Ben Bourgeois – Pro Spotlight – 4.6

Ben Bourgeois Pro Spotlight

“I don’t mind leaving home for three months at a time. That’s fine with me. Like, even though I’ve been on the road since Christmas, and I’m gonna be gone ’til summer, I don’t want to go home right now.”

“I want to always be on a photo trip, videoing with someone. No slack moments.”

“It’s pretty tough to do really well with your career and stay on the East Coast. You’ve got to travel because it can be flat for so long.”

“I’ve been taking on my skate everywhere with me on tour. There’re fun parks everywhere, and there’s no one around.”

Forever On TourThe Ben Bourgeois Pro Spotlight.by Joel Patterson

“Yeah, there’re always a few times on the road when I think, ‘I just want to go home, I can’t handle this.’ Then I go home for a week, and I’m thinking, ‘I gotta get out of here. I gotta get back on the road.'”

Ben didn’t want to wear the squirrel suit.

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In retrospect, we probably shouldn’t have even asked him to wear it. I mean, what does it say about our opinion of Ben that we’d ask him to dress up like a rodent and run through a wooded area for his portrait in his pro spotlight?
Did we think he has no depth?
Could we not find some bigger aspect of his personality to focus on?
Did we really think we’d need a gimmick to sell him to our readers?
Well, yes. At first.Good interviews and good portraits are often the product of the subject’s personal life. The formula goes like this: the more screwed up you are, the easier you are to turn into editorial. For example: Reclusive, paranoid, drug-addicted wildmen who’ve covered themselves in tattoos and had three failed marriages by the age 32 are the wet dreams of interviewers and portrait photographers. Their lives are spider webs of human drama full of high highs and low lows, and they lend themselves perfectly to sensationalistic journalism.Ben Bourgeois is not exactly an interviewer’s wet dream. He’s not a heroin addict. He’s not chemically imbalanced. He’s doesn’t destroy hotel rooms. He doesn’t punch contest judges in their mouths. He wasn’t abandoned by his parents as a child. He’s not the inbred great-nephew of Marcel Duchamp. He hasn’t left an army of illegitimate children in his wake. In fact, he doesn’t even really seem to have a wake. He’s friendly. He laughs at your bad jokes. He listens. He’s boyishly handsome. He’s of average weight and height. He says, “friggin.” He’s what family counselors refer to as “adjusted.”Unfortunately for us, he’s normal. Or so he appears from the outside.But when Ben and I started doing his interview, I realized that beneath all the niceness, smiling, and agreeing there was a darker lining. Ben’s is a subtle angst-hard to detect, but impossible to deny. It could be that we’d just made him run around in a faux-fur suit complete with giant squirrel head and gloves, or it could be the internal struggle many East Coasters have about home-a simultaneous love for the homeland and a desire to flee it.

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If that ain’t deep, I don’t know what is.-Joel

Joel: What’s the origin of your last name?
Ben: It’s French.

Do you know what your name means?
Yeah. It means upper-middle class.

Here’s the definition I found: Bourgeois, one: a person belonging to the middle class, two: a person whose attitudes and behavior are marked by conformity to the standards and conventions of the middle class, three: in Marxist theory, a member of the property-owning class, a capitalist.Laughs. Yeah, I’ve hear that one about material values. You hear rappers using it in their stuff now, like, “All this bourgeois, my watch, my car.” Madonna talks about the bourgeoisie, but I don’t know if that’s the same thing or not.

Do you think those definitions apply to you?
No.

How don’t they apply to you?
To me it means snobby, and I just don’t feel like that.

Are you middle class?
Yeah.

Is your family middle class?
Yep.

How do you define middle class?
Middle class wou be, like, not crazy rich, but not struggling.

Why do you think we dressed you up in a squirrel costume?
I really don’t know. I’m still kind of scared about that one. Laughs nervously. I hope it comes out good. When Pete first told me they were going to put me in this animal costume, I was like, “Uhhh, okaaay.”

