Tom Parsons is a man of many talents, and riding a dirt bike really well happens to be one of them. "Tom P", as most call him, is the kind of person who likes to master his craft in whatever he sets his mind out to. For proof go take a look at his travel/lifestyle photography throughout his Instagram – it's nothing short of impressive for a guy who spends most of his time going upside down on his dirt bike for fun. This type of personality is what has led to his success, and most don't know how this ex-racer became an X Games winning best-whip competitor and freeriding connoisseur. We recently sat down after a session in the hills to go over his story for those that don't know him. Grab some coffee and get to know how Tom Parsons earned his keep.
Break down for the readers what the life of Tom P. is like. You're in California now, but you're from Florida. You kind of migrate across the country once a year, right?
For the past three of four winters I've come out, lived at the Grindstone Compound in my little trailer, yea. Basically I have to drive all my stuff out for the Monster Energy Cup to do that competition, and from that point on is when the hills start getting rain and all that good stuff, and freeriding starts happening. So I come from Monster Cup to California and just stay here as long as I can.
Talk about Grindstone a little bit, they are right in the heart of SoCal moto.
Yeah, Grindstone' spot is in Wildomar – pretty close to the Lake Elsinore track. Kids come and stay here, and they pretty much provide them meals, work out at the W Training Facility, and they take the kids to the tracks and all that. I've been staying here every year since it's opened, and sometimes I go out and ride with the kids if I go to the track, or some days Cari and the crew wants to come out to the hills or something. That's it really; I mosey in and out and live my little 17-foot trailer.
I believe what you’re doing is called living the dream, Tom.
Yeah! I have about four things here I can make to eat…
Let's list them off for the readers.
Well…I mean I've got breakfast, I've always got breakfast. I have a solid amount of bagels, peanut butter, and coffee. I always have a few boxes of cereal here just in case. I've also got Top Ramen, Cup O' Noodles, and protein shakes.
What's the cereal of choice for an X Games gold medalist?
You know it depends. Right now I have two – I've got Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which is kind of like Trix in a way. Then I have the Star Wars, which is the special edition. I actually don't even know what it is yet, but it has marshmallows in it and that's delicious. [Laughs]
Maybe that's the secret that these kids don't know about, just eating this kind of cereal!
That's what it is! They just don't know. I've been eating cereal my whole life, lots of it.
Ok people probably want to read about actual dirt bike stuff. Take us through the path of being a local Florida guy to being a top-level whip sender. You recently won the Monster Energy Cup biggest whip contest for the second time.
Yeah, well the interesting thing that people don't know is that I was actually born in California – right over in Mission Viejo. I lived here until I was in fifth grade and I didn't ride a dirt bike. I had a four-wheeler, which was pretty cool. [Laughs] Then when I moved to Florida and a few months in I got a dirt bike and started racing. The whip though, I've always known how to whip. Even when I was in B class, I could throw decent whips for some reason. I used to watch best whip at X Games and thought it would be pretty sweet to do stuff like that but at the time I was racing Supercross doing that Supercross life – making that minimum wage. I got hurt a couple times, and basically once I got hurt I had some nerve issues with my throttle hand and it took me a couple years before I could ride again. I did like six or eight months of therapy to get it moving again, and started riding and racing again in Supercross. I did that for a few years, and it was super random – I was basically looking for something else to do where I could make money and still ride my dirt bike. I actually started doing some freestyle, and then randomly out here in California in 2011 hooked back up with Ronnie Renner who I knew in Florida where we used to race. He took me to the Dunes for the first time and I joined him on his freeriding tour and that was kind of like the thing that set me off on freeriding. So freeriding came first, but obviously I would still throw whips. So once I started doing that and then doing a little freestyle where I was hitting ramps I started doing more and more shows and learning more whips. I learned turn down whips, and at that point I was thinking, "Damn, I think I could potentially do a best whip contest."
And from there what did it take?
Then I got three years of "No, you're not good enough. You suck." [Laughs] from the middleman that kind of takes the riders to X Games. I kept getting, "no, no no" and I was thinking that I would never get into a whip contest. The third year of X Games best whip I found out there was the Dirt Shark Biggest Whip Contest that year, and I actually didn't get invited to that either. [Laughs] All the invites came out, and I wasn't on that either and I was like, "Damn, that's rough. I will never be in a whip contest!" And then literally two weeks before, the only reason I got in was my buddy Adam Jones who said something to Monster telling them they really should have me in it. So I ended up being one of the last invites in.
And you won it, right?
Yeah, then I won it. That kind of changed it all, you know?
It definitely put you on the map.
Yeah, I was starting to do some free riding on Renner's tour where people would see me, but nobody had ever seen me compete or anything.
So fast-forward to the next X Games. That was your ticket into that contest, right?
Yeah, so basically they were like "Well he won the Monster Cup Whip Contest with all the same dudes, so we pretty much have to invite him to X Games."
