chrome ball interview #168: ben raybourn

"That'll do, son."

photo: rhino

Coming off nine minutes of footage with Masher, talk to me about how that part came together. 

Well, what’s crazy is that trip was supposed to have a bunch of people on it. We were all gonna go skate the church in St. Louis, but unfortunately, that terrible thing happened where it all burnt down, so everything kinda dwindled down to just me, the filmer Chris Gregson, and my buddy Trey, a BMXer. But we ended up going for it anyway, man. With no real plan whatsoever. 


After everything that happened with the church, we just kinda shifted everything towards that barn, Barnside. We just knew we had to skate that thing. 


Yeah, Barnside looks insane. I’d never seen that place before. 


I know, right? Me, neither. But it’s super fun. 


Who came up with all the Dorothy/Wizard of Oz stuff?


Barnside is literally right in the middle of a bunch of cornfields. Soy beans. So that’s what led to all the Wizard of Oz stuff. It just popped in our heads one day and became something we joked about for the entire trip. It was actually Gregson’s idea to use that as a transition in the video. Because we obviously weren’t gonna be able to skate the church, it was a great way to show all that but then cut to me skating in this whole other place. Inside this crazy barn. That was Gregson’s brilliance, and I thought it was pretty funny, too. 

How long did you film for? 


I think we were gone for five days. 


You filmed all that on one trip!?


(laughs) Yeah, because it felt like it had been so long since I’d been on a filming trip, I was super excited and really wanted to make the most of it. 


I honestly didn’t think it was gonna be a part. Not at all. We just ended up with a bunch of footage. Because nobody else went on the trip and Gregson was filming the whole time, it ended up being enough. We just made it happen. 


I gotta say, the filming in this part is incredible. How much preparation did some of those shots take? Like that first follow shot through the inside of Barnside? 


You have to understand that Gregson is literally the best at what he does. I mean, if you think the skating is rad, the filming is twice as gnarly. Because you have to remember that he’s, like, 6’2” or something. I’m tiny, dude, and it was even tight for me to get around that place. Gregson’s a foot taller than I am. It was crazy to see him do all that. 


Were there times where you had to do something over again because he hit his head or possibly got taken out by a corner? 


I don’t remember that ever happening. I know on that first shot you’re talking about, the first time I made it, he got it. And you gotta think about all of the twists and turns in that one. No, he nailed it. 

What about that outside shot on the pump track?


Oh yeah, how cool is that? Like a super skinny pump track through the woods! 


He got that on the first go, too. Like I said, he’s the best. I just had to tell him what I was thinking about doing and he’d figure out where he needed to be. I was never waiting for him to get it, it was always the other way around. I knew if I got it, he’d get it. 


And what about all the stuff with the belts and grabbing onto beams? It looks like you’re having a blast there.  


I mean, I’ve always been into climbing trees and things… but how could you not mess around with all that stuff? You mean to tell me that if you saw a rope hanging down in the middle of a mini-ramp, you’re not gonna mess with it? Come on! (laughs)


True, but were you worried at all with how it would be received? Because people are always quick to pull the “circus card” on anything remotely different. 


I have a day job, man. I don’t have time to worry about that kind of shit. If it bothers someone that bad, you don’t have to watch it. 


You have to remember that I was the perfect age for when Cheese & Crackers came out. That stuff is just burnt into my brain. The idea that you can actually have fun while filming? What a concept! 


Such a good comparison. How did Randy Ploesser get into the mix? I was stoked to see him in there with some footage. 


I hadn’t seen Randy in years, dude, but he just happens to live right in that zone. All those parks, like St Louis and Springfield, they’re all really close. Gregson knew that Randy lived in that area and it’s not like I’m not gonna hit up him if I’m coming through. He’s just the nicest dude… And somehow, we were able to talk him into going skating with us and filming a couple of clips, which was awesome. He was ripping that day. 


What about your drop-in ender? That had to make Uncle Freddy proud. 


(laughs) Dude, how weird is that building?! I don’t even understand what that thing is for? It looks like something out of a Tony Hawk game. Like, what can that even be used for? There’s no railings or anything. Totally dangerous. 


I can’t remember how we even found that place… So random.  


Was that a battle?


Oh no, that thing is ten times easier than you think. It’s perfect, like straight out of a skatepark. That wasn’t very hard at all. 


How serious do you take your video parts and has that outlook changed at all since you started working?


It has changed a bit because I no longer feel like I have anything to prove with them. When I was younger, I always felt like there were these necessary steps you had to take in skating if you wanted to do it right. That was a big part of my drive back then, which was really fun at the time. Just pure adrenaline addiction. 


But anymore, I just like filming with my friends. Like, I’m probably never going to jump on another handrail for the rest of my life, you know? Because I think there’s something to be said for skating when you’re feeling good and having fun. I think it comes across in the footage. You can film a simple frontside grind and people will think it looks rad because they can pick up on that feeling. 


Remember Louie Barletta’s part in Bag of Suck? That’s one of my all-time favorite parts because it looks like he’s just having the most fun ever. Silly things, like throwing his board down when it’s already snapped and skating it anyway. Laughing after clips. That’s the kinda stuff I want to do. Like, if somebody offered me a bunch of flights to film a part, I’d want it to have that kinda vibe now… instead of the vibe that I used to go for, which was more of an “eat shit, die trying” kind of thing. 

photo: rhino

What is your job anyway? 


I work at a construction company. We do a lot of irrigation and landscaping. Concrete. Stuff like that. 


And that’s with your older brother? Is he the one who used to skate and got you into it in a roundabout way? 


Yes, exactly. 


He’s seven years older than I am, which feels like a huge age difference when you’re young. He might as well been an uncle or something, but I was lucky enough that he skated and I wanted to be cool. I wanted the girls in school to hold my hand, so I skated. 


I do remember going to the local park with my brother once. I think my Dad took us, but I was super young. I probably had rollerblades on, before I started to learn what’s hot and what’s not. That it’s four wheels, not eight. 


Vision Skate Escape was your first video? 


It was! I wish I could remember how that happened. I seem to remember my Dad getting along with the owner of Southside Skatepark really well and him giving us that video. Like, “Hey, you need to check this out.”


All of those Vision videos were big for me back then, like Skate Visions and Psycho Skate. 


