Nitro Circus: One-On-One With Travis Pastrana

With 17 X Games medals under his belt, it’s safe to say Travis Pastrana is an authority on all things extreme sports. The 32-year-old Maryland native has tried a multitude of sports over the course of his career, perfecting tricks that have never been seen, all while continuing to take it one step further. For almost a decade, Pastrana has been the ringleader of Nitro Circus, a high-flying, death-defying group of professional athletes that continues to redefine the landscape of extreme sports.

With a television series, a feature film and a number of world records under their belt, the Nitro Circus crew has set out once again on a North American tour and will make 24 stops this fall. We got the chance to catch up with high-energy host before the Philadelphia stop at the Wells Fargo Center, to chat about the tour, how it all started and what it takes to become part of the Nitro Circus family. 


CraveOnline: Let’s start off at the beginning, how did the idea for [Nitro Circus] start?

Travis Pastrana: It was pretty organic, if you will. I have the first foam pit – well, Carey Hart had the first foam pit for motorcycles but I had the first foam pit I actually let people come to. So everyone that was learning backflips at the time, because that was the big thing, was like, ‘S—, can I come over to the house?’ and we had all the top guys in freestyle [motocross] but also BMX, especially when X Games started doing the Mega-Ramp, everyone was coming over – skateboarders, BMX and moto.

Then we started filming everything. And as we filmed it, Johnny Knoxville saw it and was like, ‘Dude, you have to be on MTV’ and so we pitched that and we were on MTV for a couple of years and then Mike Porra thought it could be a live show. We thought about it for almost two years and then we finally thought that with the Giganta-Ramp we could probably do a pretty good show – we didn’t know. And we knew we got to go to Australia and thought it would be a lot of fun. We thought, ‘Maybe people will like it, maybe they won’t, but either way, it’s a great live experience’. At that point, it was still a hobby.

People showed up, and it sold out – and they were screaming at the end of the show. There were so many crashes, it was a messed up show. We didn’t know anything about it – well Mike [Porra] helped – but we were just screwing around and the word got out and it got bigger and bigger and now we have 70 shows around the world – and this has become our jobs. It’s pretty cool!

Photo: Red Bull

Photo: Nitro Circus

Crave: What were those first several shows like, when it first started? Was there a little bit of anxiety and a little bit of getting into a rhythm, since it’s something you’d never done before?

Pastrana: Yeah, for sure. Everyone on the show – at that point – were all making a living as professional athletes and [Nitro Circus] was just something we were doing for fun, so there wasn’t a lot of anxiety as far as whether it was a make or break deal. It was just like a cool way to travel around and at that time we were doing seven shows. And we were like, ‘F— dude, how are we going to do seven?’ because any more than three get-togethers for Nitro Circus is like cruel and unusual punishment. There wasn’t a lot of sleep and the guys appeared at the skate park at six in the morning but when everybody gets together, it’s this energy – like above and beyond.

But more than three days, you’re going to be broken off because everyone is so pumped and fired up and just wants to try everything. So, that’s been the biggest adjustment, [it] was the idea of just ‘send it, we don’t care’ because Jolene [Van Vugt] at the first show, she crashed, got up, crashed again, got up and had to straighten her bars out and the crowds waving, they’re like, ‘Alright, next,next,next’ and she’s like, ‘No, f— you, I’m landing this thing!’ and it was like a 25-minute segment that was supposed to take three and a half minutes and our show went like four hours that night – which was like, way too long, but we were all having an awesome time. The crowd was all still on their feet – and I’m sure some of the kids fell asleep and probably went home (laughs).

Crave: It’s like one in the morning [at that point]…

Pastrana: Yeah, like literally, it was midnight when we finished and we were like, ‘That was awesome!’ and everyone was beaten up and then we remembered we had to do it again next week.


Crave: That’s something I wanted to ask. Does the tour take a toll on you – I mean, you have like 24 shows this time around in the United States?

Pastrana: It’s really kind of a raw thing because the motorcycle portion doesn’t progress straight. You can’t fall on the dirtbike side of it and get up. We’ve gotten better with this airbag covered in wood, so it does give a little bit more. But on dirtbikes, you’re probably going to break.

These guys get better and better. The moto side is more perfected, more extended and more energy every single show. On the Giganta-Ramp side, it’s completely different. If you’re not trying something you’ve never tried every single show, you’re probably not staying on the Giganta-Ramp.

There’s so many different sports to pull from and so many guys that want to be on the tour – and they’re all the best in the world. If you make it to the end of this tour – or at any sport – you’re the top in the world at your sport. So, people want to come on the tour just to learn from other people and put themselves up against the best and to learn from the best – and to just be motivated. That whole side, it’s make or break. They keep trying new stuff and trying new stuff. And by the end of the tour, what was big at the beginning of the tour is now literally in the first section. It’s that much improvement every time.

Photo: Red Bull

Photo: Nitro Circus

Crave: How do decide what goes into the show – as far as tricks and stuff?

Pastrana: We trust the guys that are in the show – for the most part It’s a little more structured than it was at the beginning of Nitro, it was just ‘send it’ and ‘you got eight tricks tonight – give me your best trick to your eighth best trick’. So, at the beginning we were building our own stuff and now, we have an in-house guy that builds it and we give him ideas of what we want. There’s no shortage of ideas, for sure. But at the end of the day, it gets really tough for the guys. They have to – the last trick has to land. That’s what we’ve learned at the show. We can’t build up something that’s not real but at the same time, we have to be able to land it.

Crave: So, the trick has to be achievable. It has to be something you know, at some point throughout the show, you can land – because you don’t want start something you can’t finish?

