Interview with Nitro Circus: A whole new breed of athlete
Nitro Circus is rapidly becoming the world’s most daring, adventurous and innovative action sports clique. Fusing earth-shattering stunts with a high-octane live show, movie and TV series, they are conquering every corner of the world one double-backflip at a time. I met up with Aaron ‘Wheelz’ Fotheringham, Ryan Williams and Chris Haffey to talk self-criticism, partying and – surprisingly – Glee.
How’s it all going so far?
Ryan Williams: It’s been busy! We’ve been going here and there. So far, we’ve been to Paris and then went on that train that goes under the water…
Wheelz: (laughing) Oh, that’s why it got dark. That’s a long tunnel, man.
RW: To answer the question, we’ve only just started, so it’s sort of just beginning.
How different is it over here, compared to the US? Nitro Circus is more of an American thing.
Chris Haffey: Actually, most of our shows have been in Australia, and the crowds over there are ridiculous. But when we came through here [Europe] last year, we got a really good response, even when we were doing shows in a different language, which was crazy. It was a lot to do with the hype that gets built up through the announcements. So we didn’t know how it was going to go – doing it different languages – but it ended up working out sweet!
Wheelz – you consider yourself to be on a wheelchair, not in one. How did that frame of mind come about?
Wheelz: ‘Cos I always feel like people say “you’re in a wheelchair, you’re confined”. I never liked being told that, it just sounds horrible. “You’re confined to it”, I don’t know, it just sounds like it owns you and that you can’t do anything, so I just say I’m riding on a wheelchair, because – you know – Chris is riding on his blades, or Ryan is on his scooter, and it just gives it a better sound, you know? It sounds like you have more power over it.
You’ve got a custom wheelchair, is that right?
Wheelz: My friend and I have been working on them for quite a while now for about 12-13 years and when they break we just make them stronger. Now we’re starting our own company out of his garage. I’ve been the guinea pig for the wheelchairs! I’ll go out and break them, bring them in, fix them up and make them stronger. Right now, we’ve got a pretty good thing going.
Definitely. Are you the first person to do this sort of thing? Will you inspire a whole new group of kids to do what you’re doing?
Wheelz: WCMX has grown a lot, actually. A lot of people are starting to ride in parks and break their wheelchairs (laughing), which is perfect! So that’s really cool.
Let’s go back to the shows. What’s the pre-show routine for you guys? Is there a crystalizing moment when you realise what’s about to go down?
RW: Yeah, well there’s a thing that we do before every show. We all put our hands in and it’s like “1, 2, 3, Nitro!”, that always gets us hyped. But, I guess it’s just everyone having their own little things that they do. We obviously all do our stretches, get padded up, drink some energy drinks and then go out. It’s the crowd that gets us really excited about the show.
All that adrenaline..
RW: Yeah! I feel like every time I hear the intro – we have the same intro for each show – and when you’re in a stadium or something you feel the theme song and you feel it inside you; it’s cool.
Wheelz: When I’m listening to my iPod, and that song comes on, I’m instantly get all stressed (laughing), “I gotta jump! Oh no, I’m fine”. I should delete that song.
What’s the competitive streak like within the Nitro team? I’ve heard that “you’re only as good as your last trick” phrase knocking around a lot.
RW: I guess there’s a little bit of competition within the team, because after the show we have something called MVC , which is ‘Most Valuable Character’; I guess if you go out there and smash your best trick, then you’re in the running to get it. So, we’re always going out there trying to give it our all, or to try something completely new.
Wheelz: But even if there is a little inter-team competition, it really doesn’t matter. Everyone’s just having fun.
RW: You never feel like you lose. It’s just that you’re super proud if you win it.
CH: Everyone knows everyone else’s abilities. So everyone gives each other shit, to get someone pumped. A lot of the time they say “Why don’t you try this one?”, about a trick they’re unsure about. It’s almost like peer pressure to push yourself to the limit, in a way. You know that person could do that, so if they had that extra push, then they’ll actually try it.
Well that’s a lot of what Nitro Circus is about, pushing yourself to the edge, and a little bit more.
All: Yeah, definitely.
Do you always try to one-up each other?
RW: Yeah! Well, not like ‘one-up’ each other, but push each other to be the best. Because I can’t really one-up Wheelz, I’m on a scooter and he’s on a Wheelchair, it’s not like that. It’s more like we’re trying to one-up ourselves, and try to convince each other to do that.
Is that a key factor before the show – psyching each other up?
RW: It’s not like you feed off it, but if someone else lands something they’re super-stoked on, then you instantly feel stoked and want to do something as well.
How big are you guys on dieting and fitness routines? You’re athletes, but in a difference sense. Do you go out after the show?
RW: Yeah, we just party. You’ve got to reward yourself, we’ll eat healthy – well we don’t – but, we’ll try to.
Wheelz: I eat healthy all the time (laughing)
CH: The shows are really intense, there’s so much stuff going on. At the end of it, you feel like you want to celebrate. There’s always that celebration and the after-party. But a lot of the people on the tour do take care of themselves in terms of themselves eating right. It’s all about balance, really. You try to get the best out of yourself, and then also just go hard.
What do your friends and family at home think of what you do?
Wheelz: My friends are incredibly supportive; they hear the stories and see the new tricks and stuff. But, they still give me stick! They say “You did a back flip in your wheelchair, that’s good, but you still can’t walk!” That’s what friends are for, I guess!
Well, you were in Glee once!
RW & CH: Were you?
Wheelz: I did stunt work for Glee. That was awesome, because I got more stunt work later! It was fun because I kept getting these residual cheques. I got one the other day which was just random. Re-runs, re-runs!
Outside of the show, what do you all do?
