When it comes to the world of extreme sports one man stands above all others in this boundary-pushing, limit breaking game. A man who for over two decades has been innovating and reshaping the action sports landscape, we are of course talking about Travis Pastrana, someone whose achievements are nothing short of astonishing.
Whether it’s winning more gold at the X Games than sits in the Federal Reserve, or becoming a Motocross and Supercross champ, not to mention multiple rally championship victories and a thrilling stint as a NASCAR driver, Travis has pretty much done it all.
He’s broken more bones than Jackie Chan with his death-defying stunts and returns to the UK later this year to wow us once again with his Nitro Circus: You Got This tour, where you can expect the very best action sports athletes in the world, taking on incredible never seen before jumps and tricks in front of huge crowds.
We got to chew the fat with Travis Pastrana, one of the nicest and undoubtedly most extreme performers around, about the new tour, the riskiest challenge he’s ever taken on and whether he’s good at everything he does.
The MALESTROM: How’s it going Travis?
Travis Pastrana: I’m doing pretty good man.
TM: Tell us about the announcement of the new Nitro Circus tour…
TP: Action sports in general kind of went stale for a couple of years, that’s kind of when Nitro came in and said ‘let’s do the World Games, let’s make a big year of action sports.’ We started working with these huge ramps.
We went from a big event like X Games where a double backflip over the big air ramp was the biggest trick, to where we had almost everyone, the whole field in the first year doing triple backflips.
We’ve really been working with those ramps and different landings, they’re a little bit bigger so they should provide some bigger tricks. What I’m most excited about is that the bicycles will be going nearly the same height as the dirt bikes.
TP: We’ve got bicycles and scooters and skateboards that are going to be really close to them, which is pretty rad. Where before a double front flip or a double backflip was cheered, the whole field is going to be throwing down triples.
The height and magnitude… to be there live is really something. It’s like being on the 5th floor of a building and there’s a scooter upside down at eye level with you, and you’re like, ‘hold on wait!’ (laughs). It’s pretty cool.
TM: That’s crazy. It’s not officially a competition the Nitro Circus, but how competitive does it get?
TP: It gets extremely competitive, you don’t tell the riders that it’s not a contest, they’re always out there trying to win. We have added a bit more of a contest element to it. In 2017 there were prize incentives for the riders, so they go like hell.
I mean it is a show and it has to build up and we have a really big trick that we’re pretty sure is going to work for the last jump, we’ll have the guy before him go and try something that is totally insane, out of this world, and if he can land that trick awesome, it’s a kind of end the show deal, but it always has to end on a positive.
We don’t want to see anyone get hurt, so the landings, they’re still dangerous, it still hurts when you crash, but we’ve really worked with the airbag companies to make it as safe as we can. No one wants to see someone out unconscious, in our first year, man we had so many guys get hauled off, and it’s not good for action sports. So we want to take that danger away. Our goal is to push the elevation without really upping the risk factor too far.
TM: Do you enjoy the travelling circus element of it, the touring? Or can that become a drag?
TP: Just looking at the schedule for this year, London for us is probably one of our biggest if not our biggest in Europe. To go to the 02 Arena, we had a double sell out the other year, just to put on the shows is awesome. But I think the guys, sometimes looking at it don’t realise, so the fourth show in a row these guys are going to be tired, they’re going to be sore.
When you do something that’s never been done before, and pop and then you’re like, ‘oh shit, we’ve got to do this thing again tomorrow?’ And that’s the thing with the internet now, if you do something one day it’s not just known about, it’s expected the next day. So that’s the hardest part.
By the end of the tour, you’re expected to land stuff that you’ve barely tried, maybe you got lucky and it worked, but you have to do it again so that part is tough. But it also progresses the sport and if you can stay healthy it’s fine, and you are one of, if not the best in the world, and that’s a pretty cool feeling.
TM: Completely. Let’s talk about your own stunts. What’s your mindset going into a big jump? How do you prepare yourself?
TP: Well for me there are so many young guys coming up like Harry Bink. When I watch him practice… I hurt just watching him. He’ll do sixty, seventy jumps, he’ll do things and just crash and crash and crash, if I took any of those hits!
I don’t feel that old at 34, but old for action sports for sure. I pick and choose my battles, if the crowd is just amped and everyone’s pumped and there feels like good energy and it’s a good show I’ll throw in something I’ve never done before, or at least try it.
I actually landed a trick, it’s not public yet, so in the 02 Arena in 2016 I did a double backflip 360 on a mountain bike. Really lucky I pulled it off, kind of dumb luck, but it worked, and ever since then I’ve been working toward doing it on a motorcycle and I landed it just two, three weeks ago on a dirt bike.
The problem is I was 80ft in the air and the ceiling height in the 02 is like 58 feet, so I was 15 foot higher than the top of the arena.
TM: No way!
TP: I’m not quite ready for that this show, but it is possible. And once someone does it, someone always figures out a way to do it better, how to do it lower, how to do it week in week out.
