The Big Winner of the Inaugural NWG Is Action Sports

By Charley Daniels | June 20, 2016

The inaugural Nitro World Games are in the books, and the action sports world will never be the same. While it remains to be seen exactly what that means, it’s clear that a competition focused on progression was just what we needed. Travis Pastrana and Mike Porra’s goal to reinvigorate action sports competition is a success, if the dozens of World Firsts landed on July 16 is any indicator. But while that was the primary goal, there was another small but significant side effect that not everyone noticed, and the best example of it probably came in the BMX Best Tricks event.

That’s a shot of Kurtis Downs and Gavin Godfrey, who finished second and third in BMX Best Tricks, respectively. The two know each other well, having both toured with Nitro for several years. But in this moment, they are technically competitors, and Gavin is sitting in second place near the end of the competition. Kurtis, who was in fourth place before dropping in, has just nailed an enormous quad tailwhip backflip, a World First that absolutely is going to draw a huge score from the judges, and Gavin knows it. In most competitions, what you’d see is a quiet and focused moment while the second-place athlete awaits his fate at the hands of the judges. But what we get is Gavin, despite knowing he’s probably about to be bumped down a notch, being so stoked to see Kurtis land a huge World First that he’s more interested in celebrating the moment than brooding about the prize money or trophy.

The short answer for why it went down like this is that a focus on progression truly amps everyone up to see that progression happen. The athletes want to win, of course, but they’re all so focused on the idea that to win you have to break a record, and the result is rivalries motivated by respect and even excitement when your competition does well — if you had to break a record to beat me, that’s awesome for you and for the sport in general. And, by the way, Kurtis’ World First on his final run was good for second place. Gavin took home third.

The Nitro Circus spirit clearly influenced the atmosphere of the Games, which is another major factor in the backstage camaraderie. The BMX Best Tricks finals was an all-Nitro Circus athlete lineup. BMX superstar Todd Meyn, who made the Nitro Games semifinals but narrowly missed a spot in the finals, competed professionally before transitioning to Nitro. He sees contests and life in the Circus as different beasts: “For contests, you’re there with all your friends, but you’re riding and competing against each other. There’s stress and the whole mental game comes into it,” he says. He adds, “But with Nitro, you’re just on top of the ramp, you’re riding in front of thousands of people, you’re doing stupid things, and you’re just there with your friends cheering each other on.” That spirit clearly carried over to the Games.

According to Cam Coghlan, one of Nitro’s athlete managers, the can-do attitude, the overwhelming spirit of encouragement and progression comes from the top down. Of Travis, he says, “I think having someone that is so amazingly talented and accomplished — not only as an athlete, but as a leader — who is at the same time so humble and respectful, really rubs off on the rest of the crew.” As we all know, Travis has been integral in making the Games what they are, so it makes sense that the same influence he has on the Nitro Circus live show can be seen and felt throughout the Games. With Travis setting a tone of spirited but friendly competition, Cam says, the result will always be real progression. He’s talking about Nitro Circus, but the implications for the Games are clear. “The other athletes really push each other. People that turn up that might be great BMXers but have never double backflipped, or double frontflipped, they turn up and now 100 percent of our guys double flip.” This is not the kind of competition where you play it safe and aim for a clean run. It’s the kind that challenges you to go bigger and see what’s possible, to win the greatest reward of them all — the look on everyone’s face when you land it.

“Everyone’s got the same mind, and everyone’s crazy, so they just send it night after night, because they love what they do,” Todd says of the Nitro Circus live show. And they love what the other riders are doing too. The sense of family and shared vision tends to extend beyond the athlete’s traditional lane, as Brandon Schmidt observes. Brandon is a snowboarder who’s new to BMX, yet he made the Nitro World Games finals in BMX Best Tricks. “It shows that it doesn’t matter what you ride or what you do. It just matters that you’re having fun and enjoying what you’re doing,” he says. “Because everyone knows that they’re there for the same common cause.”

And what is that common cause? Above all else, to take things to the next level, whether it’s in competition or a show. That’s what everyone wants to see happen, from the audience to the crew, but most of all the athletes themselves. Because when someone does something to kick the sport up a rung, it’s a victory for everyone. Nitro Circus is as much a touring show as a creative incubator for action sports athletes who draw on each other for inspiration, support, and as sources of friendly competition to drive progression in their sport. And now the Nitro World Games has taken that ethos and injected it into a competition that preserves the camaraderie and support while giving athletes even more reason to push the limits of what’s possible.