What year was this? Because all those came out in the 80s.  


This was around 2002 or so. I was twelve. 

photo: price

So what is it about this old-school vert flavor that gets you sparked? And did you ever try to go the more “modern” route back when you were younger?


I didn’t because I really didn’t have anything to base things on. I had friends and we all skated together, but it wasn’t like there was a full-on scene to guide us. Yeah, there was a skatepark, but it was still 35-40 minutes away. We just had to figure things out on our own, which really opened us up to whatever it was we actually liked. 


It kinda makes sense, because I didn’t like any new music growing up, either. Only older music, like the stuff my Dad would listen to. That’s what I thought was cool. 


I feel like people my age really like living in this nostalgic-kinda way… even though it’s not really “nostalgia” for me because I wasn’t even alive yet. I just feel like I grew up in the wrong time. 


Were your friends stoked on Vision Skate Escape, too? 


No... I guess they might’ve thought I was a little weird. (laughs)


The older stuff just made more sense to me. Because for your first skate video, are you really gonna try and base your skating off Baker 2G? Danny Way’s part in the DC Video? Where do you even begin? You watch that stuff and any dreams of possibly turning pro when you grow up feel completely out of the question. It can be pretty disheartening. 

I have to imagine geography playing a large part in all of this for you, too… 


Yeah, I was lucky in that there was Southside Skatepark nearby. It had a small vert ramp that I used to mess around on. Unfortunately, when they changed locations, they built a much bigger vert ramp that I couldn’t skate, but they still had a smaller wooden bowl that was fun.  


How the geography comes into play is whenever I would go to this park, the only really good skateboarders I saw were Ken Fillion and Jason Espeseth. Older Texas vert skaters. Those became the dudes I would always hang out with whenever my Dad took me to the park. So instantly, at a very young age, I learned that Texas skateboarding is a thing. 


The legendary 80s Houston scene. You even have a Tex Gibson tattoo, right? 


Yes, I do. 


What’s funny is that I went to court not too long ago and the bailiff had the exact same tattoo on his forearm. Texas! 


But yeah, I love all the Houston guys from back then. Jeff Phillips, Tex, Craig Johnson… Combine that with the Tony Hawk game that came out around this time? Because I feel like for everyone around my age, that was a big jump in skateboarding. It got insanely popular in the late 90s/early 2000s largely because of that game. But even then, whenever you won the secret tapes, I always went for the one with Tony’s 80s footage. 


After a while, I started to feel like I was “collecting” all of this older stuff. Because you could always find any ol’ handrail footage you wanted, I wanted to see a really good boneless in a ditch or a sick frontside invert. That kinda stuff wasn’t readily available, so you really had to hunt it down. You had to search, which also helped with the appeal. Like, I remember going through the latest magazines at the time and really only looking at maybe four photos, but then I’d find a stack of old magazines and be totally stoked!

photo: rhino 

What’s an old school trick that doesn’t get enough credit?


Good question. Probably a real, actual layback air… like the way Jeff Phillips used to do them. Where there’s almost a three motion twist? I’m pretty sure there’s another name for when you do them that good. But I think most people who skate transition nowadays, you couldn’t even get them to try one jokingly. They’re too insecure, I guess. Too afraid to try a layback air. 


Older pros can be quite critical of technique, anyone ever give you shit about how you do some of these older tricks? 


Oh, definitely! Duane!


You know that whole “never meet your idols” thing? Duane was my absolute favorite skateboarder growing up… Back when he had those Vision Street Wear hi-tops come out? He was doing one of his Duane things where he was super on it, all up in the Black Label video. He really seemed to be going for it at the time. 


But yeah, I was young and saw him sitting there, so I tried to show off a little. He had some interesting things to say. I can’t remember what he said, exactly… I guess I’ve tried to block it out of my head. But it bummed me out, man. It definitely gave me that sinking feeling in my stomach. 


At least he didn’t spit on you. 


I probably would’ve tried to catch it! Put it in my pocket. 


(laughs) What’s a handplant variation you wish you had better?


An actual invert. I’m goofy, so I put my left hand on the coping. I snapped my arm twice when I was younger, so I have very limited mobility in my left wrist. I actually can’t turn my arm to show you my palm. Like if you were to hand me change, I can’t turn my hand upside down to take it. And that wrist doesn’t get anywhere close to a 45-degree angle, either. It won’t get flat…


This is all me lying to myself and making excuses for why I can’t do them the way I want to. 


(laughs) Sound like solid reasons to me! 


I hope so… I’m not sure if I’m buying it. 


Does that affect your grabs, too? 


Yeah, I can’t put that palm up so I could never do a stalefish. I’ve never done one and always wanted to. 


I’ve heard you talk about meeting pros and awkwardly annihilating them with too many questions. Any specific encounters come to mind? 


Dude, it would probably be easier for me to tell you the ones I haven’t done that to! (laughs)


I think it goes back to what I was talking about earlier. Growing up and having to constantly search for stuff. Now I have the dude standing right there in front of me? I just can’t help myself! I want to know! 


I remember going on a Thrasher trip with Tony Trujillo once and being so insecure. He was probably my second favorite skater growing up, after Duane, and I didn’t know how to act. It was terrible. Because when you’re annoying and insecure at the same time, you really don’t show the best side of yourself. (laughs)


I don’t know what happened, man! I didn’t know what to do so I just kept asking him questions, which only made things worse! 


…But hey man, it’s all good. I can dig it. If you’re reading this, Mr. Trujillo, I still love you.

photo: swift

(laughs) Do you believe in “dork tricks”?


Dude, we’re all playing with toys! What do you mean? (laughs)


Honestly, I believe any trick on a skateboard can be done right. It just depends on how you do it.


Is there a trick you would never do? 


A layback air. (laughs)


(laughs) I see what you did there. 


Only because I do them the lame way. I want to do them like Phillips!


I don’t know, I would never do a boneless fingerflip… speaking of Tony Trujillo! He did that one in the Cow video, skating to Fear! Fingerflip boneless right into the camera, dude! Chest high! But again, he made it work!


Perfect example. So I gotta ask, how did you end up with Todd Falcon on Falcon Skates? 


Oh dude, I’m so glad you asked about this. 


