Break on through

Break on through.

Axel Pons became a world champion motorcycle racer at the age of nineteen – the same year he started studying at La Salle Barcelona. Now, 25, Pons has earned his degree in Business Engineering, moved up in the ranks, suffered countless broken bones, and in turn, proven his dedication to the sport. Following in his father’s footsteps and fueled by a passion for adrenaline, Pons has already made a name for himself in the arena of extreme sports. Now, he has taken on a new role as a model, mastering the art of multitasking. Words by Devin Barrett.


How did you get into racing? I’ve been riding bikes since I was five years-old, but I started racing quite late actually. I started racing when I was thirteen. Nowadays kids start racing when they are six years-old. I can’t believe kids start when they are six years-old. That’s so young! I think it’s more of the dads that put their sons into the sport. That makes sense. What was it like growing up with your dad as a world champion racer? Every weekend he would leave home to go racing, and I would sometimes going with him. All day it was about motorbikes. My ambition and my willingness to start racing started there. Do you remember your first experience on a bike? I asked for a motorbike for Christmas when I was three years-old, but they didn’t give it to me. When I was five, they did, and for me, that was a really big thing. It was one of the happiest days of my life. What did it feel like riding for the first time? It was a feeling that makes you afraid and you don’t have 100% control of the situation, but the adrenaline is like a drug – it’s addictive. What was your first experience with racing? I started racing go-karts with my dad. My dad pushed me to race go-karts because it is safer, but I prefer bikes – I prefer two wheels. I started racing motorbikes, and it was amazing. I consider myself competitive. When you first started, was it competitive? Or, did you race for fun? I raced for fun because I like riding bikes, but I really raced because I thought I could win. If I didn’t think I could win, I wouldn’t be racing. You get into racing bikes because you like riding bikes, but you continue racing because you think you can win. If not, it wouldn’t be fun anymore. Are you a competitive person? Yeah (laughs). When did you realize you wanted to pursue racing as a career? You start at a more amateur level and as you get better and continue having that willingness to race, you move to more competitive and more serious levels until you are in the World Championship. When you are in the World Championship, it is your life and you are making a living. You do it everyday and it becomes your job. The good thing is that you’re making a living out of something that you really love. It was your passion, and now it is your job too. I feel very fortunate to have the chance to live for what I love. Yeah, for sure. That’s what’s important in life. What goes through your mind right before a race? Many things. You really have to have focus on your work and your riding. At the end, your only job is to ride at your maximum level. Your mind has to be completely clear. The best way to clear your mind is to just focus on what you are doing, and that is riding. It’s the best experience you can have. How do you prepare for a race? Forty minutes before heading out to a race, I listen to music and start stretching. It’s important to be flexible and really relaxed. If you’re really light, you’ll have the mobility to flow with the bike. I listen to music, and try to get into this kind of groove. What kind of music do you listen to before a race? Lately, I’m listening to a lot of Eminem and Kendrick Lamar. Nice. Music to pump you up. How do you feel after a race? Well, it depends how the race has gone (laughs). Sometimes you cry and you fix it. Sometimes you’ve been able to push your limits in the race and feel like, ‘Man, I’ve given everything,’ and you feel fulfilled. It’s really rewarding. In Italy this past weekend I came in sixth place, and in the end I didn’t end up on the podium, but I know I gave it all I had. I just couldn’t fight for it, my bike didn’t allow for it, but I know I gave it everything and that feeling is super rewarding. What’s been your most challenging race? My most challenging race was in 2008. I broke my legs, my knee and my pelvis in a race. The most challenging thing for me was recovering from all of these injuries. Getting back into racing has been the toughest thing that I have gone through – the toughest challenge I’ve gone through. At that moment, I thought it wasn’t worth going through again. When you start recovering, you start to feel you that you want to get up and race again because it’s what you’ve been doing all of your life. When you start recovering, you want to get back on the bike. At the end, you forget all of it. You just continue pushing forward.

Right. I think when your body recovers, you also have a change of mind. You kind of remember why you were doing it. Yes. Your body recovers, but at the same time your mind is recovering. Your mind is really affected by it. I had to learn to walk again. After breaking my legs, my pelvis, my knee, it was like learning to walk again. Incredible. It was a really difficult thing to go through, and really demanding and time consuming. Right. How long was the recovery? Five months nearly. Wow. When were you back on a bike after? Six months after the accident. How many bones do you think you’ve broken? It’s impossible to count! A lot. Everytime I break a bone, I think, ‘Fuck, I’m not racing anymore.’ As I told you before, when you start recovering you just want to get back on the bike. It’s something that comes with the job. It is what it is. When you’re racing at 280 km/hr, it’s the cost you have to pay sometimes. I read that you were the only World Champion pilot to pursue a college career. In addition to racing, why did you decide to pursue college? At the beginning I wasn’t sure about doing both things, but my dad pushed me to go for it. I realized that it was really difficult to do both things at 100%. I know some students in my classes really learned more than I did, and also my competitors that I was racing against really improved faster than I did because I was doing both things. Now I have my degree and I’m very proud of that. Right. I think in the long run it’s better to have had done both. Definitely. When did you enter the World Championship? In 2009. I was 19 years-old. Wow. That’s crazy! That’s when you were in school, correct? Yeah, exactly. That was the year I entered school. It was very difficult to manage both things at the same time. Right. I can imagine. How did you get into modeling? I had a sponsor that was a clothing brand in Barcelona and I did some shoots with them. The photographer really liked me and said I should start working as a model, and quit racing because I was really good at it (laughs). I didn’t take it very seriously. He told me that he knew Sight Management, and that he could introduce me to them. I asked him if it were possible to do both things, and he said yes. What has it been like to be in front of the camera? I really like it. For some of my friends, it’s impossible to feel confident in front of the camera, but I really enjoy it. That’s why I do it. It’s something that I like, and I feel confident doing it. Definitely. I imagine for racing and modeling you have to be in really good shape. What is your workout routine like? This is something that is a bit different between my racing career and my modeling career. For modeling, maybe I would like to build up more muscle, but in racing, it is the opposite. You have to be really flexible, you have to have to do a lot of cardio to build resistance. You also have to be thin, you have to be light because the lighter you are, the faster your bike will be. You have to be lightweight, you have to be thin, you have to be flexible. It may not be the best look in modeling, but you have to find the compromise. At the end of the day, racing is my job, and modeling is extra. Do you like the speed of racing? I like the feeling, I like the adrenaline. I like the feeling when you don’t know what’s going to happen. You push it to the unknown, and this is a great feeling. Do you think you’re an adrenaline junkie? Yeah, I think everyone who races is an adrenaline junkie (laughs). Has your dad given you any advice on racing? Yes, a lot of advice. He sees himself in my brother and me because my brother also races. Sometimes he’s right, and sometimes I think, ‘Ok, this was your career, and this is my career.’ I want to try to do it my way. You have to try to find your own way, but of course you have to listen to all of the advice because he has a lot of experience. I think everyone has to find their own way to achieve what they want, and I think that I’m finding my way now. Out of all of the advice he has given you, does anything stand out? To enjoy yourself when you’re riding, to enjoy pushing it, and to never pressure yourself to a point where you’re not enjoying it. This is the most important advice. It’s easy to not enjoy it because there is a lot of pressure. If you’re not enjoying it, it’s really difficult to make it through.
Axel Pons photographed at Hotel Brummell Barcelona.