And then that year at X Games was another insane story. Tell us about that one…
So I won Monster Cup and that was a big deal and I was feeling really good and I was also filming for Moto 6 at the time, and I was just out at Perris doing some motos and I caught my foot in the mud off of a jump and just snapped my leg. It was the weirdest thing, I ride moto all the time and I've never had my foot stick in the ground like that. It was such a freak thing. At the time X Games invites weren't even out yet, and I broke my leg and found out it was super jacked and got it fixed. Around the same time the invites came out, and I finally had one. So at that point there was no telling whether I would be able to ride. It was a few months out so I was hoping it would be fine, but I had some issues with this one piece of bone that broke off. The doctors didn't fully fix it correctly to promote really fast healing. They basically put the rod in and said, "Yeah, you'll be able to walk in about three weeks." So I waited and waited, and a week or two before X Games I went into the doctor and he told me that it was about 60% healed, and it wasn't healing very well. He said depending on what happened in the next few months it might be another surgery with bone grafts and all that crap. So I was like "Well, what the hell do I do?" [Laughs] I finally made it into X Games for the first time, and it was a big bummer. I basically just said to myself that the week before I would hit a ramp and feel it out to see what I could do. If I could ride, I go. And if I cant, I'll stay home. So that's basically what I did I waited like three or four days before best whip and set up a ramp at WW Ranch in Florida with a big landing with sand and all that. I jumped that for 20 minutes the first day and I was like "Ok, I can seat bounce." And then came back the next day and did it again for 20 minutes. I could only seat bounce, which was the only thing – I couldn't take the weight on that leg taking off. That's something people probably don't know. I only seat bounced that day. The benefit though is that's my best whip. I just threw regular whips, my good way and my opposite way, and that was it! I ended up winning; I don't really know what happened. [Laughs]
So you went to X Games and won it kind of out of nowhere!
Yep, the doctors ended up clearing me to ride. Yeah, it's crazy that I actually won the twitter vote. That's pretty wild that even happened. It would have been a pretty crappy year if that didn't happen! Nothing really came easy. I didn't have like a set path; no one was really helping me get into events and stuff like that. So it was kind of crazy that it all even happened.
I have to ask, do you wear your X Games gold medal around as a belt buckle to show everyone any chance you get? That’s what I would do.
[Laughs] I don't…I don't It's on my wall. The funny thing about that though, the year I won the medal is actually a Texas belt buckle.
That's sick! I would be wearing that right now with my shirt tucked into it.
That will be like after, like when I retire I'll wear it. [Laughs] But that's funny you say that because it's a legit belt buckle. I'm pretty pumped that when I got it they did that though; it's a total Texas thing.
So if the Monster Cup Biggest Whip didn't already, that X Games gold solidified your spot in the whip-world. Next was the second year or Monster Cup Dirt Shark Biggest Whip.
Yeah I did terrible that year, that one was a weird one. I didn't think I was going to be able to win anyway, coming back from being hurt and having hardly ridden. That was also the year of the weird dirt triple set up.
But you redeemed yourself this year, once again winning the Biggest Whip part of the 2017 FMX High Rollers Contest.
Yeah, I mean I was looking forward to that one. It was one of those things where I went and I felt really good. I had been practicing, and had a couple of big changes. I switched to KTM; I switched gear companies and started riding for Canvas. I felt good.
So switching gears, we recently went out to the hills. Describe it to the people that haven't been, a lot of spots you have to do a little trespassing to get to.
Yeah, it's hit or miss but you're definitely riding at your own risk. I mean, if you're worried about getting in trouble or nervous of riding in spots where it's illegal you can go to spots like Ocotillo Wells, Glamis, Dumont, maybe Bakersfield. There are tons of open riding areas that are legal, and I should probably recommend them to the reader. [Laughs] If you do decide to go somewhere, like Beaumont for example, be mindful of the place and have respect. It's pretty easy to tell, obviously people have there jumps out there – especially out in Reche Canyon where the Nonamers guys are, but if you see a brand new jump you should probably not jump that one! [Laughs] So if it looks like it's brand new, don't hit it. If it's all rutted out, go for it and then fix it up and leave it better than you came. It's a respect thing in the hills.
How is the freeride scene right now? Do you think it's still going strong?
I think it's still there; the thing is now you don't see factory guys going out. You used to see McGrath and Hughes and all those dudes out at Beaumont and Glamis so more people would see it. I just think a lot of people don't know how big the freeriding scene really is. Like the weekend warriors, the people who go out to Glamis and all that – there's a huge market there. I think the whole moto industry is very race-driven, and racing is kind of everything. I don't think they realize how many weekend warriors are out there. Like you'll go out to Beaumont after a rain and you'll see like a couple hundred people out there some days. It's alive and well. Holiday weekends out in Ocotillo or Caineville you're talking thousands of people. Every skill level too, you don't have to be pro to be out there. It's pretty big, and I think it's a cool community. They are just having fun, and they were given this place and they are taking advantage of it.
That's what it's all about. Who do you thank along the way?
There are obviously a bunch of sponsors that have helped me out for years. 100%, EVS, Canvas, HLTN have all been really good to me. Having the Grindstone Compound to live at is a huge deal; the arrangement I have with them to stay out here makes it way easier to be out here. I'm also always open to sponsors, wink-wink. [Laughs]
Follow Tom on Instagram: @tomparsons930