Santa Barbara is known for being home to many household names: From pop stars like Katy Perry and Gigi Hadid, to entrepreneurs like Oprah and Paul Orfalea, to musicians and actors like Jack Johnson and Jeff Bridges - the list goes on.
One of our Drishti blog contributors, Chantal Peterson, recently had a chance to interview a young athletic prodigy who will one day be included on such household lists. And yet, ending up on a list of famous people is probably the furthest thing from this man's mind.
The truth is, you'd be hard pressed to categorize this guy at all. Is he an athlete, a performance artist, an activist, or a health guru? The answer is that he is all of them. His name is Nicholas Coolridge, but you may know him as Modern Tarzan.
And he is, literally, just that.
Below is a recent conversation that Chantal had with Santa Barbara native, Nicholas Coolridge, about how Modern Tarzan came to be. Check out how healthy living, positivity and growing up in Santa Barbara have influenced his success and his vision for the future.
Chantal of Drishti Yoga: You were obviously born with incredible athletic talent, but how was the athletic sensation that is Modern Tarzan born?
Nicholas: I fully committed to pursuing Modern Tarzan as career path almost two years ago. But I have been intrigued with movement and acrobatics my entire life. I did about a year of gymnastics when I was 12 years old, but never had any formal or structured training. I needed more freedom than gymnastics gave. Movement to me was always about play and about freedom. That is how I got into Parkour which was the beginning of Modern Tarzan. Parkour gave me that freedom.
Chantal: For those of us who have never heard of it - What is Parkour?
Nicholas: Parkour, similar to Free Running is sometimes described as a combination of gymnastics and skateboarding, without the skateboard. Its about using the natural or urban environment as a playground, a stage, or a ropes course.
I was one of the ones who started the Parkour scene in SB. One day I found a documentary about it when I was a teenager and said to myself, "Hey! – thats what I'm doing all the time!" I just didn't realize that it was an organized sport popular enough to make a documentary about. So a few friends and I started making You Tube videos of ourselves doing all these unique stunts around town in Santa Barbara - and one of them ended up going viral. That video was really the start of it for me. And at the time, our Parkour group was one of like 5 groups in America. Now Parkour is much more popular and is seen in movies and video games, and the competitions are getting more popular.
And it was through that viral video and through word of mouth that the people at WFPF (the World Free Running and Parkour Federation) heard about me. Being part of WFPF is what really launched my career.
Chantal: Tell me about how you got your first job as Movement Artist.
Nicholas: It was a job with a circus. I was about 17 yrs old at the time. A friend and I decided to go out during the Solstice Celebration and try and make a few bucks doing flips for the crowds. This circus group happened to be at Santa Barbara's Summer Solstice Parade, and while we were doing these little performances, a member of this circus approached me and gave me their card. The guy said, "Call me. You should join us."
Chantal: So what exactly is your professional title? It seems like you do a huge variety of things, from stunt man work and commercials, to circus performance and acro yoga, and of course Parkour.
Nicholas: I call myself a Movement Artist because the scope of what I do and am interested in is pretty wide and not exclusive to one thing, like only Parkour, or Acro Yoga or doing stunts. I really enjoy creating amazing films and photographs based around beautiful movements and shapes that myself and others can make with our bodies. Underwater, in the air.. I am always looking for new challenges.
Chantal: That seems like a fitting title. When I show people your Instagram pictures, most of them immediately ask, with jaw dropped, "Who IS this guy?!" Ok, so you have had a certain amount of success now. I could use the word, "famous" and it wouldn't be a stretch. With all of the options and possibilities for you right now, where are you putting your attention?
I really think that the possibilities are endless, professionally speaking. Now that I have had some success, I am starting to be able to be more selective about the jobs I take and really focus on what it is I want to achieve in the big picture. Recently, I competed on American Ninja Warrior and that went well and opened up some new doors. Instagram has been a great resource for my career too - many of my jobs now come from companies approaching me via Instagram.
