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Inauguration: Benny Fairfax

Sidewalk Magazine issue 57 - June 2001

2022 portrait: Leo Sharp.

2001 nollie heel: Andy Horsley.

Where are we currently sat?

We’re in the adidas London headquarters.

We are talking about your first published skateboard photo, in Sidewalk issue 57, June 2001. Who’s on the cover of the mag?

Toby Shuall, nollie cab over a big concrete bollard on its side. Good form, steezy photo, the hands, the back foot…he was a favourite of that era.

What is it that you said he does now?

He has a carpentry company. He does all sorts of stuff. He made the Palace Mwadlands Radlands skatepark.

I’m pretty sure Dan Callow works with him. He was definitely a favourite of mine.

I think he does. I haven’t seen Dan Callow in years, but he was steezy as well. From Croydon.

It’s like two of the most stylish skateboarders of that time got together and thought, “we should start a company”. “What should we do?” “Carpentry”.

Pretty much (laughs).

So when this interview comes out, it will have been nearly 22 years since your first photo was printed. With that in mind, what was going on in your life back in June 2001?

That’s a good question. Can I even remember? I think I was at college in the New Forest, doing a GNVQ, and trying to go to every skate comp on the weekends. I’d just got on Clown Skateboards thanks to Chris Oliver. He had his license and a car, so every weekend we’d be like, “there’s a Radlands competition this weekend”, or “let’s go to Urban Games”, or “there’s some weird comp on in Birmingham, let’s go and try skate it”. Yeah, that was the life (laughs).

So a couple of questions spring to mind straight away. First of all, what were you doing your GNVQ in?

It was a GNVQ in Media, Communication and Production. I think I did some skate video type coursework projects, we made a horror movie as well (laughs).

Please tell me Chris Oliver was in that.

I’m afraid not (laughing). Nah, he went to borstal, man. He wasn’t in my college.

How did you and Chris first meet?

Me and my little crew, which included Joey Pressey and kids I went to school with, we would go to Slades Farm skatepark in Bournemouth, which just happened to be right next to this borstal, a naughty boys school. If you got expelled from a few schools, then they’d send you there, and that’s where Chris Oliver was (laughs). He showed up, skating in a pair off Dr Martens with a couple of rough around the edges kids, but he was amazing; he was better than all of us. The first time we saw him skate, we were all like, “what? Who’s this kid?” So we made friends, said, “come to our skatepark, and we’ll go to your skatepark”, because he was in Dorchester and we were just the other side of Bournemouth, so we’d all link up like that, then we’d all go to Mayflower skatepark in Southampton. That’s how we met Julian Molyneux, Greg Nowik, Marc Churchill and all of those Southampton guys. We were all a bit younger than them, but we would all go to Mayflower on the weekend, with a packed lunch and a train ticket.

Was the day of the nollie heel the first time you’d been to Oxford? What was it that took you there? It’s a good few hours drive from the New Forest.

I’m pretty sure it was the first time, and it might have even been the last time, to be totally honest (laughs). I don’t think I’ve been back since. We drove up the night before, and we would have gone to meet (Andy) Horsley. It would have been the plan: “this is where Horsley lives, we want to get in Sidewalk, let’s go try shoot something”. I remember us going to some wooden mini ramp with a huge vert wall on it.

I never had to make a sponsor-me vid, I didn't persue anything, or ask for stuff... it just kind of happened.

That sounds like the precursor to the Oxford Wheels Project…

Then we also went to what I feel like was a drained out concrete paddling pool. Remember where Mouly (Alex Moul) does the four wheel slides? Backside and frontside? We went there first, then we ended up at these stairs. I remember it because of the (Tom) Penny clip. He kickflips the first set then noseslides to fakie down the rail. You know what? It wasn’t the same day, but Mouly lipslid the rail, flew out of the kink. I want to say that Barry Doing was there, he might have done a switch frontside flip down the stairs that day, and he was doing magic tricks. I was sitting watching him in Horsley’s house, thinking, “oh my God, he’s like David Blaine” (laughs). He was actually really good. He was quite a quiet guy too, so because of that, coupled with the magic tricks, I was like, “this Barry Dring dude is mad mysterious” (laughs).

Oxford Library was - and still is - a pretty serious spot, and between Penny’s line and your nollie heel, only a handful of notable tricks had gone down there. Were you aware at the time how much of a ‘step up’ the nollie heel really was?