Did you think it was just some stupid TransWorld thing?
Yeah, I did at first, but we talked about it a little more. I hope it comes out good.

Was it hot in the suit?
No. We had a nice little breeze blowing. I had a little bit of a sweat going, but nothing too bad.

You were born in New Jersey.Yep. October 30, 1978. I’m 23.

Tell me about growing up. Give me a brief chronology.I was born and grew up in New Jersey, and I started surfing there. My dad eventually sold his business-he owned some sporting-goods stores-and we moved to North Carolina. I was about six years old, and that’s when I really started surfing a lot, because the water’s a lot warmer and it’s just a nicer place. My uncle who lives in North Carolina is a really good surfer, so he’d take me surfing all the time at Wrightsville Beach.

So, I’m assuming you grew up surfing with lots of friends who’re still in North Carolina.Yeah.

Are they happy for you and your success?
Yeah, I think they are.

You don’t think they secretly hate you behind your back?
Nah, none of my friends are like that.

Are there any other noteworthy surfers from Wrightsville Beach?
There’re a couple younger kids coming up who’re pretty good.

Who?
Matt and Richard Gilligan, those two kids are starting to surf really good. Shane Upchurch, he’s a little grom that’s been doing really good in the amateur stuff-the U.S. Championships and the Nations, making the finals and stuff. When I was growing up, Mark Hunt was my favorite surfer from home. He never really went anywhere-he likes home too much, I guess-but he’s a really good surfer who did a bunch of East-Coast pro stuff.

Do you find that on the East Coast people’s surfing careers end because they don’t want to leave home?
It’s pretty tough to do really well with your career and stay on the east coast. You’ve got to travel because it can be flat for so long.

How do you think being an East-Coast surfer has affected your surfing, as opposed to if you had grown up in California?
I think I don’t take a lot of things for granted that some people might. There’re a lot of waves out here in California, but it doesn’t get good that often in North Carolina, so when I travel I just want to surf all day long. Also, I don’t mind leaving home for three months at a time. That’s fine with me. Like, even though I’ve been on the road since Christmas, and I’m gonna be gone ’til summer, I don’t want to go home right now. I’m totally fine with that. And I think a lot of guys from out here couldn’t handle that.

Is that something you’ve noticed about guys from California?
That they don’t want to travel as much?
Yeah, definitely.

Why is that?
Maybe you guys in the east are a little hungrier. Maybe on the East Coast you just aren’t given as much, so you have to go get it.

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That could be true. When you’re from the East Coast, you’ve kind of got to prove yourself more. Lots of people probably think, “Oh, he’s from the East Coast, he can only surf knee-high waves.” When you hear stuff like that all the time, it definitely makes you want to try harder.

Has growing up 3,000 miles from the surf industry been a positive or a negative thing?
It’s definitely harder to get recognized when you’re growing up in North Carolina. You have to start traveling, come out here, do the contests, whatever you can to be known.

So, were you ever jealous of kids from California?
No, I wasn’t really jealous of them, but I was jealous of the waves they had.

Do you ever see a kid in California coming up because in proximity he’s closer to the industry?
Definitely. You know, he’s surfing with the guys from the magazines every day, his team captain lives down the street from him … I think guys out here get a little more.

What kind of advice would you give to kids on the East Coast who are trying to follow in your footsteps?
Travel. Get off of the East Coast. Come out to California as much as you can, try to get to Hawai’i. Just get around.

Is that what you did?
Yeah, and I think the best thing for me was getting out of Wrightsville and seeing other people surf. That was a huge thing for me, because I’d only seen a handful of guys on the East Coast. For me, just going to Florida was huge. Then coming out here was even bigger. Every time I went somewhere, when I came home I was surfing ten times better.

Did you travel before you were sponsored?
Well, I’ve ridden for Quiksilver since I was twelve years old. But when I was an amateur, I just had really cool parents. My mom took me everywhere. We had a van, so she’d drive me to Florida one weekend, New Jersey the next, then back to Florida again. I was really lucky. I had the best surf mom ever.

