David Benedek Writes the Book on Hump DayBy Brad Oates • Aug 7th, 2013 • Category: Features, Hump Day Interviews, Latest
A famous 90′s musician once wrote, “I don’t have the passion anymore, and so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.” After a snowboard career pretty much conquering all, David Benedek listened to Kurt Cobain (minus the shotgun in mouth bit) and said game over. David co-founded Robot Food, was “Rider of the year” back to back years (03’- and ’04) and landed the first double cork 1260. Three years after his disappearance Benedek would resurface with Current State: Snowboarding, a revolutionary 450 page, 2 volume behemoth about three decades of snowboard history and the prolific individuals who make this sport so fucking rad. Burnt out? Fading away? Nope. At 33 years of age Benedek is still killing it, and writing his own rules as he goes.
Take us back to David Benedek’s introduction to snowboarding.
Pretty uneventful I think. My older brother Boris introduced me to it when I was 9 years old and given the fact that it’s an unwritten law for younger brothers to follow the older ones in whatever they do I didn’t really have a choice. Pretty glad he was into snowboarding, could have been way worse.
What was the spark that lead to your snowboarding addiction?
I guess it was a mix of not being too bad from the get-go, and just general excitement for American youth culture back then. To me, the initial excitement for snowboarding was along the same lines as seeing the first BMX-bikes in E.T., or trying to get some distant US relatives or parent’s friends to send us skate shoes to Germany. America was the promised land so it was really easy to become pretty addicted to that lifestyle, or at least those products. Then, seeing and wanting to be like those riders in the magazines kind of sealed the deal.
Growing up, who were your favorite snowboarders?
It started with Craig Kelly, (Jeff) Brushie, then Terje for a really long time. We were literally trying to emulate everything he did, from how he we wearing his googles to his arm posture (laughing). Definitely nerding out. Later on it became the Forum 8 with JP, Peter and BJ mainly. It was really strange suddenly riding amongst some of those guys or seeing them around from just having watched them on video day in day out.
How have the snowboard experiences of your youth affected how you feel about snowboard as adult and where you would like to see the sport progress?
I don’t really know. I guess I was just really passionate about it and being so ridiculously immersed in something for so long makes it a little stranger when you grow out of it. Which is a totally natural process. And I mean “growing out” in regard to the youthful fanaticism, not in regard to the love for actual snowboarding. It doesn’t become less fun, just a little less important. So in that regard, I guess – and even if this doesn’t make sense given the fact I just spent three years compiling a snowboarding book – I don’t worry so much anymore for snowboarding’s direction. Snowboarding becomes much more of a personal thing as you get older.
Culturally, you have spent a great deal of time documenting the history of snowboarding and compiling into a 2 volume, 450 page book, entitled Current State. What has surprised you most about your foray into this?
Well, I started working on the general concept of the book a long time ago, pretty much right when I first felt I was growing out of snowboarding as a culture, or at least as a target for snowboard media. So I started with a far more negative presumption on how snowboarding culture had been eroded by whatever lame things that had been going on in the past decade or so… and I think just talking to all the different people from different areas of snowboarding made me realize how healthy snowboarding is. How many rad people are involved and how many cool things are happening in all these vibrant little pockets all over the place. I guess if anything, working on the book reminded me of my initial opinion that snowboarding was way too rad and fun to be worried about. I mean, no one needed this.
It’s almost out of print and it’s a couple hundred bucks. Give the young bucks coming up some juicy details from Current State.
It’s not a couple hundred bucks – more like one and a half. But yeah, it did turn out way too expensive. It’s around $140 USD… and originally it was supposed to be half of that at the most. But I am pretty good at ignoring technical and cost restraints and so it just ended up where it’s at now. It does consist of two book so maybe that’s kind of an excuse. There should still be a few copies left when this comes out – just check at www.almostanything.com
What would people be surprised to know about snowboarding in Germany?
There are some pretty amazing mountains on the border to Austria. I guess to some extent I didn’t even know that until I went on a splitboarding trip recently. Almost a little too alpine to access but some pretty neat stuff.
Getting noticed and established as a European snowboarder has never been easy, but the barriers to entry and visibility seem more broken down than ever before. What was it like in the 90s as you came up and whom did you look up to for guidance on that front?
