Twenty-nine year-old David Benedek of Munich, Germany has won the big contests [Air & Style, Euro Open etc.] and been voted "snowboarder of the year" multiple times. He has helped to develop safer big air booters and even hosted his own creative "Gap Session" to share the wealth and progress the sport. The insanely influential Robot Food videos were partly his doing and, after the robot's battery died, Benedek went on to create the films "91 Words for Snow" and "In Short," both of them stellar offerings that throw the typical snow porn model out the window and replace it with story, soul, honesty and a [cough] bone-deep love of the shred.
Benedek's newest project is a book called "Current State: Snowboarding," due out in Fall 2010. We hit him up for a little mind-meld on his new creative outlet and to see what he's learned so far from interviewing snowboarding's backbone, vanguard and ne'r-do-wells.
Read the interview and then go pre-order a copy. This one's guaranteed to sell out faster than the kids these days, sheesh!
So when did you get this bee in your bonnet to do a book?
I've actually had the idea for a really long time but it took me forever to find the time as well as figure out a way to not lose a crazy amount of money on it. So, all in all, I feel like I've been on and off working on the concept for a year and a half at least. Content-wise, I just started six months ago.
How does Current State slot into other creative projects you've done in snowboarding? It feels a lot more documentary and like you're digging more.
Well, there are two personal sides to the project. One being that I've always wanted to work on a full scale graphic design project, the other one that's equally strong was to feed my curiosity on where snowboarding is heading.
I'm not trying to write a history book on snowboarding but simply gather opinions of people I find have a valid and well-reflected opinion or are sheerly very influential at the current moment.
Who have you interviewed so far? I've read (and reread) Leblanc, Jones, Mueller, Burton.
I probably have about 20 interviews down with about another 10 to go and then I assume a few will not make the book, at least not in full. It's a wide range of people from all aspects of snowboarding culture. A few random ones: Whitey, Jed Anderson, Richard Wolcott, JP Walker, Travis Parker, Travis Rice, Blue Montgomery, Scotty Wittlake.. etc. The only thing the list represents is my subjective choice. I'm not trying to write a history book on snowboarding but simply gather opinions of people I find have a valid and well-reflected opinion or are sheerly very influential at the current moment.
I get the sense that you have a bit of an "agenda" in Current State, that you maybe worry snowboarding has lost its course -- or could -- and that taking the temperature of the sport's leaders might help illuminate what's really going on out there. Is this accurate? If so, what is your agenda?
Yeah. I definitely think I at least WAS following an agenda in the beginning, in the sense that I wasn't so sure where snowboarding was going to go. It felt like we built this really wobbly, huge tower in the past 15 years and, now that it's established, people don't really know which way it's going to tip. I did a lot of pre-interviews before I started actually interviewing people for the book, and in those I sort of answered a lot of the questions already for myself, so maybe the agenda you feel is more myself trying to get approval of my opinion or confronting people with it. There is still a lot of really new stuff in the interviews that I hadn't thought of at all, of course.
Have any of your subjects' answers really surprised you?
It's been really cool to see where opinions match between different people. Surprisingly a lot of people have the same opinions about certain things which ends up giving it more weight as I keep on interviewing people. Maybe that's also what you sense as 'agenda' on my side. It ranges from really little stuff like similar criticism of current park building to more general topics like the sense that we've peaked on our ascent to professionalism and as the dollars may be decreasing the cultural wealth is increasing again.
I'm a little surprised how positive and optimistic most of the interview subjects I've read have been in the face of pretty challenging questions about the state of the industry and culture...
If you had asked me about the current state of snowboarding a year ago my answers would have been far less optimistic, too; but I feel that we've really seen a significant progression or refocusing on the right things in snowboarding, so I think to some extent the surprising optimism simply represents the interviewees' edge on the subject and I think most people will sense the same within the next year. Of course [by] most people I really mean the core and industry. For the mainstream we could still fall off the face of the earth for a while since it will take them significantly longer to realize the cultural wealth or 'coolness' that feels that has the potential to be commodified again.
How would you personally characterize snowboarding's culture right now? Jeremy Jones said in your bit with him that snowboarding's basically a 19 year-old teenager, clear of the really obnoxious 13 year-old stage but still not fully 100% comfortable in its own skin (but getting close)...
Snowboarding feels a lot realer to me than it has in the past five years.
I think we're just past the tipping point where snowboarding has been turning back to its core a lot more. And I mean barely past it, maybe a year and a half on snow and six months in being able to see that in the media. There's still going to be horrible mainstream output coming for years, and I think maybe the core will feel like it's a bit under the radar in the Olympic year, but the reality is that we are already seeing a strong counter-culture to the Sheckler-esque world of action sports that comes at the same time as a wider inclusion of aspects and age groups in snowboarding.
You asked Jake [Burton] a great question about whether snowboarding isn't a little too youth-obsessed and/or constantly catering to a teenage demographic... How do you personally see the relationship between snowboarding's old guard and the kids coming up today? I guess I'm curious whether you think there's an awkward disconnect, or whether the old guard helps preserve some of snowboarding's true values by virtue of being the generation that invented these values in the first place.
I definitely think the older generation does its part to preserve some of the values, but I'm surprisingly excited how much cultural content there still seems to be for kids to grasp. Even if takes some time for them to get exposed to it. If you look at Danny Davis for example, he's almost like a reincarnation of the original Brushies or Jamie Lynns.
A number of your subjects also suggested that there's a disconnect between the subculture, "core part" of snowboarding and the masses. How do you personally see this relationship at present and is it different in Europe and North America?
In Europe you simply don't have the mainstream part of snowboarding, at least from a media POV. You only have core and the vacationer and those two don't really influence each other.
Snowboarding's obviously been an important part of your life for 20 years: you've contributed greatly to the culture with your films and you've made a decent living off of your athletic abilities and continually been one of the brightest lights in the sport... What do you think needs to change in the sport and culture in the near future for a healthy "scene" that's both vibrant and sustainable?
There are a few columns a healthy future will stand on, although I have to say that I don't believe there's anything that can really ruin it in the long run. Boring, but incredibly important as I've learned, is the survival of core retail, also culturally. Other than that is simply awareness of people in the right positions as well as a constant desire to reinvent what's established, which I think we have already. No-one wants to see snowboarding become any lamer and if we push that the mainstream channels also transport and promote the culture behind it I think the major threat of the right people losing control will be reduced a good amount. In his interview, Jesse Burtner said he wants snowboarding to be seen as an "idea factory" and I couldn't agree more.
If you could rewind snowboarding 5 or 10 or 20 years and get the industry's leaders to do anything differently with what we know now, what changes would you suggest? (i.e. what pitfalls would you avoid...)
None, really. Mistakes are necessary to grow either way.
How do you view the "current state" of snowboarding media (incl. videos)? Bright spots? Flat spots?
It's a little more complex as media, especially videos, are being affected by the overall media saturation we experience in all of society. So even if they were doing great, which to some extent they do, they'd still get lost in the constant flow of content. So, for a professional high-end video producer I don't think these are the greatest times. Also looking at the transition between physical and digital content, but I am also not such a big fan of professional action sports videos in general as they usually don't risk their business model in search of creative progression, meaning change usually comes from the ones that have nothing to lose so I'm all for the amateur.
Give us five reasons (or people-reasons) why snowboarding will always survive:
Because you can pretend like you are skateboarding really good
Because you can pretend like you are surfing really good
Because it's something rad to do outdoors with your friends
Because there's no other activity on earth that let's you use terrain so intuitively
Because you can go fast. People like fast.
Read some of the interviews over at Snowboarder Magazine: