Niels Bennett Interview
Hey, Niels, what’s going on?
I’m sitting on our balcony on Cherry and Third in Long Beach right now, the one you and TJ threw the chair off of. I’m watching some bum try and steal the bus bench. I just got back into town from Portland last night. This is so weird having you interview me. I’m too comfortable talking to you.
Isn’t that the point?
Well, we’re roommates. You just know too much about me.
So do you think this interview is going to have us arguing like when I’m trying to get you to do your dishes?
That’s exactly what I’m worried about!
I think we can get through this. So where are you from exactly? Everyone thinks you’re a European skater but you’re really just another dude from Florida.
Yeah, I’m from Pensacola, Florida. It’s probably because when I lived in Pensacola, I wasn’t really putting out too much content. Around the time I started filming and having video parts I was kind of all over the place. I was probably 19 or so whenever I started actually putting out stuff and it just so happened I had been spending some time in Europe by then. So maybe it’s because of that?
This Smith to feeble is crazy, but not as crazy as Niels’ phone call to Brandon Biebel Photo: Robles
Isn’t your mom from Germany?
Damn, now there’s not gonna be any more secrets. Yeah, my mom is from Germany. She lives in Pensacola but her family is from Frankfurt. They’re all kind of spread out through Germany, actually. A good bit of them live in Frankfurt, though. I’ve been spending summers and winters there my whole life.
Which is classier, Pensacola or Frankfurt?
Classier? I mean, that’s a really hard comparison. Frankfurt is a really big banking city, but they also have a red light district. Pensacola doesn’t have one of those. So it’s Southern versus banking, I guess. The South has class, though. There’s such a thing as Southern class. It’s just a lot different than European class.
Didn’t Biebel go years thinking you were from Germany and he didn’t know until your trip to Canada?
I don’t know. When I called Biebel up recently he didn’t mention that.
You can’t park here. But front boards? All day, B Photo: Robles
Was that when you called him about workout tips?
Yeah, I called up Biebel and was like, “Hey, it’s Niels,” and he goes, “Who?” And I say, “The professor!” And he goes, “Oh, what’s up, professor?” I called him because I worked out for the first time in, well—maybe my whole life. I worked out really hard and my arms got stuck at 90-degree angles. I couldn’t straighten them out. They were really swollen. So I was calling him to see if he had any workout tips. There’s this thing where if you work out too hard, muscle fibers go into your blood stream and you can get liver failure. I didn’t know if I had that or not, so I wanted to call him to see how dangerous it was. He said it was no stress and that it was a good time to work out your legs if you can’t move your arms. It was pretty funny. Biebel knows his workout tips.
Didn’t you tell him that you loved him?
Oh, man, you’re gonna put that in there, too? Yeah I was like, “I love you, Brandon!” There was a really awkward, long pause, then he grunted and said, “Later,” and hung up on me.
Wasn’t he the one who came up with your nickname? I was surprised to see how much that one popped off seeing as how I had never heard it before your last article in the mag.
You know, I think he did make up that name. It was on this Canada trip I went on with him. I think he said, “You’re a professor because you read books and shit.” I guess anyone who knows how to read is a professor, according to Biebel. No one calls me that, though. It’s just a big marketing scheme.
Do you have any other nicknames?
Nope, professor is the only one.
What were you doing in Portland recently?
Adidas had a private opening with the team for this new space they just finished. It’s a training facility that I think doubles as an event space. It was the grand opening. Gonz was there; Scott Johnston was there; It was really fun.
Soaking up some of that East Coast aesthetic with a fakie front blunt Sequence: Taketomo
Had you met the Gonz before?
Yeah, once. I kinda felt like a kook, though. My board rolled over to him at the skatepark and when I went to go grab it I awkwardly went to shake his hand. I don’t think I even said anything to him. He introduced himself to me and said, “Hi, I’m Mark.” I don’t know why, but I told him I met him before at the picnic table contest they had in LA. All he said was, “Cool!” and I went on my way. I don’t know why I did that. It was pretty funny; I felt like a total kook. It was really fun, though, skating with everyone on the team. I was only up there for about 24 hours.