RW: Usually, I just get my rest. The tours get pretty hectic, so I’d rest up for a week. Then I just get back to normal living, like going to the skate park. I’m on tour and I think “I want to rest”, then I go home for three days, and after that I’m thinking “I want to go on tour! I want to get back into it.
Wheelz: After the last tour in New Zealand, my Mum picked me up from the airport. I was so happy to see her, she drove me home but before we even got there I was just thinking “I don’t even know what I’m going to do today, I’m freakin’ bored!” We definitely go through withdrawals after tour.
CH: With the group of people we have, generally, the group of things that interest all of us tend to pretty dangerous activities themselves, so even on off days; we tend to get into things that are even more dangerous than when we’re doing the shows. It’s always adrenaline-fuelled, regardless of it being a day off or not.
Who makes sure that you guys don’t go and break yourselves?
CH: There’s a couple of people that try to I think, but I think they’ve realised that the more they try to stop us, the more we’re going to want to do it! So instead they try and lightly suggest that we don’t do anything to stupid.
Wheelz: …or try to avoid taking us into situations or giving us the equipment to do that!
Is there a place in your mind for the fear of injury or even death?
CH: For me, it’ the furthest thing from my mind. I think whatever you end up focusing on, you’ll manifest. So if you’re sitting on top of a ramp thinking “I hope I don’t get hurt”, I feel like those are the times when it’s going to actually happen. You have to have that confidence that there’s no chance you’re going to fall and just go into the trick, knowing that you’ll land it, or at least the best chance of pulling it off.
Do you get a lot of people worrying about you? Especially after all that footage of you guys ‘practising’ with the ring of fire in Travis’ back yard.
Wheelz: That’s different. Well now it’s pretty much in my own hands and I don’t have to wait for someone to help, but I feel like – I don’t know – throughout the show, all I have to do is take my wheelchair down this 50ft ramp, because when I’m there and watching everyone else do their different things, I’m like so glad I don’t have to do that. I just think everyone respects one another and supports them in that sense.
So Travis is a father now, so what does that mean for Nitro? Will he take a back seat?
CH: I think you’d be hard-pressed for him to a back seat!
RW: I heard they’re actually adding a seat for the baby!
Is there plenty of material for the new show?
RW: We just did practice in America into a foam pit, and there was a bunch of crazy stuff that went down.
CH: When we left Australia after our regional tour, I thought there was no way it could get crazier. Watching the practice and seeing the tricks that people came up with, it’s definitely completely changing the show.
What about some new builds?
RW: New builds and new contraptions!
CH: Yeah, there are a tonne of new things you could never think of.
RW: There are things that you could never think of your life, which we then decided to put wheels on.
Wheelz: And he doesn’t mean me!
Like the bath tub?
CH: Yeah have you seen them?
And the trike! Will that make an appearance?
RW: Hell yes! So not only will you see new tricks, but you’re going to see new contraptions.
CH: Tonnes of them. The shows completely different to a year ago, that’s for sure. It’s a good time.
RW: I’m excited just to see it.
You’ll see it spinning around…
RW: Yeah! We’ve seen it in separate parts, but we haven’t seen it all together.
After the show, how critical are you of yourselves?
RW: You just know what you’ve done wrong.
Wheelz: I get a little depressed. If I don’t land it, I really hate it.
CH: Everyone’s their own worst critic. So you’re gonna judge yourself a lot harder than anyone else. There’s not a bad vibe out there, but there are definitely shows where you think “I definitely didn’t do my best”. It never really lasts too long, because the general vibe is so good. That really pulls you back up.
When you guys pull off a trick, you have a tendency to go jump in the crowd. It must be amazing to meet the people who love Nitro face-to-face.
RW: Yeah, definitely!
What’s next for Nitro Circus after the tour?
CH: More tours!
Wheelz: Another tour!
CH: We’re going straight to America, and then South Africa, then Australia, so we’re pretty much touring non-stop.
If it wasn’t for Nitro, what would you all be doing?
Wheelz: Probably trying to do stuff like Nitro, I guess.
CH: I’d still be skating!
RW: I just wouldn’t be riding the big ramp, but just normal skate parks instead.
How did you get involved with it?
CH: They just emailed Woodward for a rollerblader and I just happened to the person they put them in contact with. I just got lucky.
RW: I was the same way. They had a scooter company that sponsored the show and Nitro asked for a couple of riders and I was the first on the list. So I went down to do practice and they said “here’s the ramp, if you want to jump it, then go!”, so I did it and I’ve been on ever since.
Considering a lot of Nitro is MCX, how did you all feel when you first started?
RW: At first, they gave me a lot of shit ‘cos I ride a scooter. But you just grow together; it’s like a big family. So it doesn’t matter what you ride.
CH: I had my doubts! When I first went, I had no idea what to expect, but I just wanted to ride the ramp so bad that I just didn’t care. I was like ‘I don’t care what I have to deal with, I just want to ride this ramp’, and then it turned out no-one gave me shit. Like he said, everyone is respective of what everyone else does, so then we’re all kind of the best at what we do. I respect what these guys do just as much as I respect the bikers. So, it’s just more of a family vibe. There’s no hate, no matter what you ride.
When you’re at the top of the 50ft, what are you thinking?
CH: Tunnel vision, always.
RW: I get tunnel vision and open vision, so I get both. When I’m standing up there, I see everything, but as I go to drop in, everything disappears and I get tunnel vision.
What about you, Aaron?
Wheelz: Pretty much the same! You just got to focus on what you’re doing. Sometimes, I’ll focus or over-think what I have to do, but at the top of the ramp, I tell myself “Wheelz! Stop thinking because if you’re going to over think, then you’ll mess it up. Just do it!”
Any last words?
All: See you at the show!
Nitro Circus Live is now touring the UK. Tickets available from www.nitrocircuslive.com
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter