As Nitro’s resident roller snowboarder, Brandon Schmidt occupies one of the most specific slots in the live show. He’s one of the few athletes who’s world-class in that sport, having landed the World’s First triple backflip on the roller board. But even though that’s his main focus, he’s a well-rounded action sports athlete who rides BMX and trikes in the Nitro show too. He’s also legitimately one of the most positive and friendly people you’ll ever meet, as his teammates are quick to point out. When you add it all up, it might be impossible to figure out who likes Brandon more: Nitro audiences or Nitro athletes.
I caught up with Brandon in Stockholm, New Jersey, where he lives most of the time when he’s not touring and is also where he grew up. When he’s not on the road, he divides his time between there and Woodward in Pennsylvania, which is an action sports camp that Brandon has considered a second home since he was 11 years old. Woodward is the only place athletes can ride a true parkboard, the snowboard with wheels that is Brandon’s primary discipline with Nitro. One of his signature tricks, a World’s First, is the triple backflip on the parkboard. It’s a tough trick to land — he estimates he’s landed only six in the last three and a half years, despite attempting it dozens of times.
“No matter how many times I’ve tried it, it doesn’t matter how many times or how safe the landing is, it is not an easy trick to try ever,” he says. He’s always close, but the lander is slippery for the parkboard, so it’s tough to keep it under him even though he always lands wheels down. Here’s how he approaches it: “I just try to clear my mind and remember to be focused on what I’m doing. So you drop in, and when you come off the lip — this is the interesting thing that I do that I think makes it kind of OK — I do one flip and I spot the ground, and I watch the ground for as long as I can, and then I look back over and the ground’s right there again. So I watch that until I can’t see it anymore and then do the same thing, and there’s the landing. So the entire time I’m doing the trick, even though it looks like it’s flipping super fast, I’m watching the ground almost the entire time, and I know where I am. So it makes it pretty safe for that aspect, but it doesn’t take the scary factor — the fear factor — out of it.” Here’s a clip of the first time he ever landed it:
You might be wondering: With that success rate, how is it he doesn’t hurt himself on such a huge trick night after night? He says keeping his eyes on the ground is the key to staying healthy: “If you just kind of throw and don’t spot the ground, it’s a blind three flips and you’re just kind of guessing when to open. But if you spot the ground each time, you know where you are the entire time. So every time I do a triple flip, I land on my feet and on the wheels. It’s just the board always slips out and I go sideways every time. I think it’s just that I’m rotating so quick in the air that when it hits the resi it keeps the rotation going, but every time it’s to the wheels, which I’m hyped about. I don’t get hurt on the trick; I just can’t land it very often.”
The roller snowboard triple backflip is a huge accomplishment, but don’t mistake Brandon for a one-trick rider. His primary discipline for Nitro is the parkboard, but he also rides BMX and trikes in the show when he’s needed, and he grew up as a well-rounded action sports athlete. He got his first snowboard at age 3 and rode snowboards until 10 or 11 in his backyard. Then he started getting serious. He began riding skateboard, BMX, and upping his snowboard game at Mountain Creek ski resort, which is about 20 minutes from where he grew up. At 11, he went to Woodward for the first time. “That ended up changing the game for me later down the line,” he says. His best friend, who got him into skateboarding, had been on a waiting list for two years to get into Woodward. He and Brandon were hanging out at Brandon’s house, when the friend’s mom called to let them know that the wait was over and his friend was going to Woodward. He didn’t know it at the time, but that call set into motion a series of events that would change Brandon’s life.
His friend left the following weekend, and when he came back, it was clear that Woodward had been all they had hoped. “He told me how amazing it was. And how much he progressed, I saw,” Brandon says. So Brandon went the next summer. “I was 11 years old still, and I went away for my first time for a week without my parents, and it was such an experience. I learned so much and met so many cool people that I knew that’s where I wanted to spend all my summers.” And so he went back. Week after week, summer after summer. He ended up living there for six months straight at one point. “I spent Thanksgiving there. It was pretty cool,” he says. He spent so much time there that most of his closest friends were there. When he was away he passed the time skateboarding or riding his bike in front of his house, building jumps in the woods, or snowboarding if it was that time of year. But he saw that as just burning time between summers in Pennsylvania. “Woodward kinda became my second home, and still to this day is what I would call my second home.”
