Film by Dan Scott
Benny Howard: Former's Newest Family Member
"In an era where surfers are their own marketing department and going viral has all but replaced magazine coverage, it's easy to see why someone of Ben's humble demeanour might retain a low profile."
No, we’re not doing a feature on the pop-folk singer. This Ben Howard surfs. And fucking well at that.
Although you don't need us to tell you that, his recent signing to Dane Reynolds' and Craig Anderson's Former is enough of an indication. A brand, that despite its brief history and small range, has significant cultural capital and brought a much needed skate element to surfing.
Right now, the 21-year old is still paying for his boards, his travel, and works an honest job driving trucks within the family business. This is likely to change if Dane and Craig's eye for influence is anything to go by, but if it doesn't, Benny's not the sort of person who would feel hard done by.
Anyway, let’s start from the top. Who is this guy?
We first heard of Benny, or more aptly, 'saw him', when Dan Scott flicked us a video of him stomping what we captioned the “positive outcomes of over-rotation” – a slob that rotated into a reverse. Dan said he was an unsponsored kid from Port Mac who ‘“ripped”, and while his Instagram was sparing in surf content, it was evident he was no slouch.
“I think he’s coming to the Byron Electric Acid prem” Dan shot over text. So we fired Ben a quick line. “Are you going to be around man? Would be good to do a little interview.”
“Yeah I’ll be around.” Benny shot back. But what Benny meant by 'around' was that he was willing to punch it 8-hours north from Newcastle, just to come up for a chat.
That night, after a few too many schooners on all fronts, I was introduced to Benny. The prototypical pleasantries followed: where he’s been surfing, what he does for work, thoughts on the film, then sponsorship...
It's style and execution such as this which caught the eyes of Craig.
A few months prior Ben had put pen to paper for a small annual sum with a wetsuit and apparel brand. At the time we had him in mind for a non-branded shoot, but this deal squandered the opportunity. I was therefore surprised to hear he no longer rode for this company at all, but the reason was far from a regretful one. "I'm kinda riding for Former now." Ben mumbled in modesty, a sentence which I repeated in astonishment.
Ben turned down a few bundles of cash a year to ride for a company he'd support regardless of finance. Benny isn't getting paid to ride for Former, he's doing it because it's a project he wholeheartedly endorsed from the beginning.
But how did Craig Anderson, one of the world's most idolised surfers, come in contact with a 21-year old from Port Mac? Ben's presence was slim in this metric and number defined era, and with surf media seemingly consumed by its social counterpart Instagram, how did the two ever meet.
“To be honest, I hadn’t really heard of him either until a few months ago. I met him through a Port Mac photographer named Josh Tabone. We went on a South Coast trip and it kind of rolled from there.” Craig Anderson told Stab about meeting Benny. "And it wasn’t until that frontside slob [that Stab posted] that I really started to think ‘who the fuck is this dude?”
But the relationship didn't eventuate as quickly as that. Shortly after meeting and surfing together, Benny blew out his MCL, dry docking him for the next four odd months.
"We'll be taking him on a tonne of trips with the whole team next year, and as the brand grows we're hoping we can really look after him" Craig Anderson on Benjamin.
"Benny was borderline depressed and he’s like my best mate." Tom Howard, Ben's brother said during his down time. "I had to message Craig and get things going again, so I grabbed his phone and was like ‘I’m fucking sending him a message’"
"I just didn't want to be some groupie to Craig." Benny bit back at Tommy.
For anyone that knows or has met Benny, his modesty is unrivalled, a sentiment which Dane Reynolds confirms.
"His raw ability and natural poise is tough to ignore." Dane Reynolds said about Ben. "Further examination revealed a kid that surfs for the love of it and drives heavy machinery for his dad's business when the waves are shit.
"That type of humility is tough to come by in today's youth."
Were it not for his brother's persistence and brash confidence, it's questionable whether Benny would've ever signed to Former. Well, that and Dane's insistence on getting more surfer's on the team. A situation likely exacerbated by Oscar Langburne's impending departure to RVCA, and the transfer of Former's LA base to Dane's garage in Ventura.
"Dane fucking got on my case a few months ago about how we needed more surf content and how I’m hopeless at getting surf content together." Craig told Stab. "We’ve got four guys on the Former skate team and they’re forever giving content to Warren and are really good at what they do.
"It's like we're building a little surf team now as well." Craig continued. "It’s not as if I was thinking about the way [Benny] surfs as an investment, it’s more to do with spending time with nice people who we get along with; he's really relaxed and has a great temperament. Whether that sticker on a board works out, or he gets a better offer, whatever, I’m just excited to hang out and surf with these dudes.
"It’s cool when people back the brand and the clothing and like the people involved rather than a simple business or money deal. Benny isn’t in it to make a shit tonne of money he just wants to travel and wear the clothes. We'll be taking him on a tonne of trips with the whole team next year and we're hoping we can really look after him as the brand grows."
