Words by Alex Irvine. photography by Daniel Wagner
I’d been trying to get a hold of Benny for a week or so and it was looking a little unlikely that I was going to be able to track him down for an interview. I’d been warned by a few people that he might be a tough one to pin down but I think I’ve been given the run around far more times from others in the past. The first couple of times we spoke he was busy teaching kids how to skate at the WeSC skate camp he and Mark Baines had set up, so he had his reasons, and they were valid ones.
We eventually figured it out and met up in a pub in East London’s Whitechapel where we split a pizza, and a sank a couple of swift halves and had a chat, whilst the bar staff did their books on the bar and a lone local talked shit to thin air and fed his dog left over pizza crusts.
Outside the streets were thronging with East London’s lunchtime mosque goers and some tinny bar music played in the background. Probably not the ideal audio set up for an interview, but then I don’t enjoy doing interviews, and Benny said he’s not too keen on doing them too. We discuss the fact that this might be a bad combination for a riveting read but decide to carry on regardless. Well we need some words to go with these pictures.
Talking about the skatecamp seems like the obvious place to start things off, with Benny having been there whole of last week.
“It was me, Mark, Danny Brady, Joey Pressey and Ash Hall and Danny Beall from Sheffield. Chris Haslam was supposed to be there too but he couldn’t make it. We had this sick plaza to skate and the kids had a school to stay in, it was really sick man."
I wondered what Benny made of it there.
“It was a cool little town, nothing much to do except just hanging out teaching the kids. Danny got really into it, he was in his element; holding best trick comps and giving out stickers to the kids." A possible future career path for him? He’s not so sure. He also goes on to say that he couldn’t really skate much at the camp on account of his bad back new found back pain, received after slamming awkwardly whilst trying to get a couple of last minute things for this interview. Benny decided he should be there to show face regardless, which says something of his nature, and indeed chatting with him is pretty easy and he comes across as genuine, not forced in his answering of the questioning, which adds to his affability. We exchanged back pain stories for a few minutes and I find out he’s going to see a chiropractor or an osteopath, he can’t remember which, but it’s a high flying fancy doctor in London’s Chelsea area. Worth the money though, we agree, as Benny is now more than aware, back trouble can disable you completely.
So we discuss shooting for this interview, and I mention that it is pretty much shot, in its entirety, in Germany, Stuttgart to be exact. I wondered if it was like a second home to him in Europe.
“Nah, not really. I mean Jascha (Mueller, Adidas TM) is there, so he always looks after you, and there are plenty of spots there."
But it’s no Barcelona, is the ruggedness of a spot an allure to him?
“ Yeah, man. It’s always better if a spot is rugged. It gives it something extra. It’s good to work for a trick you know."
I wonder how this idea gels with his life in LA.
Benny goes on to say that he spends the winter there and come back to Europe for the summer when it’s warmer, well drier. Where does he prefer to skate?
“London. Definitely, man."
We discuss the pros and cons of living as a skateboarder on both sides of the world, and same things that always seem to divide opinion crop up: in LA, the all year round reliability of the sunshine against the difficulty in actually getting to and skating a spot and Europe’s less reliable weather but accessibility in getting to spots.
Benny remarks that it’s always a different crew he skates with in LA, that there’s so many different skaters out there it makes for an interesting, diverse crew. Different from life back in London and definitely a far cry from his life growing up in New Milton.
“The first person I eve saw do an ollie was Joey (Pressey), I went to school with him."
What was it like to skate there?
“Pretty terrible, man we just had one of these little metal skateparks, That was just terrible. We used to get trains every weekend, go and skate Southsea, or Milton Keynes, up to Radlands. We’d go up there in the morning with our packed lunches and back again at night."
“Yeah, and we used to go up there and enter the under 15s or whatever, and we’d go when the pros turned up too."
When asked if competing something he still enjoys the recoil to the question is answer enough. It’s quite clear that Benny is defined by his street skating and that competitions are not his thing.
“It’s just all too serious," he confirms.
I figured after the fact that I should get another side to the story of growing up in New Milton so I decided to give Joey a quick call and ask him about taking skate trips with Benny.
“We used to all chip in, our older friend had a network card, he would get a 1/3rd off his ticket and we’d all pay a quid, just divvy it all up and head up to Radlands and knock rollerbladers off their skates and just get pissed or something. Another time he went to Oxford with Wig (Worland) or (Andy) Horsley or someone, it was the first time he got a picture in a mag I think, and he slept in their car all day on the Saturday because he’d been up all night, he recovered well though because he nollie heelflipped them long Tom Penny stairs in Oxford the next day."
Benny is has left the table to take a fag break, leaving me to stab away at the remains of my salad and order us a couple more drinks. The local man with the dog starts coughing like crazy and stotters past the table with his dog in tow. Benny returns and makes his way to the toilet as the dog comes bolting ‘round the corner shortly followed by the drunk guy cursing the dog at the top of his voice. Despite the vacant stare and loud volume of the punter, Benny seems completely unfazed, cool even, an attribute which seems to fit him to a tee. The man slumps back and orders a Jagermeister from his seat, “It’s the only thing that stops my cough," he explains, unconvincingly. One bar man rolls his eyes and the other doesn’t even rise from his paperwork.
We begin again.
When did you first move into London?
“When I was 18 I went to Southbank University and I was there for 2 years. I studied film production, but I didn’t stick it out. That was when I first met Chris Pastras and J Lee in WeSC trip in Sweden and they were like, “come to America". So I gave University the boot and that was pretty much it."
Was film making a passion or a random choice?
“I just wanted to get out of my home town more than anything really." Adding that he saw it as an obvious choice as it ties in with skateboarding’s obscession with filmmaking and photography.
Is it something he’ll go back to though? Benny seems like he would consider it, but it’s not like he’s going to re-enrol any time soon.
“I dunno about a skateboard filmer, it seems like you’ve got skateboard filmer. There’s not much money in it and you really have to be dedicated to it.
I wondered if there was any regret from Benny that he didn’t complete his further education?
“I guess that’s a question you get asked all the time, especially by people who don’t skate: what are you going to do when you blow your knee out? Or: aren’t you going to be too old to do that soon?"
And the answer is?
“I don’t know, haha. I like to look at it like, all the guys, when I was a kid, that I looked up to, my childhood heroes, pro skaters; the majority of them are all still doing it, and most of them are still top of their game. One of my favourites is Shier, he’s 10 years older than me and comes out skating with us all the time in LA, pretty much everyday and he still goes for it. He’s an inspiration."
As we wrapped up the interview I find myself feeling slightly less capable at interviewing than Benny is at being interviewed. Having said hello to him in passing numerous times before I feel I’ve gotten to know him a little better. And if you don’t feel the same then you should probably have a chat with him yourself. He’s a nice bloke.
As we exit the pub the local loner propping up the bar yells “Shut up!" full volume at a passing Ambulance and we leave him and the empty pub to do battle.
We agree he is mental and go our separate ways.
Benny is supported by:
Stereo Skateboards, Adidas, WeSC clothing, Independent Trucks.