“I didn’t have any injuries except a brain injury”
What’s not to like about Nitro Circus? Action sports athletes who are equal parts talented and unhinged throwing and contorting themselves off enormous jumps on both conventional and improvised toys… it’s a great concept! The same sadistic curiosity that enticed people to attend events in the hope that Evil Knievel would maim himself in the 70s is alive and well in 2012. Plus, these guys are doing things on motorbikes that Evil couldn’t have even conceived of in his lifetime.
The Nitro Circus Live World Tour is making its second appearance in New Zealand early next year, stopping at five stadiums around the country, including Forsyth Barr on 25 January. In a plan in no way related to the free tickets I have received, I spent some quality time on the phone with New Zealand’s own Nitro Circus ring-in, Luke Smith. We talked about how excited we were for the Nitro Circus to roll into town and his own ridiculous motoX career.
Luke Smith is a stalwart of the relatively uncelebrated New Zealand freestyle motoX scene. He has been risking his health for well over a decade. He even had a gig as a stunt double for the Power Rangers back in the day, and before you ask, he didn’t get to keep a suit. Luke was a key member of the Crusty Demons of Dirt, a group who pioneered a lot of what we call freestyle motoX today.
“10 years ago, Crusty Demons was the new age thing. They took what was on videos and DVDs and bought it to a live show. Nitro isn’t just about MotoX, it’s got everything: skateboarders, the world’s top BMX riders, it’s got a guy doing a front flip in a wheelchair. With Travis Pastrana leading the crew, they have the biggest action sports star in the world. Nothing is going to be bigger than that.”
Crusty Demons was all about a blokeish counter culture where the riders all wore menacing black, were heavily tattooed, and had suspiciously stripperish girlfriends. Nowadays, freestyle is veering dangerously close to a mainstream sport (though precious few have the inclination to give it a go). The boy-next-door charm of the likes of New Zealand’s own Levi Sherwood and international ring leader Travis Pastrana combined with the sugary gloss of an enormous Red Bull can has taken freestyle motoX out of the strip clubs and tattoo parlours and into the family living room. Luke says: “Crusty Demons was a bit more raw. It was a great show at the time, but with Travis and the Nitro guys it’s a lot more clean cut and much more of a family orientated show.”
For the New Zealand tour, Luke will play the role of local hero and comeback kid, and fair enough too: “In 2008 I had a freak accident. I was out practicing and a stone flicked up and locked my front wheel. I ended up going face first into the ground. My helmet exploded on the ground, that’s how hard my head hit the ground. I didn’t have any injuries except a brain injury. I had bleeding and swelling on the left hand side of my brain, and I was in an induced coma for 8 days. I got moved to a brain injury hospital for the next four months where I had to relearn all my motor skills. I’ve spent the last two or three years recovering. It’s been a long road, but I started riding again this year, and I can’t wait to get back out in front of a NZ crowd and show everybody that I’m back.”
His horrific accident hasn’t stopped Luke trying to keep up with the craziest guys around. “Nitro Circus is great, because the energy from all the athletes is combined and pushes you into doing what you want to do. If you want to go for something the crowd and all the riders will get behind you. You’ll see riders go for things that they’ve never done before because they’re thriving off the energy of the other guys. Its a great environment to be in if you want to push yourself.”
On this year’s Nitro Tour, Luke says we can expect some ridiculous tricks to be attempted: “Clinton Moore always does some crazy body varials on a motor bike. Every one of the athletes is throwing it down. Bilko Williams is doing superman Indian air 360s, and Cam Sinclair has a double backflip. It’s computer game tricks now. Mark Monier does a 360 front flip. It’s ridiculous. Who knows where it will stop. People are doing even crazier stuff into foam pits. There are front-flip and double backflip variations going down.”
All this sounds frankly ridiculous. If you want to see Luke and the other idiots risk their lives for your amusement, check out the tour dates at http://nitrocircuslive.com/new-zealand-tour-2013/, and if you want to win tickets to the Dunedin leg, tune your dial to Radio One and leave it there.