Fri, Dec 20 2013 12:01 am |
Our current issue, Jan/Feb 2014, has a full feature interview with Ben Lewis, shot mostly in Athens, Greece, but entirely awesome. We strongly suggest you check that if you haven’t already, and in the meantime, here are some excerpts from Ben’s interview that we couldn’t fit in the allotted pages.
Being from England, now here we are in Athens, they sell beer at all these little street kiosks, and you teenagers walking around drinking beer on the street, everything’s legal, we haven’t had any issues with security anywhere—we’ve pretty much done whatever we want. I know in England it’s similar, and in a lot of other countries in Europe, as well. So what’s it like for you when you come to the United States and there are security guards everywhere, and tickets for this, tickets for that…
I used to think that America was the land of golden opportunities as far as riding goes, with perfect spots and all that, but what you don’t realize is that the security issues that come with that, and the public that get involved, like you ride a spot in England and the worst you’re gonna get is that a local will call the police, and you can ride the spot for another 20 minutes until the police show up, then the police will tell you to leave. You don’t get a ticket, nothing happens, the police don’t have guns. I’m so happy that you two guys [Shawn McIntosh and Jeff Z.] have been able to come over to Europe and appreciate what it’s actually like to ride street where security don’t give a fuck, you can just drink beers at the spot when you’ve just pulled something you’re really happy with and you need a beer and a cigarette you can do that, and not stress out. We haven’t been kicked out of one spot at all, like in America one of the first times I went we got hassled from one spot, I got community service, probation, all this crazy shit that I’d never even imagine happening. Now it’s made me so cautious when I go to America, I’m so scared between that and the health insurance, neither of which I can afford, so whenever I go to America it’s quite a nervous ordeal and I’ll just fell like I’m treading on thin ice. In Europe it’s so much more relaxed. I love America, but Europe is definitely a different vibe.
I know you were here in Athens like five years ago, when you first got on Fit, so you knew a little bit of what was out here. But we basically came out here with two photos we’d already shot for your interview, and then we were going to wing it from there. How was that for you, knowing that this is where we’re going to get it done, in like a week’s span or so?
Initially, that put a lot of pressure on me, but I’ve got a lot of friends here and having watched their edits and having seen some of the spots on websites of what Athens has to offer, plus knowing the size of the city, there isn’t a chance in Hell that there couldn’t be a million amazing spots. A city of this size just has to have spots, so I had faith that we’d find essentially what we were looking for. What we tend to ride, anyway, isn’t your average spot. We were looking for interesting setups and unique things that you wouldn’t find anywhere else, and I feel that we got just that. We got exactly what we were looking for.
How would you compare Athens to Barcelona or Malaga, Spain?
Athens is one of the first European cities I’ve been to that actually compares to Barcelona. There’s just so many crazy spots and crazy architecture, obviously beautiful spots, beautiful women, beautiful bars. Barcelona seems to have it all, and it’s really all easy to find. In Athens it’s a bit more difficult…but in Spain in general no matter which city you go to, the architecture just breeds beautiful spots, and I feel like Greece just seems to have a similar deal.
I know I got a little stressed when we hit the last two days, knowing that we had a few things you wanted to do still, but we needed to get ’em done and meet the “quota.” But you didn’t really ever seem stressed at all, were you just hiding it, or did you just not really worry about it?
I guess I just go with the flow. I mean I had enough things in my head to do which would fill our quota, but I was just hoping we’d maybe come across something else, and as the things I wanted to do were slightly more dangerous, I thought it was best to play it safe and try and find as many surprise spots as possible and then if all else failed we could just go back to the stuff that scares me! Though if I’m going to do something, most of the time it’s 90% calculated anyway, so I know that I can do it, there’s just the random chance that it’s going to go wrong and you get injured, then you don’t get what you need to do, but I guess I always had faith that it would work out.
What’s your opinion about the plaza training grounds that are popping up everywhere nowadays?
