That was then, this is now: Ben Jensen
Through his artwork, Ben “Way Bad” Jensen has become a household name in skateboarding. Behind the art and low brow comics we all know and love is a husband, a father, a mason and above all (to us), a skater. His skateboarding based comics act as a creative (and funny) means of expressing what’s on a lot of our minds. They exude the kind of grumpiness that we at Birling appreciate. He has contributed graphics to many shops and brands out there, although his most valued contribution to our culture is undoubtedly, the "pizza beer bong". Chatting with Ben regarding the current state of skateboarding was a treat. Check out the full interview below.
When and where did you start skating?
I first started pushing around when I was 12 years old in the east end of Ottawa…sometime in the mid 90s.
How has skateboarding changed since then? What is the biggest difference?
The commercial aspect and the “jock” aspect is being tolerated way more than it used to be. This has created a schism between the older and younger generation of skateboarders. Older skaters went through a period of time where simply skating down the street could get them into a fight. Younger skaters cannot relate to the resentment which this created. That’s why younger skaters don’t understand why [for example] older skaters aren’t down with skateboarding taking place in the Olympics. They weren’t raised in a time where skateboarding wasn’t accepted. It’s ironic to me that the same people that were once so opposed to skateboarding (corporations etc.) are now pushing for it to be in the Olympics. It’s nothing but a money grab. It’s like they’re saying: “We’re cool right? All those years of ridicule are forgiven?”. If you didn’t go through the era before today’s general acceptance of skateboarding, you don’t get it.
I guess that's why there were so many angry, anti-authority skaters back in the day…because they didn’t feel accepted.
Yeah, but also – angry kids were driven to skateboarding. So it’s kind of a “chicken or the egg” thing. The culture of skateboarding became attractive to agro, misfit teenagers which fuelled the “us vs. society” attitude. Skateboarding is following the same trajectory that punk rock did. When punk rock started, it was primarily for the weirdos and the outcasts. When it went mainstream, a lot of people lost sight of that. For that reason, “newer” fans of punk may be prone to wonder why older fans want to keep the culture as it was in the beginning…away from the mainstream. The roots of it all are lost on them. That’s how I see skateboarding developing. Don’t get me wrong – the more the merrier in skateboarding, but it seems like some are forgetting that skateboarding at its core is about accepting the weirdos and outcasts. The more commercial it’s getting, the more I’m seeing these people getting pushed out.
Unfortunately, I feel like that kind of change is inevitable and all we can do is keep our personal version of skateboarding in mind and stick to that.
No doubt. You’d drive yourself crazy if you’d try to control the narrative. I poke fun of what I believe to be “not true skating”, but I’m just talking shit. Making fun of people’s hobbies is harmless. Making fun of people gender, or ethnicity is obviously not. I once had the rollerblading community come at me…calling my “skaters against homophobia” graphic hypocritical due to the way skaters treat rollerbladers. I can’t believe that I had to explain to them that they do not qualify as an “oppressed minority group”. Fuck! Anyways, my point is that although you can’t control what direction skateboarding heads in, you should poke fun at what you personally think is whack within it. It’s fun…and shit talking is basically an essential part of our culture.
As is street skating, no? Something which I find is on the decline lately…
Totally! Skateparks are awesome but they are also another contributor to the schism between the old and new generation. Skateparks were once a warm-up spot before skating the streets. They are now THE destination for the day.
I always found street skating to be way more satisfying than park skating. To get a trick on something that was only made skate-able due to your efforts is amazing. The hunt for and creation of skate spots was an integral part of skateboarding…the “adventure” part. It was like the journey (cruising around aimlessly with your homies, looking for spots) was as important as the destination (doing a trick at a spot that you're proud of). Skaters that only go to parks eliminate the “journey” aspect.
The constant filming at parks is a weird thing too. I guess it's like the internet, it's good and it's bad…but the whole concept of skating to get recognized is new to me. An “end goal” to skating is new. There was more skating for the sake of skating back in the day.
As obvious as this sounds, I feel like the actual act of skateboarding is what unites all skaters…the clothing/lifestyle aspect to it was once secondary. There are plenty of instances where I see people put in a lot of effort into looking/acting like a skater but put in a comparatively low amount of effort into actually skating.
You know, a lot of potential newbies are scared to be considered “posers”, a term which is so misunderstood. A poser is someone who rubbed sandpaper on their shoes, and scratched their board on the curb before carrying it around like an accessory. It’s not about skill level. It’s about whether you're on your board for the right reasons. If you can barely push but you love it, you’re not a poser, you’re a skateboarder!
100%. If you’re willing to put in the effort, push yourself and give skateboarding a try…I’ll never have a problem with that. Skateboarding’s appeal turns sour quickly because of how hard it is. Most skaters go through an initial 3-year minimum period where they look like fools. This is more easily done when you’re 12 because everything you're doing at that point looks foolish.
For sure dude, and what carries us through that period and beyond is when it becomes an obsession. That’s an aspect that hasn’t changed much in skateboarding. The level of obsession. Skateboarders still can’t shut up about skateboarding. For example, with my comics, I never made a conscious decision to make them primarily about skateboarding. It’s just what’s on my mind. I’ve been skateboarding for 20 years now, and although I’m not very good at it…I just can’t stop.
Sick. I feel like that’s at the core of the best shit in skateboard culture. When the people behind an idea or brand are simply passionate skateboarders, their product becomes heartfelt and true. There’s no shortcut to that. I’m talking about the people whose minds are constantly brainstorming about skateboarding, regardless of if they have a brand or project in skateboarding. Those who are just naturally passionate and funnel those ideas into something for our culture to enjoy…that’s where the magic happens.
Exactly. Skateboarding isn’t Monster Energy or Toyota. Skateboarding is at its best when it's authentic. And when it’s not authentic, is it even skateboarding?
Well said Ben. Thanks man!