Action sports star defies gravity, convention as coffee shop owner

Tattoos running down his right arm, the action star descends like the pirate ship ride at an amusement park. Then the pendulum swings, the ride shoots up and Jamie Bestwick lifts off toward the clouds.

Bestwick, a one-time aerospace mechanic, has taken flight.

Not Four. Not Five. Not Six! This can’t continue. But continue it does. One flip unspools into the next, an acrobatic metronome oscillating along the curve of a wooden trough. The son of England is conducting a concerto behind his handlebars.

But the artist on the vert ramp is also just as creative behind another bar, one replete with a roaster and all the ingredients needed for the perfect cup of Joe.

That’s because Bestwick, one of the most dominant athletes in action sports history, also wants to blend business with a not-so-guilty pleasure. Through Rothrock Coffee, his State College coffee shop, which he and business partner Ronnie Napolitan opened in January last year, he’s already ahead of the curve.

“Brewing coffee is much more than brown liquid in a cup,” Bestwick said. “The story behind coffee and where it originates from and how many hands it passes through in order to get to a customer’s hands is quite remarkable.”

The same could be said for Bestwick’s career, which includes 14 X Games Gold Medals in BMX Vert and a record nine-straight golds from 2005 to 2014. In Austin last year, Bestwick won gold again at the age of 44. He owns more than half of the event’s gold medals in X Games history.

Now 45, Bestwick has plans to compete in an mountain bike race in France in July, and just finished filming a TV show, an off-road trek via truck from Saigon to Hanoi in Vietnam, set to air in March. Then there’s the X Games, his 21st, two weeks after he returns from France. Still lissome and ligatured, Bestwick, equipped with an accent that’s part badass-part gentleman scholar, could be Jason Statham if he rode BMX instead of a BMW. And like Statham, a former competitive diver, he does his own stunts.

But to say he’s just an English action star would be reductive. The gregarious Bestwick is a family man, an adventurer with irrepressible wanderlust but also a deep appreciation of the rolling valleys of central Pennsylvania. Camp Woodward, his bucolic training ground, has become home base for the past 18 years. His wife, Kerry, and business partner Janet Egerer own the neighboring PYP fitness studio just a few steps away from the coffee shop, named for the state forest where Bestwick can be found mountain biking along the wooded paths.

“I really love the East Coast of America, and Camp Woodward is a tremendous place for me to train,” he said. “I was just so blown away by the beauty of the camp that I saw that this was a great opportunity for me to maybe get away from the distractions of California and other places and just really focus on what I wanted to accomplish in my cycling career.”

Now a grizzled veteran of the BMX circuit, he says he often gets questions from younger riders on building a successful career. He tells them to follow their dreams, and that “the sky’s the limit.”

For anyone else, sans NASA employees, the saying would be cliche. For Bestwick, it’s a half-pipe dream turned reality.

“I’m always finding that the progression of what I do is so intriguing,” he said. “I feel very fortunate that in this day and age, I can continue to pursue my dream.”

Q: How did you first get the vision for Rothrock Coffee?

A: This has been a 17-year dream I had starting all the way back in England. I had always wanted to do something to where I could introduce coffee and a bicycle theme, but unfortunately my professional cycling career got in the way. But here we were in 2015, and I finally get kind of an opportunity to fulfill another goal that I had always wanted to accomplish. Being able to travel the world, I invested time in seeking out coffee shops and that’s something I wanted to bring to State College. Now we’re moving forward in 2017, so it’s been a great experience.

Q: You won your 14th X Games Gold in 2016 at age 44. How do you maintain your level at an older age compared to a lot of your competitors?

A: I’m just dedicated to cycling. I love every aspect of it, and I’m prepared to do the work that maybe other people aren’t. I came from a working background, so when I did get the opportunity to ride my bike full time, I kind of grasped it with two hands and I really never looked back.

Q: Do you find any parallels between your life as the owner of a coffee shop and your life as a professional athlete?

A: I do. As the owner of a coffee shop, you have to be very social to greet and meet customers; it’s part and parcel of the industry. That’s something I had to learn on the bike; you’re dealing with agents, you’re dealing with sponsors, you’re dealing with fans, and if you can have a great rapport with those people that it just transfers over to every aspect of your life. That’s one thing I love: The coffee shop is just the opportunity to find out other people’s stories and build relationships.

Q: Which do you find more difficult: perfecting a trick or brewing the perfect cup of coffee?

A: (laughs) They’re both incredibly difficult to do. You’re always searching for what is perceived to be the perfect way to brew a cup of coffee and I’m always searching for the perfect trick. Both are kind of an incredible journey, one that is sometimes frustrating on the bike. But that frustration doesn’t translate over to coffee, because I’m always happy to have a cup of coffee in my hand, and that usually takes away my frustration from the bike.

Q: Where did your love for coffee begin?

A: I think back in England. We come from a country of freeze-dried coffee until recently, and the coffee industry has kind of blown up in England. Being able to travel the world, I’m very lucky that I can seek out incredible coffee shops and experience other people’s idea of brewing the perfect cup of coffee.

Q: Of all the places you’ve been, where have you tasted the best coffee?

A: Believe it or not, inside my own shop (laughs). And I’m not kind of trying to blow our own trumpet, but we were in Atlanta over the weekend and we tried out three or four coffee shops, and to be honest, we do an incredible job of sourcing good coffees. We try the coffees before we buy the coffees and I don’t know, we just have a good product in the shop.

Q: Who has been the biggest inspiration to you in your career?

A: Dave Mirra. Unfortunately he passed away last year, but he was always someone whom I looked up to, and I just felt he was a tremendous role model for people not only inside of the sport, but outside the sport, too. So I always looked up to him as someone to emulate, and I feel very fortunate that we spent some great years competing against each other. I felt that competitively, he turned me into the kind of competitor that I am today.

Rothrock Coffee, 1736 S. Atherton St. in State College, is open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.

Roger Van Scyoc: 814-231-4698, @rogervanscy