This actually goes back to Southside Skatepark, because Todd (Falcon) is from Texas, too. He was always there, trying to peddle his boards and videos. One day, he happened to see me skating and asked if I wanted to ride for him. And you gotta remember, I’m super young… free boards? Hell yeah!


Honestly, I really don’t have anything bad to say about the dude. It was actually kinda cool at the time. 


Did you know much about Todd prior to that day? 


No, and I really didn’t know much afterwards, either. I was super young and naïve back then. I just wanted free stuff, but he seemed like an alright enough dude. 


…Okay, going back to that previous “dork trick” question: you will never see me doing primos on decks.

(laughs) Yeah, there’s probably no way to make that shit look good. Was Falcon your first sponsor?


Yeah, I went from a Falcon to a Hawk! How funny is that?


You know that’s not his real name, right? 


You know, I’ve never actually thought about it!


He grew up in the 80s, idolizing Tony, and he just happened have a first name that starts in T and a predatory bird for his last name? No. 


I can’t remember what his real name is, but I remember looking it up one day… 


What were those Falcon Skates boxes like?


(laughs) Well, they weren’t boxes. You weren’t getting a box. All of the boards were pre-gripped and he also had to inspect your board before he gave you a new one. Like, “Nah, that board is fine.”


Did he ever ask you to be in any of his horror movies?


No, he never asked me to be in any of his movies but I think I might have some clips in one of them somewhere. Demo footage of 12-year-old me, back in Texas. He worked it in there, I guess.


What were you thoughts on his trick selection back then? 


Honestly, I actually liked his skating when I was little. 


I can see that. Because when you’re little, you just like “tricks”. 


Exactly. And the more the board is flipping around in his hand, the cooler it looks. But at the same time, if you watch that Oceanside street contest from back in ‘85, they’re all doing that same type of stuff, too. Wall-jam plants and spinning the board around in their hands. All of those tricks were in that video, too. 


Interesting point. And you’re both innovators of that kick-catch thing with the top of your foot. 


(laughs) Kick-catch? Is that what that thing is called? I never knew that! 


I honestly don’t know what it’s called… I think I’ve seen Lee Ralph do one, too, in his later years. 


Really!?! No way! I gotta find a clip of that! That’s awesome!


Yeah… you, Todd Falcon and Lee Ralph. 


Sounds like the beginning of bad joke. Lee Ralph, Ben Raybourn and Todd Falcon walk into a bar…

(laughs) But how did Todd take the news that you were moving onto greener pastures with 1031? 


As far as the Todd thing, that faded long before I got on 1031. I got a shop sponsor and then I even skated for Gravity Longboards for a second, because I actually rode them on vert and in pools. I sent them a sponsor-me tape and everything. 


How 1031 came about was, again, through Southside Skatepark. That’s like my family. I skated an open contest there where first place got a trip to Woodward. I ended up winning and when I went to skate camp, that’s when I met Svitak. I guess you could say that week was like my live action sponsor-me tape. 


You got on 1031 that week? 


Yeah, but it was so early on, I don’t know if 1031 was really even a thing at that point. Like, my first box of boards from them were all spraypainted. I just came home one day and there was a box with my name on it. I opened it up and there were a couple of boards and a shirt inside. I remember thinking to myself, “Damn, I have made it!” (laughs)


Welcome to the big time. How do you remember those early 1031 parts, like Bleed For Me? Because you are super young there. 


I just remember it being the greatest time, man. Just young and having fun… like that Buzzcocks song. So innocent. I have a lot of appreciation for that time back then. 


All of those video parts were basically filmed on tour. And we filmed everything. One thing I always loved about Svitak is that he didn’t give a shit if something was filmed in a park or not. If it was good, it was going in your part. 


But back then, I was just happy to be along for the ride. And those tours were the perfect thing for me at that age. Because they were exactly what I envisioned a real skate trip being. Driving all day to a demo and crashing back at the owner’s place that night. Sleeping on the floor and getting my little $15 per diem like a big shot. Just doing it. It was just how I imagined skate tours being back in the day.


But is there anything you cringe at in those early parts or is it all just part of growing up?


Oh, there’s no way I could watch that Bleed For Me part right now. It would be like looking at an old drawing before realizing you’re right handed. 


I don’t like watching my own parts anyway, but the early ones? No way. I can’t stand how I look on a skateboard. I’m way too much of a style snob to watch my own parts. It bums me out. 

photo: burnett

Is that you learning mctwists without pads for your Turn Up The Hell ender? 


I think that was the second one I ever did, but I did the first one without pads, too. I remember learning them at Tampa, just being hyped on the session. And that was actually my first photo ever in Thrasher. They put a sequence of me doing my first mctwist in there. I was stoked on that, for sure. 


I still don’t really know how to do them. They’d just kinda happen… like my special meter would go up and I’d try to bust one, landing completely sideways. Somehow, I’d get the “skrrrrt” out and roll away. 


Honestly, I don’t really like that trick. It has its time and place, but that’s usually not how I like to skate. 


I know what you’re saying. I remember Max Schaaf talking about those varial grabs that everybody used to do in 90s contest runs. He said if he ever saw somebody do one of those in a regular session, he knew they weren’t really skating for fun. 


I get that, for sure. Everybody’s had that experience where you go to the park and some kid is trying backflip flyouts. And it shows. People know. You just want to tell them to take a deep breath and maybe try learning axle stalls instead. 


Adding another spin or whatever doesn’t automatically make a trick better. Honestly, I’d rather see someone do a frontside grind instead, because I feel like it’s more honest. That’s the kinda thing that really shows how a person skates. Contests are a little different, because they can play a part in that person’s financial well-being, but for a regular session, it can be a bit much. 

Whose idea was it for you to skate to “Straight Outta Compton”?


(laughs) Dude, that was all Svitak. And it made no sense. 


You didn’t know?


No! And I remember it being so off-putting the first time I saw it, like, “Uh… wow!”


“Yeah, dude! It’s sick!


“Dude… okay.” (laughs)


From an outsider’s perspective, does it even work at all? 


It does because it’s so ridiculous. It’s obviously for fun. 


Okay, cool. 


Because when you’re a 15-year-old am, they don’t ask what song you want. 


Were there 1031 video premieres back then? 


I think we had a little premiere on tour. Because Svitak is from Ohio, we’d always be heading back there for stuff. I think it was at Ohio Surf & Skate, because he turned me pro at the same place later on. We did the whole thing where I walked into a big surprise party. That was cool. 


