Interview by Josh Brooks, photos by Dave Chami.
I reckon a kid like Ben Hatchell—that comes out of God-knows-where and can front Smith over-drinking-age-length curved stair sets and McTwist cement bowls fit for a northwest mountain town—is quite the find. That might explain why he had a few brands after him in the wake of his Fun! part. When the dust settled, he ended up on Zero, with the same skill and as much indifference about the “who’s who” of skateboarding as he started. It’s oddly refreshing… slightly frightening.
I feel like you kind of came out of nowhere. Where are you from originally?
Um, I’ve lived in Manassas, Virginia for thirteen years. But, I lived in Houston for one of the years between that.
It was about a year ago that Fun came out and that’s when people really started noticing you.
Yeah, I’d say that’s pretty accurate.
Before that, though, you were skating vert a lot.
Yeah, I skated vert for a couple years.
Didn’t you win one of the Tampa Am Vert contests?
Yeah, I won the last one they just had.
How did you get into vert skating? Were you far from a big skateboarding scene coming up?
There used to be a Vans Park at the Potomac Mills mall, twenty minutes from my house. Twice a week, a lot of older dudes used to come in and skate the vert ramp, so I kind of got into it through them.
They ushered you into vert skating. But, when did you start skating street?
The park closed down in 2004 or 2005, so after that, I didn’t have a vert ramp to skate. I was just skating street and pools and stuff.
It’s like a smaller, more personal version of how vert skating died in late 80s.
[Laughs] Yeah, I was really hyped on vert and then there was nowhere to skate within four hours.
Right, right, so you just took it to the streets.
Yeah, that and we’d skate pools and stuff.
How did Powell notice you? Did you send out a tape?
No, I was at Woodward and I met Steve Caballero. They were there for the whole week, because they had pros and teams coming out. I met Deville [Nunez, Powell's photographer] and they started flowing me boards.
Fakie bigspin blunt kickflip fakie.
Deville kind of took you under his wing, right? What was that experience like? I know he has a reputation of taking skaters to insane spots.
[Laughs] He has a spot book that’s like two inches thick and most of the spots in there are stuff that most people would not want to skate on their first view. It was intimidating for my first real experience going out to California and staying at his house.
What was the scariest one that he showed you?
Probably the roof thing. There was a skatestopper halfway down the roof and it’s tar paper, so it was like landing on carpet.
You slammed on that, too, right?
Yeah, I ate shit on it. It’s in the trailer.
That was pretty gnarly. It was the curse of the tre flip. Board just didn’t get under there right. That was a pretty shocking slam.
That was pretty bad. Might have been my worst fall ever.
Your first trip out and you’re like, “F—k, this is what it’s like?”
I think that was my first trip out, actually. It was pretty awful.
One of the other stories of lore was about the curved rail you Smith grinded at the end of your part. I heard you were trying to move the trashcan at the bottom out of the way and Deville was like, “Uh uh.”
[Laughs] Yeah, I get there and this thing has a trashcan at the bottom—like a big cement ashtray—and I was trying to move it, but they were saying it’d make a better photo if I didn’t move it. So, I put it back. It was kind of scary getting to the bottom of that thing and being afraid my foot was going to go into it or something.
It’s funny, because it’s gnarly to ask someone do that. But, it did really make it seem much gnarlier.
[Laughs] You think so?
I mean, I just remember seeing that and thinking, “Holy shit, he didn’t even think to move the trashcan at the bottom of some 24-stair curved rail? What the hell was he thinking?”
[Laughs] I definitely thought about moving it. I would have if Deville wouldn’t have said anything.
Better judgement tells you you should move that thing out of the way.
[Laughs] I thought that too. There was that pole at the bottom, too, and I was worried too that if I made it all the way down and had to jump off and didn’t hit the trashcan, I ran the risk of hitting the pole.
How many tries did that take?
A lot. We went there three different times to get that.
It paid off, though. I mean, there were a lot of tricks in your Fun part that led a bunch of companies to get after you. Before that, you were just skating out in Virginia with homeys.
Yeah, mostly just living in Virginia and making a few trips out to Deville’s house.
What was it like when you were growing up? Did you know a lot about pro skaters? Or, were you pretty secluded?
I was pretty secluded. I mean, when I went out to Deville’s house, he showed me a lot of videos, so I knew what was going on. I mean, I didn’t even really watch skate videos before that. I still don’t really. I probably should, to keep up with everything going on.
Did you have a list of top five pros or anything like that?
Um, probably not. Not at all, really [laughs]. When I was little I only knew a handful of skaters from the Internet and stuff.
The people you knew were just dudes around town.
Yeah, just me and my friends, really. I mean, I knew some pros, but I wasn’t watching all the videos or reading all the mags.
Funny. A lot of people see big name skaters coming up out in California and think they got so good because they came out to Cali and they were around so many other talented individuals, knew all the pros and what trick went down where. So, to hear about someone like you who came out of Virginia and didn’t really keep up with all that stuff is kind of refreshing. You still loved skating and learned to skate regardless of all that shit.
Thanks, I guess.
Do you think it helped that you started on vert?
Yeah, I think it helped. There aren’t many street spots in Manassas, unless I go to DC. So, being able to skate vert and backyard pools with my friends helped me progress to parks and everything else.
To some degree, a vert ramp makes everything else look kind of smaller, right?
I guess. A twelve foot vert is kind of a small vert, but after skating it for so long, other spots aren’t as intimidating—like concrete parks and some street stuff.
So, after Fun, there was a point where everyone was trying to get you on their team. How did all those changes come up?
I was gonna ride for Foundation. I had already quit Powell. But, Deville and Jared were kind of hyped on Zero. They knew it was one of my favorite board companies ever, so they gave Jamie [Thomas] a call to help me out. So, it was a tough choice and I was going back and forth between the two in my head. Eventually I chose to go with Zero. It was probably my favorite board company.
Who do you like skating with the most on Zero?
Probably Tommy [Sandoval] or Tony [Cervantes]. Those dudes are sick.
To this day, what do you like skating more—vert or street? I mean, in this day and age, obviously your street skating got you noticed more.
Um, I probably like skating vert better, because you don’t get hurt as bad. You’re wearing pads. There’s a lot less to lose.
You can almost always kneeslide out of it to some degree. Are you on Fallen also, then?
No, I ride for C1RCA.
Tight. You had some tricks in the montage of our video Hallelujah. I got to see everything before it was done and the one thing that had me laughing is you have a couple tricks you land where your girlfriend’s in the background, holding a flash for the photographer and screaming as you land. I thought that was pretty funny.
Does she like to go on skate trips a lot?
No, not at all. She used to live in Virginia, but she just moved to South Carolina. So, she was back in town for like a week and she wanted to come to Washington DC with me and Rodent, so I let her come.
Burnside blunt kickflip fakie.
So, it’s not a common thing for you to get in the van and be like, “All right guys…how’s it going? Um, my girlfriend’s gonna be coming on this trip with us.”
Nah, that’s only happened a few times. But, it’s not commonplace. Mostly because she was up visiting and I didn’t want to just leave her hanging. She did help out, though, holding the flash [laughs].