As far as I can remember right now, there weren’t really any major European film productions so for the most part you gained a reputation through contests. I think it’s still the same with the pretty significant difference that you can have your online part out and if it’s good, everyone will see it. So absolutely unknown riders can now make pretty big leaps into the limelight. But I think that already existed when I was coming up, just more on a personal level. I remember Jussi (Oksanen) bringing Jaakko (Seppäla) onto Burton and basically straight to filming with Standard and Robot Food just by seeing him ride his local park. In my case I took a pretty slow ascent through the different ranks and contests, and then just luckily being at the right spot at the right time at a few occasions.
In your view, how has snowboarding’s involvement in the Olympics helped or hindered the sport?
I don’t even know. Maybe I don’t even care, but I guess that already means that at least it might have not done so much harm to snowboarding as a culture. To me, when I see some lame douchebag-coach wearing whatever national flag, standing at a halfpipe – to me, that doesn’t have anything to do with what I personally find in snowboarding. Or not only in snowboarding, but also in my views towards life. Towards self-dependence and away from national borders. Maybe it’s because Germany has had such a terrible and nationalist history, or maybe it’s because I never grew up with a strong affiliation to any country since my parents are immigrants – but I just can’t relate to these ridiculous local or national associations. Especially in today’s world where most young people are influenced by a similar medley of global cultures. As far as the visibility goes and the excitement of competition, I don’t mind the Olympics. The entire qualification procedure should be in snowboarder’s hands, of course, that’s the real big fuck up here. To have 60-year old assholes in ski-jackets organize snowboard events and decide who gets to go is just retarded.
Currently, growth in snowboarding is at a trickle. How do we encourage more kids to strap in?
I don’t think I am the right person to answer that question. I think if we just make sure we are in it for the sake of being in it, and if media, product and advertising isn’t just created from a stale formula – snowboarding will be perceived as something exciting. And kids want to be doing exciting things.
As the co-founder of Robot Food, what are your thoughts on the current state of snowboard cinema and where do you see it going?
I think one side of snowboarding is doing as good as it’s always been, maybe due to the abundance of stuff online it’s a little less glorified but it still works – just pure shredding. Watching people do the newest and coolest stuff. That works equally good in a ghetto mini-DV version as it does in the steroid-super-HD version of The Art of Flight. I can totally watch that for hours and I think it’s the essence of snowboarding’s progression and should always be the center-point of snowboard cinema. However, from a filmmaking point of view I do miss a lot of stuff. Emotions, characters, narratives. Stories that grasp all the stuff beyond the shiny surface. It sounds terribly boring and cheesy – like a shitty film with way too much talking and too little snowboarding – but what I guess I mean is just a more conceptual approach to filmmaking. There are so many rad stories to tell in snowboarding and I think we’ve just become so used to seeing them that we don’t appreciate or suspect the value behind them anymore. I remember seeing Girl Skateboards’ film “Super Champion Fun Zone” a few years ago – it’s just a video about a demo tour in Japan – but the way it’s put together you get the feeling to really be on that trip because there’s a strong focus on the characters, too. Not only the skating. That’s already a narrative.
What are your thoughts on the cultural phenomenon of strapping a camera to your head before going riding?
Well, of course it looks absolutely retarded. But then again, I do know it’s really fun to film yourself doing something you’re not so great at, or just having a souvenir that alters your self-perception a little because it looks like the stuff you see in videos. Even if it’s just for one frame. I know that if I had a still photo of me on a good bottom-turn on a surfboard – and I absolutely suck at surfing – I’d be pretty psyched. So I don’t blame anyone for running around with a camera on their head. But if we start talking about the phenomenon of them publishing those improved self-perceptions on Facebook and how that extroverted social behaviour becomes a new norm… ahhh – that’s where it gets really interesting. I almost want to start a new trend of just bumming people out on Facebook on how shitty life is, that’s how annoyed I am by everyone’s seemingly perfect existences and eventful lives. Wouldn’t that be fun? Instead of posting a photo of your feet on the beach, just share your fungus-ridden toes, or updates on how shitty your relationship currently is. I might have to start doing that.
You made a “How to make a splitboard” video a number of years ago that appears online. There have been 24 avalanche fatalities in the USA in 2012/13. Do you spend much time in the backcountry? Is living the dream worth risking it all?