Were you still pro when you got on Slave or did you have to go back down to amateur for a bit? 


Yeah, I’m not exactly sure how that worked out. I just remember when I got on Slave, they told me that there are a few more things you have to do in order to really go pro, so let’s ignore that. Let’s ignore that past thing and start fresh, working to turn you pro for us. So yeah, whenever we did that Slave part and I got some stuff in the mags, they turned me pro again. 


I didn’t really feel one way or the other. If that’s what it took for things to make more sense in their heads, that’s fine. I get it. I was still a little kid and hadn’t really had too much coverage in the mags prior to that. Like, I never had an interview or anything. 


When did you move out to California? 


I was still on 1031 at that point, but had just gotten on IPath, too. IPath also had Danny Dicola and John Goemann, which is kinda how the whole Slave thing came about. But yeah, I moved to Oceanside when I was 17. Just old enough to move out of my parents’ house. 

Because it did seem like you cleaned up your look a little on Slave… Not as much punk gear with the flipped up hats and all that. Was that just your evolution as you got older? 


Well, I started getting clothing sponsors after I moved to California, too. But yes, there was also a bit of a change on my part. Because do you know how gnarly it was for me to go to junior high dressed like that in Rosenburg, Texas? Wearing women’s leopard print pants from Goodwill? It wasn’t easy.  


I’m surprised you’re still alive, to be honest. 


I know! But what’s funny is all those same hip-hop dudes who used to make fun of me, they all look like that now. Definitely more than the punk dudes. It all flipped around, with the tight-ass pants and crazy gear. I didn’t see that coming at all. 

Well, I just want to say that I love any and all Street Ben footage. 10-stair rails out of nowhere, huge drop-ins and I think you 180’d every gap in existence. How would you characterize your street skating?


(laughs) A futile and stupid gesture.

photo: rhino

(laughs) No way! Bluntslides down 12-stair rails?


Yeah, but there was grass on the other side. 


I don’t know, I just like finding random things that get me sparked… like “Holy shit! Pull over!” That kinda thing. 


Something I’ve always dealt with on trips is whenever we’re at a spot, I always get really anxious. I’ll start pacing and then I start skating around. A lot of times, that’s what leads to those street clips. I’ll find something nearby, just from being anxious and needing to do something. Because if you notice, a lot of that stuff is at famous spots, but it’s not the spot. Going to the handrail and finding something else, a little farther up on the building. That’s how it typically went. 




I knew you were gonna ask that. Gimme a sec. (laughs) 


Okay, there’s this super huge stair set down in Oceanside. Real skinny, all white and right on the beach? Well, while everyone was skating the stairs one day, I came from the street, ollied over the curb and did a lipslide on this weird little one-foot angled pillar thing right beside it. I thought that was pretty cool. 

I remember that one. And I have to imagine your street skating evolving quite a bit on those IPath trips, too?


Absolutely. I have Dave Smith to thank for that, our team manager. Because he knew just how to push in the right ways. He knew what you liked and would cater to your style, so his suggestions were always super good. And he was always really good at showing me street spots, which definitely isn’t easy. 


Dave helped me figure out how I can bring the stuff I like to do into the streets better, where it wasn’t so embarrassing. He made it mellow, like, “You don’t have to hardflip the big four block but what if you wallied this little thing over the side of it?”


He just made it make sense. 


Were there any riders that influenced you at all? 


I feel like I would always have these little phases. Like, I went through a Kenny Reed phase where I started trying to skate like him, at least in my head. Not that I could!


Ryan Lay, Danny Dicola... Jaws, too. How he would just say “fuck the rules" and do whatever he wanted, grabbing his board. That got me stoked. 

Do you have a favorite street skater? And you can’t just say one of your friends. 


(laughs) Bill Danforth. 


(laughs) Good answer!   


Even though he actually is a friend of mine! Back when I was on 1031, Kristian started Landshark Wheels and put Danforth on the team. It was the best! And we actually got along really well. He used to always call me “son”. Like, always. It was so funny. 


Did he call anybody else that? 


No! Just me! I mean, I was a child on those trips, but he would always say things like, “That’ll do, son.”


(laughs) I can kinda see you being his child. 


(laughs) Nah, he would be more like a cool uncle with three DWIs. 


…My Dad just overheard me talking about this and goes, “You guys talking about Bill? My boy!”


Oh yeah! My Dad, Bill Danforth and I once went to Universal Studios together!  


(laughs) What!?!


Yeah, it was pretty fun!


Amazing. What he just crushing cans of Budweiser the whole time? 


You know it! 


…Actually, I think it was Busch. 

photo: swift

(laughs) Talk about your Slave ender into that roll-in in Palm Springs, where you’re fighting the lady. 


I think I was just way too “little kid stoked” on that one. Like, when a kid is running towards a pool and you’re afraid they’re gonna slip and bust their head? That was basically my entire mindset for street skating back then. But that lady wasn’t about to let that happen, not on her watch. 


Did you ever go back for the clean rollaway or were you just too dusted after all that?  


Oh, I was dead. And that was on a trip, too. We just never ended up going back. But when I look at it now, I like the fall. It feels more real. Like in the Vans video when Andrew Allen does that switch ollie in and slams? He just takes it. And that’s my favorite clip in the part! It stands out. Because it’s not always about the make, it’s the whole thing. 


Are you one to go on specific missions or do you prefer more spontaneity?


For the life of me, I’ve never been able to pick something that I want to do and be able to do it. That never works for me. I actually have a hard time with filmers, and they will attest to this, because I never really know what I’m gonna do. 


Something that happens a lot is that I’ll land a trick when they’re not filming, but then I won’t be able to do it again. That’s a constant battle for me. Because something will just pop in my head, and instead of telling the filmer about it, I’ll just try it. Next thing you know, I’m confused at how I’m rolling away and the filmer’s like, “That was sick! Let’s get another one!”


And that’s when everything falls apart. 

photo: fick

You’re down for a battle, though? 


Oh, I’m all about the battle. If I think I can do it, I don’t care if the filmer has already gone home and is eating dinner, I’m not leaving until I get it or can’t go anymore. That’s just some primal fucking rage shit right there. I feed off that feeling.


