I'm writing this article from my hotel room in Melbourne, Australia following six shows performed with Nitro Circus Live as part of their 10th Anniversary Tour. I am getting a lot of positive feedback and people saying things like,
"Amazing; this is exactly what Trampoline Needs" .....or...."That is so cool you are traveling with Nitro, I have watched them ever since I was a kid"
I wanted to thank everyone for their positive feedback and comments. It's really an honor to be performing alongside this talented group of extreme action sports athletes. So you may be asking yourself, "Where does trampoline fit in to this "Extreme" world"? The answer of course is purely subjective because until this tour it hasn't been done before, but here is my opinion.
Ever since I was young I looked at training and competing as an "extreme" concept. I would go to the gym to sweat, bleed, bruise and even sometimes break bones, all in the hope of walking away in the end with a medal; a small symbol of an accomplishment. Not that I ever really put a lot of emphasis on medals or even getting awards. I simply wanted to train and try new things. I wanted to achieve that new skill during summer training so when competition season rolled around I would put my tricks aside and repeat routines over and over again.
I remember bruising and fracturing ribs on Parallel Bars with my teammates and landing on my head a lot, not to mention sprained ankles and breaking both of my wrists on Pommels. Arguably, there are few sports that have an injury rate as high as Gymnastics. Most sports with higher injuries include much larger men or women smashing into each other on ice or on a field of some kind. In other words, contact sports. I would argue that gymnastics is one of the most injury prone individual sports out there.
"But Greg, high injuries do not make it extreme". - Anonymous Fan
Well, I believe it does. But, I also think there is more to the story...
Being on tour with a group of extreme athletes has solidified what I already thought I knew about the comparison of different styles of sports. Sure acrobatics is inherently dangerous, even though many injuries can be prevented with proper build up of skills and progressions. But the question is, how dangerous? And does that danger make it extreme?
Trampoline, in my opinion, has been stagnant and evolved very slowly. The most recent change was the introduction of 'Time of Flight.' This did nothing for the audience but helped the judges quantify height within routines and be able to accurately award points respectfully. Other then that the sport has not made any major headlines nor has it expanded at an exponential rate. You may disagree, but I have seen comments and opinions in my news feed that support my argument and I know what people tell me. All the signs point to a flatlining sport. Maybe I'm just the guy who wants more then everyone else. But if that's what it takes to propel my chosen sport to the next level, then I have no problem being the "bad guy." For me it is all about the greater good.
Admittedly, when I first started I never thought of Trampoline as an 'extreme' sport. No way Jose! People jumping around in tights flipping with a lot of control and pointed toes..... what's "Extreme" about that? Not much to be honest. It's not that I don't love my sport unquestionably, but Trampoline has generally been seen as an artistic sport rather then an extreme sport. My question is "Why?" Why can't trampoline be side by side with the extreme sports like snowboard and FMX? Why is it sheltered in a corner with pointed fingers? Why can't I take a trampoline onto a building and jump on it 200 feet above the ground? Well let me tell you, this is the path I'm taking, if you haven't already figured that out!
Tennis back in the day was very structured, controlled and very "polite" to put it nicely. John Macenroe came along and turned the sport on its head. A rougher edge mentality transforms the sport even though he was heavily criticized at the time. So my question then becomes, "should we stay or should we go?" I am a fan of going with the flow, the flow of success that is. If something is stagnant and not progressing fast enough then I want to give it a kick to liven things up. The rule of thumb in business is that if you are not growing you are losing.
