Interviews 1 Feb 2009

Moto Talk with Robbie Maddison

Robbie Maddison has two world records to his name and has become one of the most famous motorcycle riders in the world.

* Please note pictures are still being organised at time of publishing.

Maddo is a new era of motorcycle daredevil riding

Maddo is a new era of motorcycle daredevil riding

For the last two years in a row an Australian rider by the name of Robbie “Maddo” Maddison has taken Las Vegas by storm on New Year’s Eve, performing world record stunts both years in an event called “New Year, No Limits”, with great success that has catapulted him to being one of the most well known two-wheel athletes in the world.

While the world celebrates the New Year, Maddo can be found risking his life in front of millions of viewers from 158 countries — taking the ultimate gamble in a city known for its dice-rolling antics. Even though there’s a pot of money awaiting the 27-year-old once he performs his stunt, he’s not in it for the money. He’s in it to make a name for himself and create a career out of a sport that he lives for.

Replayed on national news and morning shows around the world, Maddo’s jump for this past New Year was a matter of life or death — make it and you’re a global hero, fail and you’re likely to suffer the most severe of consequences.

In an event hosted by Red Bull and ESPN, Maddo jumped his modified Yamaha YZ250 on top of the Arc de Triomphe building before turning around, taking a slight glimpse down, and then dropping straight back off almost immediately.

The Arc de Triomphe in Vegas is a replica of the iconic monument in Paris, with the American version based at the Paris Hotel and Casino on The Strip in the heart of Vegas. It stands 30 metres high and required Maddo to hit a specially designed 70-degree ramp at 80km/h following a 200 metre run-up.

One year earlier he dazzled fans by jumping the entire length of an American football field post to post, earning himself a world distance jumping record of 98 metres (322ft 7inches) — a record he extended to 115 metres (378ft) during practice at the Crusty’s Night of World Records in Australia.

But Maddo’s not just a daredevil, he is a former motocross racer in his own right and is also one of the leading Freestyle Motocross contenders in competitions worldwide. His technique on the bike is better than any daredevil ever before, and he’s going to continue to do Australia proud for years to come.

Firstly Maddo, what were you thinking on New Year’s Eve jumping on and off of a building!?

What was I thinking? Well, I guess at the time not too much at all [laughs]. I was super focused on the bike and pretty much just keeping my head straight and trying to stay positive on the whole deal. I like being that guy doing gnarly jumps, but I guess the easiest way to answer your question is that I just thought it would be a good idea to jump onto a building and back off it [laughs].

In all seriousness, it must have been an amazing feeling to pull a stunt like this off in front of so many fans, not only live in Vegas on the night but also on television in 158 countries?

It’s pretty gnarly that it had that sort of exposure and that’s kind of the reason why I wanted to do the jump. With that kind of coverage comes the leverage to boost my involvement in the sport and gives me a good opportunity for sponsorship and stuff like that.

I was pretty pumped at the time to have the opportunity to perform the jump. It’s insane that it got that kind of coverage and it’s cool that I’m part of the whole deal. I’m stoked that Red Bull and ESPN could join forces and bring me such a highly televised and covered jump.

You basically hit a 70-degree ramp at around 80km/h and jumped 35 metres straight up into the air, before turning around and dropping straight back off…what was the most challenging part of the jump — going up or coming back down?

They both earned a lot of respect from me. The jump up was thought to be easy, and the actual distance from point to point wasn’t far, but just the circumstances if you were to come up short and fall, you’re talking about falling to your death from that height. It was a high consequence jump.

With those angles, the change of direction from going on a horizontal plane to a 70-degree ramp, the change of energy plays a big part in what happens to your body when you hit the ramp. I was conscious the whole time that the transition was going to be a huge impact and a lot of g-forces.

How did you prepare for the g-forces and impact upon takeoff?

When I started talking with my trainer Ryan Hughes about the jump we worked out that my core strength would need to be strong, and I didn’t really know how strong I’d need to get. I was lucky that I started working out and got on a program, and before I knew it I was lean and had a six pack and was in the best physical condition that I’d ever been in.

If I hadn’t of done all that work I would have crashed on the night for sure. When I hit the ramp, you couldn’t really see it on television, but I slammed into the bike and as a result of that I got forced to the back of the bike.

On the transition my bodyweight was all the way back on the bike, exactly the opposite of where I wanted to be — I needed my bodyweight at the front. Luckily I had the core strength to pull myself forward on the bike before I took off the ramp, which allowed the bike to fly through the air at the right trajectory.

Otherwise, if I had of been at the back of the bike when I took off I probably would have cart wheeled off the back of the bike and landed somewhere in the middle of the jump. Another scenario is that I would have went with the bike, but landed off the back of it once I got onto the roof.

The jump up was pretty technical, but the tricky part on the way down was that it was at such a slow speed so it was kind of difficult to judge because I was dropping so far down. There’s a lot to talk about with the jump, but I pulled it off obviously.

Looking back now, I think the jump up was the gnarliest [laughs].

And even though you successfully completed the stunt, you didn’t exactly get out of it injury free did you?

The step down was pretty spot on, but I just over jumped it by about a foot and a half, which was enough to split the webbing in my hand between my thumb and fingers. It was a small price to pay for what I did and it was definitely a reminder of what could have happened if things went drastically wrong.