Not really, I was just oblivious, but trying really hard. I was skating with Chrissy every day at this point; he was so good, and would do tricks that were just mind blowing. I was always playing catch up to Chrissy. He pushed me, and was always saying, “you’ve got to do that, you can do this, come on”. The nollie heel definitely took me a few tries. I do remember being gassed because I’d never done a nollie heel down anything that big before. I was all hyped too, because Joey Pressey had moved to London at this point, he worked at the Slam warehouse in West London, and they gave me DVS. So I’m wearing these new DVS shoes, and I’m wearing a DVS basketball top, and I was all hyped. “Got the fresh gear, got a photo for the mag, this is the beginning” (laughs).

Was there any footage of this?

I can’t remember who filmed it. It wasn’t in the Clown promo…there might not even be any footage. I can’t remember ever seeing it.

As far as statements of intent go, this one is definitely up there. Benny nollie heels at Oxford Library back in 2001. Scan kindly provided by Neil Macdonald - @scienceversuslife.

It definitely seemed like the area around New Milton produced some talent over the course of the late 90s, with yourself, Chris, and Joey all emerging out of there. What are some of your favourite memories of those days?

Just having a packed lunch, a train ticket, go to a skatepark, spend the whole day there with the crew, nothing else mattered, and we didn’t have a care in the world. We were just loving skating and pushing each other. Those were the best times. When we started coming up to London, we’d buy a travelcard, bring a packed lunch in the backpack, then see what we could find. Our line from New Milton went straight to Waterloo in one hour 45, then when we discovered Shell Centre and Southbank, were like, “oh my God, we have to do this every single weekend”. 10 people could travel for £1 if you were under 16 and with one over 16 year old, so - because one of our friends was over 16 - we would come to London for a quid, we’d maybe have a tenner for the day, and we’d try and find all the spots from the videos.

Did Chris ever pay?

I think he was the over 16 that made the train deal happen (laughs).

With Joey already living there, I guess it was inevitable you’d end up in London after college then?

When I finished college, I went straight to Southbank Uni. I passed my GNVQ and was like, “I want to go to Southbank Uni”, obviously. I did a media degree, but it was close to the spot. You know the Elephant and Castle roundabout? My halls of residence were right there, on Waterloo Road. I was there with my student loan, living on my own, right next to Southbank.

That must’ve been around the time you started filming for the Sidewalk video In Motion, right? Saying that, In Motion was released only two years after this nollie heel was published.

That was two years later, was it? See, I don’t put these things together. I think once I’d moved to London and started uni, I met Chez (Neil Chester) and we started filming, then I got on Sole Tech because of Pete Turvey. Those were good times filming with Chez; I was so up for it. We did a Barcelona trip, a Malaga trip. We jumped on a Blueprint trip to Malaga and there were loads of us, like (Ben) Grove and Zak Pitter and Stalker (Matt Keal). It was a crazy shock for me to see how (Dan) Magee was with the Blueprint riders. (Danny) Brady was there, Smithy (Neil Smith) was there, John Fisher was there, and they were not having a good time. He made people cry.

What? How so?

He was just ruling with an iron fist, and I had not experienced anything like that. Skating to me was fun, so I was like, “what is going on here? I do not want to ride for Blueprint; this doesn’t look fun at all” (laughs).

By the time In Motion came out, you’d had interviews, covers, been on plenty of trips…that’s a pretty quick rise through the ranks, especially for back then, when things moved at a slower pace generally.

I think I was just going for it. From skating with Chrissy so much, because he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder, and maybe I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder too. I thought I had something to prove. It kind of all fell into place; I never had to make a sponsor-me vid, I didn’t really pursue anything, or ask for stuff… it just kind of happened. Never ask for product. Ask to go skating, ask if you can shoot a photo, ask if you can go film all of the time, but don’t ask for money, don’t ask for a contract, don’t ask for product. Just ask to go skating, and that’s it.

What one trick, line or piece of footage sticks out in your mind the most when thinking back to your In Motion section?

From that video…probably the footage from that Malaga trip we went on. I got the cover doing the back fifty on this hubba, and I’d never really ground anything that big before…maybe not since, either. I’m not really a hubba grinder; I was more comfortable doing flip tricks than I was jumping on rails or hubbas, and that one was pretty big. It was down a big double set, I’d be terrified to do that now. I suppose that trip was really fun, and we had a good crew, so that’s the one that sticks out. I had two Sidewalk covers from that video part; the other was a nollie heel over a handrail, but I think the back fifty was before then, and that was my first ever cover, so that was a massive thing for me.

You went on a lot of trips with Horsley around that time. What were your first impressions of him? And tell us your favourite comedy Horsley anecdote please.