So here we are at Nitro Circus performing in front of thousands of fans in Australia. At first I was nervous that they would not think that trampoline was cool enough. However, once I had a chance to bounce with everyone on the team and perform for all the spectators in Perth, the feedback I have received is all positive and ten times more then what I thought I would get. We added things into the show that had never been done before on a trampoline in front of 15,000 people and the feedback was AMAZING!. All the riders were stoked; hugging me and telling me how sick it looked and the crowd was going crazy. They didn't just like it, they LOVED it. I was awarded one of the MVC spots after the show, equivalent to their version of Most Valuable Player. Trampoline is the new thing and the guys are happy to bounce with me and try new tricks and see what they can learn. All the riders see how valuable trampoline training can be, so now my brain is going crazy thinking about the possibilities. I had a chance to sit down with a legend of the X Games and we spoke in depth about what trampoline can become. Simply put, I would like the sport of Trampoline to be up there with BMX, FMX, Base Jumping etc.
In 2000, Trampoline was inducted to the Sydney Olympics. And now 16 years later I introduced Trampoline into the Extreme Sports world in Sydney last weekend. For those who have been in the sport as long or longer then I have know what a huge step that is to take. To finally put Trampoline beside the athletes that are backed by major companies is a dream come true. We can use this to finally open the gates to the real world where Trampoline can grow and expand to new heights. Some of you may say that Hershey just sponsored a major competition in the states but then you put a sport beside a Monster Energy, Rockstar or Redbull Logo there is a huge difference in the public eye. So now, the question is how do we do this?
I had a chance to sit down with all the guys from Nitro and gain their perspective on the path of extreme sports from the early 90's. Starting as a competitive racing sport Motocross began to move away from only racing during the time that all the riders were looking to land the first back flip on a motorbike. This began the push to Freestyle Motocross that branched away from the original concept. The originators like the Godfrey Clan, Travis Pastrana along with other great riders toured together and made videos in a group called Crusty Demons to take motocross to a new level. They took a sport that was grounded in racing and competition and created a lifestyle around it. They took motocross and 'freeriding' and launched the sport to a new level by throwing tricks and skills no one else was doing or even trying. Freeriding is the original form of freestyle motocross which started in the hills of southern California; due to professional racers such as Jeremy McGrath and Phil Lawrence "play riding" in the hills of California. It has no structure, and is traditionally done on public land. Riders for natural jumps and drop-offs to execute their tricks on. In many ways, freeriding requires more skill and mental ability as you must constantly adjust to the terrain. Granted, it took extreme to a whole new level, but needless to say, they changed motocross forever and morphed the opinion of the audience.
Motocross was now no longer about simply racing it was now a new "Lifestyle". Everyone wanted to be like the the Crusty riders. They were cool to the young kids growing up in the sport. Of course, like in any industry, they met with resistance as the older generation fought them every step of the way. However you can't stop progress from evolving a sport. No sport should stagnate, but I do agree it should also not lose or forget it's roots and foundation.
Travis Pastrana and Edgar Torronteres were some of the pioneers of this new sport and lifestyle. From humble beginnings, with Jeremy Rawle, Gregg Godfrey and action sports superstar Travis Pastrana producing DVDs from a garage in Utah in 2003, "Nitro Circus has exploded to global popularity, leaving a burning impression on the minds of young people across the planet." From there, other groups formed such as Masters of Dirt and Metal Mulisha, but the birth of what you see in the X-Games came from competition without freestyle. Dave Mira, Tony Hawk, Bam Margera and everyone in this category were competitive riders that stemmed out into the freestyle lifestyle.
But then I'm told, "Whatever Greg, that is just the extreme sports world and we as acrobats are controlled and don't need to go to those extremes, that is not our culture." Do you agree?
Parkour and Trampoline Parks have done the exact same thing by becoming Freestyle and I believe that is a normal cause of events. Let's look a hundred years in the future. At this point I presume that Freestyle will die off as people will naturally want to regain control again in some form. Like the economy, our wants fluctuate up and down. We will have this huge boom of Extreme Sports in our age and the Freestyle Lifestyle but then we will quickly see in a few generations that control is needed and we will then dial it back. The world over corrects just like a typical Trampolinist and it takes generations to get back to the cross.
