Clint Ewing started riding off-road motorcycles while in the 3rd grade at Cold Spring School, so by the time he bought his first street bike in college, he was left wondering, “What’s all the hype? This is really boring.” So he did what anyone with his background might do. “I started riding it like a dirt bike,” said Ewing, and his life has never been the same since.
A decade later, the 32-year-old Montecito native is one of the world’s top street bike freestylers, those two-wheeled acrobats who bust wheelies on back and front tires, surf their saddles, stop on literal dimes, spin in ungodly ways, and otherwise dance with motorcycles using a mix of creativity, precision, and complicated technical mastery of their machines. Paid by sponsors and event promoters, Ewing takes his performance all around the globe to about 20 automotive and extreme-sports gatherings every year, so far hitting more than 30 American states as well as Canada, Mexico, and Guam. “I didn’t ever think that I’d be doing this as a job,” said Ewing in between practice sessions at a parking lot in Goleta. “All my friends go, ‘What a crazy career!’”
Crazier still — and not even entirely related to his normal bag of tricks — is Ewing’s upcoming feat: to reclaim a Guinness Book-recognized world record that he first set in in 2008 by riding his motorcycle through a 200-foot-long tunnel of fire in front of NBC’s television cameras. This coming Wednesday, August 7, at the 73rd annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, Ewing will be blasting through a tunnel more than 350 feet long, and expects the heat to soar upward of 1,600 degrees. “The tunnel creates its own environment — it’s essentially just a furnace,” said Ewing, who must keep his speed lower than 25 mph and expects the ride to take about seven seconds. “It’s like a bronco ride,” said Ewing, who said that his skin will feel the burn even after he takes his suit off and gets covered in wet blankets. “I don’t know how I got roped into doing this again.”
To prepare, Ewing has cut down the number of events he’s doing in 2013 and trains every day, either running for exercise or practicing on his bike more than two hours every other weekday and as much as five hours a day on the weekends. Though it’s certainly more exciting than the desk job he once held at Network Hardware Resale in Goleta, Ewing’s routine is still regimented and strict, as he doesn’t have much time for partying, friends, or dating. Keeping his sponsors happy is another constant challenge. “I feel like I have six or seven girlfriends a year,” he said of the companies that support him. “They’re all your bosses.”
Those outside of the motorcycling world may be confused as to how Ewing’s performances might pay the bills, but he expects more of the mainstream to start recognizing street bike freestyling in the years to come. “It’s just like when skateboarding started,” he explained. “Morotcycle culture is big. You don’t really know it until you start going to these events.” More than 650,000 bikers are expected at Sturgis, for instance, a town that only has 3,500 permanent residents.
Though it can also be a grind, Ewing likes the traveling part of his job most, especially on those nights when he doesn’t have a performance the next day and can finally go out to have some fun. “You get to dive into the culture of that town,” said Ewing, who had a particularly raucous time in Guam. “I just enjoy my life.” And we can probably expect some more stunts in the future, too, as the humble daredevil promised, “I think it’s important to keep shooting high.”