As he began preparing for the Moto X Best Trick event 10 years ago at X Games Los Angeles 2004, Chuck Carothers knew it wasn't enough to merely bring a new twist to an existing trick. Winning gold was going to take something entirely new and game-changing, as Brian Deegan had brought the year before with the first 360, and Mike Metzger had done in 2002, with the first backflips at X Games.
"I was in X Games in 2003 and got sixth place with a one-handed Kiss of Death that I'd gone in thinking might get me on the podium, and after that I knew I needed to come up with a whole new category of trick just to keep up," Carothers recalls. "The flip had been done. The 360 had been done. It was all about progression of the sport at that time: new tricks, not variations. I knew something big had to happen, so I brainstormed a lot and came up with the Sideshow -- a no-hand Supercan Indian air -- then thought, 'I wonder if I could spin this all the way around?'"
Body varial tricks were common in skateboarding at the time; letting go of a motorcycle and spinning around in midair was something else altogether, especially over a 45-foot gap. But Carothers says progression in freestyle motocross at the time was nonlinear, and there was no telling what other guys might be up to, so he dusted the dirt off his shoulder from his disappointing finish in 2003, hung a rock-climbing harness from the rafters in his garage, and decided to go for it.
Carothers planned to bring the trick to Winter X Games 2004, back when Moto X Freestyle events were still in the winter mix, but he broke his foot eight days before the event after landing on his bike in a foam pit while trying the body varial for the first time at Metzger's training compound in California. As Carothers nursed his way back from the injury over the next few months, he couldn't get the rotation for the trick out of his mind.
"I was at a point in my career where I wasn't sure how much longer I was going to be able to keep at it," Carothers says. "Then, when I found out there were two wild-card slots available, I thought, 'Man, I'm broke. I have to go get a job if I don't give it my all right now.'"
Carothers figured his best chance at winning one of those wild cards was to get video proof that he was close to landing the new trick, so he called up his friend Travis Pastrana and asked for help. Pastrana invited him to come try it over his foam pit in Maryland.
"My first try at Travis' place I did the spin, got back on the bike, and landed it in the pit, but I dislocated my shoulder in the attempt," Carothers says. "We got the video and photos sent off, and that was all we needed to get the wild card from the X Games committee. We didn't tell them that my shoulder was messed up."
Once his spot was confirmed, Carothers camped out at Pastrana's place, trying to take it easy; he'd gambled everything on his new trick and says he didn't have enough money to get back to Texas with enough left over to make the trip to Los Angeles.
"Looking back on it, those weeks I spent at Pastrana's place were some of the best times of my life, and I was totally inspired just by being there with him and his crew, even when I couldn't ride myself," Carothers says. "That was a really special time in FMX, when almost everyone in the sport were really good friends just pushing each other to create, and it was exciting to be a part of it."
Before Carothers got to X Games, there was the small matter of what to name the trick, an honor traditionally bestowed on a trick's creator, but Carothers didn't want to jinx himself by claiming the trick prematurely.
"ESPN producers wanted to know what to call it so they could hype it up," he remembers. "One of the ideas suggested was the Chuck Roll, which I wasn't that into. Then Rick Swisher came up with 'Carolla' -- the Carothers Roll -- and I liked the sound of that."
The Moto X Best Trick finals would be just his seventh time ever attempting the trick, and the first without a foam pit. ESPN cameras caught Carothers' friend Nate Adams ducking into a tunnel out of the venue just before his run, too anxious to watch, but it turned out to be Carothers' lucky day. The $50,000 he won that day, and the new sponsors and opportunities that came with it, changed his life.
"Landing the Carolla and winning X Games meant everything at the time, and it bought me another seven years in FMX, doing shows and competing all around the world before I finally retired in 2011 after all the injuries got to be too much," he says.
These days, he works for a venture capitalist firm and is co-owner of Motoped, a new motorized bicycle frame kit product -- think full-suspension mountain bikes with 50cc motorcycle engines. Motoped raised nearly $400,000 on Kickstarter in December and will officially launch this year. But Carothers will always be best-known as the first to let go of a motorcycle and spin a full rotation before reconnecting with it.
Only a handful of riders have successfully emulated the trick or attempted body varial variations of their own.
"I'm surprised more people haven't done it since -- I thought more people would get creative with it and run with the idea -- but then again, a lot of FMX was way ahead of its time back then," he says. "It was undeniably special to have played a part in all that."