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Monday, July 23, 2007
Updated: July 31, 7:10 PM ET
Flippin' Amazing

By Travis Pastrana with Alyssa Roenigk
ESPN The Magazine

The following is an excerpt from Pastrana's new book, The Big Jump: The Tao of Travis Pastrana. It appeared in the July 30th issue of ESPN The Magazine. The book is available in bookstores and by clicking here.

What a feeling! Landing on the Moon might come close
WHEN THE 2006 FREESTYLE SEASON STARTED,
my focus had shifted to rally racing. It was my second season driving rally cars, and I was determined to win the title. Unfortunately, that meant freestyle was getting even less of my attention. I went to the first stop of the Dew Tour, in Louisville, without any new tricks, and I lost to Nate Adams. He's still the only guy who's ever beaten me in freestyle competition, and this was the third time he'd done it. On the podium, I gave credit to Nate and accepted second place. No excuses.

A couple of weeks later, I was watching the broadcast of the contest, and the commentator asked Nate about beating me. "It wasn't a big deal," he said. "I'm just better than Travis." Excuse me? I was stunned.

I grabbed my phone and called Andy Bell, team manager at Ogio, which sponsors Nate and me.

"Tell Nate to get off the couch, get on his bike and start working his butt off. I'm coming with tricks he hasn't even imagined."

Then I sent Nate a text: "Game on. Get ready for the next round."

I was so fired up that I hit the foam pit the next day. By the second Dew Tour stop, in Denver, I'd invented the super flip and the super Indian flip. I also had the double backflip dialed into the foam and planned to throw it in my freestyle run in Denver. I called every rider and told them what tricks I was working on and how I was doing them. If Nate was going to win, I wanted him to win with every rider throwing superman flips and doubles. In my mind, he wasn't going to win another contest all year. He certainly wasn't going to beat me. But a few days before the contest, my agent, Steve Astephen, called. "I know you have the double," he said. "But this isn't the right time. Save it for the X Games." For once, I listened.

In the 10 years I've been involved in freestyle, I've obviously had alot of fun. The competitions are a blast, and I look forward to them all year. But I had done just about everything I could in freestyle, and I was about to walk away when Nate pulled me back in. I didn't really care that Nate thought he was better than me. And yet, I did care. He pissed me off. He motivated me. And he fueled the greatest and most fun year of my life.

Suited for success: Travis Pastrana smiles while the rest of us wonder what he'll do next.
Throughout that summer, I worked on the double with more determination and focus than I'd worked on any trick. Even though I'd landed the double in Spokane [Sept. 2, 2005], the questions didn't stop. In fact, the pressure was even more intense. Some people said they thought those photos in The Magazine [Oct. 10, 2005] were fake! Those who believed I'd landed the double said the setup was too easy. If I wanted to prove the trick was possible, I had to land it in a contest—no special step-up jump, no sand landing. After a lot of trial and error, I figured out the timing, the feel and the ramp dimensions. A couple of weeks before the X Games, I called ESPN and told them I needed a special ramp. Usually, they'll make changes for a rider if they think the reason is worthwhile: in other words, if it will result in good TV. But I was told, "We'll think about it." They didn't believe me. I was the Boy Who Cried Double Backflip.

I had enough experience to know that I couldn't land the double off a standard jump. When I didn't hear back in a week, my dad called again. "My son is going to try a double flip," he said, when he finally got someone on the phone. "He needs a special ramp. But he's going to do it either way. Do you want to see my son die on national television?" That got their attention. They agreed to help.

If I had my way, I would have thrown the double in my freestyle run. But ESPN wasn't willing to alter the ramps on the freestyle course, because it would inconvenience the other riders. So I agreed to attempt it in the best trick contest, where a special ramp and landing would be set up just for me. Unfortunately, best trick was scheduled for Friday night. That meant if I got hurt, I wouldn't be able to compete in the three events that followed on Saturday and Sunday: freestyle, supermoto and rally racing, the newest X Games event and the one I was most excited about. If I crashed, got hurt and knocked myself out of those events, I would lose the opportunity to make $200,000.

All day Friday I was a wreck. Do it. Don't do it. I couldn't make up my mind, and every person I asked had a different answer. Most of my friends thought I shouldn't do it. "We know you can do it," Kenny Bartram said. "So you don't have to do it. It's not worth it. You don't have to prove anything."

Our practice for best trick was held just before the event, and I arrived late because I had practice for my other events. I also had to stop by the medical tent and have my right knee drained—I had a torn MCL and meniscus damage. When I got to the STAPLES Center, where the event was taking place, my ramp wasn't set up. I needed to take a few practice runs, so I asked one of the course designers about prepping the jump. "We spend time moving the ramp back, changing the angles and then you won't even do it," he said. "You just want drama. You want people to think you're going to do a double backflip." For two years, I'd listened to doubters and disbelievers, and I couldn't take it any longer. "Move it back,"I said.

Travis Pastrana endo's all over the American Dream.
As soon as the ramp was moved back, rumors started flying. People had heard I was thinking about the double, but now everyone in the crowd knew it was true. I still wasn't 100% sure I could pull it off. But knowing that everyone expected a double, and that almost as many people doubted I would try it, gave me the extra push I needed.

