The Friday Interview: Ben Hittle

Age: 22
Hometown: Severna Park, Maryland
Sponsor: Kink Bike Co.

Photos by Jeff Zielinski and Ryan Fudger
Interview by Jeff Zielinski, Darryl Tocco, and Jay Roe

I feel like Ben Hittle has the refined style and approach to riding of a typically more seasoned and older rider--yet, he's only 22 years old. He developed from a techy ramp rider into a well-rounded street rider who has a knack for making something extraordinary out of the most mundane spots. And while you might not always be able to rely on him to meet a deadline, when it comes to riding, you can count on him for a good session wherever you go. --Jeff Z.

Ben, getting a little shade from the SoCal sun. Photo: Fudger

I hear that you pretty much find something to film at almost every spot you go to. Is that just the way it works out, do you just really like filming that much, or do just naturally really produce constantly?
I'm not sure really, maybe a little bit of everything? I guess that's just the way it works out. I would get bored if I wasn’t riding the spot with everyone else, even if it’s a foot-tall flat ledge. I obviously don’t have the mentality that I’m only going to film bangers--I’m basically the opposite because I very rarely do. I figure I might as well just film whatever I’m doing for fun and if it ends up looking cool then it gets used.

Is it true that Nate Wessel built the mini ramp in your yard?
Yes he did, about 7 1/2 years ago, now. I convinced my parents when I was 14 years-old because two of the only skateparks in my area closed down around the same time (Vans in Virginia and Voodoo in Pennsylvania) and at the time I was really into riding skateparks. I rode street just as much, anytime I could get a ride, but I was still a little more into ramps. I really wasn’t left with many options that weren’t super far away, and my mom was probably getting sick of driving me up to New Jersey all the time. Even at that point in my life I knew I wasn’t going to college and I didn’t care about getting a car yet, all I wanted to do was ride. I told my parents I’d way rather have a ramp than any of that. I knew Nate was the best, so I figured that was who I wanted to build it. Then not too long after the ramp became an idea, I met him at an event at Travis Pastrana’s house. Travis’ is about 20 minutes from me, so I would ride there whenever I could. But that specific day Nate was there with Colin Winkelman building the van ramp that he crashed on--I was right next to it when it happened, it was so gnarly. But then I saw Nate again at Woodward shortly after, and that was where I let him know I was serious about the ramp. We exchanged information and went from there.

If it's in his way, you can bet that Ben will wallride over it. Photo: Zielinski

When you're not jet setting somewhere warm on a Kink trip, how did you deal with the harsh Baltimore winter? What options are there for riding?
I was actually sweating it this year, after being spoiled by the Kink house [in Long Beach, CA] and completely missing last winter. I was thinking about trying to find a place out there for a few months to avoid it again, but luckily this winter was extremely mild. We got very little snow and cold weather in general. Plus Kink did two trips to Southern California this winter, anyway. I also spent a lot of time in between those trips hanging out with friends in New York City, so it’s gone by fast. SoCal is definitely the best in winter, so I’d like to come out again next year.

Who are some riders that you're into nowadays?
I honestly couldn’t tell you, I haven’t really watched many edits or been that into the whole scene for the past year. The only ones I watch are of my friends, or dudes like Dakota [Roche], Nathan [Williams], and Corey [Martinez].

One of the reasons Ben took his pegs off was so he would concentrate on learning how to air. Safe to say it worked. Photo: Zielinski

What kind of music are you into?
I hate answering this question [laughs]. I listen to all sorts of different stuff. Mostly old hardcore and punk, but also everything from indie or ambient to catchy electronic stuff. I also listen to a lot of older emo (and not what most of you kids are thinking, I’m talking about Embrace, Jawbreaker, etc). I’m definitely not into current music, though, I actually haven’t put a new song on my iPod in a couple years.

Do you go to a lot shows?
I actually haven’t been to a show in a couple years. I used to go a lot when I was younger, but that was when I was listening to some different bands that were putting out music I was into at the time.

What's up with your Instagram addiction to posting meals you're about to eat? All I see on your account is vegetarian food and strange designer leather boots.
[Laughs] I love food--a lot. Eating is one of my favorite past times. And I don’t know if I’d call them “designer”, but I’m also a big fan of Red Wing boots, they’ve been making really good stuff in the US for a long time.

