Plenty of people assume I’m not scared of crashing.
After all, I’ve spent the past four years trying to become the first person to land a quadruple backflip on a BMX bike. And that was only after I became the first person to land a triple backflip on a BMX bike. I was flinging myself off of a 30-foot ramp going 50MPH for months and months, and let me tell you, clean landings were not the norm.
So do I have a fear of crashing? Hell yeah, I do. I’m scared all the time. I’m constantly nervous when I’m on that bike, no matter what trick I’m trying. But the feeling of overcoming that fear is what drives me. That indescribable feeling of pulling off a jump keeps me dreaming about BMX constantly. When I made history by landing the quadruple backflip, it was worth every single injury I’d suffered up until that point. Being the first person to land a trick most people thought was impossible — that feeling was priceless.
I grew up in this tiny town in New Zealand called Taupo — 25,000 people, one traffic light, no parking meters. In a place like that, you just naturally find all the people who are similar to you. For me, I gravitated towards the people who liked riding — BMX, skateboards, rollerblades, whatever. We were just like-minded people with the same sort of vision, and that was freestyle.
When I first started out, BMX was definitely more of a lifestyle than anything else. We weren’t training or anything — we were just hanging out and having fun trying to oneup each other. I didn’t even know BMX was an actual sport until I was 14, and the next year I decided to go to an actual competition. A couple years later, I won the biggest competition in New Zealand, and I started to realize that I could actually make BMX my life.
At the beginning, my friends and I messed around building ramps that we thought looked fun. We didn’t really know what we were doing — we were just trying different things out. We got pretty good at it though, through trial and error. After I won that national competition, I dropped out of school to start touring around the world. I wasn’t making nearly enough money to fund my travel though, so I put my ramp-building skills to good use and became a welder. I would work as a welder for nine months out of the year, and then use that money to go to different competitions for the other three months.
Those years working as a welder were really what made me such a great rider. Most people probably think that we’re just winging these tricks. But in truth, so much of being able to land them is in the preparation, and most of that is completely mental. You have to be able to perfectly visualize the trick beforehand if you hope to land it.
For me, welding is really a form of meditation. I loved staring at the blue flame. It let me just blank off and create new tricks in my head. There were so many times when I’d finish a day’s welding and go to the skate park to try out the trick I’d thought of that day. And it would work. Even if I didn’t get it on the first try, I would have at least rotated all the way to my wheels, and would nail the landing within a few attempts.
That’s how I was able to figure out the double backflip. Once I landed that one, I realized I had to go for the triple. I knew immediately it was going to change my life, and I spent three months preparing for it. A week before the jump, I quit my job so my friends and I could concentrate on building the final version of this special ramp we designed. We did it right in my hometown of Taupo. The local McDonald’s even got on board, footing the bill to get the Guinness Book of World Records to come. The minute I landed the jump, we uploaded it to YouTube, and everything blew up.
The problem with doing competitions is you can’t really do the tricks you want to — you focus more on the ones that will help you win. After I landed the triple, I joined the Nitro Circus team, and I began to be able to concentrate more on my own tricks.
The night after I landed the triple, I walked into my house, and my parents were sitting at the dining room table. They said to me, “So what are you gonna do now?” Without hesitation, I said, “Well, I’m gonna do the quad.”
I’ve never had to prepare for something in my life as much as the quadruple backflip. I wasn’t welding anymore, but I was still meditating. Especially when you’re at the top of the ramp, it’s so important to just sit there with nothing in your mind, focusing on black. If a picture pops in, get rid of it. As soon as you get into that mental state, you’re in this whole new world. You’re re-charged. You’re able to visualize so much more clearly.
I would see every single movement from the start to the landing, and even the feeling of celebration afterwards. I think that’s important as well. You need to imagine that feeling of achieving. I was actually working with a coach on being able to understand every tiny part of the jump. She would put the footage of my attempts into this analytics machine they use for trampolinists and freestyle skiers, and we would focus on every detail.
Being a welder by trade, I was also involved in every aspect of building the ramps leading up to the jump. For the quad, we had to go through 15 different takeoffs and 15 difference launch ramps until we found the right one. I was working the whole time with this great BMX rider named James Foster. We were in a sort of competition to see who could land it first, but it was also a completely collaborative effort. We were figuring out every angle, every trajectory, and ended up building one single ramp at Travis Pastrana’s house.
Nine months I was trying to work out the jump. I actually pulled out of the project three times because I couldn’t figure it out. Once I started doing more than three flips, it just terrified me. I would be jumping off the ramp into an airbag, but even so, I would hit it so hard that I would get knocked out. Nitro always talked me back into it though, and I kept trying.
You have to eliminate the fear. To be able to do something that truly scares you, you need to go into this higher consciousness where you can process every possible outcome. As long as you can accept every possible outcome, whether good or bad, then you’re going to be fine. And that’s what I kept doing.
Finally, about two weeks before the jump, I started being able to land properly on the airbag. By the time I got to Pastranaland for the actual attempt, I was feeling pretty confident. That final run, when I was sitting at the top of the ramp, I shut everything out of my mind, as I always do. This time, though, the only outcome I could picture was landing the jump. And you know what? The second I touched down, I was already thinking about the quintuple.
Jed will be performing jumps at live Nitro Circus shows across the United States this fall.