I took one practice jump on the new ramp, and it felt right. The event finally started, and as the other riders took their first runs, the ramp sat unused. But it was the focus of all conversation. Will he? Won't he? I dropped in for my first run of the final and hit the shorter ramp. I did a super flip that I thought would put me in the lead. But the competition was so stiff that a trick that would have won the contest a month earlier now put me in fourth place. Only the double would win. As I rode back to the start area, a little boy, maybe five years old, put his arm out. I thought he wanted a high-five, but instead he grabbed my arm. "Don't do it, Travis!" he said. "My Mommy says when you die, you're dead forever." Ah ... kids.

Midway through the second runs, a course official approached me. "Are you or aren't you?" he asked. One of the other riders had used my super kicker, but if I was going to do the double, they needed to raise the front and push the takeoff back 10 feet. If not, they weren't going to bother.

The other riders weren't big confidence boosters. Ronnie Faisst echoed Kenny's sentiments. He told me he knew I could do it so I didn't have to. And he was praying for me. "Besides," he said, "I don't want to scrape you off the concrete." Nate kneeled at the bottom of the landing and prayed too. Brian Deegan wished me good luck, but looked amused.

I needed backup.

First, I called my dad in Maryland to tell him I was going to do a double flip. I found out later that he had called my team manager, Ron Meredith, and told him to take the spark plug out of my bike and run. "Don't ask questions," he said. "Just do it!"

"This is stupid," my dad said. "Don't do it. You're going to crash."

"Dad, I love you. But I have to do it. I have to try. I'm confident. I know I will make it."

"All right, then. I'm going to the bar."

Death or glory. There's no in-between.
I couldn't even ask my mom. She'd flown in the night before and hadn't stopped crying since she landed. A bunch of my friends had gathered at the top of the roll-in, so I went to them. I turned to one, Hubert "Fluffer" Rowland, with the perfect solution.
"Rock, paper, scissors," I said. "One game. Winner decides." I rule this game. The other guy always throws rock. So I threw paper. Hubert threw scissors.

"You're doing a double backflip," Hubert said.

"Raise the ramp," I said to the official.

With two riders to go, the course builders started placing 2 x 4's under the base of the ramp. When they finished, the ramp looked so unstable that I thought it was going to crumble when I took off. Just then, Ron Meredith walked up to me. "Travis," he said, "I know you can do this. You're not going to do something you don't think you can do. If you say you can do this, I believe you. And, damn it, do not second-guess yourself." He was right. I could do this. I was pretty sure I was going to crash, but I was okay with that. I was ready. I was focused. Then I heard another voice from a few feet behind me.

"Don't do it, Travis! Think about the money. If you get hurt, you're throwing away your X Games." It was my agent. No time to be logical now. I had a double backflip to do.

I rode to the top of the roll-in and was stopped by a guy wearing a headset. The event was being broadcast live and I had to wait for a commercial break. I took a deep breath and looked out over the arena. It was the first time I stopped to take in my surroundings. The crowd was on its feet. I couldn't believe the energy. I looked to my right, where the halfpipe was set up for the BMX contest that would take place later that night, and I saw BMX riders Kevin Robinson and Chad Kagy at the top of the ramp. They were huddled together, looking concerned. "Wow," I thought. "This is intense." I realized then that no matter what happened, whether I crashed or rode away, I was goingto live in that moment. It was the most incredible feeling, and I didn't want it to end. Then the red light on the camera turned on and we were back from commercial.

"It's your time," the official said. "Go."

I closed my eyes, took another deep breath, then rolled down the ramp. Over the next few seconds my mind was flooded with thoughts. I thought about crashing. I thought about how I would handle the crash, what I would do, how I would fall. I was sure I would crash. But I didn't want to die.

As my tires hit the bottom of the ramp, everything felt right. It's just like the foam pit at home, I thought. I've done this 1,000 times. I rode up the ramp, launched the bike and initiated the first flip. The next two seconds felt like an eternity. I remember each second as if it lasted 10.

On the first rotation, I didn't pull as hard as I could have, because I thought I had too much height and was going to overshoot the landing. But when I came around and spotted the landing, I realized I was spinning too slow. I was going to land short. What I didn't realize until I saw the video was that I hadn't factored in everything. Directly above the jump, in the exact location where I reached the peak of my first flip, hung a giant floodlight. My head missed smashing into it by only a few feet. Had I hit it, I would have been knocked off course and crashed from nearly 50 feet above the floor of the STAPLES Center.

It's not polite to stare, but when you've landed a double backflip on a motorcycle, you can pretty much do whatever you want.
I needed to speed up my second rotation. But in the more than 1,000 attempts I'd thrown into my foam pit, I was never able to do that. Until that night. I pulled so hard that the second flip sped up perfectly. I couldn't believe it. After the first flip, I was so convinced I was going to crash that when I came around the second time and spotted the landing—dirt!—I almost crashed out of shock. When I realized landing this trick might actually be possible, I tightened my grip on the handlebars.

