomas Pages] up after being at it for three years. I was just drawing a stalemate. And we ran out of budget. We started with an 18-foot ramp, that was $8000 dollars and we went through 12 or 13 other renditions all higher than $10,000 dollars. So we were in the $150,000 dollar range and the guys were like ‘you’re not getting anything back for the investment.’
“So Sheeny came in and he was with my friends and we were welding new ramps, he flew over on his own dime between events and we just kept trying new ramps and then I went to the Nitro bag jump guys and was like ‘look, we’re going to need something in between the flatback and the landing because he’s going like 96 feet in the air.’ I’m afraid of even taking the jump much less trying a triple going that huge. They worked over Christmas last year and were doing 12 hour shifts right before we were at the Christmas break and we were able to get a new ramp and new landing ramp design. I think it just took him to say ‘we’re doing it’ because before then it was just kind of a pipe dream for me. I would have loved to give it a shot but at the end of the day he was the only one in the world good enough and he put in the time, the effort and shoot I was just happy to see someone figure it out.”
So what keeps you motivated after all these years in the action sports game?
“Back in the 90’s you had Crusty Demons of Dirt and Terrafirma, you had all these videos that just showed…I mean I’m east coast, I never knew about jumping sand dunes and this culture that just seemed out of control and exciting. There just hasn’t been a lot of new stuff recently, that hasn’t been seen or hasn’t been out there. For me it’s all about keeping that innovation going. That’s where the passion comes from. Because you know X-Games hasn’t changed the ramps, I mean the X-Games is awesome but like anything it has to evolve with rules. It kind of took the freedom out of freestyle that was our sport. So it’s my goal to keep innovating, keep giving these guys things to reinvent themselves on.”
Finally, what’s new in this year’s show that you can tell us about?
It’s a completely different feel, new music, new contraptions. It actually scares me to death. We’re testing everything right now, well not all of them because some of them we’re afraid to test before we have a show. But that’s the beauty of the show, you’ll never see two shows the same. Nonstop action, it’s built for an ADHD audience.”