I love riding plazas every once in awhile and I think they definitely have their place without a doubt. If you’re in a town that has no spots and then you get a plaza, that’s obviously one of the best things that can ever happen to you. But for cities with big street scenes, if you get a plaza near your city center then for example the second that thrives, you might get a fine for riding street, obviously the police are going to have more incentive to send you down to the park/plaza as opposed to letting you ride street. So, from that perspective I don’t really agree with it. I think there should be separation. I mean a plaza is the perfect example of a spot that’s ideal—you can do everything there, but the second you take it to a slightly rough street spot it might not happen. As I said though, I love them and I love some of the interesting things they build, I just prefer street.
Where are some places you still want to go to that you feel your street nose would sniff some stuff out?
The two places I really want to go to are Tokyo and Hong Kong. Tokyo, I’m hopefully going to in the next month or two, Hong Kong I haven’t found a way to get to yet, but I’m hoping an opportunity will appear soon. I just feel that cities of that size and the rate of progress of the building there and the density of the buildings, there must be some really interesting spots. Not necessarily perfect rails and perfect ledges, just interesting little cuts and jibs that really make it fun riding down the street.
Didn’t you go to Estonia and not ride at all and ended up going to jail instead?
Back in the day the Backyard jams in England were a good reason to go hang out and party, and we never used to ride them, though the courses were more park-based. As time passed I started to see the jams at Estonia, and I had a few friends who were going one year and the course looked real interesting. I wasn’t by any means a pro rider at that point, so I couldn’t manage to ride the contest, but I thought I’d just swing through and check it out. It was cheap, I could stay in a friend’s hotel room, so we decided that we would get an early flight the day before the contest and drive down. Unfortunately, the deal with an early flight is that you can’t sleep before it, so we proceeded to drink until the flight, drink on the flight, drink when we arrived, and then drink all night, which resulted in me having a massive blackout. When I came round I was in a six-foot by six-foot jail cell with a drain through the center, and two other people. The drain through the center was what you piss into, and I was asleep in that. The other annoying feature to this place was that it had a blinding white light above it, and obviously with me having done all the beers, did not feel that fresh. When I asked for some water, they were quite annoyed with me, and it turned out that the night before I had been quite the handful, and they were not that friendly towards me. Apparently what had happened was that upon leaving a club, I don’t know what happened between the club and the American Embassy, but I’d been running around the gardens freaking people out inside the American Embassy. While there’s a three meter wall that I have no idea how I climbed, I guess I thought I was going over to throw up or something, and as a safety mechanism I was running round knocking on windows or whatever, doing I don’t know what, until armed police came to escort me out. I think I tried to hide under a van, they dragged me out, I get odd flashbacks, but basically I remember sitting in the back of the police van thinking ‘I’m going to an Estonian jail, I’m probably gonna get raped.’ So yeah, odd flashbacks, but suffice to say, they thought I was a terrorist, but I was just a pretty harmless drunk person who didn’t know what they were doing. The end result was that they took every single penny I had on me which was about 300 Euros, which was my money for the entire weekend, and they made me pay it into one of the police officer’s bank accounts. They actually took me to the bank and I paid it into their bank, and then they released me in a t-shirt in minus twenty degrees weather, and I had to find my way back to the hotel, which took about half an hour, and I had to run into every available shop to warm up inbetween stints outside. Funny thing was, by the time I got back to the hotel, all my friends were none the wiser, and thought that I’d just pulled a girl, and weren’t concerned in the slightest!
Wasn’t your dad a roadie for a long time in the music business?
Yeah, he started off as a roadie just lugging equipment around, and then worked his way up to being a tour manager organizing tours and the equipment, money and bands for sell-out stadiums in Brazil, and basically all over the world. He traveled the world non-stop for a long time until him and me mum had me, and then he decided he had to quit and spend some time with us. But basically everywhere I go in the world, he’ll recommend me a place to go or give me some advice about what to look out for or what not to do in that area, it’s really interesting that we both seem to have grown up having similar lifestyles, just travelling the world non-stop and I find it really interesting that we can both appreciate that.
And then I know that you worked in a recording studio for while? Wasn’t that one of your last jobs before you became a pro?