Is it weird meeting these people who you watched when you were younger? Who do you think had the most influence on your skating to be where it is today?
I watched everything that I could find when I was growing up. I think the first video I ever saw that I watched over and over again was Eastern Exposure 3. Ricky Oyola definitely had the best part in that video.
Why East Coast skating?
Everything was interesting to me but I always thought East Coast skating had a little bit more soul and the dudes had really cool style. There were dudes in California with cool style but the aesthetic on the East Coast was better than the West to me. I had been going to New York every summer, even before I was into that kind of skating. I would go there and just wander around and take everything in. Once I started paying attention to skate videos I started to understand all of the vibes from all of the companies along with the time periods and watched more and more East Coast stuff.
Channeling his inner Maldonado—quick ups to ollie, very East Coast Photo: Taketomo
But you still managed to move to Long Beach.
Well, what happened was I started riding for Plus Skateshop in Orlando and met a lot of people who turned out to be really good friends. I think at one point I wanted to move to New York. I had a decent job opportunity and could have made something work. A good friend of mine was working there setting up store displays for one of those big department stores. He said he could get me a job but I ended up staying in Orlando because it was such a good time, then before I knew it I was living here.
Did you ever think you would move out here?
I didn’t think I would ever move to California, actually. I never really thought it would be something that would happen. I just didn’t think I would ever want to do that. Maybe because I wouldn’t enjoy it as much? For periods I like it but I really can’t seem to stay here too long. I guess I don’t feel too motivated in California. I’ve been watching a lot of California videos lately to get me motivated to skate out here, like all the FTC dudes have really cool style and are skating cool spots. SF just looks like the East Coast. To try and get me hyped here I’ve been watching a lot of Lavar McBride in LA, not to mention the Girl and Chocolate dudes. But I love the scene in Long Beach. Everyone is really good friends and I love seeing everyone whenever I come back here.
If you didn’t think you would move here then why did you?
I needed to live in California because I wanted to be around Rick and Mike and really wanted to do something with Girl. I always wanted to know Mike Carroll in a personal way. Getting to know both of them that well changed my life. It worked out because John Marello has been one of my friends for awhile now and he was living out here filming for Crailtap. So I would come out and stay with him and eventually moved in with him, you and Chad Poore. That was a few years ago now.
It started out as all of us squeezing into a one-bedroom apartment and then as soon as we got an apartment big enough for all of us you left to try to live in Europe.
Maybe not live in Europe. I don’t know what I’ve been trying to do. The reason I went to Europe was because I was hurt and I wanted to be around family and not skating.
Gap to switch crooks at Philly’s Puerto Rico park Photo: Taketomo
What’d you do to yourself?
I dislocated some toes while I was in New York for Go Skateboarding Day with adidas.
Didn’t you do it trying to take out Pappalardo?
So there’s this out ledge in the Bronx that he did back a 5-0 on. I think he even took off the knobs so he was the first person to skate the spot. A lot of tricks have been done on it since then. I tried to switch back 5-0. I broke my board on a try before and had to use a different board. I don’t really want to blame the shape but the nose was really steep. Honestly, though, I was just leaning too far back. I can’t blame the shape. I zinged out and planted my foot on the bottom corner of where the ledge met the sidewalk. I dislocated two toes, my baby toe and the one next to that.
Where did you go from there?