The battle is epic, man. That’s what makes us skateboarders. 


One clip I’ve always loved in Slave is that 6ft backside ollie to disaster you throw in there…


Oh yeah, on the mini ramp! That was fun. There were a bunch of little kids at the ramp that day, causing ruckus, but I guess they saw me trying that and got hyped on it. One of the kids decided to get right up close to me so he could watch. I go to try another one and all you hear is this high-pitched yell coming out of this little kid’s mouth. It was so loud. And I was so hyped that I made it because I really wanted to use the clip. Just that kid yelling made everything so funny and cool to me. 


Yeah, the sound of that kid screaming with the quick disaster is incredible. 


I feel like I always want my disasters to sound like a nail gun or something. And I always liked how Chris Livingston did those fucked up disasters on vert, as quick as humanly possible… Didn’t he do a front-foot impossible to disaster in a part? It was jacked.


I love the one where he’s completely off his board when it hits and he still rolls away. 


Yes! He doesn’t connect until the deck! That’s what I want to see, man. There’s a reason why it’s called a "disaster", you know? 

You’ve called Bones New Ground your personal favorite part, why is that? 


Because I’ve always been a little insecure about putting out parts and that one felt like a real accomplishment. It was the first time I ever thought of a part as a “project”, like we’re going to work on this thing for the next year and put it out. It wasn’t just randomly filmed on tour or something. I went balls deep into that one and felt like it worked. I got to pick my song for the first time, too, which was sick. 


It was fun because I actually lived close to Jarrod Lucas, so we could go film all of the little random ideas that pop in your head. Going to the park at night when it’s pitch black out and lighting up a quarterpipe… That’s how people like me get away with doing easy shit: doing it at night with a camera light. (laughs)


How many times did you have to slap that roof for the TWS cover?


Honestly, I think that’s one of those covers where it’s more about the photo than the trick, you know? Because it is a great photo, but it really wasn’t hard. 


I typically grab my backside airs up high, almost on the nose. But on that one, I was actually trying to do it more like a method air and hit all four of my wheels. It was in SF at this place called the Flower Shop… but dude, that probably shouldn’t have been a cover. That’s like a four-foot quarterpipe. Not very tall at all. And if you can backside air on anything steep, you can do that. It was no big deal. Because that thing launches you perfect. And if something did happen and you didn’t hit the roof, you could just land to flat. It wouldn’t hurt. 

photo: tadashi

Well, talk about your Thrasher cover at Burnside from around this time. Because I know it was kind of a thing and you ended up having to do it twice. I remember Garric Ray being pretty bummed. 


Yeah, he was bummed… wouldn’t you be? As a photographer, to almost have a Thrasher cover like that? 


I don’t want to bum anybody out but I do like the moment that’s captured in Garric’s photo. To me, I feel like that actually shows the trick. The fact that he’s farther back and it’s all in front of you. And I don’t really like doing indy airs with the tuck-knee, either. I like to stinkbug my indy airs. That’s how Duane did them and I think that’s how they should be done. I actually did it stinkbug on purpose when I did it for Garric’s photo. But then, of course, your stupid ass brain gets in the way and you start overthinking it. So when Burnett came to reshoot it, I felt like I should probably do it tuck-knee because it’s Thrasher and I don’t want to be lame. Looking back, that was stupid. 


I didn’t even think about that aspect of it… but you know certain people would’ve been calling that out forever. 


Yeah, but that’s how I wanted to do it. If someone wants to say something, they can say it to Duane’s face. He’ll spit a tooth at you. 

photo: burnett

But how did it come to where you had to shoot it again? Because that’s a pretty gnarly thing to have to do twice.


I actually don’t remember that part of it.


The whole thing started when Phelps announced that whoever did it would get the cover. He told everybody and it quickly became a thing. People were actively trying to get it and be the first or whatever. Like, I remember this one guy, bless his soul, he will forever hate my guts because I got it before he did. I guess he’d tried it a few times. He definitely thinks there was some malicious intent there, for some reason. I’m sorry, man. I don’t know what to tell you. 


I can’t remember how the second photo came about. I feel like somebody mentioned it in conversation, that they’d heard Burnett was gonna hit me up about reshooting it. That he was wanting to fly up to Portland specifically for that. 


And you made it both times? 


Yeah, it’s really not that sketchy. Because you’re landing in a big bank, it’s like a catcher’s mitt. You’re not gonna get hurt. 


Honestly, my favorite thing about all of this is the fact that the dude who did the other part, where Cardiel taildropped in, he’s from Houston, too! The steep halfpipe part? Chaz Pineda did that part of it. He’s a little bit older than me and I actually grew up watching that dude, trying to emulate him. So yeah, I’m pretty stoked that it was two Houston dudes who got those tricks at Burnside. 


So how did Birdhouse come about? Tony just hit you up? 


Yeah, completely out of the blue. Tony’s definitely not dumb when it comes to stuff like that. He understands the element of surprise. That if Tony Hawk calls you out of nowhere for something, it feels like a much bigger deal. And fuck, he could’ve asked me to do anything to get on team. Some totally weird shit and I would’ve done it. (laughs)


What was the process? Were you just on the team, just like that? 


Pretty much. I had to let Ben Horton know, which I was bummed about, but that was about it. Because I’d hung out with a lot of the Birdhouse dudes already. Obviously, I knew Jaws with IPath and through him, I got to know Clive and Clint. Shawn Hale. I never really asked those dudes but I feel like they probably vouched for me on their end. 


I mean, I’ve been going on trips with Jaws since I was sixteen. That’s, like, half my life. 


How has that been over the years? Because you mentioned having anxiety earlier, I can’t imagine watching that dude ollie massive shit being of any help in that department. 


Actually, it does help, in a way. Because you look at him and immediately think to yourself, “Oh, I’m fine.” (laughs)


I truly think Jaws is the embodiment of having fun on your skateboard, because he’s just out there having a good time. Whenever he goes to jump off some crazy shit, it’s never with the mindset of “needing a gnarly trick”. It’s more like he can’t help himself. He wants to do it. Because he doesn’t give a shit whether you like it or not. That doesn’t matter to him at all. It’s the adrenaline rush for him. Dopamine. He’s addicted to it. 


What’s the gnarliest or scariest thing you’ve seen him do in-person?


