An Epic Fail Is Still Just As Good
I was at a party not so long ago, showing someone a video where a kid tries to jump the 24, double-set stair case at Sydney University, right near the park. He lands it, but the bike buckles. Maybe his weights off, maybe it’s just too high a jump for a BMX, but his face takes the fall. He slides along the ash-fault leaving a gory trail behind him. I show this video around a lot, apparently so do a couple of million other people. “Whatever it takes in a person,” I say, at this party, “to ride a BMX bike off 24 stairs... That’s a different sort of person.” The guy laughed, “yeah that person is Alex LLiiv, he’s upstairs.” I laughed at his blank stare. “Do you want to meet him?” he said. I nodded enthusiastically, still in disbelief. I walked up some stairs, and behind a closed door, talking to some friends, there was Alex Liiv, that’s how we met him.
The gory aftermath of the jump attempt has led it to being broadcast by MTV, and heralded as one of the most epic fails in the BMX biking world. “I know what you’re thinking,” he said to me when I mentioned the video, “you’re thinking I’m fucked.” I chatted with him at length about why he did it, and what he does now, and it’s quite a story. It sounds insane to hear about his life, about how far he’s come, and his career direction change, but it makes sense when you remember that yes, he is a different sort of person, he’s the sort of person who’s pushed jumping stairs to it’s absolute extreme.
“Failures are better then just thinking your life away.”
How’d you score your first sponsorship?
I was in the blue mountains. We went up for a jam, jam’s are like a meet up where riders from the area, get together and have a day at a skate park or whatever, they’re the alternatives to comps. I went up to the organizer and told him that he was doing a good thing. No one had thanked him yet, so he took a liking to me. We started chatting on Hotmail or msn maybe. He said he'd send us some shirts. Then I made a video of all the clips I found around Sydney and the Blue Mountains of me and posted it around facebook. I got a little bit of attention from Sydney riders, and I got a little excited. I was on a roll. Skill level getting up. Going for big jumps. Getting attention. Then I went off those stairs at Sydney University. I got out of hospital, I got on the bike, and I went to America and that was it. I just kept getting hurt, and I kept getting sponsors.
Alex started riding when he was about 10 or 11 and was almost immediately obsessed, hitting the same spots every day in school holidays. He clearly has that type of personality where he latches onto things and just works at it until he’s gotten all he can from them. By the time, he was in year 10 he started scoring sponsorships and eventually riding for BoneDeath and Osiris (for those who remember D3’s). Alex now compares his jump at Sydney University to one of Edison's failed light bulbs, recounting the quote about discovering 10,000 ways that don’t work as well as the one that does.
You kept getting hurt?
I got back from America in 2011, and over that summer, I blew my knee out, fucked my wrist, broke my toe off... My big toe snapped off, the fucking top bit actually snapped off, was torn all the way around and was just dangling... I didn’t even know... I just thought I needed some stitches on my face... I was sitting there and looked down, and there was a pool of blood. They put a needle in my bone. That injury was the main one. I was just like what the fuck is the point of this. I just got hell depressed, and I was like no, I’m not that guy. I decided that if I was going to do this it was going to be at my own pace. I still ride, but I can be experimental with tricks, which is sick, that’s why I used to ride. I choose what my purpose is.
Do you regret not stopping after the big crash?
No. There’s no fate or a destination that I’m going reach, I am a creature on this planet, and I can choose whatever way I’m going to go. So to say no I can’t do it because of the rules of the world... I’m just not that guy. I’m going to finish what I set out to do. Now I’ve done that. There’s only so many more jumps I can do, or stairs I can do, or roofs I can do. Even if I kept riding I think I’d be ashamed in a way. Riding a bike is stressful. Anything that involves that much mental unwillingness, because that’s what it is, your body doesn’t want to jump down stairs, but your mind wants to do it. So you just get fucking stressed all the time. I go to the city and say I’m going to 360 those stairs, and I’d be riding around, and I’d be scared. Then I’d do the trick, and I’d be psyched for a week, then I’d be like: alright the next move. That’s what I did for three years. I’d be on the next move, and the next move. It was all just moves, stunts, we called them. Because we don’t do tricks, there’s nothing wrong with tricks, now I don’t care what people do on bikes, but then I was like I don’t want to do be doing whatever - I want to be paving the way.
