TRAVIS PASTRANA in his own words
interview: Jon Bentman
images: Nitro Circus, Red Bull Content Pool, Garth Milan
Boy to man
Yeah, life changes. When I was a teenager, racing, life was very simple. Difficult but simple. Every day you woke up, you trained, and you ate and you rested, everything was about being the first to the chequered flag. Then in freestyle it was about trying to stay healthy, innovating new ways to make jumps bigger, more exciting. My passion hasn’t changed but my risk to reward ratio certainly has, and now I really enjoy spending time at home. I used to get home and I’d be waiting to be out racing and riding again, but now I come home and I think ‘Man, this is really nice!’
You know, hindsight is 20/20. I never won a supercross championship in the big class and I would have liked to have done some other stuff and maybe taken a few less chances, but all those things are what made this life for me. I would never have been in rally car racing, I would never have been in Nitro Circus had everything gone exactly to plan. And the injuries have made me, I have definitely grown a lot through the injuries along the way!
For most people, they want for their kids what they couldn’t accomplish for themselves, because they didn’t have the means to accomplish it. And the fact that I – in the minds of many – back then could have been the best racer meant that I owed it to them to be that person, to be that supercross and motocross champ, when really I was so much happier with this group (freestyle) and pushing my limits in other directions. I think it was a little early, freestyle was still so new, and I think that there is still a big portion of the industry that will never understand action sports, yeah, even today the moto industry still is not fully engaged with action sports. Which is fine, and it kind of makes it what it is, it still has this air of unintentional rebellion I guess, to the hard core of the establishment.
I was into Crusty (Demons of Dirt – the freestyle film series) at 12 years of age, a huge fan of that series. You have to think, in the early to mid 1990s the whole culture of action sports just blew up because of those videos. For me as a kid on the east coast I’d never seen the dunes or desert riding, Glamis and all of this stuff. That was such an eye opener. And so to get that opportunity to go ride and be on film, that was special to me. The first day was with Jeremy McGrath and Brian Deegan. I’d looked up to both of those guys and I recall thinking this is so cool, it brought me into the sport for sure.
The loneliness of the racer
Nitro Circus started – and I mean this with the greatest respect – because of how lonely it is to be the best in an individual sport. When I was 15, 16, 17 years old, racing, I was very successful financially and in terms of winning etc, but I was the least happy as far as being a human being. But I found this group of misfits and all of a sudden we started building stuff – jumps – and yes we were still competitive, but even with Brian Deegan it was still fun, he’d still congratulate me when I’d beat him and vice versa. That was something I never experienced in racing . And for me action sports isn’t about how cool you are, so we broke away from the typical skater-mulisha way, and I said I don’t care if you’re tattooed from head-to-toe or a clean-cut religious type who doesn’t drink, cuss or anything, or whatever you do, just lets bring these passionate people together, lets unite on the one front we can all agree on, and that’s sport.
So it’s been so awesome to get this diverse group of people together. I’ve had people ask how do you get along when there’s 12-14 of you together on a bus for months on end, but there’s never really been an argument, there’s never been anything. There are differences in people’s culture and upbringing but the love of the sport is what Nitro is about and if you look at it ethically and morally it’s about passion and that’s what Nitro is.
I did so much bad to my body, the worst injuries of my life, trying to make this one trick work but physics were not on my side
Mulisha vs Nitro
There was a mutual respect. I feel, with any racer or any athlete, if someone else is at the top of their sport you have a respect for them. And for me Brian Deegan always had that (mutual) respect. He was always very nice, to my parents, to my friends, to me. We weren’t buddies, we didn’t hang out, I was early to bed, he was a party animal. But there was that respect and looking back our different styles unintentionally helped build the sport of freestyle, as it gave everyone someone to root for, or root against, if you will!
The hardest, toughest, scariest trick
The trick that gave me the most trouble my whole life was the backwards 360 or the corkscrew 720, or the TP7, or whatever you want to call it. It just doesn’t really work well on a dirtbike. The point being if you spin as hard as you can you get half a spin for every one flip. So to complete the spin you had to add another flip because if you pull as hard as you can and flip as hard as you can you do two flips to get the one spin, to do that you just have to be willing to go higher. So I got to the point – it was definitely one of those moments – when you have to say alright, this trick that has been plaguing me obviously is not working. Although that was not before I’d shattered my ankle, knocked myself out, broke my back – I did so much bad to my body, the worst injuries of my life, trying to make that one trick work but physics were not on my side.
My uncle played football for the Denver Broncos and he became a health teacher and a coach and his main thing was if you stay moving you’ll be fine. So every time I get injured everything starts to hurt because you slow down your activity. It’s not normal life for everyone, but from when I was 24-25 years old I’d have to start every morning by getting in the hot tub and if I can have 15 minutes in the hot tub and another 10-25 minutes just to do some basics, maybe cycling, some physical therapy, then if I can find an hour every day to dedicate to being active then I’m one of the physically fittest people in the world. But if I have a week where I can’t do that stuff, oh man…
Social media and a changing world
The world is changing so rapidly, TV is dying, or at least it’s not reaching the masses the way it did. Social media has changed things; now to be reachable is more important than to be good. And things change. When I grew up you didn’t follow the top guys day-to-day, so to meet Guy Cooper to meet Doug Henry or Jeff Stanton was the biggest deal ever. My kids, they can see these people through social media, so they don’t get so excited, the passion is not the same.
I look at professional YouTubers, these guys have to post like 15 to 30 minutes a day! It used to be you would come out with a movie after a year of work, so the quality has gone down, while the realness has gone up. It’s changed and as a father, like every parent you go through that transition where you think ‘this is cool, coolest in the world’ and the kids go ‘yeah, it’s okay…’ and you’re like ‘What?!’ I guess I’m going to experience a lot more of that…
Conversely, for Nitro Circus we have to stop the guys putting what they’re doing right away onto social media. The second that happens it’s old. So I’m there with the guys, saying, look, you have to work hard for this next month but you can’t show anyone, this has to be new (to the crowds). It’s tough for the guys!
As a father, you go through that transition where you think ‘this is cool, coolest in the world’ and the kids go ‘yeah, it’s okay…’ and you’re like ‘What?!!!’
Personally, with the passing of Eric Roner (who worked with Pastrana on the Grand Canyon jumps and more) I’ve slowed down on the base-jumping a lot. There’s a lot of risk in that sport. And its tough to be a generalist (freestyle rider, car racer, event organizer, TV personality…) in a sport where one mistake can lead to your death – but also it’s a lot of fun. It’s tough.
The hardest part with getting older is you always want to do stuff that looks fun but a lot of times you don’t have the physical time to put into doing it right. Even the simplest trick, if its not prepared enough, if you haven’t looked at everything that could go wrong, it becomes a high-risk thing. What we do and the life that we live – and most of your readers live it, too – even the simplest stuff, you’re still at risk, so I think what scares me the most is to do anything half-assed.
And without a doubt I will slow down on the competitive riding and I’ll slow down a lot on the touring – I love being at home, I love watching my four-year-old daughter ride her motorcycle, I love watching my two year old ride her four wheel, it’s fun. But I’ll always keep riding. I want to ride with them, I want to ride with my wife, I want to ride with my father, even as a road rider, or on a Baja ride, something easy. I’ll never stop riding, but the level at which I ride will change.