He was mostly focused on snowboarding back then, because he wanted to be a pro snowboarder; in the summer he focused on skateboarding, but he also rode BMX. “I couldn’t really pick between the two, but all my friends skateboarded, so I decided to be a skateboarder,” he says. But sometimes you don’t pick your sport — your sport picks you. “No matter how much I worked on skateboarding or how much I tried, I just couldn’t get the hang of it, couldn’t figure it out properly. But whenever I was on a bike — the first trick I learned was a backflip on a bike, so I kinda knew I had that skill.” You read that right — the first BMX trick he learned was a backflip, and it came to him way too easily. “I bought a bike solely for the purpose that when I went to Woodward I was going to learn to backflip into their foam pit.” He was with a group of kids that had done backflips before, so he got their advice. “I think I tried three or four into the foam pit, and that same day I landed it onto resi on the second try,” he says. That was when he was 15. But despite it being clear that he was a natural, he kept trying to focus on skateboarding for several more years. “I still was like, ‘No, I’m going to be a skateboarder,'” he says.
As he was progressing in all types of action sports, he started to get into filming. “That kind of became my thing; I was known as the action sports filmer,” he says. He would shoot the locals at Mountain Creek, and from that footage he cut together a movie called Glitched that played on repeat in the lodge. He started to get deeper into filming. He was still riding, but he wasn’t pushing that as hard. “I never really focused on progressing action sports or trying too hard, but I kept going to Woodward, and I ended up becoming a filmer for the camp,” he says. “That’s kind of how I got my in — I started spending the entire summer there working, filming, making their edits, making their end-of-the-summer video.” And despite his shift in focus away from progressing in action sports, he also became an instructor there. He did all that for a few years, but eventually he started to feel that being behind the camera wasn’t his true calling. “I realized it was way more fun to be riding and to be getting filmed,” he says. “So I started really progressing and trying some new things.”
At 19, he finally gave in to his innate ability and officially switched focus from skateboard to BMX. “I just never progressed on a skateboard, but on a bike it was way different,” he says. “I made the change and solely focused on BMX, and I progressed at such a fast rate it kind of shocked me that I didn’t just focus on that from the beginning.” During his extended summers at Woodward, he was also able to get a lot of time on the parkboard. He was stalled at progressing on a skateboard, but the parkboard was a different story. “That worked for me really well, having it strapped to my feet and having it be more like a snowboard instead of a skateboard,” he says.
The parkboard is basically a mini snowboard with cutouts for inline wheels. It has bindings without high backs that you can use regular shoes with. “You can’t really turn, you can just go straight. Snowboarding and riding the parkboard are completely different in that respect, but as soon as you come off the lip, it’s pretty much exactly the same as snowboarding — it feels the same, the tricks feel the same. So it definitely helps with progressing for snowboarding. It’s just nothing like riding a snowboard, because you can’t stop or turn,” he says. Stopping and turning, by the way, are two things you have to consider optional to become a member of the Nitro Crew. Brandon credits being able to get a lot of time on the parkboard with his success, as Woodward holds the patent on it, so most people have only a week at a time to practice with them. Because he worked there, he was riding parkboards all the time. He was a natural from the start, though. “The first time I rode it, I did a double backflip into the foam pit,” he says. He then became the first athlete to land a double backflip on a parkboard — that was in his first week riding it, and he learned quickly from there. “I had several years of riding them and getting to progress on them before Nitro happened, so I was fortunate enough to have that experience that allowed me to get to where I am today.”
Brandon had his eyes on Nitro for a while. “My entire life growing up I had idolized Travis Pastrana and Nitro Circus, and that’s pretty much what I lived my life off of; that’s how I tried to live my life,” he says. After years of working and progressing at Woodward and making the decision to move from behind the camera to in front of it, he decided to take a shot. “So I got this idea that maybe I should send in an audition tape to Nitro and maybe they’ll see it and see that I have what it takes to ride with them,” he says. He got Woodward’s permission to turn the camera around and make an edit of himself riding. They agreed. Here’s what he put together:
In it he rides snowboard, skateboard, BMX, and parkboard. He explains: “It was just a combination of everything to show them … ‘Hey, I can kind of do what you guys do too — do you think I have what it takes to be a part of the Crew?'” Obviously Nitro did think he has what it takes, but the audition tape worked even better than he could have expected. “I ended up sending it in to Nitro, and like three days later they responded and asked me to come to New Zealand with them.”