What’s the tour like?
Which tour?

I don’t know … the WCT. Is the tour draining?
It is. Last year it definitely was for me, because I was doing both tours-the WQS and the WCT. After the season, I told myself I’d never do that again. It was nonstop. One place to the next, new boards were being shipped to me here and there. I never felt ready once. I just felt like I was in a whirlwind all year.

Was there a point during all that travel and competition when you were like, “F-k this, I want to go home.”Yeah, there’re always a few times on the road when I think, “I just want to go home, I can’t handle this.” Then I go home for a week, and I’m thinking, “I gotta get out of here. I gotta get back on the road.” I felt like my surfing wasn’t going anywhere-I was getting worse. Because of how hectic things were, I could never go out and just surf and figure myself out. I was too busy worried about heats and jumping on the next plane.

Does Quiksilver encourage lots of contest surfing?
No. Their message to me is: Whatever you want to do. They’re backing me. They want me to go on more photo trips and stuff like that, so that’s what I’m really trying to work on this year.

I know I should know this, but did you not qualify for the ‘CT this year?
No, I didn’t. I missed the ‘CT by one place.

That sucks.Yeah, so I’m the guy who gets to surf if someone gets hurt or whatever.

Is there a lot of partying on the ‘CT?
There’s always a party, dude. When a contest rolls through town, it’s like the biggest time of the year for that town.

So, you’re basically following a big party that travels around the world.Pauses, then laughs. Pretty much. But all the guys on the ‘CT are pretty focused, and they’re not really gonna go out and party until the contest is over for them. Once you get to that level, you really don’t want to blow it by going out and partying before your heats. Every contest on the ‘CT is pretty crucial. But when guys start losing, and then when the contest’s over, it can get pretty ugly.

Who do you travel with?
The Hobgoods pretty much all the time.

Why them?
They’re buddies from the East Coast. I’ve known them since I was twelve years old, and they’re just really good friends of mine.

Do you think you’ll ever win a world title?
I mean, isn’t that the goal of being on these tours?
Pretty much, yeah.

What do you think about the judging of surf contests?
It’s starting to get better. They’ve added some new things to the criteria, but it still needs some work.

Do you like competing?
Do you find that format enjoyable?
Well, I like winning. Laughs. But the judging can still use a little tweaking, like giving big scores for more radical surfing. A guy can do six of the exact same backside turns, and then another guy can do a huge roundhouse and a vert tailslide, and they’ll get the same score. To me that’s kind of weird. But ithe magazines every day, his team captain lives down the street from him … I think guys out here get a little more.

What kind of advice would you give to kids on the East Coast who are trying to follow in your footsteps?
Travel. Get off of the East Coast. Come out to California as much as you can, try to get to Hawai’i. Just get around.

Is that what you did?
Yeah, and I think the best thing for me was getting out of Wrightsville and seeing other people surf. That was a huge thing for me, because I’d only seen a handful of guys on the East Coast. For me, just going to Florida was huge. Then coming out here was even bigger. Every time I went somewhere, when I came home I was surfing ten times better.

Did you travel before you were sponsored?
Well, I’ve ridden for Quiksilver since I was twelve years old. But when I was an amateur, I just had really cool parents. My mom took me everywhere. We had a van, so she’d drive me to Florida one weekend, New Jersey the next, then back to Florida again. I was really lucky. I had the best surf mom ever.

What’s the tour like?
Which tour?

I don’t know … the WCT. Is the tour draining?
It is. Last year it definitely was for me, because I was doing both tours-the WQS and the WCT. After the season, I told myself I’d never do that again. It was nonstop. One place to the next, new boards were being shipped to me here and there. I never felt ready once. I just felt like I was in a whirlwind all year.