TM: What is it that makes you want to push yourself to these extremes? It’s hard to imagine other tricks that can top the last one, but you’re still pushing boundaries to invent new ones…
TP: That’s the thing about action sports, we come here with the same tricks, even if there are guys doing it with more style or a little bit better or whatever.
Our sport is about doing things that other people think is impossible, it’s about people, whether they ride motorcycles, bikes, scooters or skateboards, they want to be inspired that the impossible can happen. Sorry to get all philosophical about it.
TM: No that’s a good thing with us.
TP: Perfect. Because that’s why action sports work because people want to feel that freedom.
TM: You’ve lived your dream essentially, doing something that you love to do. What would you say to people who are maybe stuck in a dead-end job, maybe not fulfilling their potential? What would you say to those people about living life?
TP: Well, everyone asks now I have kids, ‘how can you keep risking your life? How can you keep doing this stuff?’ My answer is if our kids have half the passion that my wife does for skateboarding or I do for motorcycles if they can appreciate all these Nitro riders.
Not all of them are making a lot of money, but they’re going out there and risking their lives, you don’t get paid more for trying a big trick, they try every single night to do something that’s never been done.
People in the normal world can’t understand that, it’s like ‘why would you do more without being paid more?’ It’s cause what we do isn’t for the money, there’s no amount of money worth risking your life for, but that excitement and that passion.
Most people talk about a life or death deal and they’re talking about it metaphorically, when we go out and face a life or death deal, it truly is life and death, and that’s scary and a lot of people will never understand it, but it’s when you feel the most alive.
TM: What’s the riskiest challenge you’ve undertaken?
TP: For me it’s something you’re not prepared for, two weeks ago I did the biggest trick that’s ever been landed on a motorcycle, just a huge, huge stunt, then you land it, and then you go trail riding with your friend and you slide off a hill that’s not even as big as the take-off ramp and you break your wrist.
So for me, the scariest stuff is honestly the routine, the stuff that you generally don’t get hurt on, rather than the stuff that everyone thinks is totally insane.
TM: Was there a trigger in your life that made you want to do this? Many of your family members were into sports…
TP: Well my Dad had six brothers and my Mum had two brothers and almost everyone on both sides had boys. Everyone in the family was a Golden Glove boxer, played All-American lacrosse, football, my uncle played quarterback for the Denver Broncos!
I was the runt, I mean I’m 6’2 but I was probably the smallest one out my cousins, I was always getting beat up, I was always the slowest (laughs) and the only way that I could fit in was if I was on a motorcycle.
Because all you had to do was twist that throttle to go faster, or if there was a bridge and they were all worried about jumping, I got a flip or a double flip or a gainer, and did something that proves I’m part of this family (laughs), because I didn’t have as athletic a gene as the rest of them seemed to, for me action sports came to be a way to prove that I was as tough as the rest of my family I guess.
TM: Was there a particular influence?
TP: Well my Dad rode motorcycles my Mum rode motorcycles, when we went camping we rode bikes. We were in construction, so always had access to big mounds of dirt and tractors to change them.
So I think that’s where freestyle came in for me because I was racing growing up, but I loved the freedom of jumping from one hill to another or finding something that’s never been done before, that was really exciting for me.
TM: What possessed you to first attempt that double backflip?
TP: You know it’s funny with our sport, it was years and years and years of talking and just b*******ting back and forth, ‘oh I’m gonna do a backflip,’ we talked a lot of s**t but no one was really serious until Carey (Hart) was like ‘f**k it.’ Carey did the backflip, and he ended up breaking his back, ironically the first time, but not bad, he was still walking.
Then everyone just jumped on it, through all the practice I learned to do a double backflip on a BMX bike before I learned to do a backflip on a motorcycle and the second I did a backflip and rode away from it I thought ‘well it’s just a big bicycle, if we can do a double on a bicycle, we can do a double on a dirt bike.
We’ve got a motor, yeah it’s not gonna be as easy to stop but we can go a lot higher,’ so the moment I landed the single I thought the double was possible.
TM: You mentioned your friend getting injured, that must have some affect, you have known people who’ve lost their lives?
TP: You know it does. What’s interesting is just because something was impossible for someone else… and it may be just optimism, or overconfidence but it doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
You know the skill set, they just didn’t have enough at the time to do the trick and they might have pushed themselves a little bit too far. You’ve got a guy like Jeremy Lusk, who was X Games champion for freestyle motocross who died under-rotating a flip trick.
It wasn’t that it was that hard of a trick for him – it wasn’t an easy trick – but sometimes things just happen. I mean you could maybe have a friend that’s lost their life in a car crash, but you still drive to work because it’s work, everyone thinks you have to be crazy to do these sports but the crazy guys get hurt too fast and never get good, you know it’s a calculated risk.
TM: Do you fear death?
TP: It comes down to preparation, the more you prepare, the more… I mean once you commit to doing something, you figure out what the risks are and if you decide it’s worth it, you go for it. It’s not that we have a death wish, but that we want to live our lives to the fullest potential and I feel like these sports give us the chance to do that.
You know my family works in construction, my Dad made $45,000 a year when I was growing up and all my Uncle’s chipped in just to be able to pay for gas.
