On 5th October, 2017, extreme sports rider Travis Pastrana performed a backflip motorcycle jump over a 23-metre (75-ft) gap between two un-moored barges in the River Thames – with just 150 feet of run-up to get up to speed on the first barge before launching in the air and only 36 feet to bring his motorcycle to a stop on the other side.
The first person to try to perform the trick since Mike Metzger fractured a vertebrae attempting it in 2006, the five-time X-Games gold medalist and co-founder of Nitro Circus added yet another daring record to his incredible career.
Travis clearly has a different understanding of humanity, he began riding a Honda one-speed at age four and has since been in the constant pursuit of redefining and defying our limits. Taunting the impossible with the idea of destiny, the extremities he embraces leads to manifest life’s full-bodied expression, roaring full-throttle towards the attainment of a dream, fear melts as time slows and all Travis seemingly has to do is his hold out his outstretched hands.
Hero chats with Travis about his role as a father, his recent announcement of the next leg of the Nitro Circus Tour, titled “You Got This” and reassures us that he wants to die old, but let’s be honest, the saying holds true: legends never die.
Lindsey Okubo: You’ve had 25 concussions. I’ve had five concussions in my life – four in three months – so that was like this wild thing, but 25! I don’t know if dementia or the possibility of memory loss ever crosses your mind but it does mine, how you begin to deal with these small realities?
Travis Pastrana: Right? [laughs] Like is this normal? People ask me how many concussions I’ve had and I’m like 20, 30? I don’t remember. My job now is safety, which is a bit shocking, and one of the things we did was to take the guys who’ve had the biggest hits, and myself as well, and we went and got fully tested. It was really cool to find that we were all clear even with the amount of concussions we’ve had and learned a lot to really put back into Nitro Circus’ program as far as protocol. You hear stuff but it was like, how was I supposed to tell a guy who hit his head pretty hard in practice that he can’t ride next week? Not only is it his pay-check but maybe his family had flown in to come see him, and I don’t know, I’m not a doctor.
LO: Do you think this shift also has something to do with you being a dad now?
TP: Yeah, and I felt really bad for my parents when I realised this, but the first time you see your kid get hurt, it’s like you start to think, “Well, this could’ve been prevented.” It’s hard because it doesn’t make a difference to the crowd as far as seeing the guys crash, one way they’re hurt and one way they’re not, but they still see the same trick. It’s hard, business-wise, to explain to the guys paying the bills that we need to invest $500,000 into a landing pad, but it’s cool because our company is run by the riders. A lot of the guys have had really bad injuries along the way, there’s going to be inherent risk with everything we do but if we can make it so the guys can get up more often, so that they’re not as beat up as we are when they’re our age, then that’s what we’re going to do.
LO: And having two daughters, do they see you as this invincible superhuman of sorts?
TP: They definitely don’t see me as superhuman [laughs]. They’ve seen me in the hospital, but they also see the hard work and the passion that we have. People always ask, “How can you have your daughters in this sort of world and environment?” and it’s like, as crazy as these guys are, they work really hard and with every injury they have, they have to learn about their body and how to keep their shoulders in place, their knees, their ankles. You learn a lot about how to be healthy as a human being – that passion is one thing that they pick up.
LO: That’s totally true, in pushing yourself to these extremes, you’re simultaneously understanding what it really means to be human with these heightened emotions and experiences.
TP: Yeah, it’s knowing what it is to live. So many people say that we have a death wish but no, I want to live my life to its fullest. For me, it’s finding who you are and I feel like, with sports, you learn what you’re made of really quickly and that’s something that I feel really fortunate to have done.
LO: The next leg of the Nitro Circus Tour is called ‘You Got This’, and you refer to it as a mindset, how do you approach your daily life and is it ever boring? [laughs]
TP: That’s an interesting question, you know, I feel like most people will speed down the road a little bit, or try something new here or there, but I’m either on or off. I know when I need to get out there and push myself, and it scares me that I do need to push myself as often as I do, but as you get older and you get more responsibilities the risks and rewards change. People say to me, “You always know it’s going to work out because you don’t care how it works out,” and it’s like, life is pretty trivial almost and I’m very, very, mellow when it comes down to those moments.
LO: This might be a sensitive question, but do you ever feel selfish almost in taking these risks? I can’t imagine what it’d be like to be your wife and be like, “Damn, Travis is gonna go do these flips and I pray to god that he lands them.”
TP: It is, to an extent, but also… for me, everyone says, “Man why didn’t you slow down when you had kids? Why continue to do stupid shit?” For all these people like myself, and yeah they might be selfish, but they wake up and they’re driven, they’re motivated, they’re smiling and that’s something you just don’t see in day to day activities. People smile a little bit but the highs and the lows are so much higher and lower when you have that passion and that drive to be able to chase your dreams, it’s something I hope my kids get from me and from their mom. My wife is a multi-time X-game gold medalist for snowboarding and honestly, she has them do scarier shit [laughs]. When my kids are with her I’m kind of worried and when my kids are with me, I’m kind of the sissy [laughs].
LO: Even with what you guys do though with video games, VR and all this crazy shit with technology, we are desensitised to what “extreme” even is and do you think there’s a danger in that? What does it mean to you guys to be doing this in real life?
TP: The world’s perception is wild and it’s so hard to entertain in a day and age where they think they’ve seen it before. You’re doing a backflip 100ft in the air and people are like, “Oh yeah, cool, like whatever, dude [laughs].” Even if you do something that you’ve been working on for three or four years, and you get to the venue and the next day everyone is asking about the next big trick? You’re like, “Shit, I’ve been working on this for years, I haven’t even thought of that yet.”
LO: A friend asked me if I was going to ask you about your crazy sleepwalking nightmares…
TP: Yeah, I’ve been told so many different things from so many different specialists, it’s a lack of vitamins and also due to traveling, my sleep schedule is all off and so there are all these reasons why I can’t stay asleep. I can turn my brain off pretty much instantly and, I don’t know maybe it’s genetic or maybe it’s just from when you can be wide open, 200 heart rate and you have 30 minutes of downtime and you find a way to sleep. I can actually go into a meditation mode and they kept telling me to wake up but it was like “I am awake!” Long story short, there’s a lot of explanations for why I see things and scream and run around when I’m asleep, but at the end of the day it doesn’t bother me so much. I did knock a tooth out once diving down the steps but for the most part, I’ve been unhurt [laughs].
LO: That meditative state draws parallels with a state of enlightenment, but how do you deal with, or think about, death?
TP: I’ve lost friends and it sucks, and life gets you down. But I feel like when someone passes away – and this is a really odd way to look at death – you mourn them and wish they were there but, in this sport especially, and having a dad that was military, I’ve lost people. At the end of the day, they were out there doing what they felt was right, they were pushing themselves, doing what they loved and that’s so much more than most people can say about their lives. I’m not saying that it’s worth dying for and they hope to die, but they took that risk and I believe that these people that we’ve lost, for the most part, have gone while chasing a dream.
LO: Is that how you wanna go?
TP: No I want to go old.
Keep up-to-date with Travis at Nitro Circus.