Some of Cole Melancon’s family members might consider him a bit of a renegade. When he sets his mind to doing something, he does it.
The Texas bull rider is the first of his family to participate in rodeo and that determination has come into play from the beginning. Thrill chasing came naturally so when he had the opportunity to get an adrenalin rush in the rodeo arena, he never looked back.
Cole graduated from high school in Daisetta, Texas in a class of 30. He qualified for the Texas High School Rodeo Association Finals all four years. He decided to further his education in Hillsboro, Texas, under the tutelage of Paul Brown, father of bareback rider Jake Brown, at Hill College.
Both years that Cole was at Hill College he qualified for the CNFR and earned the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association bull riding championship in 2017. That was the eighth bull riding title won by a member of the Hill College team since 1993. Going to Hill College proved to be a great decision for Cole to further his career. The same year he earned the college championship he made his first trip to Las Vegas to compete in the famed, yellow, bucking chutes at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR).
That was a milestone that he had dreamed about since he started competing and is now permanently etched on his riding arm. It wasn’t his first tattoo, but it is by far his most meaningful.
Growing up, Cole had always liked tattoos and when he turned 18 and could legally get one on his own, he was ready. That was in March of 2002. He thought about what and where and every time he was about to make a trip to a studio, he would change his mind, or the friend that was going with him would cancel. Something always came up. Then on Christmas Eve, he decided that he was getting that first tattoo no matter what. That cross on his ribs took over two and a half hours and as a person of faith, it means a lot. While he doesn’t regret getting that tattoo, his desire for ink came with a price.
“If I had it to do over again, it would be different,” Cole said. “I’m not sorry that I have a cross tattoo, I just wish I would have planned it out better.”
He really wanted to get a skull with an Indian headdress down the side with the feathers falling below his waistline. That wouldn’t work now with the cross. So, that design is now a signature part of his riding chaps.
Those chaps were designed and made by Caleb Hilton from Dayton, Texas. Caleb is also the designer of Cole’s second and most intricate tattoo. Cole had known some NFR qualifiers who had tattoos of the first back numbers. He knew that was going to be his next tattoo and spent a lot of time thinking about it and planning it out.
The leathercraft skills of Caleb came into play with the design around the back number in a tattoo that covers his shoulder and forms a half sleeve down his right arm, which happens to be the arm responsible for keeping him attached to bulls that are doing everything to get him off of their backs.
“I pretty much grew up with Caleb.” Cole said. “He’s really really good at what he does and he has a bunch of tattoos. He understood exactly what I was going for.”
That was the easy part of the process.
Cole’s first NFR came with a #74. Going up on stage at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Welcome Reception to get his back number was a momentous occasion. His first NFR saw him with a tie for the win in round three. He rode four bulls and each time he lasted eight seconds, he got a paycheck. He finished the season in sixth place.
The first full season of rodeo competition also took a toll on his body and soon after his first NFR, he was headed to the hospital for back surgery.
That gave him time to get that tattoo that he had been planning for and dreaming about. After three sessions and 10 hours of being still, it was finally complete.
“It was a long time to sit,” Cole said. “The first session was the longest with him getting all of the outlines done. But I’d do it all over again.”
And, he just might. While that NFR back number proved that he could ride with the best, Cole is still pushing for world titles. A second qualification for the NFR came in 2018 where he finished in 13th. Last year he was outside the top 15 at 18th place.
This year he is splitting his time between the PRCA and Professional Bull Riders now and is hoping to add his name to the list of athletes that qualify for the championship events in both organizations in the same year.
And while he’s not sure what his next tattoo will be, he does know that it will be well thought out, planned, and executed in a way that compliments what he already has.
“There are guys that can really rock trashy tattoos,” he said. “I’m just not one of them.”