First I went to urgent care. They gave me an X-ray and told me I would have to go to the ER for them to try and pull my toes back in place. I went to the ER at nine in the evening and I was there for close to 14 hours. They made me try and put my toes back into place eight or more times. My baby toe got popped back in pretty easily but the one next to it wouldn’t go back. It was really painful. They were trying to tie string around my toe like it was a tooth that was falling out and pull as hard as they could. It never really worked too well. They were giving me a light dose of morphine but it wasn’t enough and I couldn’t stand the pain anymore. They didn’t have anything stronger, except for ketamine, and I had never had that before. So around the fifth time trying to reset it they gave me a whole bunch of ketamine and the nurse told me I needed to have a positive attitude for it to go smooth. But when someone tells me that it always backfires and I can’t keep a positive attitude at all. At first I got really comfortable and then I went into a super bad trip. Dude, it sounds so crazy, but it felt like I was in ten dimensions at once, like the past, present and future were all going on at once. Eventually, what got me out of it was that I remembered I was a skateboarder in New York on a skate trip and had just gotten hurt. I remember, for some reason, the only thing I could think of was Bobby Puleo. At that point I was having a really bad experience and was just yelling in the hospital room. There were, like, ten nurses just watching me. I guess I just kept yelling “Bobby Puleo” over and over again, but I couldn’t say his last name right because my lips were all numb. I couldn’t pronounce the P. Afterwards, once I snapped out of it, the nurse asked me, “So who’s Bob Puleo?” I told her he was a skateboarder in New York who really likes trash.
Did they at least ever get your toe back in?
They never did get it reset. Dude, there was a nurse who was working right when I got there and I was in there for so long that she got off work, went home and came back for her next shift and I was still there. They weren’t letting me eat or drink and were just giving me ice chips. They even took my crutches so I couldn’t leave. I was so over it; I had to get out of there. I ended up escaping from the hospital. I had to rip out my IVs, hop across the room when the nurses weren’t looking, get my crutches and ended up leaving. The ER wanted to give me a surgery at the hospital but said I had to wait 24 hours to get everything sorted out with a doctor. They mentioned I could contact other doctors to get the procedure done. That turned into me being stuck in New York for five days looking for doctors and then I just eventually flew back to Florida to get it done. They told me once I got my surgery I couldn’t fly for two weeks because of blood clots so I would have been stuck in New York for even longer. Once everything was done I went back to Long Beach for a week then flew out to Germany. But Bobby Puleo and Pappalardo were two skaters who had a big influence on me and still do. They always just pick the right tricks for the right spots.
Do you think that was worse than the time you got scabies?
I don’t know. The ketamine was pretty traumatic for me. I wouldn’t recommend it. But scabies was really bad. I went crazy.
For those who don’t know, what’s scabies?
Scabies are little mites that burrow and lay eggs under your skin. They continue to lay eggs and that’s how it spreads. It’s really contagious and spreads fast.
Say “Bobby Puleo” three times and then just fuckin’ go for it! Switch gap to 50-50 thirty-three days after 9-11 Photo: Taketomo
How do you think you got scabies in the first place?
I don’t really know where I got the scabies from. All I know is that I was staying in San Fransisco and by the time I got home I had one scabies bite. It was on my finger. Looking at it all close I could see the burrows. At first I thought it might be an allergic reaction from camping a few weeks before, but I couldn’t find any photos anywhere that matched my skin besides scabies. It’s really contagious and within a couple days of being back it spread across my whole body.
Well, the rumor of you having scabies spread really fast around LA, so I would go out skating with people and they wouldn’t let me get in their car because they knew I lived with you.
Shit, really? Dude, it was right before we were going on a No Hotels trip across the country in Chris Blake’s Sprinter. Everyone on the trip was down to let me come with them even though they knew I had scabies. I think there were eight of us in an empty Sprinter van with just a couch in there.
I remember how bad your skin looked. It was fucked having you quarantined in our one-bedroom apartment with all of us in there. I’m so glad I wasn’t stuck in that van with you. Did anyone on the trip manage to get it?
You can give it to someone pretty easily but somehow no one got it.
How long did it take for it to go away?
I’m convinced I had scabies until I went to The Narrows at Zion National Park.