And then ...
I landed. Like a ton of bricks. I collapsed onto the bike, but kept my balance. I rolled to a stop and jumped off my bike. I threw my hands in the air and started running around like a maniac. I didn't know where I was going or who I was looking for. It was such a surreal moment. Euphoric. I was thinking, "Did that really happen? Is this happening? No ... freakin' ...way!"

I ran down the ramp and then up the side of the dirt landing, and was tackled by a group of friends. When I watched the video, I realized the first person to reach me, the first guy I hugged, was a random drunk guy in a white tank top who'd wandered out onto the course. I was so out of my mind, I thought he was a friend, so I hugged him and snapped a photo on his disposable camera.

Then security grabbed him.

The next few minutes were chaos: all hugs, tears, camera flashes and screaming. I dove off the dirt pile and logrolled down the side. I saw my mom running toward me. When she finally reached me, I gave her a huge hug and thanked her for being there. I know it's tough to sit on the sideline and watch. I tried to experience that moment the way I did the jump itself. I wanted to slow time down and enjoy every second. I knew I would never experience anything like that again. I've had a lot of amazing moments, but nothing compares to that night. The double backflip was the first trick that everyone in the arena, from the riders to the fans, understood. They felt what I was feeling. They knew the level of commitment it took to drop into that ramp that night, and they understood the improbability of me riding away.

I left the arena on such a high. Most people expected me to party the night away. Instead, I went to the medical room, had my knee drained, got a shake and burger at Jack in the Box, then went to my room and fell asleep. I had three more events that weekend, and practice started at 8 the next morning.

RAVING REVIEWS


THE BIGGEST NAMES IN ACTION SPORTS WERE ALMOST LEFT SPEECHLESS BY PASTRANA'S DOUBLE FLIP. ALMOST.

Ryan Nyquist
2006 X Games BMX dirt silver medal
"YOU WEREN'T SURE YOU SHOULD BE WATCHING THE DOUBLE, BECAUSE THERE'S A GOOD CHANCE HE COULD DIE. YOU COVER ONE EYE AND LEAVE THE OTHER ONE WIDE OPEN. HE HAD TO TELL HIS MOM, HEY, IF I DON'T SEE YOU ... SEE YOU."

Adam Jones
2006 X Games FMX freestyle silver medal
"TONY HAWK'S 900 ON A SKATEBOARD WAS GNARLY, BUT HOW MANY TIMES DID HE NOT STICK IT BEFORE HE DID STICK IT? I DON'T WANT TO TAKE ANYTHING AWAY FROM TONY, BUT TRAVIS LANDED THE DOUBLE FLIP THE FIRST TIME—OR HE'D HAVE BEEN CARTED OUT."

Blake Williams
2006 X Games freestyle motocross best trick bronze medal
"IT WAS THE SCARIEST, STUPIDEST AND SICKEST THING I'VE EVER SEEN."

Jeremy McGrath
Seven-time supercross champ who watched on TV at the Home Depot Center
"THE BUILDUP TO IT WAS CRAZY BECAUSE YOU THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO KILL HIMSELF. WHEN HE PULLED IT OFF, I WAS IN AWE. TO SEE A DUDE DOUBLE BACKFLIP? I NEVER THOUGHT IT WAS POSSIBLE TO DO ONE."

Mat Rebeaud
Finished second in FMX best trick at 2006 X Games to Pastrana's double
"EVERYBODY ASKS WHAT I FIRST THOUGHT WHEN TRAVIS DID THE DOUBLE FLIP. I TELL THEM, I LOST FIRST PLACE. I LOST FIRST PLACE!"

(Jamie Bestwick and Kevin Robinson were warming up for BMX Vert Best Trick at the STAPLES Center, and they paused to watch Pastrana)

Jamie Bestwick
2006 X Games BMX vert silver medal
"I WAS LIKE, S—, HIT THE GAS! YOU'RE GOING TOO SLOW. BUT HE GOT IT AROUND.
"AFTER HE DID IT, I TURNED TO KEVIN ROBINSON AND SAID, 'NOW IT'S YOUR TURN. YOU'D BETTER GO PULL YOURS.' I KNEW THE DOUBLE FLAIR HAD BEEN PLAGUING KEVIN SINCE 2005. WHEN TRAVIS PULLED HIS DOUBLE, YOU COULD ALMOST DRAW A LINE. A MOMENT LATER, KEVIN LANDED THE FIRST DOUBLE FLAIR IN BMX HISTORY."

Kevin Robinson
2006 X Games BMX vert best trick gold medal
"TRAVIS' DOUBLE WAS AN INCENTIVE AND MOTIVATION FOR ME. IT BROUGHT THE WHOLE VIBE OF THE ROOM UP.
"FOR SOMETHING LIKE THE DOUBLE BACKFLIP OR THE DOUBLE FLAIR, YOU HAVE TO GO INTO IT 100%, REGARDLESS OF THE CONSEQUENCES. YOU HAVE TO ACCEPT THE FACT THAT YES, YOU COULD BE INJURED AND YOU COULD BE HURT. BUT YOU COULD ALSO WALK AWAY TRIUMPHANT."