Mislav Mironović is a Croatian biking legend, but he's much more than typical MTB rider. Professional Red Bull rider, first non-Canadian in Norco Factory team, and all-around creative force, Mislav is a guy who pushes borders and makes his own path. In recent years he let his creative side prevail, so now we can see his photos, videos, art, and stop-animation.
Before anything else – Red Bull Rampage. I know you’re a fan, and that you were watching, so, what are your impressions?
Mislav: I watch Red Bull Rampage every year, and I know what to expect, but I always get surprised by the level of riding that those guys are on. I know it can all look the same every year, but it’s not. If you have your favorite rider and follow his progression, you would be able to see how every year is different. And that goes for all of them. The event itself is changing, and I am glad that they went back to the roots of Rampage - less wood, more dirt.
MTB rider, author, content creator, photographer – do you ever get into identity crisis? What fits you best, and where is your primary focus now?
Mislav: I think I might be in one right now! (laughs) When I was MTB pro, I was obsessed with riding and, because of that, everything was clear and straightforward. These days I am not obsessed with it anymore and I am trying to find that next obsession that will become my life. Until then I am doing everything that I love, and sometimes it's photography, sometimes creating videos, stop animation, etc. But I don’t want to be any of these professions. I am just using it as a tool to express my ideas. I love when I come up with a great idea or a project and have resources to make it happen. It can be anything, but lately, I really got my focus on stop animation. I know it’s a strange switch from being a professional MTB freerider.
Let’s start from biking – you are one of the first pro riders in Croatia. How hard was it to be the one who’s pawing the path, to grow and progress without real infrastructure and facilities?
Mislav: Back then it was really hard and frustrating, but now when I think about it, it was the best thing ever. If I had the path already pawed I would never learn all those skills that I have today, I would be just a rider. Since I didn't have builders I learned how to build trails and jumps; I didn’t have managers to find me sponsors so I learned how to write proposals, how to knock on doors, how to talk with big companies and understand what they need. I didn’t have videographers to film me, so I learned how to film myself, edit videos and take photos as well. Since I did not have parks at home, I had to travel to other countries to ride there, learn English and meet so many great people all over the world, people are still my friends.
One of the most significant steps in your career was starting to work with Red Bull. How did it happen?
Mislav: It all started with riding my bike; when you do what you love and go all-in, people will see that. That’s how Red Bull noticed me and approached me with wings. I just had to spread them and fly. Red Bull is the best sponsor you can have, the quote 'Gives You Wings' it’s not just a slogan. It’s the real thing. They get to know your dreams and give you everything so you can live them up.
I think if there were no Red Bull, there wouldn’t be action sports today. At least not on this level. First of all, it all has to make sense. The trick for the companies is to involve early. Usually, when a big business starts supporting a small sport, it helps it grow. And when that sport becomes popular, it all makes sense. They will be remembered as someone who wrote the history of the sport. That's a huge thing that stays forever, and it could be the best marketing move the company ever did. It builds the respect and the image that people relate to.
As far as I know, you are the first non-Canadian rider for Norco Team. It’s certainly a big success, but it didn’t happen overnight. How did you start working with them?
Mislav: Ohh, it took me forever. It started with one e-mail that I’ve sent to them asking if they would sponsor me. They replied: "We are not sponsoring anyone who is not from Canada, but you can still send us e-mails with some photos so we can see what you do." I took that literally and started sending e-mails for a year and a half. They replied after six months with “Keep up the good work!”
Later on, they offered me a plane ticket to compete in Crankworx to see if I am any good. If I prove myself, they would think about getting me on the Factory team. I had build jumps in Belgrade and broke my hand there training for the contest. I got a chance, and I blew it. They just said to keep them updated. As soon as I took my cast off, I went to Australia to get back on my bike and regain my level of riding. During my flight, I got an e-mail from Norco saying: “We have seen that, after an injury, you are even more focused, so we want to give you a contract to become a Norco Factory rider. Just stay healthy until 1st of January so we can sign it."
Guess what, I crashed there 15 days before New Year's Eve and broke my knee. 1st of January I was on a plane back to Croatia to get my knee fixed. I thought it was all over, but after the surgery, I’ve got an e-mail saying "Welcome to the team." I signed my contract while I was on my crutches, without ever seeing them. And I became the first non-Canadian rider on Norco Team.
In 2014 you published your first book ’Bajkografija.’ (Bikeography) You wrote about your life, riding beginnings, progress, and struggles. What was your motivation for writing and how did the process look like?
Mislav: People loved my story and the way I got to where I am, so they kept asking me to give talks. After few talks, people started approaching me and saying that was exactly what they needed to hear. So, I asked myself who else could use my experience, and the answer was - everybody, but especially kids. And the easiest way to do it was writing a book. I tried to write it myself, but it had a lot of mistakes, so I gave it to a ghostwriter. I told him the whole story, and he made it more readable.
In the last few years, we haven't had a chance to see you on contests. What would you state as your most significant results and are there some plans for returning to that scene?
Mislav: In the past six months I had two surgeries, one of them being my second spine surgery and I got few plates and screws in my leg. In next few months, I have to take those screws out, and it will be my 8th surgery. So, you can get the idea that my body is destroyed, and I can’t ride my bike the same way anymore. I always say my biggest accomplishment is that I was able to make a living from riding bikes. And I have never been a fan of contests; I loved projects and filming. Although I did win many contests, there was nothing I am really proud of.
During your career, you worked on many projects, where you had a chance to bring out your creativity. Maybe the biggest one was 'Red Bull Sunflips.' How did it come up and how hard was it to bring it to life?
