Words by Andy Bell
“My life is 100 percent about competition,”
says Travis Pastrana, sort of yelling above the sounds of the raucous Nitro Circus Live crew partying around him deep in some bar in Nagano, Japan. It’s 5 a.m. my time and something like 11 p.m. his time. I’m sober as can be driving up the 405 freeway, headed to LAX to catch an early-morning flight, and his scene—at least for the people he’s surrounded by—is for sure on the exact opposite end of the spectrum right now. I can hear in his voice that it’s been a long couple weeks’ worth of partying—something that happens a lot for the riders with the Circus, a nightly celebration after succeeding in not killing yourself while trying to one-up the top athletes and gnarliest kids on the tour. I’m not sure if “meat hucking” is a real term or not, but if it isn’t, I’m coining it now as the explanation for what happens every day of the Pastrana-led freak show that is the travelling Nitro Circus Live tour.
“You know me better than probably anyone on the face of the Earth,” he says to me when I ask him for some insight into his life lately and what keeps him ticking even after just having his second daughter. “Besides my wife,” he quickly adds. He is so damn competitive that he probably had to have another daughter because I had one, and he wanted to beat me at that as well.
“When I’m around Bilko, all I want to do is compete with him at go-carts; when I’m around Kenny Bartram, all I want to do is beat him at foosball; and when I’m around you, all I want to do is try to drink more beer than you,”
he says—his reasoning behind what pushes him in his life. Adding daughter Bristol to his already girl-filled family of wife/skateboard phenom Lyn-z and almost 2-year-old first baby Addy has actually fueled his drive to live and act more passionately—no, not the 50 Shades of Grey kind of passion, but the passion to live life to the fullest, to push the sports that he is involved in to the absolute and total limit (and beyond, most of the time).
Outsiders usually see this kind of behavior as a death wish, or as coming from someone who is playing with fire—a practice many would say is reckless or not conducive to being a father. But Pastrana sees it as the opposite: He sees it as a way to teach his girls passion and competitiveness, two traits that he values more than anything else. He brings up Shane McConkey as we discuss this—a top skier, BASE jumper, and Red Bull teammate who was a huge inspiration to Pastrana (and myself), tragically killed living his passion for ski BASE jumping. Many people can find fault with McConkey for risking his life and paying the ultimate price for following his passion while having a wife and young daughter at home, but not Pastrana; for him, McConkey was the kind of man and father that Pastrana wants to be (and is). Holding back and not following what you believe in is more detrimental to your family than the slight possibility of paying the ultimate price.
To Pastrana, there is no better feeling than being on the Nitro tour and having his daughters on his lap as they watch Mommy huck a 65-foot backflip on a skateboard off the Giganta Ramp. That is passion, and it’s empowering for his girls to see what a family sport any of our “action sports” can be. As Pastrana talks about his drive to share this with Bristol and Addy, he starts to wonder out loud what will happen if the girls end up being more into museums and libraries than ollies and backflips. He worries that his competitive nature will compel him to learn more about history and art, to know more about these subjects than the parents of the other kids in their classes. Knowing him, I already know that the girls’ science-fair projects are going to be so far over the top that I would hate to have to compete with what he helps them build.
But back to the original task of this article: to write the story about how Pastrana has remained grounded to his friends and family even after the almost 20 years of superstardom that this “kid” (as I still think of him) has enjoyed (endured?).
I first met TP in 1997—or ’98, I don’t really remember; it was a lot of beers/concussions ago—filming Terrafirma 6 up in Canada when he was 14 years old. That kid I met 17 years ago is still almost identical to the dorky, overly nice and polite, absolutely useless at mechanic-ing, big-grinning and pretty sure prepubescent from the late ’90s who begged me to show him some of the big jumps and free riding territory we had up there. I knew who he was, of course, from his sections in the original Crusty and Terrafirma videos, but when he asked if I could show him how to change his air filter and fix his broken clutch lever, I laughed out loud. Talk about FRS (Factory Rider Syndrome): Here was this superstar racer kid who didn’t even know how to do the most basic of all moto maintenance.
As anyone with parents knows (and that is all of us, just FYI), our folks are the single biggest influencers on how we will grow as kids, then young adults, and then again as adults. Seeing from the outside Pastrana’s relationship with his parents and how they brought him up, there is no doubt in my mind that he will forever remain grounded. Has anyone ever seen a video of Robert “The Drill Sergeant” Pastrana? He would have no qualms about kicking Travis’ ass if he didn’t show respect to everyone in his life at all times. And then there is Debby, his mom. If you think Pastrana (or I, for that matter) is scared of Robert, you do not want to mess with Debby. Her fierce commitment to her family and son is second to none and right there with a momma bear. I love Debby, and it is not hard to see where Pastrana’s sense of values comes from once you spend a little time with her. When she found out that Pastrana had asked me to be the minister at his wedding—yes, I am qualified by the almighty Internet, if you are wondering, and Pastrana actually married my wife and I as well—she walked right up to me on rehearsal day and very straightforwardly asked if I had a piece of my “sermon” dedicated to God. I, of course, said, “You know I do, Debby,” and then scrambled like a madman to look up some good, pertinent psalms to read during the ceremony as soon as she turned her back to me.
The Pastranas come from a small town and a big family where the focus was always put on family coming before anything, period, and I think this shows in the way that Travis lives his life.
I find that people always have massive misconceptions about famous people—why they do certain things and how they live their lives. Pastrana is for sure no different when it comes to being on the receiving end of these misperceptions. My favorite is when people tell me how nice it must be for him to fly private jets all across the world. This is always the best one, as Pastrana is way more likely to be stuffed at the rear of a Southwest plane in a crappy middle seat beside the bathroom, crammed between two 450-pound farmers, than to be living the high life on a private jet. The best part about it is he really doesn’t give a shit. At all. He doesn’t care about the comforts or the cool-guy-ness or anything else that people in his position could and probably would care about. For him, the motivation is where that crappy middle seat is taking him and what random bets/contests he can make up and try to change the rules of until he wins. That, for sure, has always been a Pastrana specialty. If he starts losing a bet or contest, he somehow convinces people that the rules need to change to make the game more “competitive” (read: in his favor). No one has more house rules on their beer-pong table, and each and every one of them has been added mid-game to make sure that he has a better chance of winning. Pastrana will try to convince anyone who will listen that he is trying to make everything “more competitive for everyone,” but by “everyone” he always means himself.
As Pastrana creeps up in age, I keep waiting to see signs of maturity showing through in the way that he attacks the progression that he can bring to his chosen sports—and by “maturity” I mean being like myself and most other failed professional motorcycle racers, finally realizing that being hurt sucks and that it starts not to be worth the pain at some point. But then he drops a video on the Interweb of himself attempting a triple backflip. So much for that thought… But Pastrana is still only 31 years old, so if I am comparing him to myself (and I always figured I was way smarter than TP), he’s got a few more years left of pushing the boundaries at the level that he does. I really have no idea how far he can push not only himself, but also the people around him, in the coming years, but I do know that he is finally seeming so much more at peace with where he is in life. His daughters in his arms, watching his wife shred on a skateboard: This is the life that he has always wanted, one that has brought more happiness and fulfillment to him than I think even he had ever imagined it would.