There was a roof he was skating one time… I can’t remember the clip. This was probably multiple times, actually. But what sticks out in my mind is that I was sitting next to Clint and we watched Jaws try one. Whatever it was, he didn’t make it, but Clint and I connected eyes right afterwards and it felt like it actually hurt the both of us just by watching it. Like, ”Ugh!” 


There were so many moments like that with Jaws. Where you want to give someone the eyes, like “Dude… Why!?!” 


That’s just part of skating with him. 

What was your favorite King of the Road challenge? And what’s one that stands out as an absolute bummer? 


I mean, I can just start listing off the worst ones. There’s no shortage of those, like drinking piss. But the ones that really drove me crazy were the ones with time constrictions… Or the ones where you had to go to one certain spot for one trick. That was always hard. Going to a spot that you’d never been to before and having to do one specific trick there? Because it always seemed like those types of challenges were only worth a few points and the spots were super far away. And once you finally got there, you quickly realized, “Fuck, I gotta do that on this?” 


I always liked the stupid ones, like checking into a hotel with only stickers on. Because after a while, you start to feel like you’re existing in your own little King of the Road universe. That you’re no longer in the same realm as everybody else. That the rules no longer apply, so you really stop giving a fuck. And that’s when things get super gnarly. You start to feel like you’re on Bam’s old show and can get away with anything. It brings out a totally different side of people. 


Do you remember that infamous day with Clint, Raven and the knife? 


Honestly, I don’t. I was really bad with drinking by that point. A lot of my memories back then are based more on what people have told me or by watching footage. I don’t really remember being there for a lot of that stuff. And it’s not just from the drinking, either. Everything is so chaotic on those things. There’s so much going on at all times, you’re not always able to log and save those specific moments. 


As far as that situation goes, we were all on the fucking edge for that entire time. All of us. There’s so much testosterone and adrenaline floating around, shit like that is bound to happen. Like I said, you go into this other world… although that was a bit ridiculous. 


I don’t really get pissed like that. I was born to be a pacifist because I’m, like, five-foot-nothing. 

On a lighter note, I loved your PigPen/Dune homage from around this time. 


Yeah, that was fun. Because I’m definitely not the cleanest person in the world. I’m definitely gone a year-straight without brushing my teeth. And for trips, I’ll usually just throw some dirty clothes into a backpack and bring it, which can bum people out. So I’ve unknowingly embodied that graphic long before it ever came out, but I was hyped the first time I saw it. I thought it was awesome, both as a graphic on its own as well as a cool little ode to Dune. I love that kind of thing. 


How was filming for Saturdays? That was probably your “biggest” project ever, right? 


Yeah, that was a stressful one, man. Because I knew that I wasn’t quite skating up to the level I should’ve been. Like I said earlier, I’ve always been insecure about things. It was hard for me to wrap my head around why I was even in the video to begin with. Like, what am I supposed to do for this? What’s even good enough? I was struggling to the point where I didn’t even want to film a part because it was just so embarrassing. 


Adding to that, I was also caught in a partying phase. I couldn’t even do the stuff that I didn’t think was good enough. That was hard. 


Did that stress contribute to you partying more? 


I’m sure it did, but I can’t blame anybody but myself. I’m just not very bright. 


…I don’t really like my Saturdays part. 

photo: ray

Well, I liked that invert backside disaster revert in there, which I’d never really seen before. Where’d that idea come from? 


Dude, I actually did that on accident once and could never do it again. It sounds ridiculous but I originally did it in the deep end of this really big bowl. Not a real pool, but it was on pool coping with vert. What happened is that I tried to do an invert going really slow and couldn’t get it. Whenever I feel like I can’t get an invert around, I’ll hop my hand and that one just kinda fell into backside disaster. It just happened. And the backside revert was me cheating, because that’s the easiest thing in the world. 



Think about it. You’re staring back at the wall and can put both hands down. It’s like a “safety button” for me, which makes it less cool in my book. 


Who was the Arizona pool skater who did the “scrambled eggs”? The eggplant disaster? That’s where the idea stemmed from. Because any invert trick to disaster always felt like one of those white whale tricks for me. 

photo: rattray

What are some other twists on classic tricks that you’d like to see?


I don’t know, I think these dudes today have that shit handled. I’m more into the idea of fun, older tricks being done in sketchy scenarios. That’s what I think is cool. Doing something that people disregard as a “little kid trick” but doing it on something that they won’t even skate… so what’s really “lame”? That’s cool to me. Because none of us is all that gnarly. We’re all just playing with toys. (laughs)


Weren’t you trying Fully Mammoths at one point? A Wooly Mammoth going all the way around? 


Yeah, but I don’t think I’ll ever get that one. I didn’t even learn frontside inverts until this year. I’d done a couple before, but they were trash. Like a Miller Flip that didn’t spin all the way. But I recently learned how to do frontside inverts the proper way, so now I’m gonna start trying Fully Mammoths again. Why not? 


What about your varial channel ender in Saturdays, though? 


Oh, like that carving backside shove-it? I don’t know, man. I’ve just always wanted to know what it feels like to float a flip trick. Like 90s vert skating, you know? To be above the ramp, with your board flipping in the air and have it come back to your feet without grabbing? I just can’t do it.  


I can never get the flip like that, so I’ve always had to go with the shove-it. That’s the only way I could ever feel that feeling. So if that’s the case, I might as well do it somewhere that I can kinda get away with filming it. That was towards the end of filming, where I was like, “Goddammit, this part sucks. Is there anything I can possibly do to salvage this thing?”


There was a bit of desperation with that one. 


What about the drop-in on the Montana Ave bridge? 


Oh yeah, the Muska spot by the beach! Remember that? 


Definitely, but that was after Saturdays for you, right? 


Yeah, Adam Mills suggested that one to me. He used to be our filmer at Birdhouse and now he’s the big man in charge over there. Great dude. He’d been trying to find something for me to get, out of the kindness of his heart… because I hadn’t really had anything in so long. He knew my skating and figured that I could drop in on that. 


I wasn’t expecting it to be a Magnified or anything. I don’t really see why people think it’s that crazy. If you go up there and stand on it, it’s not the craziest thing in the world. 


I love how humble you are but I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit on this shit. 


