Ten minutes with Nicholi Rogatkin
Hours before his Slopestyle win at Crankworx Innsbruck, we sat down with Nicholi Rogatkin. Slopestyle practice had just ended, and the Crankworx Rotorua champ had just finished removing the five layers of protective gear he wears as he battles physics and pushes the realm of possible.
You can choose to like him or not — and that most likely does not bother him either way. Nicholi is doing his own thing. And he’s incredibly good at it. While that does not require your admiration, it most definitely demands your respect.
SRAM: What’s your name? How old are you? Where’s home?
Nicholi Rogatkin. Twenty years old. From Boston, Massachusetts. I was born and raised in Boston, but I have Russian blood, as both of my parents grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia. And then they moved to America, and I was born in Boston.
Yeah, my first language was Russian, so I feel like I had a kind of Russian upbringing — but in America. And then fully Americanized through American schools, so…full lifetime of growing up in Boston, but Russian blood, so….
SRAM: If you’re 20, that means they came over after the fall of the Soviet Union….
Yeah. Basically, as it was getting bad, they came over. Yeah, it was just too bad over there, and they had the chance to make a life in the United States, so, that’s what happened.
SRAM: Do you guys speak Russian at home?
Yeah, it’s pretty difficult because my brother and I go to American school, so a lot of our jokes, a lot of our humor is…everything is in English. But our parents, they do speak English, but they prefer Russian. And the get kind of hurt if they talk to us in Russian and we respond in English. Because we fully understand. But they know it’s a pretty important skill to retain — two languages. With me and my brother being fully Americanized, there’s a lot of English happening.
SRAM: Living in Boston, what was your program? Did you play traditional American sports? Did you just ride your bike?
I had my go at some American sports like basketball, a lot of hockey. But, fortunately for me, I got on a bike at an early age — I was actually five — and my neighbor showed me some dirt jumps that were right near my house. And, I don’t know, at five years old, it just captured me straight away, and my dad was cool enough to get both of us BMX bikes and start riding. Basically, I guess he noticed that I had a drive for biking and a talent straight away. So, he pushed that as opposed to pushing me into American sports. I think I was a bit of an athletic kid, but I was most talented through biking. My dad pushed that. He rode with me but, a couple years in, he said I’d charged too far forward, so he let me go.
BMX was fully my upbringing. I mean, in Boston — at least back then — there was a pretty big BMX scene, a lot of different skate parks around. Yeah, BMX was the thing to do.
It’s crazy to think that a guy like Ryan Nyquist, who I am competing with nowadays, was one of my biggest inspirations back in the day. Him and Dave Mirra were huge inspirations to me growing up as a BMX rider. So…big BMX background for me.
SRAM: Hence, you don’t rock a visor on the helmet.
Yeah, I mean, the legends of the sport in BMX didn’t wear visors. I mean Mirra, [Jamie] Bestwick…I never even started with a visor in the first place. So yeah, it was quite a shock to me coming into the mountain bike world and, like, squid lid with no visor — it was such a surprise to me.
SRAM: Shock to you? It was a shock to us.
Yeah, I guess. I guess it goes both ways. So yeah, I decided I was going to stick to myself, stick to what I was used to, and keep that image — no visor.
You exude a lot of that personality that suggests a sort of “no #&$^% given” — that you are your own person. Where do you get that? Does it come from your parents or is that just straight up yourself?
Biking is freestyle. Everyone has their own ways to go about it, but what I’ve noticed is that all of those influential guys just stick to their own. You don’t try to follow a pattern. You don’t try to do a certain trick just because someone else is doing it. You don’t ride a bike or wear a certain thing just because someone else is doing it. You’ve gotta stick to what you feel and what drives you.
For me, I stuck to my big tricks as opposed to maybe spending some more time on some style, some technicality. I just want to charge forward, do big tricks. If no visor helps me out, I’ll go function over fashion, you know? Staying true to yourself and your own personality is quite key….
SRAM: What’s next for Nicholi Rogatkin?
Honestly, when someone asks, “What’s next?” I just think about how much I’m really living in the moment and enjoying life. Because, I mean, ever since I got on a BMX bike at five years old it almost seemed like an unrealistic dream to live life as a professional bike rider. Whenever you’re pissed off or something, you realize that you’ve made that childhood dream a reality. I’m definitely trying to live in the moment.
SRAM: Which your favorite Crankworx event?
Whistler. Everyone says it, but I can’t say anything else. I mean, as much as I loved Rotorua — as emotional as Rotorua was for me, you know, two 2nd places, and then winning it for Kelly [McGarry] on my last attempt on his course…really emotional for me… [It was] really one that I loved.
But Whistler [is] for me — and I’m sure a lot of the guys go by this — the event that inspired us to pursue being at the highest level of the sport.
I was invited to ride Best Trick at Whistler in 2013. And I rode best trick, and was able to get up on the podium, but I watched the slopestyle on Saturday, and I was seriously, seriously inspired. The crowd, the riding level, the course — everything was just like…I need to pursue this because this is the sickest thing I’ve ever witnessed, and I just want to be part of it.
I think for myself, and a lot of the other guys, it is just an inspiring event and we look forward to it. And to this day, we look forward to it. It’s nerve racking as ever. Dropping into there, you know, you never experience butterflies like that, but it’s one that you look forward to, and that we’ll remember for our entire lives.