If we want to take a step outside of the sports world for another great example let's look at the foundation of the United States. It is well documented that due to the over-constraining structure of the British Colony, the U.S purposefully broke away in order to make a country that was structured on principals that allowed the public to have a better vote instead of being controlled by the public. The French Revolution also had similar aspirations to free the people from oppressive rule. I do not think we are being oppressed but I for sure think we are being limited.
I have been pushing to make Trampoline and Gymnastics evolve into the world of Freestyle ever since I can remember. Once Parkour became big in the early 2000's all of a sudden the traditional coaches fought, it saying the same things I've heard from other industries, "They are ruining the sport" ..... "They are corrupting the youth"..... "It is dangerous" etc....
But, can Trampoline or Gymnastics, like FMX, have a broader and larger fan base or audience then the competitions? For me the answer is obvious. Majority wins. Let the natural flow of sport happen and let people have control over their own use of the sport. I spoke to Mark Rendell yesterday, the CEO of Gymnastics Australia and he is working with British Gymnastics to push more opportunities for athletes to use a gymnastics facility but without having to compete. AWESOME!
I do see a trend that is following this new freestyle trampoline lifestyle and I know it will keep growing. I do not wish to take away from competition but simply add another option. A way for acrobats to get paid and make a career in the sport but without having to compete. It is sad that acrobats do not make a living off their sport the way other more popular sports do. Why can't acrobats from all genres be able to find sponsors to have a fun freestyle competition that is based more of your own style rather then being told what is good and bad? Let the audience decide rather then a board of directors or formal judges every step of the way. Not to say you can't have a board of directors for one aspect of the sport but does it need to encompass the entire thing? Let's make more options for the kids out there who are forced to either compete or play X-Box.
It is all a revolving wheel. If we put our ego aside and open the doors for change, you will see a huge influx of new athletes. Then you have more options for scouting and development programs. This also brings in more audience that brings in more revenue. This revenue in turn can be used to add more to the sport and attract more publicity, which just revolves back to more athletes and more support, as you can see. This new revenue can be used to improve equipment standards, offer more to the athletes to make them want to stay in the sport.
I will leave you with this honest thought. The reason I stopped competing was for these exact reasons. I wanted more. I wanted to make a career out of my chosen sport and didn't see many options. I wanted to do more then just coach. Not to say there is anything wrong with being a full time coach but as you can probably tell in my social media, i wanted more. I asked everyone at competitions what they got out of it and the general consensus was that no one made enough money to really make the sport work for them even though they slaved away at it. Athletes having to pay their own way to competitions with a poor development feeder system due to lack of funds due to lack of audience ultimately.
I calculated how much money my parents and I spent on my athletic career so far.
My Age: Hours Trained Per Week: How Many Weeks How Many Years Total In That Time Period:
5-8 6 hours a week 48 4 1,152
8-12 12 hours a week 48 4 2,304
13-15 16 hours a week 49 3 2,352
16-17 20 hours a week 49 2 1,960
18-22 25 hours a week 50 5 6,250
Total 14,018 Hours of Training
Average cost per hour of training: 7.00
Total Approx Cost of Training: 98,126
I will not map out all the travel costs but you can see the picture I think. I did calculate everything one day Including hotels, flights, physio, personal training etc... to about $250,000 CAD.
Arguably it was a great investment because it taught me things that I could not learn anywhere else. However, the reality is our National athletes are putting thousands of dollar into their sport for the chance to represent their country, with very little in return and no guarantee of future earnings. I would have to win 50 World Cups to get back my investment with the current potential earnings that are possible to a typical athlete in gymnastics or trampoline. When you add up the numbers, it is actually easier and more profitable to make a living by working at McDonalds...
So, at the end of the day all this is still a new concept and there are no guarantees of success, but why not try? I encourage you to please let me know your thoughts on how you see the future of this sport. Do you believe it has a place in the extreme sports world, or should it be kept traditional? I think both are possible, but only time will tell! Then again, no time to complain, let's just fix it...
Gregory V. Roe