Pastrana: Exactly. And every now and then at our show – actually, almost every show – something bigger will happen that we don’t build up, because you cannot build up seven things and have them all fail. It might work, it might not – it could be the biggest thing. But in the end, it’s our biggest trick – but we’re not 100 percent but as sure as can be it’s going to work.


Crave: With this group, is it tough to wrangle these guys up? And on top of that, everyone has conflicting schedules, so in the beginning was it tough to get people on board?

Pastrana: No, this has always been – everyone has been fighting to get on board. Most of the guys said they’d take no pay because they want to be with the best and they want to ride with the best. If you want to try a trick that has never been tried and you want a different ramp, we can facilitate that. It’s kind of like Red Bull – Red Bull still is – and how they push the limits but they only take like one guy a year and they build this really cool thing.

We’ll take 15 guys a year and like [Josh] Sheehan, who said he wanted to do a triple backflip and we’re like, ‘Alright, let’s make it work!’ We try to facilitate stuff that’s going to keep them safe and, at the end of the day, that’s my job, to make sure they can go day-in and day-out – especially when we’re doing the TV stuff. You get three hours of sleep a night – and hey, no complaints – but you do a show, you get on the bus, you sleep a little bit and seven the next morning when the sun hits you and you reach your destination, you’re up. You’re doing awesome stuff and there’s a lot of guys that want to be a part of it and just can’t hang – physically or mentally. That’s why it’s so cool to have Jolene, who has to be the toughest physical and mental person I’ve ever met in my life. I love my wife, she does a great job, but she knows when to back down. Even [Adam] ‘Crum’, he’s not an athlete but, he’s talking to the fans, he comes up with the scripts. If he sleeps three hours a night, I’d be surprised. He’s like, ‘You know what, I want to be with passionate people’.

Crave: It definitely helps the product when everyone is passionate about what they do.

Pastrana: Not to jump off subject but, like Mat Rebeaud – one of the best freestylers in the world – got sent home because you have to be able to ride right next to people in front of you. One person either side, a person in front of you, a person behind you – if anyone messes up, if anyone rips that, everyone is crashing and it looks bad. That’s not good. Some of the best in the world need their time – they need their song, they need their music, they need to think, they need to focus. Not out here.

Crave: When it comes to the selection process of athletes, are you involved much with that? I remember talking to ‘Wheelz’ [Fotheringham] last year and he said Nitro Circus just contacted him out of the blue, then he flew out and the rest is kind of history.

Pastrana: Generally. It’s kind of interesting, one of our best athletes right now, Brandon Schmidt, made a video on YouTube and sent the link to my wife.

Crave: It’s amazing how that works nowadays, isn’t it?

Pastrana: But that’s the thing, if you’re good at what you do – like now we have the best in the world and there’s guys that are camp counselors at Woodward, there’s guys from all over the world. So, if you’re good in this day-and-age and you’re doing something that no one else has done, we know about you. Everyone’s like, ‘Pick up my son, he’s really good and he’s almost as good as like –‘. No.

Photo: Red Bull

Photo: Nitro Circus

Crave: But is it one of those things where now you’re inundated with videos and people who think they’re good enough because they did one monster trick?

Patrana: But even that – we’ll take one monster trick. We want to show the people something they’ve never seen before. I’ll take one-trick wonder every day. You get six one-hit wonders, doing something that never happened and you get six tricks every night that no one in the world gets to see. Like Kurtis Downs, he came just to do mechanic work and stuff – he had one little trick in there. He’s probably the best BMX guy we have. Kurtis is so amazing. Like this morning, we got in at six and I woke up at nine and he was coming back from the skate park, whatever the one under the bridge is called.

Crave: FDR?

Pastrana: Yeah. This kid is so hungry to ride and he’s inspired this whole group now. The younger kids have to inspire the other guys. The older guys are like, ‘Yeah, this is fun’ but then they see the younger kids and they’re like, ‘F—, alright, yeah that’s what I want to do’.

Crave: “Back in my day…”

Pastrana: No, no. That’s the thing – there’s nobody that’s a ‘back in the day’ kind of guy. You won’t make it, you be replaced unfortunately.


Crave: Well, back in your day, even now, you were quite the X Games athlete. Can you compare doing Nitro Circus Live each and every night as opposed to preparing for X Games?

Pastrana: The interesting part is, with Nitro, we can build the jump however we want. The landings and takeoffs are continuously changing – you won’t even notice. It’s not fool-proof, it’s still dangerous. I over-rotated a double backflip and landed on my back and was perfectly fine. I mean, I dropped from literally 35 feet in the air without my motorcycle. You can’t do that at X Games – but you can do it here. If you’re close to getting something, you’ll get it on tour. Because of the safety we have and even if you’re fifty-fifty, you still go for it because chances are you’re not going to break anything. I’m not saying you won’t, but we’ve got the safety precautions there. The difference between X Games is that if you’re thinking about doing a trick you’re not sure you’re going to land, you can’t really take that risk because you’re going to break your back and you’re not going to win the games. Here, it doesn’t matter. You crash three out of four nights, that fourth night; you’re the f—— hero!

Crave: (Laugh.) Can you talk briefly about what’s new this year on the tour?

Pastrana: This year we have a completely different kind of towing system. We were kind of playing around with it during the Moto Mayhem Tour but we found it’s more exciting because more people crashed going after the takeoff – I know, that’s horrible. It makes it exciting for us because it’s something new and different and when the guys are inspired to try new stuff, it’s a lot of fun. The theme is quite a bit different. My job is to make the 10-percent of the crowd that knows what’s going on leave saying ‘Holy cow, I’ve never seen anything like that’ but the 90-percent is like ‘Woah’.


Ed Miller is a contributor for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @PhillyEdMiller or “like” CraveOnline Sports on Facebook.