Nitro Circus is the #1 action sports company in the world, hosting events that push the limits of BMX, FMX, skateboarding, and scooter stunts. A self-proclaimed crew of enthusiasts in search of the biggest, baddest, and craziest stunts, the “action sports collective” produces competitions, television programming, documentaries, and a live tour.
One member of this collective is Billy Van Vugt. A tool and die welder by trade, Van Vugt works as a logistics and assets manager, where he oversees tour preparations. This includes loading bikes, ramps, set pieces, and any other show assets from the warehouse onto trucks and shipping containers, which are then sent to tour destinations all over the world.
“Going to work every day sometimes doesn’t feel like work,” says Van Vugt. “I get to use all the skills and trades I’ve learned over the years while still enjoying being part of the sport and entertainment that I grew up doing.”
Van Vugt has always had an interest in tools and mechanics, so after high school, he would attend college to study mechanical engineering while also racing motocross in his free time.
“Being a former athlete has helped me greatly in communicating with the athletes on tour,” Van Vugt says. “Sometimes things need to be modified or tweaked just so the guys feel more comfortable entering the ramps. If they feel more comfortable, then that’s when you get the best show.”
Ricky Melnik serves as Nitro Circus’s director of brand and athlete marketing. “Basically, my role is to integrate the athletes into the marketing through photography, through video content,” says Melnik.
Despite his current position, Melnik didn’t start out in marketing or by studying advertising. Rather, his career began with him working in skate and snowboard retail shops. “Today, having the brand manager title, it’s incredible because I’m working with every facet of the business, whether it be through colors, whether that be through fonts, whether that be through the messaging, the taglines, contraptions in the live show, digital content we’re trying to produce now”.
Melnik explains that the proliferation of digital content has given him the opportunity to bring on and work with creative directors and athlete managers. Together, they are focusing on character and story development that will inform marketing campaigns, excite the fanbase, and hopefully grow their audience.
“It’s gratifying to know that everything you’re touching relates back to twisting the throttle,” says Melnik.
Part of this development process involves coming up with new ideas for contraptions to jump during the live shows. “Ricky had this idea [to jump] a Volkswagen bus,” Van Vugt recounts. “I thought it was going to be too heavy, too big, and, frankly, dangerous.”
This is where the rubber meets the road, or, more precisely, imagination meets practicality. To send a new contraption down a 50-foot tall ramp that accelerates objects to about 40 mph before launching them 40-50 feet into the air, Melnik and Van Vugt had to put their heads together to ensure the safety of all involved.
“A VW bus is not the most aerodynamic contraption,” says Van Vugt. “But after we sat down and put pen to paper, we came up with something we thought just might work.”
“They have a saying at Nitro Circus: ‘anything flies,’” says Melnik. “So lo and behold, we made it fly.” The miniaturized VW bus that Van Vugt designed for the show ultimately became a fan – and athlete – favorite.
“To have a career that aligns itself so closely with a passion is unheard of,” says Melnik, “but at the same time is not unattainable.” And when it comes to actually attaining it, Melnik has a few words of encouragement: “Work your ass off – and you will get there.”