Yeah, I used to be a night receptionist at a recording studio that my mum and dad used to manage. Basically it entailed me playing Playstation, sitting on the internet all night, and making sure that the local drunk people didn’t manage to get in. The plus side was that random people like Coldplay, Echo And The Bunnymen, Black Sabbath could all walk through the door and come and record there. It was completely private and anonymous, on its own hotel floor and all that, so I got to meet a lot of interesting people. I could go into the studios when nobody was there and blast CDs at full volume and obviously it was all completely soundproof, nobody would have a clue what was happening. And with it being on a hotel floor with free hotel rooms I could potentially swing in there when I was on my way back home from town if I didn’t want to go all the way home if I had ‘friends’ with me or whatever. That was two streets away from the Liverpool city centre bar life, so it definitely came in handy.
Who are some famous musicians who you might have met?
I met all of Coldplay, they did their first two albums there I think. I can’t remember who else I met off the top of my head, Obviously the fella from Echo And The Bunnymen was a legend. People like Paolo Nutini, I spoke to Gwyneth Paultro on the phone, that was some bizarre shit…
So what bands did your Dad tour with?
He worked for Black Sabbath, Gary Moore, Van Halen—he went on some popular tours with that one… Me Dad don’t tell me stories that often about what he’s been up to, especially on tours, but I’d imagine there’s a lot of drugs or alcohol, or women knocking about, but I remember once we were watching a VH1 program called Top Ten Most Drug Addicted Tours Ever, and we were sitting there just watching that, and this one year pops up, Van Halen 1983, and me Dad just goes, “Ahh that was a good one” (Laughter) And I didn’t ask any questions, but…He also happened to mention that he went to Freddie Mercury’s house, and he went with a fella called Fish who was the lead singer of the band Merillion. Anyway they went to Freddie Mercury’s house party in London, and he went to go to the bathroom. When he walked in to go for a piss there was two girls completely naked with silver trays with a large amount of white powder sitting on top of them…He said “I didn’t know what it was for, but I can have a guess…” And that was all the information I got about that story!
Ben has been doing a lot since we wrapped up his interview while in Greece, so I caught up with him about what he’s been doing more recently…
What was it like riding at Dew Tour street in San Francisco?
Riding Dew Tour street was a dream. Closest you can get to an actual street course. All my friends and an amazing city was the best time ever!
And how was it just being in SF in general? Did you get a chance to ride street while you were out there?
I didn’t get a chance to ride much street there at all apart from on my days off when I would cruise by myself. The Dew Tour schedule is so hectic that you’re drained/partied out by the time it’s done and you just wanna lie down [laughs].
You said in your interview in the magazine that Tokyo was one of the cities that you really wanted to explore and you finally got a chance to go there recently with Animal. From the photos I saw on Instagram it looks like you guys found a lot of sick stuff…
Yeah, the whole of Japan was an immense experience. I knew there would be a lot of “Animal” style spots due to the density of the buildings. But never in a million years did I expect to see so much creative architecture, too. I will be going back there for a prolonged period of time!
You also mentioned to me that Ratkid really killed it. I did see a lot of photos of tranny walls and banks…
[Laughs] Yeah, he was out riding 25 hours a day—I couldn’t do it! It was like every corner we turned there was another insane transition.
Animal’s QSS #6 is supposed to drop any day now and you have a full section. I can’t wait to see it. I’m assuming your Tokyo footage is in there?
We started filming in NYC/New Jersey for a couple of weeks this summer and then did a small road trip up to Buffalo, New York—pretty much all East Coast shit until we went to Japan. I can’t remember half the stuff I’ve filmed, but I remember the spots weirdly [laughs]. I had an amazing time getting’ to chill with all the guys.
The East Coast of the US, Athens, Tokyo, what’s next?
Cape Town, South Africa [laughs]… I didn’t see that one coming! Next year is gonna be mental. I’ve got a list of dream destinations I’m gonna make happen. And I’m gonna go get lost in Eastern Europe in a car too. Keep yours eyes out.
Here is a little gallery of Ben’s photos from his recent travels to San Francisco, Austin, and Tokyo.
TAGS: Animal Bikes, Athens Greece, Ben Lewis, Fit Bike Co., Friday Interview, The Friday Interview