That initial New Zealand trip was a test run to make sure Brandon fit in with the crew both on and off the ramps. In his third show with Nitro, he attempted his first triple backflip on the parkboard, which he says sealed the deal for him, at least in terms of him proving he was willing to throw down. But his teammates on the Crew say he brings a lot more to the table than just the willingness to go big. “Schmidty’s been killing it a lot lately,” according to Nitro BMX superstar Kurtis Downs. “He started picking up his BMX bike and his snowboard and putting down most of his tricks on his BMX bike that no one wants to do that rides BMX even.” And where he burns brightest, they say, is his personality, how humble and supportive he is. Todd Meyn, another Nitro BMX phenom, says, “He’s awesome, because he has the best attitude and he is always yelling at you and cheering you on and always smiling. He is always at the bottom of the landing cheering you on, waiting for you to land your tricks.”
Brandon says Nitro is unique in its behind-the-scenes camaraderie not just for action sports but for any touring show. “Nitro doesn’t just consist of the athletes; there are about a hundred people behind the scenes who actually really make the show run properly. They set up the ramps, they do the audio, everything. The crazy thing is, they all come to us and tell us Nitro is like a family to them. Nitro’s not like any other show they’ve ever worked with. They would drop any other job to come work with Nitro, because everyone treats each other so well, and everyone just sees each other as equal and respects what everyone is doing, and everyone knows that they’re there for the same common cause. The camaraderie between everyone on Nitro is what makes Nitro so amazing. It brings so many different people together; it brings all these action sports that in previous history have had, like, hate between each other and it shows that it doesn’t matter what you ride or what you do, it just matters that you’re having fun and enjoying what you’re doing,” he says.
That’s a really respectable part of the show to be stoked about, considering everything else that comes along with being asked to join the Nitro Crew. “It’s been three and a half years since I got that email, and my life has been consistently go go go — different country, different city, and it hasn’t stopped. It was overnight,” Brandon says. “It’s crazy how life can change so fast and be so different from one day to the next.”
Brandon continues to progress, maintaining his well-rounded status. He loves the parkboard, but he wants to eventually take more BMX jumps in the show. He rides his bike a lot on the side trips that the athletes take between shows on tour, which is one of his favorite things about life on the road. “We get to travel the world. If we’re going to be in these cities we might as well take the few hours we have and go explore.” That’s how we end up with the guys doing #MiniFlipMonday, where riders post video of them trying to flip off the tiniest takeoffs. A mountain biker started it on Instagram, Brandon says, and it took off from there. Now, he, Kurtis, and Ryan Williams try to find the smallest possible launch points wherever they are on tour. “You try to find one in every city. So you mini-flip around the world,” Brandon says. “It’s hard to find things that are that small that are actually flippable.” But it’s a fun challenge, especially for someone whose favorite thing in the world is going upside-down. “I just like to flip. That’s my favorite thing on anything. It doesn’t matter what it is,” Brandon says.
Nitro is equal parts having fun and putting on a great show. Brandon is great at both. But as the Nitro World Games approaches, he’s starting to focus on taking home gold in BMX in Salt Lake City in July. He’s rebuilt his bike, getting it down to under 17.5 pounds. He says he expects World’s Firsts and can’t wait to see what the other competitors come up with. He hasn’t done much competing in his career, but that’s because there hasn’t been a competition quite like the Nitro World Games, which is more his style. So, does he have plans to land a World’s First in Salt Lake City? “I have a few tricks up my sleeve,” he says. Fittingly, he recently stuck a triple backflip on a BMX, a trick very few riders have landed.
Brandon Schmidt is as well-rounded as an athlete can be, on and off the bike or board. He’s also still filming and has been commissioned to put together a new snowboard video, which will no doubt show he’s still got just as much skill behind the camera as he does in front of it. With an eye on World Games gold and no sign of slowing down, he’ll definitely continue to do huge things, and you can expect to hear a lot more from him in the future. But for now, he’s getting pumped for the next Nitro tour, as much to continue progressing as to travel the world landing tiny flips with his friends. “I love the Nitro family. They’re awesome,” he says.