Was there a point during all that travel and competition when you were like, “F-k this, I want to go home.”Yeah, there’re always a few times on the road when I think, “I just want to go home, I can’t handle this.” Then I go home for a week, and I’m thinking, “I gotta get out of here. I gotta get back on the road.” I felt like my surfing wasn’t going anywhere-I was getting worse. Because of how hectic things were, I could never go out and just surf and figure myself out. I was too busy worried about heats and jumping on the next plane.

Does Quiksilver encourage lots of contest surfing?
No. Their message to me is: Whatever you want to do. They’re backing me. They want me to go on more photo trips and stuff like that, so that’s what I’m really trying to work on this year.

I know I should know this, but did you not qualify for the ‘CT this year?
No, I didn’t. I missed the ‘CT by one place.

That sucks.Yeah, so I’m the guy who gets to surf if someone gets hurt or whatever.

Is there a lot of partying on the ‘CT?
There’s always a party, dude. When a contest rolls through town, it’s like the biggest time of the year for that town.

So, you’re basically following a big party that travels around the world.Pauses, then laughs. Pretty much. But all the guys on the ‘CT are pretty focused, and they’re not really gonna go out and party until the contest is over for them. Once you get to that level, you really don’t want to blow it by going out and partying before your heats. Every contest on the ‘CT is pretty crucial. But when guys start losing, and then when the contest’s over, it can get pretty ugly.

Who do you travel with?
The Hobgoods pretty much all the time.

Why them?
They’re buddies from the East Coast. I’ve known them since I was twelve years old, and they’re just really good friends of mine.

Do you think you’ll ever win a world title?
I mean, isn’t that the goal of being on these tours?
Pretty much, yeah.

What do you think about the judging of surf contests?
It’s starting to get better. They’ve added some new things to the criteria, but it still needs some work.

Do you like competing?
Do you find that format enjoyable?
Well, I like winning. Laughs. But the judging can still use a little tweaking, like giving big scores for more radical surfing. A guy can do six of the exact same backside turns, and then another guy can do a huge roundhouse and a vert tailslide, and they’ll get the same score. To me that’s kind of weird. But it’s improving. Last year they were scoring airs and bigger turns higher. People are doing crazy stuff nowadays, and they knew they had to start rewarding that.

Do you have a girlfriend?
No.

Why?
Is it hard because you travel so much?
It’s just hard to find the right girl who can deal with you being gone so much.

Do you have a girl in every city on the tour?
I’m still working on that. Laughs

What are you interested in that’s not surfing related?
I love skateboarding. Since I was a kid I’ve been skateboarding. I used to sleep at the skatepark and hang out there every day.

Which park?
The Ramphouse.

With so much travel, is it hard to find time to skate?
Yeah, but the past two years, I’ve been taking on my skate everywhere with me on tour. There’re fun parks everywhere, and there’s no one around.

Is that your terrain of choice … skateparks?
Yeah.

Do you watch skate videos?
Yeah, all the time. I read all the mags-everything.

Who’s your favorite skater?
My two buddies from home, Kenny Hughes and Chet Childress, they’re my two favorite guys. We’re all from the same town, and it’s cool to see them do good.

Do you know those guys?
Yeah, I used to skate with them all the time in the skatepark when I was a little kid. I still see them when I go home and at the trade shows and stuff.

Has skateboarding influenced your surfing?
Yeah … maybe more with airs and stuff, but I’m not too into the shove-its guys are doing on surfboards nowadays.

Do you think anyone’s doing good shove-it tricks?

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Yeah, Rat Boy and some of those guys are starting to do those backside airs, where he switches stance in the air. But as far as the chop-hop varials go, I don’t really dig that too much.

What do you think would have to happen in surfing for those varial tricks to start looking right?
Maybe if boards started going way stubbier, more like a skateboard. Double-ended, smaller … almost like a wakeboard, but with thick foam. Something like that could work. Kind of like how wakeboarders started wakeskating. They started going without bindings on wakeboards, just using wax. Then a couple guys made some wooden ones, and now they’re exploring concaves, and they’re griptaping the boards. They ride them with skate shoes. It’s pretty insane. Maybe they could do something like that with a surfboard.