(*By the way, Coolridge was the only competitor to complete the American Ninja Warrior finals in Venice this summer - so, yes, you could say that competition definitely went well!!)
Chantal: What is your dream, Nicholas?
Nicholas: I realized that my purpose is to be a positive influence in people's lives, to help them understand the limitless possibilities in life.I know now that in order to be the best person I can be, I have to see this vision realized. The recognition I have achieved came from me doing what I love to do and working hard at it. I want to be a living example that you really can do anything you set your mind to.
One thing that a lot of people don't know about me is that I lived in my VW van for years. I have always had a passion for mechanics and for a while I made money by buying and fixing up VW vans. I have one now and this one I have customized for optimal living, with things like solar panels and a Subaru engine. And my plan had always been to go around the world traveling in the van.
But after taking a few small trips throughout California, I realized that I wanted to do more than just travel around in the van for my own pleasure. I want to utilize my success with Modern Tarzan and my passion for movement in a way that can really have a positive impact on people's lives.
I want to travel the world and meet people and spread my message about health, wellness and movement. And I want to focus on adults, to help re-inspire them to play and move more. It is clear now that this is what I'm meant to do and the way I will explore the world. So my partner and I, who is a passionate vegan activist, are going to to use the van and my "fame" for spreading awareness about health, movement, and veganism. It is all still taking shape, and we are actively looking for sponsorship to get it off the ground. I have full confidence in our ability to do so.
Chantal: I can see this being a great success - I think that culturally, we are more receptive to and hungry for authentic sources of inspiration than ever before. And more and more brands these days are investing in real people doing amazing things - its becoming the most effective form of marketing.
Nicholas: Right. And Making money from advertisements and commercials is fine and is a way to support myself, but it doesn't give me the ultimate freedom I really want. I want to create my my own brand. I am confident that I can get investors that want to work with us on this and support the mission. We are calling this traveling wellness project "Plant Powered Ninjas"
Chantal: Ahhh I LOVE that! What a perfectly fitting name! And speaking of names, where did the name "Modern Tarzan" come from anyway? I know there must be a great story here..
Nicholas: Yeah there is I guess! (laughs) The name "Modern Tarzan" came about when I was about 15 years old. While I was a teenager, my parents basically gave me free reign to build stuff on the property we lived on. So I started collecting trampolines and putting them all over the yard. My friends and I built an awesome home-made playground with all these different connecting trampolines and ropes and stuff. We would get pretty wild with the flips and tricks we would do, so part of the name came from that. Then there was also this perfect eucalyptus tree on our property: We made an epic rope swing that became really well known by tons of kids around Santa Barbara. Kids started referring to it as" Tarzan’s rope swing" – whether they knew me or not. So eventually I got the name Tarzan amongst my friends.
Then the "Modern" part of the name came about from looking for the right name for my Instagram profile. I knew I wanted to include "Tarzan" in the name, but that was already taken, so I had to put a spin on it, and "Modern Tarzan" seemed right based on all my interests with modern forms of movement.
Chantal: I feel like I have a million more questions for you. But, I think a great way to wrap it up this time is to ask about how you keep your life balanced with all the traveling and athletic training? Do you have a mindfulness practice or way you stay grounded?
Nicholas: A lot of what keeps me balanced is a healthy diet. I am vegetarian and on a path to veganism (but I find that my body really likes eggs), but a plant-based diet is a key part of my wellness. Also - Everything in moderation. I do what feels right for my body. I think that everyone innately knows what they need; subconsciously we all know what we need to stay and be healthy. But it’s the people who have the drive to really DO those things and not just think about it or say they want to do it. I guess thats one thing with me - If I say I am going to do something – it's already done. Everyone who knows me well knows that about me. You really can do anything you set your mind and willpower to – and I'm a perfect example of that.
Thanks for tuning in to this interview guys! Drishti was created to support wellness and active, healthy living. So naturally we were absolutely thrilled to have an opportunity to interview Nicholas Coolridge. You can follow Modern Tarzan on Instagram, and be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel as well.