He was just hilarious, man. Before going up to Radlands and meeting people, I’d never really hung out with that many Northerners, and I just thought he was hilarious. His accent and everything… You know what? The best story might be from a Radlands contest. I think there were ten of us in a Travelodge hotel room. I slept in the bath. I took my duvet from home and put it in the bath, and obviously someone turned the taps on in the middle of the night. I don’t know how it happened, but he… (laughing) you know the chicken fillet bra padding? He’d somehow got one from somewhere, and he slept with it like his pillow. He held on to it, and the next day he had it in his pocket (laughs). It was amazing, his little souvenir from the evening.

Don't ask for money, don't ask for a contract, don't ask for product. Just ask to go sakting, and that's it.

I’ve never heard that one before (laughs). Similarly, give us some memorable Chez quotes.

I remember a couple of his inventions. The 'Chez Mat’ first of all, which he claimed was his invention, and I believe him. That was the swimming pool float that fitted perfectly into your VX backpack, to kneel on when you’re filming. You know what? A memorable quote would have been from one of those Spain trips… what did he say? “I hate beaches. I fuckin’ hate beaches”. “You hate beaches?” (Laughs). You know on skate trips, when everyone’s got footage, having an amazing trip, and everyone is like, “yes! We’re going to have a beach day!” All of the boys rented a pedalo with a slide and peddled out in the ocean, we were on the beers, everyone was having the best day, and Chez was in the shade because he didn’t want to get sunburnt, just grumpy (laughs). “Why are we at the beach?”

Taking it back to your first photo for a minute, do you remember seeing this nollie heelflip in print for the first time? Also, do you still have a copy of this mag anywhere?

I definitely don’t have a copy of the mag. I never really held onto anything. All my magazines, boards…I’ve been such a little nomad my whole life, I’ve just got a bag and I’m going. I’ve moved around so many places, what am I going to do? Cart around all these boards and magazines? Maybe if I had a base the whole time, but I don’t really have anything, if I’m honest. I do regret it because it’s nice to look back at that stuff, but most things are online these days.

I used to have a newsagents in our town, and that was on my route home from college, so every day I would go and see if there was a new magazine out. At that point, we would also look in the magazines for whatever contests were coming up, because that was the only way we had of knowing about anything at all, because…there was no internet (laughs). Knowing that I’d shot the photo and that it was going to come out, I’d be in there checking after college. Then one day it was there, and yeah, I was just gassed.

Over the course of the last two decades, you’ve had an absolute wealth of photos printed in magazines all over the globe. Which ones would you say you are the most proud of?

Good question. I just love skate photos, love skate photographers, and I got the chance to shoot with some of my absolute favourites. Like, I’ve had a Brian Gaberman photo published, I’ve had a Jon Humphries photo, a Mike O’Meally photo, Atiba Jefferson, Brian Uyeda, Bryce Kanights, Skin Phillips… all of these people that I remember seeing their photos and looking up to them so much, and then getting to actually shoot with those dudes, and them wanting to come shoot with me. When I first moved to the States, I had a little black book that Chris Pastras gave me with all the photographers and filmers numbers, so each morning I would go to the phone-box with loads of quarters, and be like, “hi, you don’t know me but I’ve got your number from so-and-so. Do you want to go skating? Is that cool?” And they’d be like, “ah yeah, sure. Come to this spot and meet us”. I’d just go from there. Looking back, I just wasn’t even phased, I just wanted to go skating.

So when you went to the phone-box, you didn’t stop to think to yourself, “I’m cold calling Atiba Jefferson here”?

I thought, “just fucking do it. It’s what I’m doing here, I may as well go for it”.

Was that how you came to shoot the nollie heel down the Santa Monica triple set?

I think that was within the first year or two of being there. There was no plan to go there and do it, kind of like this Oxford day. I went there because Steve Nesser was trying to do a varial flip, but he snapped his board and it bounced up and smacked him in the face. He had a lump like a golf ball on his face; it was massive. So we were just there. He’d brought Atiba to shoot that, and I was just flinging the nollie heel down them, then they were like, “come on, come on, try it”. It took a while from what I remember. I was kicking it away so many times to get myself to land it. You know when you do the army roll and you get the scabs here [points to lower back]? I’d like rip them off and dig my finger in there to make myself do it. I went through a phase of doing that, to get myself more angry and hyped up.

That’s surprising; I’ve always known you to be super mellow, I don’t think I’ve known you to really get angry.

It was all upstairs (laughs).

Let’s wrap this up. Is there anything else you’d like to add? Have you any final thoughts on skateboarding in 2001, or this time in your life?

These were happy days; I didn’t have a care in the world, I was just going skating. There were no worries…take me back (laughs).

Follow Benny - @fairtax

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