Have you ever tried to do a kickflip on a surfboard?
I’ve never tried. I think it would be rad if somebody could do kickflip Indys, like guys do on vert ramps.

What’s the scariest surf-related situation you’ve ever been in.Probably at Teahupoo. Just being at a contest at that place and seeing what that wave does. When those sets come in that you can’t ride, and you’re sitting either in the lineup or in the boat, that’s the craziest stuff I’ve ever seen. It’s weird because it can be big, but you still know you can handle it, then those sets come in. The whole ocean sucks away, and it’s just huge and unrideable. It’s the craziest rush, even if you’re in a boat. Everyone just screams.

Do you have goals?
Yeah. I make short-term goals for myself. Right now my goal is to travel as much as I can. I want to live out of my bag for a while. I’m going to Australia for two-and-a-half months, and I’m just going to surf the whole time. I want to stay busy. I want to always be on a photo trip, videoing with someone. No slack moments.

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ut it’s improving. Last year they were scoring airs and bigger turns higher. People are doing crazy stuff nowadays, and they knew they had to start rewarding that.

Do you have a girlfriend?
No.

Why?
Is it hard because you travel so much?
It’s just hard to find the right girl who can deal with you being gone so much.

Do you have a girl in every city on the tour?
I’m still working on that. Laughs

What are you interested in that’s not surfing related?
I love skateboarding. Since I was a kid I’ve been skateboarding. I used to sleeep at the skatepark and hang out there every day.

Which park?
The Ramphouse.

With so much travel, is it hard to find time to skate?
Yeah, but the past two years, I’ve been taking on my skate everywhere with me on tour. There’re fun parks everywhere, and there’s no one around.

Is that your terrain of choice … skateparks?
Yeah.

Do you watch skate videos?
Yeah, all the time. I read all the mags-everything.

Who’s your favorite skater?
My two buddies from home, Kenny Hughes and Chet Childress, they’re my two favorite guys. We’re all from the same town, and it’s cool to see them do good.

Do you know those guys?
Yeah, I used to skate with them all the time in the skatepark when I was a little kid. I still see them when I go home and at the trade shows and stuff.

Has skateboarding influenced your surfing?
Yeah … maybe more with airs and stuff, but I’m not too into the shove-its guys are doing on surfboards nowadays.

Do you think anyone’s doing good shove-it tricks?

[IMAGE 1]

Yeah, Rat Boy and some of those guys are starting to do those backside airs, where he switches stance in the air. But as far as the chop-hop varials go, I don’t really dig that too much.

What do you think would have to happen in surfing for those varial tricks to start looking right?
Maybe if boards started going way stubbier, more like a skateboard. Double-ended, smaller … almost like a wakeboard, but with thick foam. Something like that could work. Kind of like how wakeboarders started wakeskating. They started going without bindings on wakeboards, just using wax. Then a couple guys made some wooden ones, and now they’re exploring concaves, and they’re griptaping the boards. They ride them with skate shoes. It’s pretty insane. Maybe they could do something like that with a surfboard.

Have you ever tried to do a kickflip on a surfboard?
I’ve never tried. I think it would be rad if somebody could do kickflip Indys, like guys do on vert ramps.

What’s the scariest surf-related situation you’ve ever been in.Probably at Teahupoo. Just being at a contest at that place and seeing what that wave does. When those sets come in that you can’t ride, and you’re sitting either in the lineup or in the boat, that’s the craziest stuff I’ve ever seen. It’s weird because it can be big, but you still know you can handle it, then those sets come in. The whole ocean sucks away, and it’s just huge and unrideable. It’s the craziest rush, even if you’re in a boat. Everyone just screams.

Do you have goals?
Yeah. I make short-term goals for myself. Right now my goal is to travel as much as I can. I want to live out of my bag for a while. I’m going to Australia for two-and-a-half months, and I’m just going to surf the whole time. I want to stay busy. I want to always be on a photo trip, videoing with someone. No slack moments.

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