I first became aware of BMX (bicycle motocross) in the spring of 1985. Having been chosen for the lead role in famed action director Hal Needham's next film, RAD, I soon got a crash course in extreme sports. (no pun intended)
BMX and skateboarding were fairly new to the world in the mid eighties, and although skateboards had been around longer, polyurethane wheels were a new development then, and it allowed skateboarders freedoms never before imagined. Anyone who ever rode a skateboard with the old clay wheels has the bridgework to prove it. It was clear that we were on the way to a new athlete, an extreme sport lone wolf, that could burst on the scene from out of nowhere.
We had been accustomed to seeing snow skiers pushing the limits, but mountains and snow weren't available as bikes and skateboards were, besides the skiers needed something to do in the warm seasons. With the invention of the BMX bike, either for racing or doing tricks, teens could put away their banana seat Stingray bikes and get on something that could handle the punishment that a serious rider puts on his or her bike. It was only in the late Seventies that the Godfather of BMX racing, the late Scott Briethaupt, began organizing the first BMX races in Southern California and making it a legitimate sport that is now in the Olympics. Inline skates and snowboards had just been developed, so these innovations created a perfect storm for the advent of extreme sports and the athletes that would emerge.
The movies of course picked up on these athletes and help spread their Gospel. Movies like THRASHIN', GLEAMING THE CUBE, QUICKSILVER, RAD, etc, put the spotlight on the new heroes of the sport, and showed kids what cool looked like. Now it was GAME ON, to anyone who heard the challenge to go beyond what they ever thought was possible. Now we had the tools, the how-to films, and the athletes themselves to follow, and this created an alchemy that is a wonder of the modern age.
Just a small example of how far we have come in extreme sports begins with one Jose Yanez. Jose was a construction worker in Arizona in the early eighties. For some unknown reason, Jose decided to teach himself to do a backflip on a bicycle. This was in the days before foam pits, so Jose set up his ramp beside a lake. He perfected the trick and then took it onto land. He was then able to land a backflip on a bicycle! At the time he was the only one on the planet to ever be able to do it. There had been twelve men on the moon by that point, but only one at the time who could land a backflip on a bike, Jose.
The producers of RAD had heard about Jose's feat, and being wildly impressed, they wove his backflip into the plot of RAD , and the backflip became an integral part of the film. I was on the set each time he attempted the flip, and it was a heart stopping experience every time. Now if you go to a skatepark in almost any city, you will see a young kid doing a backflip on a bike, just to warm up. They often have no idea who did it first and how it came about.
Cut to the summer of 2015 and one New Zealand upstart that was unknown on the world scene, Jed Mildon, successfully landed a quadruple backflip on a bicycle. DID I MENTION HE DID FOUR BACKFLIPS ON A BICYCLE???!!! This guy got no ticker tape parade, no Wheaties box photo shoot, no hundred million dollar contract for the next three years. He still performs with Nitro Circus as one of the crew, after doing what could be considered one of the great all time achievements in any sport. He was a welder before he gained recognition by doing the first triple backflip on a bike. You can bet he'd still be welding and riding for free if he couldn't eek out a living as a stunt rider.
Speaking of Nitro Circus, it's founder Travis Pastrana, seems to be the very embodiment of this new athlete. Having made his name as a world class motorcycle stunt rider, he has distinguished himself as a BMX'r, skydiver ( youtube him jumping from a plane with no chute!) and all-around bada#% daredevil. Now he headlines and runs Nitro Circus, the biggest stunt show on the road. So in following his career, it's hard to decide if he's a motorcyclist, a bicyclist, a skydiver, a daredevil, or all of the above.
The inevitable conclusion is that Travis and his ilk are extreme athletes that defy categories, and have no limits. And if they find their limits, they immediately ditch them for something immortal. Because every time they summitt Mount Everest, they find themselves at he basecamp of the next peak. As everyone can tell you who was watching Jed Mildon make sports history, the second he landed four backflips on a bike, the question that came to mind was, "Who's gonna do five"?