I have a simple test when it comes to identifying weird sports. If looks like a weird sport and acts like a weird sport, then it is a weird sport. Especially if it has pyrotechnics and lasers.
That is exactly what I discovered when I stumbled upon the Nuclear Cowboyz, a post-apocalyptic motocross heavy metal opera with fiery explosions and go-go dancers. On the surface, Nuclear Cowboyz is a freestyle motocross stunt show, Evel Knievel for the modern age. But in reality, it is way more than that. For one, I don’t remember Evel Knievel having go-go dancers. Do you?
There’s also a plot. Yes, I know, but it’s true. It’s a scripted motocross soap opera where good must overcome evil. With go-go dancers.
There are two tribes of cowboyz, Soldiers of Havoc and Metal Mulisha. They wage epic battles in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles in 2150. Think Mad Max meets On Any Sunday. The plot, such as it is, via their website:
“The tale unfolds as the two tribes’ survival is threatened and besieged by an evil force, The Tempest and her electrifying Cyborg Army. Catapulted into the heart pounding fury and frenzied excitement are the sizzling Nuclear Cowgirlz, whose allegiance to their tribes only intensifies the Tempest’s rage to destroy the Nuclear Cowboyz. The Soldiers of Havoc and the Metal Mulisha’s battle is fought through fearless freestyle gravity defying stunts, combined with outrageous pyrotechnic and laser displays synchronized to heavy metal, rock alternative and electronic dubstep music.”
Most weird sports I photograph feature modest production budgets and take place in a parking lot or bar, like unicycle football or pudding wrestling. Nuclear Cowboyz, though, barrels into sports arenas with truckloads of gear. Sound equipment. Jumps. Ramps. Lights. Lasers. Fireworks. And did I mention the go-go dancers? I caught them at Portland’s Rose Garden during their 2012 world tour — seriously — and couldn’t stop laughing.
Why? Because it’s just so unbelievably over the top. A booming voice from the future guides the audience through a plot cheesier than ballpark nachos. The plot is almost beside the point; the only thing anyone’s interested in is the stage performance. How could you not be, what with sizzling Cowgirlz dodging fire and explosions as they’re rescued by badass bikers, some of whom are literally set on fire before riding into the arena.
“It looks kind of like a battlefield when we’re out there riding,” said hometown cowboy Beau Bamburg. “You kind of forget about it, honestly. You’re pretty much focused just on landing safely.”
What kind of tricks did they do? Great question. Lots of the hesher gymnastic stunts that involve dangling beneath, or above, a soaring motorbike. (Look, ma. No hands.) There also are some flips and assorted gymnastics I can’t even begin to describe. The skill of the riders is undeniable. And given the flames, explosions, lasers and go-go dancers, the stunts were the only thing that looked relatively normal.
There was a healthy turnout of wide-eyed families in the stands, devouring Nuclear Cowboyz-branded cotton candy and watching with wonder as the surreal scene unfolded before them. It made watching a real motocross race seem unimaginable. What’s the point, when you’ve seen guys on fire do backflips over laser-illuminated go-go dancers.
So I want to thank the Nuclear Cowboyz for raising the bar, then soaring over it while on fire. Move over, Mayans. The next apocalypse happens this weekend in Mexico City.