When I asked Alex what he used to tell himself before going off every jump he told me “ultimately, the problem is you don’t want to do it. So you have to create a circumstance which enables you to do it.” I immediately tried to imagine circumstances which you can create to enable you to do a 360, or a backflip. I think at the core of most people there’s a very strong desire to be “the guy” that did it, I’m not sure if that’s the only thing driving Alex. All in all though he has two very logical processes to enable his body to do what his mind tells it. The first, he plays on the fight or flight mechanism, where by something like a security guard might make him make use of his last chance. One time he was riding down the in the rocks, trying to get the confidence to do a rail down there. No one had ever done that rail he told us, so naturally Alex had to. What it took for him to do it was a group of people filming and cheering, and giving him a drum roll.
The second technique is a process of visualization. He told us he thought about that jump all day, and thought: “what’s the worst that can happen.” He just played out the scenarios in his head again and again and again. “Up until that,” he told us, “people didn’t really know how high you could jump on a BMX.” You might see the video, or read him say that he was going to do the stairs because no one has jumped that many before, and conclude that he’s an idiot. However, the sheer will power and determination aside, Alex had a very clear and organic approach to understanding his own mind. This makes sense in the context of his radically different career path.
Do you think going for that jump and not making it has affected the way you make decisions? That leap of faith and the failure.
Maybe for a little while. But then after that I just kept learning. A fail is still just as good. Failures are better then just thinking away your life. I may have not had that view a week or a few years after that crash, but it’s given me direction, I had an idea and I tried.
It’s given you the direction to become what?
I do mental magic. I’ve only been performing for two years. Are you guys familiar with Derren Brown? He’s fucking pretty good. I saw a video of him when I was riding, using mind tricks to buy things with blank pieces of paper. I saw some things in that, which made me think I could take it into bike riding, so I could push my mind in a certain way.
Do you think you’ve found ways to over come the physical restrictions with mental magic?
Yes and no. It was a curse, because it also taught me to be real with myself, I’ve got to be honest. Essentially everyone is trying to convince themselves of their honesty to themselves. Yes in the sense that it taught me to be like I am sick of bitch running (where you take laps and don’t do the trick), so I could rid myself of that. Our bodies have inbuilt code to say that if you do this certain thing: you might die. Understanding of the mind, it helped me defy that. It helped me defy that for a year. Eventually I wouldn’t even run at a jump. I just thought: I’m going to be scared anyway, I might as well just do it. That was the curse, it made me go, you can just do it if you just think you can do it. Maybe a little bit more thought would have been good (laughs).
How is life as a magician?
The gig that I just came from, that’s my sixth private gig. Today was cool because it was completely out of the ballpark. Usually I perform in a large group of people so I can hide amongst them, and move around them. I had to show up and just start talking to people. It feels a bit dicky, but it’s like playing a music gig. You’re always focusing on the ideal outcome and it rarely gets there, so you just have to be accepting that. It reminds me a little bit of bikes, the intrigue and impressing someone. I just got accepted to study psychology next year, I’d like to help people learn more about the mind, and learn more about the cross over between the illusion of mental magic, where it’s 80% deception based - you are lying to people and presenting alternate realities. Moment to moment intervals so much stuff goes past. People think they understand their reality but they don’t. So really mind magic, mentalism, just sits in that dark area that no one sees. Not only I’d like to keep performing but I’d like to study how it works, and then do some cross over work.
“There’s no fate or a destination that I’m going reach, I am a creature on this planet and I can choose whatever way I’m going to go.”
Alex describes the process of mental magic as accommodating someone, while easing them into your structure, and essentially just lying to them. He showed us a trick where essentially we chose a word, thought exclusively of that word, and he was able to guess it. The entire process felt really invasive, but he tells us he is simply creating a fake reality and making us feel comfortable in it, before revealing it to be artifice. “Deception,” says Alex, “happens when you commit to thinking reality is linear.”
There’s something in the way Alex thinks about mental magic that resonates with every facet of his personality. When he plays these tricks on you, and he examines things you are emitting without even realising it, it feels invasive. It feels as if he’s in breaking into a sort of barren territory of the human interaction, or some secret space of our minds. Which essentially is a space Alex has always occupied. He has that something special, that difference in his personality that drives him off an impossible jump, into the unknown. He is crazy as he says he is a bit fucked, but he’s mad, and he’s brilliant, and there is a wild kind of intellectualism to pushing his mind to it’s limit, to defy the genetic code of the body, and become all mentalism, zero instinct. The failed jump was, essentially, a successful stunt of mental acrobatics.
By Al Kalyk
cerealmonk.com / twitter