Mislav: It came up to me while I was training in Woodward camp. I was watching the slow-motion video of me doing a frontflip into the foam pit, and the position of my body reminded me of a bull from a Red Bull logo. I immediately knew that I had to do it. The hardest part was to choreograph Szymon Godziek, me, sun, and the photographer. We had only 15 minutes of the perfect sun, so it was all-in.
'Red Bull Sunflips' was one of the best moments of my life and the worst. Why best? It was the idea that I came up with and it worked so well. We recreated Red Bull logo in real life. Why worst? I never landed a frontflip on dirt, and I had to do 16 frontflips that day, one after the other. I was super confident, but after 15 frontflips in 15 minutes you get tired, and you lose focus. In my case, it resulted in a fall where I broke a disc in my back and finished up on a spine surgery. After that, my back was never the same.
That project led you to one of the most prestigious magazines in the world - Playboy. How does it feel to be a 'Playboy Bunny?’
Mislav: It wasn’t the first time that I was there, but I guess it would be better if it finished in Playgirl. If you know what I mean. (laughs) The thing is - as much as we love to go through the Playboy, the sponsors like to see their ambassadors in the well-known magazines.
You said you got injured during that project. How many serious injuries did you have in your career, and how hard is to get back from it?
Mislav: As I said, I had seven surgeries so far, and I need one more. It was really hard after each one, but I was and stayed so optimistic that I forgot about them. I didn’t care about the injuries after the surgery, and I just focused on riding again ASAP. Well, that changed when I injured my back since that was my biggest fear. That's why I stopped.
How exhausting both physically and mentally is the process of recovery? How many 'down' moments are there, and how important can support from family and friends be?
Mislav: It’s a big lesson. You have time for yourself, you think about your actions and what lead to it. It's a special and humble moment where you are so fragile but so strong. It makes your priorities and vision more clear. My family was always there for me, and there was no fear from their side which was a big help. After every surgery, they kept telling me I'll be fine and that I've got used to it. So, I didn’t pay much attention to it. I just saw it as a service on my car. Rehab part was interesting because after every injury I was more professional.
One of the projects that I especially like is 'Wall Ilussion.' Also, it was the one where you managed to connect two of your passions - bike and photography. Can you tell me more about it?
Mislav: That project was a full circle for me because before I knew how to ride a bike, I was playing with a toy bike in my sink imagining that one day I will be able to ride like that. I accomplished that goal and this was my way of celebrating it.
There is one more project I still love, although it's been quite a few years since then - 'Earth Vs. Air.' You practically did an exciting project connecting mountain biking and paragliding. How did that happen?
Mislav: It was a Nokia project. Since we had new phones with a really good camera, and picture stabilization we wanted to do a video. Matjaž Klemenčič, the glider pilot from the video, was also sponsored by Nokia and Red Bull so we just mixed it all. We went to Maribor Pohorje and set the race between the two of us.
It's safe to say you're the real ambassador of biking. One of the projects that shows it is 'I Love My Bike.' The video shows the beauty of biking on different terrains. How did you get the idea, and generally, where do you find inspiration for your projects?
Mislav: I am not searching for inspiration, it comes from getting more knowledge about something. Then you just mix it all up, and it becomes a really cool idea that you later bring to reality. 'I Love My Bike' came from the fact that I had so many bikes and I loved all the disciplines, so I wanted to show that in one short movie.
Another amazing example of what you did for the sport was 'Trailer Jumpbox.' What was your motivation for that project and do you think similar elements can help bike scene in areas with the low level of freestyle biking infrastructure?
Mislav: It can help, for sure; we need more things like that. I wanted to make a trailer jumbox for years so that I can do shows all around the world. Ironically, I got injured right after it was finished, so I just paid it forward.
You used your popularity in Croatia for a good cause. Although injured, you took part in 'Wings for Life World Run.' How was it to be involved in a project that gathers people all over the world?
Mislav: It was really emotional race, and I loved it. It is one of the coolest projects in the world, and I can’t wait for them to come up with a cure.
I owe you for two things - showing me amazing hip-hop group Bliss N Eso and both Youtube and real-life legend Casey Neistat. How did you get in touch with him? Can we expect some new thing from you two?
Mislav: Hmm maybe, will see! And you're welcome. (laughs) I don't know where to start talking about Casey, as he's one of the coolest guys I've ever met. One day, I was going through his videos, and really like them. So, I decided to get in touch, and I wrote him an e-mail. First, I wanted to meet him in New York, but then I got a better idea and offered to teach him how to do a backflip on a bicycle in Woodward. He just replied: “LET'S DO IT! Casey.” The rest is history.
Apart from MTB, you are active in the fields of marketing, photography, Social Network content creating. How much did being in creative sports like MTB and earlier gymnastics help you to develop a mindset for later creative work? Do you have any project you are particularly proud of?
Mislav: Doing sports, especially on a professional level teaches you everything you have to know about life. So, later on, I just applied everything that I learned, to what I do now. I am proud that I was a professional athlete and was part of that world. Now, I am sad that I didn’t wish for more because I accomplished everything I wanted. I figured out that size of your goals is equal to your confidence, and I wish I had more confidence before. Now I believe I can accomplish whatever I want, but the real question is what do I really want?
Where should we look you up in the future? On the Internet? Moab desert? Everywhere?
Mislav: Hmm, I don’t really know at the moment. I am trying to find that next obsession that will create a new life, a new career.
Last one - you are one of the few people who had the opportunity for Zero G flight. Can you describe that experience to rest of us mortals?
Mislav: It was the best, and the most stupid feeling ever. It’s unreal; it’s like a cartoon... It’s really hard to explain. Your brain tries to process what's going on, but it can't. It’s the coolest feeling ever, but then again stupid at the same time. (laughs)