Yeah, I still spend some time in the backcountry. Mostly it’s pretty mellow splitboarding trips I go on with friends or so. I don’t feel like there’s death looming around every corner in the backcountry, so it’s not a question I really ask myself: whether it’s worth the risk. You have to be very careful with most activities that involve mountains, so as long as you try to minimize the risk and be smart and disciplined about what you do and more importantly, what you don’t, I feel it’s absolutely worth the risk. Skinning and splitboarding have just become such trends in the past decade that a lot of people are out there that don’t really know what they are doing and that can’t read terrain very well. A lot of people who go hiking in the summer have started to skin and often times they are fairly poor skiers which doesn’t help much either. I couldn’t believe the type of stuff I saw people ski down this past season. People that would barely make it up a T-bar. So I guess there’s some kind of educational gap.
You landed the first frontside double cork 1260 ever. People are dying and becoming vegetables trying new tricks. are the riskier moves worth it?
That’s also a question that you can’t really answer. Is it worth it? Hell no. Most things on this planet aren’t worth becoming a vegetable. Are we still driven to try them and push our boundaries… most likely. I don’t think progression is ever really an external force. No one invents new tricks for the sake of satisfying a sponsor or anything like that, it’s purely for the sake – which is possibly just as stupid – of proving to yourself and to others what you’re capable of. But I guess that’s part of the human fabric. Wanting to make it to the top of the pack. But of course it becomes a bit more complex when people feel like they have to try certain tricks to stand a chance in competition. It’s more a question of knowing your limits now.
Life after pro snowboarding. Some people have trouble moving on. Some dudes just take industry jobs. Your approach is somewhat different. Is it tough adjusting, where do you go from here and what advice do you have for life after pro snowboarding?
Yeah. Still wrapping my head around that one actually. I remember hanging out with Lukas Huffman a few years ago who had already quit pro snowboarding a few years prior. I had just begun to phase out and he asked me whether it had hit me yet, telling me that it wasn’t the easiest thing to adjust to whatever was next. I didn’t really believe that would apply to me since I was already busy doing so much other stuff but I have to say – in retrospect he was right. It definitely messes with you a bit. But it’s good, too. I feel like going back to the real world – which in my case was film school – was almost like an ego-exorcism. You have to ground yourself and just swallow your pride and become one of the pack. So it’s a good and tough exercise. But I don’t think one way is better than any other. There are awesome jobs in the industry and sometimes I do wonder why I gave up the lifestyle. Then again, I feel like I am still close enough to snowboarding where I am having a little bit of that.
Kurt Cobain said in his suicide note that it was better to burn out then to fade away. Much like Heath Kirchart in professional skateboarding you stepped away from the spotlight on top of your game. Was it tough to walk away? Do you see competitions and wish you were back?
No. That wasn’t tough at all. I was so curious about so much other stuff outside of snowboarding, it just lured me away pretty quick and occupied my mind. And as far as competitions are concerned, I feel lucky I survived those, they always scared the shit out of me. I still dream of hitting icy weird jumps about 3 nights a week (laughing). I guess the only tough thing is to adjust to a significantly lower level of acknowledgement and feedback to what you’re doing. But that’s probably a good thing.
Do you still find enough time to ride?
Yes and no. I would love to ride more but at the same time I do go out on the days that are really good or the trips that are really worth it.
Transworld Snow and Snowboarder are now owned by the same publishing conglomerate. What are your thoughts?
I just heard about that this week. It’s not that I really care too much but it’ll be interesting to see what they do with it. Probably one powerful online presence? Push TWS towards the mainstream and Snowboarder towards Thrasher? It’ll be exciting to see either way. I have good friends at both magazines so I hope it all works out to their benefit.
Ultimately, how do you hope you are remembered in snowboarding?
Ah. I don’t really care too much about that. What’s important to me is to stay in touch with all the cool people I’ve met through snowboarding and maybe even work with some of them in the future. Having been gone from snowboarding for a little bit has really made me realize how many rad people are involved in it, and that I am proud to belong to that tribe, as cheesy as it may sound. So the human connections are what I am most stoked on. Whether 14-year-old dudes in 2020 will know who I was doesn’t really matter too much. Kind of book in the first place – or any serious discussion or thoughts about “culture.” Fuck that. But if anything, the book just pays tribute to a lot of cool people I looked up to and that I hadn’t really seen compiled in a way that I liked.