You sure? Evan Smith told me you were losing your mind on that whole trip. I heard they made you sit in the very back seat of the van the whole time.
Yeah, at one point I thought they went away, then I convinced myself that I still had them and I was having a really bad time. They didn’t want me on the couch in the van so I had a makeshift seat in the very back. I was planning on calling it and was going to fly out of Denver. I just wanted to get away from everyone because I didn’t want to infect anyone else with it. At the beginning of the trip I didn’t really think it was going to be as bad as it turned out to be. I told them at a rest stop that I couldn’t stay on the trip. I was losing my mind and could only think about the fucking scabies. I can’t just stay in the van anymore and be scared about infecting you guys. To my surprise they were actually really supportive of me. I remember Alex Elder told me, “If you had scabies this whole time, we probably have it by now. There’s no reason for you to leave the trip now!”
That’s some real homie shit.
Yeah, and it was supper funny. I don’t deal with injuries or sickness in a good way. I was stressed out the whole time pretty bad.
Has this interview been stressing you out?
With you? Yes.
Micro bump to mega back tail, way cooler than getting scabies Photo: Taketomo
So what’s next for Niels? What projects have you been filming for?
I’ve been filming with Chris Mulhern lately for a couple of different projects. I’ve been trying to film with John Marello for the Chocolate video whenever I’m in LA but I’ve either been gone or hurt. Filming with Chris Mulhern is really interesting. He has always been one of my favorite filmers. Shit, I don’t want to diss John, though. I’m really comfortable filming with Marello. He’s a great filmer. Those two are who I film with mostly. Oh, and in Germany I’ve been filming with Jon Wolf for adidas. Can’t forget that.
You were 19 when you had your first part. How old are you now?
As of 13 hours ago, I’m 23.
It’s your birthday? Happy birthday, dude!
It is, thanks. I keep it pretty low-key. I don’t really like anyone to know.
Do you think 23 is too young to go pro? Would you say you deserve to go pro?
I don’t know. I’m at the warehouse all the time. If they turn me pro I don’t want to go to the warehouse and see big ol’ stacks of Niels boards not selling. It would just feel really bad to see sky-high pallets of my boards not selling well. That’s what I’m worried about, if the time ever comes. Rick and Mike would be so bummed! I think Simon and Manchild deserved it, I think Griffin deserves it but I think I need a few more video parts before any of that.
The graffiti predicted it—ollie to wall smash. That landing looks like a garden Photo: Taketomo
You’re working on this part but I also saw you were skating Tampa this year. You don’t strike me as a contest skater. How’d you do there?
Well, I beat Roman Pabich in my heat, but he got hurt 30 seconds in so I guess that doesn’t count.
Did you land any tricks?
Probably not, but I didn’t get last place.
I just got done interviewing Ethan Loy for this issue. You know what we talked about in his interview?
Was it bad? Was it about me?
All I’m saying is I don’t think your Shark Tank idea is going to take off anymore.
Oh my gosh, did I already talk to you about that idea? What was he saying? I still think a CBD insole could work. Dude, why’d you have to do this to me?
His physical therapist says there’s no shot it’s going to work.
What does he know?! I already talked to Ethan about this. It doesn’t matter how much it works, it just matters that it works a little bit, you know? As long as the product sells. It’s gonna take some time to develop the right ideas but, damn, you just ruined my whole idea. I was going to get Rick and Mike as investors!
Well, I think this is a good point to wrap it up, now that I crushed your get-rich-quick scheme. Are you stoked you were able to actually get through this interview?
Is it done? I don’t really know what I said. Did I do okay?
I think it definitely could have been a lot worse.
I guess I’ll be the judge of that. I never thought I would have to read my own interview.
We’re all stoked for you, Niels. You’re making us proud, even if you don’t always do your dishes.
CBD insoles with a ketamine chaser, the Professor will always figure it out Photo: Papke
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