Travis Pastrana doubles up, doubles down
Twenty Years, 20 Firsts celebrates the 20-year legacy of the X Games in action sports with a collection of 20 of the most iconic first-trick moments in X Games history. Between March and X Games Austin (June 5-8), XGames.com will roll out the top 20 firsts, including moments such as Travis Pastrana's groundbreaking double backflip and Shaun White's perfect SuperPipe score, and the stories behind them. Fans will be able to vote for their favorite moment beginning in May.
The fabric of the universe wrinkled ever so slightly on Travis Pastrana's behalf at X Games in 2006. That's the only way he can explain it.
"I remember absolutely everything from that week," he says. "You know how people say they have near-death experiences, where time slows down all around them, they're seeing themselves from outside of their own body, and everything happens in slow motion? Well, I believe them. That's how I remember experiencing my entire week at X Games in 2006."
It was the year he won gold in the X Games debut of rally car racing, beating out his rally role model after Colin McRae rolled his car spectacularly on the final turn of the head-to-head final, Pastrana emerging triumphantly and in disbelief from the storm of dirt in the air behind him. It was the year he claimed his sixth gold medal in Moto X Freestyle, trouncing his closest competitor by an astonishing three points. And it was the year that the world came to a screeching halt all around him, like bullet time in an artsy action movie, to allow him to land the first double backflip ever seen in motocross competition.
"That adrenaline was pumping like crazy, and to this day I remember every sound, sight and smell inside the Staples Center that night," he says of the double that won him Moto X Best Trick gold. "I remember all my BMX heroes lined up, some of them holding hands anxiously, watching from the deck of the ramp. I remember hugging my mom right before I dropped in. And I remember every single screaming face in the crowd."
It was just three years earlier that Pastrana had first mastered single backflips, spurred on by Carey Hart's first attempts and Mike Metzger's first successes. Once he could do one, why not two? That's the way Pastrana's mind has always worked.
"The first day I had a foam pit of my own I tried a double," he says. "We'd all gotten really good at gymnastics, just trying to figure out if a motorcycle could flip in the first place, and by the time we knew it could we'd already been doing doubles into foam with BMX bikes and triples on trampolines."
Pastrana had landed the double backflip to dirt just one time before bringing it to the X Games' Moto X Best Trick event in 2006. He hadn't planned to try the trick there, especially with his rally final still to come on the weekend schedule, and didn't have any real faith that he could land it.
"It was one of the dumbest things I've ever done," he says in retrospect. "I'd just had the best rally of my life and still had finals ahead of me. Everyone on my team, they were all like, 'Dude, don't hurt yourself.' At that point, even over the foam pit, I was like 6 out of 10 on bringing the second rotation around, with the other four being break-your-neck territory, so I really wasn't sure about it at all."
Shortly before his run, a reporter asked his mom how she felt about knowing that her son could die in the attempt. Pastrana's parents had supported him in everything he'd done up to that point, even going so far as to help finance his foam pit and his health insurance. He'd contemplated the ultimate level of risk before, and so had his mother, but he was rankled by both the audacity and the timing of the question.
"It was the closest I ever came to cursing out a reporter," he says. "It was certainly an emotional moment and it's hard when people are trying to pry up those emotions just to get the shot or get the story or whatever. Right then I was trying my best to avoid those emotions as much as possible and to keep that very question out of my mind."
Chuck Carothers, who'd made Moto X Best Trick history of his own in 2004 with the first body varial, was in the X Games announcing booth for Pastrana's run. He'd been watching his friend train for the trick over the foam pit for more than two years, but still couldn't believe what he was about to see.
"Everyone wanted to see it, and I don't think Travis could resist that," Carothers says. "[Pastrana] had said before the event that he was only going to do the double if he wasn't in the lead, and then there he was in third place going into his second run. I wondered at the time if the judges had scored him lower on his first trick just because everyone wanted to see the double."
By the time Pastrana hit the lip of the ramp and completed his first rotation, X Games producers had to cut Carothers' mic.
"I just started screaming like a maniac, like every other person in the crowd that night," Carothers says. "Everyone was just amazed. Brad and I got real loud."
Pastrana won ESPN's ESPY award for Best Action Sports Athlete the following year. Eight years later he can still count the number of his peers who have landed double backflips on a couple of fingers. He says everyone -- every last person -- who has ever attempted it has been concussed, or worse, from trying the trick.
"The first thing you need to know about the double backflip is that is that there's just no way to bail out," Pastrana says. "If you bail out you're going down on your face with a motorcycle on top of you. You can't even take a second to spot your landing in between flips, because if you do you won't make it."
So why go for it?
"It's something you can't really explain to people, or maybe even to yourself," he says, before reeling off a list of his own favorite firsts from X Games history, such as Metzger's back-to-back backflips, Carothers' Carolla body varial, Tony Hawk's 900, and the first time the world watched Danny Way skateboarding on the MegaRamp. "For the rest of the world these are tricks, or stunts. For us it's progression, it's what we do. You get going down that path and you just want to see what's possible and how much you can do."