The Nitro World Games were the most exciting thing to happen in Action Sports in a decade

My TiVo is set to auto-record every cycling, BMX, and X Games event on TV, so when it asked me if I wanted to record something called the…

The Nitro World Games were the most exciting thing to happen in Action Sports in a decade

My TiVo is set to auto-record every cycling, BMX, and X Games event on TV, so when it asked me if I wanted to record something called the Nitro World Games, I was skeptical. I assumed it was merely a new competitor to the X Games and Dew Sports franchises, but run by action sports god Travis Pastrana’s crew. I had no idea what to expect, so I clicked yes, then watched.

What unfolded Saturday night was unlike anything I’d seen before. New trick after new trick landed, often so complex they required repeated slo-mo viewings to comprehend what people were doing. The Best Trick contests produced mind-blowing runs without the over-arching anxiety from knowing there’s a good chance more than a few riders will go home in an ambulance.

As a viewer, rider, and fan, you are confronted with a quandry: Is doing a double backflip on a motocross bike but landing on an inflatable bag the same sport as doing it on dirt? Is jumping a bike 60 feet across a gap and landing on a padded ramp the same as what they do in the X Games? The answer to both questions is it’s definitely something different, but even without a reduced amount of raw danger, it produced some of the best tricks ever seen and I dare say the whole experience was markedly better for everyone involved.

On safety

Most people don’t know that events like the X Games chew athletes up and spit them out. Riders get cash from winning events, but no one is considered an employee (all 1099 payments) and there’s historically been little-to-no health coverage included for athletes. I’ve seen more than one GoFundMe campaign and charity events set up solely to pay a rider’s medical bills since aside from onsite medics, there’s no long-term care coverage. Eventually things got so bad a riders’ union was established to protect athletes and negotiate better working conditions at these events.

Ramps are getting larger and tricks more intense, and with that crashes and injuries are increasingly life-threatening and real. Multiple freestyle motocross riders have died from injuries. Two of the biggest stars of BMX have sustained contest crashes so severe one is wheelchair-bound and another had to learn how to walk, talk, and ride a bike again after a serious brain injury.

Travis Pastrana knows this too well, having broken countless bones in his career, but he’s also been at the forefront of trying to push what’s possible, safely. His famous compound is filled with foam pits, practice ramps that launch you into air bags, and all sorts of other ways to safely try something dangerous but walk away if things go wrong. It’s only natural he brought that type of approach to a new event with an eye towards athletes staying safe.

I’ll be honest, I skip over motocross when my TiVo records an X Games event because the crashes are horrific these days. People falling from 40 feet to flat ground while 250lb bikes land on top of them is no fun. Watching any of it makes me anxious and nervous, and sometimes I’ll visually fast forward through an entire event first just to make sure no one leaves on a stretcher before rewinding to watch at regular speed.

It’s clear that jumping into a padded ramp surrounded by airbags isn’t the same as launching hundreds of feet across rock-hard dirt, but it’s also great to be able to watch not just new tricks from high-flying athletes but to see them bounce right back up whenever things go wrong. Sure, it’s a slightly different sport but in the end it’s no less exciting.

They’re onto something

Surprisingly, a couple days later, there’s very little video and almost no photos from the event online, which is kind of a bummer. It played once on NBC on Saturday night but hopefully there will be recaps and replays. If you want to see some of the BMX qualifying action, watch this video starting at the 3:17 mark.

Skip to 3:17 to see some mind blowing bmx tricks

The BMX finals were nothing short of incredible. Almost every rider pulled a triple backflip, something only a couple people on the planet had landed previously. There was a quadruple tailwhip backflip, there were double backflips with variations from almost everyone, and people pulling variations on spinning 720s and 1080s with ease. There were easily a dozen tricks never seen before that debuted and it was incredible.

Then there’s Ryan Williams

Spoiler alert: A kid comes from the much-maligned world of scooters and wins the whole thing (and totally deserves it). Watch his highlight reel on Instagram and know his final trick was a triple front-flip that was very nearly pulled, which would have been yet another first. He was doing mind-blowing things all night and he wasn’t the only outsider at the event. Another finalist came from the world of freestyle snowboarding and had only been riding a BMX bike for a couple months. BMX veterans might scoff at the idea of someone waltzing into their sport and winning it all, but in the end it’s just flying through the air, doing flips and twists, and knowing how to spot your landing.

Everything else

The three hour event on TV covered skateboard big air, a 3-jump BMX course on plywood, A freestyle motocross contest that was fairly standard, and then both BMX best trick and motocross best trick events conducted on padded ramps. The last two events were clearly the most exciting and the most innovative, and hopefully become the centerpieces of future events.

I hope this event isn’t the last and I’d venture to say if this replaced the X Games on TV, it’d be a welcome change for both viewers and riders alike.