skills vs. stunts

I just received a copy of Defect last week, and it has some amazing stuff. But I’ve started wondering where the line is between a ‘skill’ and a ‘stunt’. A ‘skill’ being that which can be mastered and a ‘stunt’ being the combination of risking a lot and getting lucky at least once.

For example, what about the huge stair rail grind in Defect with footage of several of the nasty crashes? Yeah, it’s pretty amazing, but is it really a skill? Or is it just dumb luck? Has anyone mastered such a big grind, or are people just risking maiming themselves all for show?

So, what do you think? Is there a point where you draw the line and decide that you’ll never try something? Or, is my unwillingness to risk being crippled if even only for a few months just part of my aging?

Take a look at other sports like skateboarding, snowboarding and BMX. There is no shortage of kids (and adults) willing to risk breaking themselves in order to land tricks on huge rails. The only limit seems to be the size of available rails.

I expect that as unicycling progresses as a sport, the size of rails used for tricks is going to keep increasing.

I agree with the ape. Every extreme sport relies on people falling, getting up, and trying again

it’s skills and of course guts… but guts alone wont get you far…

That doesn’t sound like too bad a definition. Surely if someone were to try to nail it down in detail there would be quite a bit of overlap.

In the competition event we call Standard Skill, the skills are the “tricks” you do to earn your points (or not lose them, the way the scoring works). So in that definition, tricks and skills are one. I suppose the harder skills could be called stunts, though they each are supposed to be fairly well understood, and have “standardized” point values.

Skill can also be defined as a quantity of knowledge or ability. I have the skill, supposedly, to glide down a very steep hill. But I choose not to attempt the “stunt” of trying to make it to the bottom.

To me a stunt is perhaps something one attempts to do, but does not have a sure outcome. This can apply to trying a difficult trick, or to a public relations thing like a “publicity stunt” that may or may not generate the appropriate amount of positive press or sales.

Depending on your existing skill or experience level, some things should not qualify as stunts. For example, for me to walk the wheel is ho hum. I’ve been doing it occasionally for 25 years. But if someone who learned to ride yesterday tries to walk the wheel, that’s a stunt.

Good question. Certainly it’s a skill to make it down, and less of a skill to make it halfway down, and even less of a skill to mess up at the top. But if someone like Ryan Atkins has practiced on the same staircase for months and can do it 9 times out of 10, I don’t call it a stunt anymore. For him. If I tried it, it would be a stupid stunt.

For me, I decide on a case-by-case basis. On some rides I’ll try lots of things, but on other rides, like Saturday’s ride at Wilder (which we both did), I’ll try a lot less. Then because I wasn’t wearing knee protection, among other things.

(Okay, explanation of why: I have some poison oak that’s just healing on my knee. Friction from kneepads is the last thing I need, especially since that’s where I apparently picked up the poison oak in the first place, so bare knees and a more conservative ride.)

According to your avatar area you are 30, which means you just crossed the line. You are now officially aging, and being “chicken” is a sign that you don’t have brain damage. Be proud! Expecially since you don’t look anywhere near 30. I thought you were around 20 or so. People over 30 will tend to agree with that, probably in a curve to match their age, while younger people may not. :slight_smile:

I just added my age today. I figured I should because, based on appearance, people usually judge me as younger. In fact I was carded for beer on my 30th birthday. :roll_eyes:

I guess what I was getting at with my post is that it seems that other “extreme” sports are often portrayed as being very one-dimensional in that the greats are all pursuing the next elusive and very risky stunt to dazzle their audiences–I’m thinking of motocross backflips and the like. This makes the sport almost a contradiction. I mean, people spend all their time and energy trying to excel, and then they end up crippled and unable to continue doing what they loved in the first place.

However, at least with unicycling, there is so much more to the sport than looking for ways to seriously injure yourself. There are great unicyclists that will never even do a 1 foot drop.

Agreed. But the same is true for mountain biking, for instance. Only the top teensy percentage of mountain bikers are the ones we see on TV, whether it be doing BMX Freestyle, Trials, downhill racing or whatever. But those guys are usually the most interesting to watch. This is why Dan Heaton’s videos tend toward more Trials and Street riding than plain old group MUni rides.

For me, I think the difference between freestyle and street is freestyle being ‘skills’ and street being ‘tricks’. (or stunts)

There definitely is a difference, as was pointed out, between skills, which you can do somewhat consistently, and “stunts,” or getting lucky. However, if you pull off a really hard stunt, that’s an indication that your skills are at a relatively high level. For instance, a couple weeks ago, I was riding freestyle. I tried backward seat drag with the seat in front, and I went ten cycles of the wheel, then without thinking about it, picked up the seat and rode out of it. I hadn’t tried to pick up the seat from backward seat drag more than three or four times before, and not since a couple weeks previously. Since then, I haven’t managed more than eight cycles of backward seat drag, and I haven’t come close to picking up the seat. However, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to pull off the stunt had I not practiced backward seat drag, and the pick up from forward seat drag quite a lot.

in evry extreme sport, there is always that goal, to achieve the un-achievable, for example the big grind rail u are talking about !!

prior to him doing it, heaps of ppl would hav thought " no thats crazy and impossible", well he has been determined enuff to show up wat others have sed and in turn, show that it IS possible, with a little bit of determination…

its all about state of mind, mind over matter, if u just go for it and tell urself that u can do it, u just might do it, and most likely u will!!

It’s all a matter of perception. I’m sure if George Peck saw the muni that was going on today he would consider it a “Stunt”, but that is how unicycling has progressed. Someone does something others think is impossible, then before you know it, heaps of people are doing it (only now it is called a skill- not a stunt).


  1. Proficiency, facility, or dexterity that is acquired or developed through training or experience. See Synonyms at ability.
  2. a. An art, trade, or technique, particularly one requiring use of the hands or body.
    b. A developed talent or ability: writing skills.


  1. A feat displaying unusual strength, skill, or daring.
  2. Something done to attract attention or publicity.

7. A difficult, dexterous, or clever act designed to amuse.

I think with those definitions of “Skills” and “Stunts” it can be safe to say that most of the amazing tricks pulled off by some unicyclists are definately stunts, but are skills, but I think that defining them as stunts cheapens what they really are, that most tricks are something someone has worked hours to pull off.
Anyway, whatever they’re called, they’re amazing.

I’m probably one of the riders you were talking about the “stunt versus skill” in Defect. In my opinion, you would be relating that to most street riders. I think that everything we do is skill. I mean it takes skill to do a 360, it also takes skill to hop a 6 set. You wouldnt be able to do a 360 down a 6 set without both skills. So I guess the “stunts” you are talking about are kind of a mixture between skills. Also, when grinding rails, theres a lot that happens. You have to get used to the run-up, the height of the rail, the length of the rail, and the speed at which youre going to be sliding, and then the landing. In saying that, every handrail out there is different. Grinding a big handrail isn’t going to be achieved every time you try it. The idea of trying a trick 10 times isn’t to try to get lucky, its to get used to the conditions in which you are riding. Part of the skill of street riding is being able to do this. I bet if you got Mike to try that rail right after he landed it, he would land it again, because he knew how to do it. Thats just a guess. Anyways, I guess that’s what I have to say. And also, you wouldn’t be able to take absolutely any rider and have imj jump on a 16 set rail and have him land it potentially before Mike simply because of the laws of probability or landing a “stunt”. There is certainly skill involved. There ya go!

Kevin McMullin