How did you get into motorbikes, Tom?
My brother and I started out on BMX and when I was about 15 he got a job; then he bought a motorbike, and I knew that was what I wanted to do as well. I got into motocross and later into freestyle. My brother and I have always been quite competitive, and because he was older I always wanted to keep up with him when he was trying something new or crazy.
Do you remember the first time you fell off?
Yeah, I broke my tibia and it hurt! It made me realise that it’s a tough sport, but it didn’t put me off.
You must have scared your poor parents to death!
Oh, for sure, they’ve been pretty nervous at events over the years, but they know we practise a lot and we’re careful. The worst day for them was when my brother crashed a few years ago. We always knew it was easy to break a bone or sprain something, but that was the first time one of us had a really bad accident. He did recover, but he recently broke his ankle so I think that probably means no more riding for him.
When did you first realise there might be a career in flinging a bike around?
Right when I started freestyle. I practised for two months, did my first show for free, and then the second show I got a little bit of money. Step by step the money grows, but even now I put back more than half of all the money I earn into things that help me be a better rider as well as develop the sport.
A highlight of the Red Bull X-Fighters calendar is always the UAE leg. How do you like it here?
I love it! It’s the place to be. It’s always a huge event and the weather is fantastic. My friend Vince Reffet, the Jetman, is based in Dubai, and when I am in the city, he takes me skydiving.
How do you practise a new trick when it can be so dangerous if you get it wrong?
We use these big pits of foam rubber to land in, although it can still really hurt if you get it wrong. These pits are also very difficult to get out of if you injure yourself while landing – I saw a friend in one with a broken femur and the ambulance guys really struggled to get him out.
How do you think up new tricks?
My mind is always thinking about what the next one could be. Before I get out there I draw it, and I also take hold of my phone and twist and turn it as if it were the bike to get an idea of what I’m trying to do.
How long do new tricks take to get right?
It can take six months of practise – or even longer. One that was really difficult to get right was the Bike Flip, where the bike is flipping in front of me. It took me five years.
What’s the best way to fall?
I’ve been pretty lucky, but the best way is to land on your feet and then let yourself fall to the ground on your side – don’t try to land standing up because you’ll break your legs.
How often do you crash?
I don’t crash much – this year it was a bit more than usual, maybe five times. But you really don’t want to crash. If it happens even once a year, it’s too much because it hurts.
What was your biggest ever bruise?
It was on my bottom! It was after the 2009 X-Fighters in Texas. I attempted a front flip and I didn’t turn enough – you can watch the video on the internet – and I landed on my back. The bruise on my behind was huge, I couldn’t sit for ages.
In many sports there are a lot of mind games between competitors. How do you psyche out the other guys?
If I have a new trick that’s great, I make sure I do it in front of everyone the day before the competition, in practise, so all the other guys see it. That’s a great way to make people feel like they have no chance!
Another way is to post a video of the trick on YouTube just before the event.
What is the best of freestyle motocross – something that no one has been able to do yet?
Well, the triple-flip was done last year, and just a few years ago it was something we would never have believed.
So is the quadruple-flip something that people have started to whisper about?
The BMX guys were the first to do the triple-flip three years before it was done in freestyle motocross, and this year they brought the quad-flip to BMX. So maybe in three years we’ll see it on a motorbike! I don’t know if that one’s for me, though. Hopefully, I’ll be retired by then!
What have you learned about fear and pain?
Pain makes you realise you’re not unbreakable. Fear gives you strength and makes you go to a new level. It makes you do things you thought were impossible. Fear can turn you into a superhero.