How did you come up with the idea to jump onto the Arc de Triomphe?

The idea just came from last year’s jump, where I did a high speed jump with a low angled ramp, and I wanted to see what I could jump with a high angled ramp. When I thought of how far I jumped off the low ramp considering the speed I hit it, I thought about what if I hit a high ramp, imagining how high it would shoot me into the sky.

I started tripping and started realising that if I got all the angles right I could jump from a ramp onto a roof — what angle and how fast I’d have to hit it I didn’t know, but I stayed with it and that’s how I ended up with the whole concept.

So you came up with the idea and found the ideal location in Vegas, now how do you practice for such a thing?

Once all that went down and we worked out where I could jump onto the roof in Vegas, we had to work out how to practice jumping onto a roof that’s 100 feet high. I was thinking of having a crane with a net system, and then having it catch me mid-flight. Another idea I had was to go to a quarry and jump up the faces, but it would have been totally different on the night.

And then Red Bull joined forces with Jack Murphy, who does all the X Games and Dew Tour scaffolding, and he was able to make a replica of the building with an adjustable roof so I could build my way up to the 100 foot mark.

When does the fear and the realisation of what you’re about to attempt really set in?

The practice was gnarly because there was so much fear with every jump that I did. I guess I got through it by just facing it every day, forcing myself to work through the fear. But on the night, even with all the fear that I had faced in practice, which was intense, it was just multiplied exponentially.

With the crowd, the anticipation, the live television cameras, the party, and the guests, as well as the 300,000 people out on The Strip, it was pretty insane. To get through the time right before we went live it was pretty tough to pull through that.

Were you confident you would make it, or were you thinking of the consequences?

I was definitely thinking of what could have gone wrong at any time. I was close to making errors for sure, and I basically got lucky on that jump. The whole time I was anticipating that something could go wrong and I was fearful of that. The whole time I was pretty much shitting myself [laughs].

Do you get any sleep at all the night before the jump? The anticipation must be insane.

No, the night before was the hardest to sleep. But the night afterwards I slept so good, like the weight had all been taken off my shoulders.

Rumour has it that they wanted you to use a safety net, but you weren’t too keen on the idea?

Yeah, I spoke to some of the stunt guys in Hollywood and put the feelers out there to see what they thought of it, and how I should go about doing it. And one of the crews said I had to have this net system that was fully automatic and would catch me if I fell, and I was like that’s a pretty sick idea but the people at home would realise that there was no way I could fall and think that anyone could do it because there would be no way of getting hurt.

It would take no skill if there was no consequence. I wanted to face the fear of the jump and I didn’t want to make it easy for myself. So I told those guys that I wasn’t going to use it. In the end I had to sign waivers to say that it was setup my way and I was happy with it [laughs].

What’s this we hear about Kaptain Robbie Knievel (Evel’s son) trying to steal your thunder by doing a jump over the Volcano at the Mirage in Vegas on the same night? Is there a rivalry there?

Yeah, I think so for sure. I reached out to Robbie Knievel’s stunt guy Spanky Spangler, and he was the guy who originally did the jump into nets back in the 1970s — he jumped 100 feet into a net held by two cranes.

That was the guy I spoke to eight months ago, and then he was working with Kaptain Knievel during the year. It was a confidential meeting and he obviously told Knievel about my jump and then planned to do their own jump at the same time.

They knew that my jump was happening, but as soon as mine was announced then he announced his. It sucked that he did that, because I called him three months back and told him I heard there was a leak that he was doing the jump. He was like “f*#k you, our show’s going to be better than yours” and this and that, so then from that point on once he said that I was like f*#k him, I’m doing a gnarlier jump and we’ll let the jumps speak for themselves. Anyone you speak to that saw both jumps says there was no comparison [laughs].

You’re also the current distance jumping world record holder — what stunt takes more skill, more bravery, and more heart? Jumping distances or jumping onto the Arc de Triomphe?

I think they’re both in different categories. Jumping off of the Arc de Triomphe is a bit of a daredevil manoeuvre — it takes a lot of skill to pull it off but it moves to the level where you’re really scaring yourself. I think it takes more skill, heart, and bravery to do for sure.

Did you ever believe that being a daredevil, as you’re often referred to, would earn you so much fame all around the world?

I definitely dreamed about it as a kid, to be a daredevil, but I never thought it would all really happen. It’s cool that I’m able to do what I’ve always dreamed of, for sure.

Do you actually consider yourself a daredevil? Because you’re a very successful Freestyle Motocross rider, too.

Yeah, I think I’m a daredevil. I believe I fall into both categories because I do the daredevil jumps, but I’m also training hard for Freestyle Motocross — pretty much keeping my options open to anything that’s coming my way. Right now I’m ramping up for the FMX competition season, but I’ll also do a few more jumps throughout the year. We’ll see what comes up.

What’s next for Robbie Maddison? You’ve performed miraculous stunts the last two years on NYE in Vegas, are we going to see you come up with a new idea for the third year in a row?

For sure. We’ve definitely created a market for it and there will definitely be a New Year, No Limits show again, but as far as what jump I’m going to do it’s yet to be confirmed [laughs].