It’s one of those things where you start to wonder how many taildrops can you do? Like Bam’s taildrop thing. Okay, you did the Encinitas one… that’s about it. Where do you go after that? I don’t want to become the new drop-in guy, you know? The four-down guy. That’s not exactly what I’m going for.  


Had you even seen that spot before? Was the bar already cut? 


No, just the Muska footage. And we cut the bar. I actually tried it with the bar but it was a little too close to the edge. Ever seen someone try to drop-in and something grabs the top of their tail? It turns the whole thing into a super stiff diving board… 


And you’re fucked. You definitely don’t want that happening there.  


Yeah, the railing was doing that a little to my board. Not enough to where it was obvious, but just enough… which makes it even worse. Because it wouldn’t catch on one try, but on the next try, it would a little. That makes it even scarier, because you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. What if I commit and the board gets stuck? It’s gonna stay there and I’m flipping over. But personally, I think it's kinda lame that we cut it.


That whole thing was right as I was starting to go downhill and needing to do something. Adam found me a trick so I could feel useful for a second. 

love this photo by matt price 

So this basically leads up to those quiet years for you, which you’ve mentioned some issues with drinking already. What was happening at this point?


Well, I was living in Portland and just latched onto the fun I was having in the scene. I started partying with people that I barely even knew. Drinking more and more. It just got to be the norm and I ended up taking it way too far.  


I also wasn’t skating as much at this point because it had become such a downer. I was bummed that I couldn’t skate like the real pros, so instead of just trying to skate for fun, I hung it up. And you know how the bar scene goes, stuff gets gnarlier and gnarlier. Before I knew it, I was fucked. I had no money, hanging out with random people at a bar. Drugs got heavily involved…


Basically, what ended up happening is that my friend Jake from Texas came to my apartment and took me back home. And I’m glad he did, because I was probably gonna end up dead. 


Portland can be a dark place. And I’ve found that this sorta thing often stems from skaters being left to their own devices as that fun from the road starts carrying over into daily living…


Yeah, I think that was absolutely the biggest part of it. Not being smart enough to realize that every action has a consequence. Because I was already insecure about filming, now that I wasn’t skating as much, I wasn’t skating as well. And it all started to feed into itself, making matters worse. You feel like everyone is expecting you to do all this stuff when you can barely even do a frontside grind. 


I actually remember seeing you skate with a mason jar of sake on more than one occasion at this time, which was concerning. 


Yeah, and it got way worse than that, man. I actually had jaundice. I looked like a Simpsons character. 

photo: zaslavsky

Jesus, man. 


I let it all get the best of me. Because I grew up without a lot of structure, man. I’ve been making my own money since I was a teenager and doing everything for myself, so I never really had that last bit of adult supervision in my teenage years that most people have. Turns out that I really needed that… I feel like Macaulay Culkin and I should probably get together and talk about shit. 


What sucks is that I can now recognize when this same sort of thing is starting to happen with the younger dudes. I just want to take them aside and be like, “Listen, dude. I know it seems like you’re just having fun, but it’s harsh.” 


It’s way too common. 


But yeah, I quit drinking in the first week of March this year and I’m just now starting to realize that I wasn’t actually that bad at skating. I was just hammered from whenever I woke up until the time I passed out. Seriously. My day always started with finishing the pint of Fireball from the night before and only then would I start to think about skating.  


I have to imagine the Mike Davis (R.I.P.) tragedy playing into this, too. 


Yeah, that hit really hard because we were so close. We both lived in Portland and would always room together on trips. And we were also in the same crowd that sorta manifested a lot of this trouble, too. 


After Mike passed, things got really dark for me, because I didn’t see much of a difference between us in that regard. It was so weird to think that he was gone, I didn’t really know how to deal with it. 


So yeah, things were pretty fucked from 2014 to 2019.

photo: mckay-randzzi

Was it difficult for you to accept what your friend was trying to do when he came to your place? Or did you know? 


I was in such a cloud of carelessness that I didn’t give a shit either way. In my mind, I didn’t care because I felt like I was still gonna end up back on this couch, getting fucked up. And maybe I’d sleep after a few days. 


When I finally got back to Texas, it took me a minute to really figure things out, because I’d been out of it for so long. I hadn’t really talked to anybody in quite some time. I hadn’t even had a phone for two years at that point. I just remember going to my parents’ house and sleeping for two weeks. 


I slowly starting chipping away at things after that. The addiction side of it, I’m back at my parents’ house in Texas and don’t really know anybody, so that was the easy part. I just couldn’t quit fucking drinking. And you know what happens when you drink, it lowers your inhibitions. All of a sudden, you’re talking about getting some of this and just blowing it. 


After a while, I started to feel like I was getting everything kinda under control. I started working, but I still couldn’t skate the way I wanted to… I just tried not to think about it. 


Did you see yourself as retired at this point? 


I just saw it as putting down my yo-yo for a bit. I figured that I’d burned all my bridges and it was fun while it lasted. I blew it. 


I didn’t see it as a retirement, more like I threw a beer bottle at my boss's head and walked off the job.


How did your sponsors react to all this?


Like I said, I hadn’t talked to anybody in years. If I remember correctly, they were trying to help me. Tony sent me to rehab and I went for a month. It didn’t work. But doing this sort of thing can only last for so long. It’s like that Colin McKay phone call in The DC Video. “Dude, you’re not skating. We can’t keep giving you a paycheck.” 


Luckily, Fred Gall and Lou came through and put the fire under me to skate again. I needed that. 


Yeah, how did the Metal relaunch come about? Because I know it’s been around for a while. 


If memory serves correctly, Metal’s been around since 1995. Just as a small homie company with Fred as part of the crew. They did a couple Alien collabs over the years but then Fred went and did his thing, Lou did his thing. The turning point was when Fred started making his comeback a few years ago. I guess he went up to Alien, like, “Hey guys, check out all of the stuff I got in Thrasher. What’s up?”


It seems like Alien always wants to be that tri-sect. To have three. I think they were toying with the idea of giving Fred a company and somebody brought up Metal. Because they’d already done collab boards and everything, why not just make it a thing? So yeah, we’re basically the super hesh Seek.


(laughs) How did they reach out to you? 


I just got a random text one day. “Hey, it’s Fred Gall. Call me back. It’ll be worth it.”


