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Dropping into the Unknown with Nick Goepper

Photo Credit: Red Bull

It was a bright clear day when Andy Yingling knocked on the Goepper’s front door. 

“Wanna go to the skate park? My dad said he’d drive!”

Ten-year-old Nick thought about it. He had reasons to say no. He’d never been to this skate park. He’d never been to any skate park. He didn’t even have his own skates. But Andy was cool. And Nick wanted to be cool, too. So he said yes.  

The park was busy that day, with cool kids of all ages showing off tricks, and egging each on to try new ones. Looking around, Nick started to sweat. Everything felt wrong. His helmet strap felt too tight. His brother’s hand-me-down skates felt too loose. The crowd felt too thick. The ramps felt too steep. He skated over to the chillest-looking one — a concrete quarter pipe. Perched at the edge of the drop, his pulse rose. A few skaters paused to watch as his vision clouded a bit, and his head swirled with doubt. 

It was all so wrong. Until he dropped in, and it was all so right.

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Photo credit: Robin Gillon

The Edge

“Staring down a quarter pipe for the first time was a whole new level of scary. But I dropped in and I just knew ‘I belong here.’ And the best part was that I did it all on my own. I didn't need a team or a coach. I could get good at this by myself. All that stood in my way was that first personal hurdle.”  – Nick Goepper

That first drop was not his last. Nick continued to skate throughout his life, but also picked up downhill skiing, snowmobiling, surfing, and other action-packed passions along the way. His talent in the slopestyle category — where competitors ski through a course of jumps, rails, and other terrain obstacles, performing tricks along the way — took him around the world, where he often took in the view from the podium. Dominating the category at the highest level, Nick is a four-time gold medalist at the X-Games, a two-time World Championships medalist, and World Cup Champion, he won a bronze medal at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, a silver medal at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, and another silver at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. 

Often with the entire world watching, Nick has spent a lot of time hanging out on the edge, nose to nose with that first personal hurdle. That feeling — the edge, the nerves, the doubt, the fear of the unknown — has become like a coworker to Nick. Still scary, but a little more familiar. It’s just another part of the job. 

“You need to know where your limits are in order to push them. Nerves exist to remind you where the line is. They never go away. I get the same amount of nervous as I did when I was twelve. The difference is that now I know what to expect from them and I know how to manage them.”

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Photo Credit: Getty Images 

A New Challenge

In a true testament to just how comfortable Nick is with the unknown, at 28 years old with three Olympic medals on his mantle, he decided to switch sports. You read that right. Summer of 2022, Nick began training for the World Skate Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The first big event in his new career of professional freestyle rollerblading.

He competed in the Roller Freestyle Park competition, placing 11th in the qualifying round, and 9th in the final. For someone who’s used to standing on the podium, this was a shift for Nick — and not necessarily a bad one. By focusing on this sport that he hasn’t yet mastered, Nick has uncovered something that skiing could no longer offer him — room to grow.

“After three Olympic medals in a row, I was ready for a new challenge. Skating was always something I loved doing, and I returned to it again and again throughout my life for fun and cross-training. During some downtime at home, I found myself watching skate videos online and getting inspired. Competing in Argentina was really fun. On skis, I’m usually expected to win. It was cool and very motivating to be on the other side of that coin.” 

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Photo Credit: Robin Gillon

The Path to Mastery

We asked Nick “how do you go from not knowing how to do a backflip in the halfpipe to knowing how to do a backflip in the halfpipe?” Here’s what he had to say about the path to mastery:

Step One: Backward somersaults. (Try, fail, and repeat until you reach a comfortable level of success.)  

Step Two: Back tucks in a pool. (Try, fail, and repeat until you reach a comfortable level of success.)  

Step Three: Backflip off the edge of a pool into the water. (Try, fail, and repeat until you reach a comfortable level of success.)   

Step Four: Backflip and land on your feet, wearing shoes. (Try, fail, and repeat until you reach a comfortable level of success.)  

Step Five: Backflip and land in a foam pit, wearing skates. (Try, fail, and repeat until you reach a comfortable level of success.)   

Step Six: Backflip and land on your feet, wearing skates. (Try, fail, and repeat until you reach a comfortable level of success.) 

How to Crash

Perhaps you noticed that the word “fail” is in every step along Nick’s path to backflip mastery. It’s there for a reason. Because even for an Olympian, failure is still a huge part of the path to mastering new things. Like most athletic endeavors, action sports are all about getting your reps in, and learning what you can from each one. Every time you try something — whether you land it or not — you receive data about how to do that thing better next time. Landing a trick 50% of the time is a significant milestone on the path to landing that trick 99% of the time. 

Thinking back on lessons he’s learned from sports psychologists over the years, Nick explains that a huge key to mastering anything is to focus not on individual attempts, but on the bigger picture. The full path. Visualizing the learning curve in its entirety can take your mind out of the fear, pain, or frustration that you may have in any particular moment, and instead help you focus on the end result. You tell yourself “I might not land this exact try, but I will land one of them.” This takes the pressure off your present while remaining committed to your goals.

“You never want to eliminate failure as a possibility. I think of failure as a skill in and of itself. One of the most valuable skills in action sports is knowing how to crash. Landing on your butt or your back, for example, is way better than landing with an arm outstretched. Before I try a new trick, I try to calculate possible crashes, to make sure that if it does go wrong, I can crash in a way that will keep me safe.” 

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No Risk, No Reward

It’s a simple formula: hard endeavors are worthy ones. Those nerves we feel at the top of the halfpipe are part of the thrill and the accomplishment that comes with dropping in. When reflecting on his endeavors and accomplishments, Nick can’t help but mention the people he’s connected with along the way.

“My favorite thing about having multiple pursuits is that they come with multiple communities. The skiing community is different than the off-roading community or the snowmobiling community and the inline skating community. Each of these social groups shares its own little culture with unique values and a shared language. I love being able to assimilate and have friends in all these different groups. It’s very fun.”

Safely reaching the ski hill, the skate park, the trailhead, or the campsite, Nick fuels his sense of adventure and meets his favorite communities where they are in his GMC Sierra 1500 outfitted with BFGoodrich® Tires All-Terrain T/A® KO2 tires

“I’ve run KO2s for years now, and it’s the only tire I need for anything. It's kind of like myself. I am always ready for a variety of challenges and conditions. My vehicle and my tires are the exact same way. I don't need anything else.”

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The Try Life

Pros like Nick make it look easy, but it’s not. In all honesty, trying something for the first time isn’t fun. Not being good yet isn’t fun either. But the discomfort of those moments — the nerves, the uncertainty, and the self-doubt — is nothing compared to a life spent wondering ‘what if?’ 

If you’re on the fence about diving into the deep end, consider this your sign to plug your nose and go for it. Life on the edge is preferable to one spent unchallenged. Or worse, bored. Even for Nick, trying new things isn’t always a walk in the park. It’s not a hobby or a career, per se. It’s a way of life. 

“Pushing yourself and mastering new things is the best way to live life. In the end, whether you stuck the landing on the first try is irrelevant. What matters is that you went for it. Because when you stand at the edge and drop into the unknown, you bring home the biggest trophy of all — an experience of a lifetime.” 

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