No Bull: The PBR Comes To Hawaii

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - April 26, 2006
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Maybe Garth Brooks was right. Maybe it is about boots and blood, dust and mud and the roar of a Sunday crowd. It sure seemed that way last week when PBR - that’s the Professional Bull Riders - came riding into Waikiki to announce its Nov. 17 and 18 shows at the Blaisdell Arena.

Everywhere you looked it was Stetsons, tight-fitting jeans and belt buckles large enough to be of use at the buffet line. But make no mistake. This was not a gathering of urban cowboys. This was the real thing. Men, well, at least one man, who know how it feels to be kicked in the gut or to be tossed in the air by an ornery 2,000-pound bull that doesn’t seem to appreciate being turned into a mode of transportation.

One of PBR’s biggest stars is two-time world champion Chris Shivers. Though standing just 5 feet 5 inches, Shivers is solid, with big strong hands that offer a friendly handshake tight enough to make daddy proud. The quiet demeanor and the Southern tradition of calling everyone ma’am and sir belies a spirit as tough as the animals he rides.

“Well, they (injuries) are a part of the game,” he said. “There are guys that get hurt every other week. It just depends on what happens, where you’re at and how it goes. I broke my arm two or three times, I broke my collarbone, knocked out teeth. I’ve been stepped on a bunch.”

He says these minor medical problems “are not too bad,” meaning things can get a lot worse. Shivers says he has seen people killed in the sport.

Believe it or not, bull riding is booming. According to PBR, live and televised viewership has increased from 33 million in 1998 to more than 104 million in 2004. One of the ways they have done this was to develop the sport in areas it had not reached before, such as Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., and to turn the program into more than just a cowboy show. Where once it was just boots and chaps and cowboy hats, bull riding now includes music, lights, fire and smoke, and a violent eight-second race that Mark Nestlen, president of Cowboy Sports Agents, says is guaranteed to end in a crash.

The goal in bull riding is to have a good technical ride on a talented animal for all of eight seconds. Doesn’t sound like much, but it is. “Eight seconds is a long time on the back of a bull,” Shivers said. “It just depends on what bull you get on. If you get on a bull that’s in time and has a lot of rhythm, it’s not that long, but if you get on a bad sucker then it seems like an eternity.”

If bull riders have a kindred spirit in sports, it has to be race car drivers. Both cheat death on a daily basis, come largely from the South, and are more often than not seen in clothing decked in the name and color of sponsors. But where Dale Earnhardt Jr. sports Napa and Goodyear, Shivers is a walking billboard for Priefert Ranch Equipment, Big Tex Trailor, Mossy Oak (an outdoor apparel company), Double-H Boots, Branson Tractors and, of course, Wrangler jeans. Different strokes, ya know.

The inaugural Cheeseburger Island Style PBR Hawaii All Star Challenge will feature the world’s top 20 bull riders. Think of it as the Grand Slam of Golf for rodeo where only the best are allowed to participate. And that’s just the riders. The other stars of the show, the bulls, are just as noteworthy.

Nestlen said PBR will bring in 20-40 bulls for the event. They may try to get a few paniolo buckers if they can find a few that measure up to all stars like Smokeless Wardance, Mossy Oak Mudslinger, the No.1 and No. 2 ranked bulls in the business, or Smokin’Joe and Big Bucks, neither of which has allowed a single rider to finish his job this year.

For years Willie Nelson has been tellin’ mamas not to let their babies to grow up to be cowboys. Shivers says Willie may be onto something.

“Well, I would hope not,” he said when asked if he would want his 3-year-old son, Brand, to follow in his footsteps. “It’s been a long road, and our bodies are tore up pretty much from all the bumps and bruises, and all the broke bones, and this and that. I would really hope my son would figure out something else.”

But if Brand does decide to enter the family business, mama will just have to understand.

“They just get used to it,” he says. “It’s like pain. Everybody thinks pain is bad. We have pain too, but we adjust to it. It’s just something you get used to.”

At only 27, Shivers knows he is facing the end of the road. Old cowboys are hard to come by. Once they hit 30 or 35, the pains start to mount. But that’s no problem for the Jonesville, La., native. He owns a ranch with a few hundred head of cattle and plans to stay in the bull-riding business. But until it’s time to hang up his spurs, he’ll continue to do what he does and to answer, in his own way, the Forrest Gump question: Are ya crazy or just plain stupid?

“It’s something that is pretty much natural to us,” he says. “I’ve known people who have gotten killed. We are not promised tomorrow, so I’ll just drive until the wheels fall off.”

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