01 Apr Showtime: Performing for Coke
In May 2012, Team Sanjuu was contracted for Coca Cola’s Thums Up Toofani Zone Tour, India’s first and largest multifaceted action event. The trip was all expenses paid, and the pay wasn’t bad. What sold me? One month touring the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and the chance to visit the holy city of Varanasi and the ruins of Sarnath; one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in human existence and home of Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha. We would fly into New Delhi and from there venture onto Ghaziabad, Allahabad, Varanasi and Kanpur. The best part? I had accepted the job prior to establishing a line-up for the project as I figured it would be no problem with a team of 30 members.
Funny thing was, it was hard. Everyone was either busy with work or school, and the pay was too low to take a month off. Finally, my teammates Nick Maurer and Chris Stevenson signed on, but we were still short one person, and with nobody else from Sanjuu able to fill the spot, I posted a public casting call. A bunch of potential candidates, but everyone fell through until I heard from my good friend Elet who was able to get his visa just in time. And that was it, we were off to India for a month to have what would be one of the most rewarding and interesting experiences of our lives.
We performed 6 days a week: 5 street performance days and one major performance every Sunday in the blistering heat. Every Monday was a dedicated travel day. The main performances were composed of parkour, bmx, dancers, a laser light show and one of India’s biggest rock bands for crowds of 20,000 plus.
And each performance ended with us sitting for hours signing autographs and taking photos with people who had no idea who we were, but knew us as “parkour action stars.”
I have been in the performance scene a long time, and I’ve seen a fair share of fuck ups, but I have never seen anyone get more wrecked in real life than pro bmx rider Spencer Bass. Sure, you watch people fall brutally hard on the internet all the time, but when do you see someone do a gainer triple whip, undershoot, have the bike fishtail out and land only on their face during a performance in front of thousands of people? This is what happened during one of our shows, and it got so much negative media attention that they were potentially asking us to cancel the tour and leave India.
Like any strong willed athlete and human, Spencer pulled his face from the wreckage and did it again (successfully) at another show. Such a boss.
Our equipment and setup were the sketchiest ever. One ramp and one box broke underneath of us. Some rusty nails went through Chris. One ramp caught fire and exploded as a BMX rider went over it due to the propane tanks conveniently placed below. And if I remember correctly, Nick also almost exploded with it. Thank you, Mike Mancuso!
We were also skimped out of $16,000, as Coca Cola had a $25,000 budget to pay for parkour athletes but because Mike Mancuso, “didn’t know the rate to pay parkour athletes,” he took more than a 50% cut, as we were told by our supervisors in India, as well as the Coke man himself. So thanks again for the highest standard of professionalism, Mike!
During one of the street performances, we made our way to this pretty cool spot composed of walls, ledges, and railings. After only a few moments we were interrupted by the sounds of yelling and automatic assault rifles being pointed at our heads. A group of officers had surrounded us, as it turned out we had been jumping on a heavily guarded bank and they thought we planned on robbing the joint. Fortunately for our faces and lives, the situation was quickly diffused by our management.
I think one of the most memorable was our performance in Varanasi, where the crowd was so wild that they threw large chucks of rock at us in order to get your attention for photos, hugs, and kisses. That was during the performance, not after. The unbelievably hot and dusty atmosphere also created a very difficult performing environment where breathing and seeing capabilities were minimal. Ontop of that, Nick and I were still severely sick, which made for quite an interesting experience.
I think the most important aspect of the tour was that it gave us a chance to connect with the people we felt needed that connection and inspiration the most.
Coca Cola was great. Our management was great. All the beautiful places we saw and the people we met and experienced with were great.
Fuck you, Mike Mancuso. Fuck getting sick. Fuck getting fucked over. Fuck life. Fuck everything!
Special thanks to Coca-Cola and Red Knot Marketing for making this beautiful experience a reality. Want us back? We’re totally in.