And honestly, my first response was thinking to myself, “Oh God…”


But then he spits me the idea and I talk to Lou… You gotta remember that I’ve known both of these guys through IPath for years. We used to call him “Uncle Lou” back in the day. Because on tours, Lou used to always refer to Ryan Reyes, Jaws and I as the “Air Babies” because we were always trying to win the demo. Jumping over the railing and flying around everywhere. Lou would always laugh about it but Fred actually yelled at us a couple times. (laughs)


It just seemed like fate, and exactly what I need. No pressure, no nothing. Skating can just be fun again. I don’t have to be insecure anymore because it doesn’t fucking matter. 

photo: rooster 

How is skating with Freddy now compared to the old IPath days?


It’s rad because it’s not so much of a job now. He’s just doing his Fred thing. Steal concrete, make a spot and get a trick. He’s not stressing over deadlines or having to get shit. None of that. He’s just skating for fun again, which is good to see. 


Is Metal a bit of a support system for you two? 


(laughs) Yes. I can’t speak for Fred, but for me, it is. Definitely. They’ve lit quite the fucking fire under me, man. 


I’m just trying to find a balance with all the stuff I have going on. Like this weekend, I work 10 hours Friday before flying out to California on Saturday morning for the Death Match competition. Then I fly home Sunday night and go right back to work Monday morning. I would’ve never done something like that before, but it’s totally worth it. Everything feels different now because I’m doing it for me. Even putting @Metal after filming a clip on Instagram feels fucking cool. 


I have to imagine that part of you feels like you’d never be in this position again. 


Yeah, I think part of me knows that I’m getting a second chance with all of this. 


I’m stoked for you, Ben. But how does skating for Fred Gall compare to skating for Tony Hawk? 


(laughs) Wow. 


Well, you actually have more to live up to with Fred. Because Tony is the most supportive dude ever when it comes to his team. All he wants is for his riders to do whatever they want to do and fucking shred. But one of the big reasons I like Metal is that if we’re not shredding, it’s not gonna work. There’s no glamour to this. Because you’re set with Birdhouse, just fucking skate and have fun. But with Metal, you have to figure out ways for our brand to get seen. 

photo: ray

Yeah, talk a little about the “blue collar” feel of the brand. Because I know Fred’s working a job, too. 


We’re doing exactly what every woman doesn’t want in a guy, because we can’t let go of skateboarding. Like, I don’t care how bad I am at skating anymore, I’ll fucking force-feed you footage if I have to. (laughs)


It just feels different now. Working-class skateboarding… like, really? You’re one of those dudes who gets off work and instead of going home to a wife and kid, you go to the skatepark? 


Yeah, dude. That’s fuckin’ me. 


So rad, man. But how does Texas compare to New Jersey crust? 


It’s actually quite similar! Because Houston is an older city, we have a lot of flooding and groundwater, which leads to a lot of cracks and broken-up concrete. Rough embankments. So when Freddy and Richie Blackshaw come out here from New Jersey, they’re kinda in their element. Rich actually found some pretty sick shit out here last time. 


And how are you in Jersey at some of Fred’s spots? 


It’s great, man... it's interesting. I’ve definitely learned how broad the term “skatespot” can be. It’s a relative term, for sure. 


(laughs) Are you guys currently looking for a third Metal pro? 


Actually, I think we have somebody already who deserves a board. I don’t think Metal has to look for anything. 


Awesome. So what’s next for you and the Metal massive? 


As far as Metal goes, we’re just filming and trying to get shit done. And we’d like to get a good trip in the works. But for me, I want to get enough footage out there to convince a few more companies to give me some cash. Just a couple of flights and some per diem... Because I want to dabble. I want to be able to skip work for a week every once in a while and not lose that money. That’s all. 


It’s probably asking for too much, but I’m trying to play both sides of the coin. I just need to convince someone to have a little faith in me. 

photo: muller

Kind of a random one but if you could skate with any pro and at any spot, past or present, what would it be?  


Blender when he skated those quarterpipe walls at that mall in Orlando. I think Lance was there, too. 


Amazing answer! And you came up with that quick! 


(laughs) I’ve been thinking about that one since I was a child. That was an easy one. 


Alright, Ben. Thanks so much for doing this, and it's so good to see you back in the mix. As we wrap this up, what would you say has been your proudest moment in skateboarding and your biggest regret?


Oh man, proudest moment is a gnarly one! 


I’d probably have to say when I kissed Tony on the lips. It was at the Saturdays premiere, red carpet-style. I just grabbed Tony and kissed him, totally catching him off guard. If you would’ve told little kid me that this would happen in my life, I’d be pretty fucking stoked.




And my biggest regret? No tongue, dude! (laughs)


Nah, it would have to be that I let my stupidity get the best of me. I’ll be forever wondering about the years I lost and how things could be different if I didn’t blow it. But I earned that. It’s my fault and my cross to bear. But if that’s the worst thing to ever happen to me, I guess I’m not doing too bad.  

Big thanks to Ben, Isaac and Lookback Library. 


Nat said...

Great interview. Ben rips and it's awesome to see him skate again after being out of the scene for a few years.

look back library said...

so stoked ben is back and stoked to just be out skating....

blumpkins said...

Bens the best. Always wondered if he saw the slap thread where everyone was worried about him popping up in some Rick dudes insta during the dark years. Glad he found his way out, class act.

Anonymous said...

Bens skating is so unique and rad. I don't think he gives himself anywhere near enough credit for his skating which is a shame, so glad he found a way out of Portland and the peeps that helped him find a way back. That drop in he did from the side of the highway is one of the gnarliest things ever seen.

Inquisitive Gentleman said...

The AZ pool skater who does eggplant disasters aka “scrambled eggs” that Ben mentions has to be Jimmy Moore. Amazing interview as usual!

Derk the barber said...

So stoked for this. Ben rips. Makes me want to go skate!

Larry said...

Good interview, cool to see Ben ripping again.

@extrachrispynomsg said...

Ben is the coolest dude, I got into skating late as a 25yo and Ben was my idol lol… I got to skate with him recently and was definitely NOT disappointed 👏
Great interview & I’m looking forward to seeing the next chapter in the saga of Ben!

hedshovel said...

This dude always brings a smile to my face. I love his energy and style, he's definitely one of those skaters who has that "extra something" that makes them 1 in a million. Ben, I wish you the best!

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