Adapting to spots never seems to be an issue for Ben. Snapped turndown on a quick setup. Photo: Zielinski

What do you have going on this year travel wise? Kink has some big trips planned, you psyched?
Definitely! I’m actually typing this on a 14-hour flight to Tokyo right now. We’re about to spend nearly a month in Asia and I’m obviously really excited. Other than that I’m not too sure, but I know we’ll be traveling around the US a bunch this year filming for the upcoming video.

You run a pretty traditional bike setup with a straight cable and some good length on your seat post…any specific reasons you still run brakes and keep that seat up?
It’s just what I’ve done for a long time and it works well for me. I don’t think bikes look or feel good with a slammed seat. And I can’t imagine ever riding brakeless, I just like having them way too much.

Now that you're the newest pro on Kink, what's it been like traveling with all the guys? Who gives you shit? Who do you give shit to?
Traveling with everyone is always good. We’re all friends and I’ve known all the dudes for years. I couldn’t really pick out certain people--we all give and take each other’s shit [laughs].

You have the some of the best whips in the game, but you pretty much refuse to do/film them--ever. Why is that?
I appreciate it, but I don’t know about that. I’ve been doing them for almost ten years, but they still aren’t very dialed compared to a lot of kids these days. I don’t do them often because they always hurt my feet and ankles, which is not fun. Plus I just don’t like watching people ride when they do a ton of whips.

Don't let Ben fool you, this setup really isn't supposed to yield results that look this good. Photo: Zielinski

You still hold down the whole no drinking/no drugs thing, which I think is pretty cool. Is there something more to that? Are you just not feeling it or what? Thanks for all the designated driver nights.
No problemo. And there really isn’t much to it, it never appealed to me growing up and still doesn’t. I don’t ever feel pressured or even really think about it at all, it’s just something I don’t want to do.

You have quite a less is more attitude when it comes to street riding. Who or what helped influenced your riding style?
I agree. I guess it just doesn’t look good to me when people force lines together or do a ton of grind combos in the middle of a ledge. I think growing up with Ruben [Alcantara] being one of my favorite riders probably had a lot of influence on that. I enjoy simple riding that looks nice and smooth. Wiz was also one of my favorites--he was more tech, but still made it look good.

A lot of people may not realize that you used to be a pretty heavy peg guy jumping around on coping and sub boxes. Where did the pegs go? And do you think we'll ever see them again?
When I was 13-15 [years-old] I really loved tech ramp riding with pegs. It was pretty popular at the time but was also fun. I took them off because I used them too much, and I wanted to force myself to learn how to air better and stuff like that. Plus it was nice not to be breaking spokes and axles all the time. They ended up just staying off. I can’t say I won’t ever ride them again, but not anytime soon. Maybe one day down the road when I get bored I’ll try them again.

For being relatively young still, you have quite an extensive BMX background. What got you into riding and traveling so young and who has remained a role model/influence throughout the years?
I guess that is because I got into it so young. I started riding when I was 11 and got really into it right away. As for a constant influence/role model, I’m trying, but I honestly can’t think of anyone specific to name. I wish I could give someone credit, but no one comes to mind. I sort of do my own thing, but I ride with my friends so I suppose they are the biggest constant influence on me.

The secret is out. Ben Hittle enjoys the occasional wallride or two. Photo: Fudger

Your parents seem really supportive of you riding even after all these years. Are they stoked to see things starting to happen for you with the opportunities to travel a lot more and take in a little bit of money?
Yeah, I’ve been very lucky to have such supportive parents, I obviously wouldn’t be where I am today without them. I’m pretty sure they are happy that things are finally starting to happen after all these years.

Where are you trying to go on a Kink trip that we haven't been to yet?
Everywhere! [Laughs] I really can’t even begin. This Asia trip is only my second time out of the country (France being my first), and there are so many other countries and continents I want to travel to.

Can't forget to give the obligatory thanks...
Obviously my parents first off, for being so supportive ever since I started riding, and keeping it up for so long. Then Jay Roe and everyone involved with Kink for all the great opportunities and support. Matt Coplon at Profile for hooking me up over the years. All my friends for being sweet to hangout and ride with. And to you Jeff Z. and Fudger for this interview. Thanks!