Stories from inside 'Nitro Circus Live'
"Nitro Circus Live" is composed of some of the biggest names and badasses in action sports today. More X Games medals are in one of the dressing rooms than anywhere else in the world.
One would assume that with big names like these, big egos would naturally follow. Especially when they are riding 11 sold-out shows in front of screaming fans, who would stay for an hour after each show just to grab a close glimpse of their heroes who just defied gravity and any sense of self-preservation.
You would also understand if they only did what is in their contract, only perform the tricks they get paid for or sit the show out if they were banged up. After all, their most important contests -- X Games, Dew Tour and X Fighters -- were just around the corner.
Basically all of the above couldn't be any further from the truth. This group of athletes spent most of the six weeks on tour figuring out how to push themselves, their sport and the "Nitro Circus Live" show to new heights every night. The first time it occurred to me that this was happening was when we brought out "The Loop."
Skateboard icon Bob Burnquist saw that we wanted to incorporate a loop into the show. In true "Nitro" fashion, no one had tested it until a day before the first show. No one really knew where to drop in from, or how much speed you needed. All they knew was that many things could go wrong.
After a couple of hours of staring at the monstrosity and discussing a range of scenarios, Burnquist stepped up and said he would dial in the speed and help figure out this 17-foot beast of a loop. He didn't have to do it and it wasn't in his contract to even touch the thing, but he knew we needed some guidance and he took it on. The Loop was a great hit in all of the shows that followed, and even though it claimed a couple of guys along the way, without Burnquist it wouldn't have been there in the first place.
In one of the first shows our "contraption king," Dusty Wygle, knocked himself out in the second half pretty bad. He wanted to keep riding because he still had big tricks to throw and didn't want to let the crowd miss out on them. He was so stubborn that we actually had to hide his bike and helmet from him so he wouldn't ride. When he couldn't find his gear, I caught him trying to sneak up the ramp with a beach cruiser and moto helmet to finish off the show. He was seriously mad when we stopped him the second time.
Adam Jones got taken out in one of the shows in a nine-way FMX flip, where all riders are upside down in the air at the same time. He was pretty dinged up and the guy who went down in front of him had to sit out the rest of the show. Jones not only continued to ride, but also asked if he could fill in for that rider in the biggest trick segment because he didn't want the crowd to miss anything. Most people in the stadium wouldn't have noticed if there was one fewer trick in the best trick segment, but Jones would have known and that's all that mattered.
James Foster, our triple backflipping BMX rider, took some of the hardest hits we have ever had on tour. In the last show in Perth the physio therapist told me he shouldn't ride because he could barely hold onto his handlebars. Foster insisted he ride because it was a sellout crowd and he landed the triple backflip perfectly, which sent the crowd into an absolute frenzy and even brought some people to tears.
Aaron "Wheelz" Fotheringham is the world's best extreme wheelchair athlete. He has become one of the biggest stars of the show and is an inspiration to anyone he meets. This time around he was launching front flips on the tour. In one of the shows, he took two very hard hits that left him very banged up and dizzy. He didn't want to leave that city without landing one so he jumped in the final trains to show the crowd he can land his flip. He didn't have to do it, but he wanted to. He knows the crowd and other riders love it, and that this is what "Nitro Circus" is all about.
"Nitro Circus" always has and always will be a moto-fueled group of rednecks. However, somewhere along the line some scooter riders were brought in to perform in the show. The emcees love to make fun of them, but you can't deny that they are really, really good at what they do, and the crowd loved it.
Ryan Williams, who is a total freak on his scooter, followed Burnquist's lead and jumped in the loop. He also threw double front flips every night. Mitch Baldry, another Aussie scooter rider, started hucking triple backflips in the show, and whilst he didn't land any, he has earned the admiration of the audience and the cast.
One of the toughest people in action sports has to be Chad Kagy. He is the only person to try an 80-foot transfer from our Giganta Ramp to the moto lander. He overshot it in the first show, landing 100 feet to flat, and went to the hospital. The first show in the next city he walked up to me and said: "I'll give the transfer another shot tonight."
Rory Bushfield is a professional backcountry skier and one of the newest members of "Nitro Circus Live." Rory got thrown into the mix about two weeks before the first show when Erik Roner (our resident roller skier) broke his femur in an avalanche while skiing in Alaska. Bushfield was also married to Sarah Burke, one of the brightest stars in action sports who had a fatal crash earlier this year while training for the Winter X Games.
When Bushfield came out to Australia he had no idea what to expect, let alone what roller skis were. He quickly became a crowd favorite by landing front flips, 360s and double backflips. One night in Melbourne the cast and crew dedicated the show to his late wife, Sarah, by wearing purple armbands with her name on them. Bushfield rode better than he ever had, going bigger and higher than what anyone thought possible on roller skis. On such an emotional night for him, he walked away with the MVC, which is the "most valuable circus member" award given out after each show.
It didn't take long for the guys on the Giganta Ramp to realize that this is the perfect place to try new tricks, and most of the BMX community have already seen clips of what went down. These include Andy Buckworth's superman double front flip, Jaie Toohey's backflip triple tail whip, Special Greg's special flip and, most recently, Matt Whyatt's backflip tail whip to late 360.
These tricks blew everyone's minds, but something that impressed us all was Andrew Ahumada's creativity in the last couple of shows. He tried a cliffhanger front flip and a front flip double tail whip. Like all of the people and stories above, he doesn't get paid more to try these. He gets the respect of his peers and the satisfaction of being the first in the world to try something.
Many more stories came out of the tour. Cam Sinclair landing double backflips after breaking his femur last year, Gregg Godfrey's nephews and son, who virtually come out of the backwoods of Utah to ride in the tour, Lyn-z Adams Hawkins Pastrana landing new tricks each stop, Beaver Fleming landing the first finger flip, backflip on a skateboard, Jolene Van Vugt coming back from shoulder reconstruction to ride in every show, Andy Buckworth coming back from a broken leg he suffered just seven weeks before the first show and Jarryd McNeil coming back from a ruptured spleen to throw his whip.
The list goes on and on. I could write a few things about all 45 athletes on tour, but then it would just sound like I'm bragging. The main thing that you take away from spending time with these athletes is that they do what they do for the love of it.
Travis Pastrana embedded a mentality on this tour: every night is a chance to push yourself to a new level. The result of his approach is that the shows just keep getting bigger and better, and with Pastrana back at the reins for the "Nitro Live" European tour later this year there's no telling how big the shows will get.
Dov Ribnick is the creative manager for "Nitro Circus Live."