I always had the most beat up motorcycle at the nationals, you know we never had the best stuff, but this gave me an opportunity to do what my family had never been able to do, to travel the world. You know and it’s a pretty cool thing to be able to do on a dirt bike. At thirty years old I built a skate park, it’s like ‘man you’re still making a living off kids toys, congratulations!’
TM: Ha. You’ve tried your hand at so many things, you’ve done NASCAR, jumped monster trucks. Is there anything you’re not good at?
TP: (Laughs) Yeah there’s a lot (laughs) I’m actually only good at stuff with fuel and adrenaline. Honestly, even with NASCAR, I figured out one key factor to my success was being able to analyse risk and take risks that other people weren’t.
In Supercross it was like ‘okay I need to make up two seconds to win this race, I need to shift up a gear and we’re only going to use loops that no one else is willing to do.’ In freestyle knowing what everyone else was doing and saying ‘well shit I need to learn a double backflip to win this event.’
So in NASCAR, no one was afraid to crash and if it’s just down to skill, then I’m not that type of driver. Rally works for me because I make the best of the worst.
I’m not always going to be perfect over every crest and I’m willing to take those chances when the co-driver says ‘back right six minor, silver big jump through narrow gate’ and most people lift just a little bit, till they see the gate and I’ll be like ‘oh right that’s gonna get me two seconds by the end of the next section, if that’s what it’s going to take to win then f**k it.’
So it’s not as much as being careless as believing in your ability and that’s the stuff that I’m good at, analysing the risk, making that decision and saying yes I can do it.
TM: Have you ever been offered stunt work in Hollywood?
TP: Yeah, I mean that’s what you do when you don’t want to progress any more when you want a high budget cushy job (laughs). You know rarely in Hollywood is there a chance to do something really really big that’s never been done before, they use CGI, they want you to do the basic stuff.
I mean I’d love to write my own script and then do the stunts for one of the characters, I mean I’ve absolutely no interest in acting, or being in that world.
I do think there’s a lot of awesome things that you could do with Hollywood stunts but generally, the director is in charge of what is done and generally doesn’t envisage stuff that is as cool as I’d like to do. So if I wasn’t as ADHD and was just in this for the money I would be in Hollywood.
TM: How’s your body holding up? All those bones you’ve broken must have taken quite a toll?
TP: Well right now like I said I’ve got a break, I’ve got a broken wrist. My right ankle’s fused, both knees are pretty jacked, my lower back is fused, my shoulders pop out quite often.
But at the end of the day, if I can swim and cycle a few times a week, like a road bike or mountain bike, I’m great man, I don’t have any pain then. Literally with the travelling, the more I sit and the more I get a real job, the worse my body gets (laughs). If I ever stop I’m f****d!
TM: (Laughs) You’re only 34, but you must get asked all the time how long you’re going to keep doing it? Do you want to keep going for as long as you can?
TP: Yeah I mean everyone says ‘ahh I’m done riding. I’ll never ride again!’ but they always come back. There’s a freedom in this stuff, in dirt bikes and action sports in general that you don’t get in life.
You know people encourage you to go higher and faster and farther than ever before, you know if you do that on the streets you go to jail (laughs). But for me, the risk-reward changes. I’m not willing to risk everything, you know it used to be once a week, then once a month, now maybe twice a year I’ll do something really fucking stupid (laughs).
TM: If Evil Knievel was alive today and he was on the modern motocross bikes rather than the heavy bikes he rode, do you think he’d be up for joining Nitro Circus?
TP: Well he was crazy on and off the bike (laughs), what I liked about Evil, not having got to know him before he passed away, but from what I’ve heard, he was that guy that was willing to do whatever it took to push the limits.
To show people that the impossible was possible, that you’re not a failure until you fail to get back up. I liked all of those things, I think that is what Nitro’s based around. I mean a reporter talked shit on him and he went and beat him with a baseball bat, so I don’t think he would’ve lasted very long in this age of social media (laughs).
TM: Ha. We always ask for some words of wisdom or a mantra that you live your life by, anything you’d like to share with our readers?
TP: Yeah, I think my whole life, the reason I’ve done well is I’d rather,
“Try and fail, than fail to try.”
I think if anyone could have told me anything at any time it’s go for it! So many people are afraid to take a risk and in action sports, the biggest risk is not just a metaphorical risk or a risk of failure, it’s a risk of injury. You’re putting your life on the line, but it’s served me well to have tried, but I’ve failed a lot.
Man, I suck at turning left, I’m not very good at NASCAR, but I would’ve never tried rally if I was just doing it for the money. I might have only raced dirt bikes and not done freestyle, not done monster trucks, not done the skydives and all the stuff.
My career would have been done by now. I would have been working in construction with my family or might have just done well enough to retire, but then I would have been bored. Always wake up with that passion I guess.
Travis Pastrana and his Nitro Circus ‘You Got This tour’ hits the UK in November, for updates, exclusive behind-the-scenes content and tickets go to http://www.nitrocircus.com and follow Nitro Circus on Instagram and Facebook.
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