Ben's "great temperament" evidently transfers to his approach in the drink.
"I sent Dane and everyone a reel, that Dan Scott put together of Benny and made sure they were stoked on Benny’s surfing." Craig said. "I spoke to [Benny] face to face about it and gauged his vibe to see if he was interested [in riding for Former]. I’m not like a fucking team manager at all though."
Shortly after, as Former moved their production to Bali, the whole team tripped over and they brought Ben with them to meet the remainder of the family. Up until this point he'd only ever met Craig.
"We brought Ben to Bali for further vetting." Dane continued, rattling off a list of positives. "Doesn't mind some light roasting. Chill in the lineup. Self sufficient. Rips.
"A decade ago a kid like Ben would've gone in magazine trips and starred in Taylor Steele films, but in an era where surfers are their own marketing department and going viral has all but replaced magazine coverage, it's easy to see why someone of Ben's humble demeanour might retain a low profile."
Anyway, he's out there now. Not exactly viral, but making impressions where the eyeballs count. A metric that isn't valued on sheer quantity, but one on the quality of those appreciating his output.
Below, we interviewed Ben Howard post-Byron back beach session to dig a little deeper, unmasking some of that modesty which has veiled his personality and preternatural ability for so long.
Craig introducing his goofy-footed protegé to his favourite south coast wave.
Stab: Benny, let's start nice and vanilla, how are you, who are you, and what've you been doing?
Benny: Ah, fuck you nearly knocked over my beer [laughs].
I guess I'm pretty good. Well, umm, what do you want to know?
Where'd you grow up, for starters?
I was born in Canberra and mum and dad travelled us around Aus while we were super young, like four or five. Then we moved to Tasmania and I lived down there for seven years and moved out of there in grade four or five and have been in Port ever since.
So when did you start surfing?
I learnt to surf down in Tassie when I was a grom, Dad got me and Tommy into it. But I didn't take it seriously, well, not seriously, but surf a lot. When I was about twelve I surfed more, my dad pushed us and Shane Fletcher was a big motivation as well, we were always hanging out.
What's the scene like around Port?
There are so many bodyboarders there [laughs]. They're all real nice guys though, and we're all really good friends. Matt Banting is from there as well obviously and he's insanely good.
So Matt was an influence?
Fuck, Matt, for sure. He's my brother's age, they used to hang out and I used to just tag along with them. Mick Caine as well as another one, he's been a family friend since I was really young. I looked up to those guys alot.
So you just went to school with a bunch of long haired bodyboarders [laughs]?
Yeah when I went. I ended up getting kicked out in year 8, I didn't go to school for a few months. Then I had to go to this weird school, where like all the weird kids go [laughs], different people [laughs].
I was just really shit at school and I hated it 'cause of that.
Did you end up finishing?
I went back, but then I pulled out in year 10 and dad said to come and work with him. So I just started labouring with dad.
Were you taking surfing seriously?
Mmm, I definitely wanted to, I enjoyed it a lot – like everyone I guess [laughs]. I'd pay to go travel with mates or whatever, but the waves were so good at home there was never any real need to leave, we'd just do missions down south occasionally.
Dan Scott got into filming – I grew up with Dan – and one day he just hit me up to come surfing. Ever since then we've just kind of always linked up.
I was on Vissla at one point when I was 17, but that kind of only lasted eight months. I didn't really want to be sponsored if I wasn't really psyched on the brand, even though Vissla was pretty cool.
Then I broke my ankle shortly after that.
Nah, I was living up at Tweed Heads with this old couple in their 70's. I was skating and broke my ankle, I couldn't work, had no money and ended up having to move home after four months.
I got pretty into the bongs after that. I was just hanging out with my friends in Port, who are all sick, but, I dunno, they just like partying. And when you're injured and not surfing in Port there's nothing else to do. I was kinda just into everything to escape the boredom.
By the time I was 19 I was surfing again, everything was healed, and then this year was when I first met up with Craig down the South Coast.
Yeah, how did that happen? Did Craig hit you up or something?
Nah, [Josh] Tabone was going down south and asked me to just tag along if I wanted. I didn't know Craig was going to be there or anything. Then we ended up just meeting him at a pub down there after a surf.
Then I got home and cooked my knee straight away, I didn't surf for four months.
Tommy was telling me, he said you did it three times?
Tommy actually blew his knee, and I did mine literally the next day. Inside of my right leg.
I tried to surf twice after that, and then I just fucking quit, it got worse every time.
After a few months of being super depressed, bored, and just down, I went down with Tabone again for a trip in Forster with Craig.
That's when Craig sort of just said, 'would you think about riding for Former.' I was fucking blown away, it was like the second time I'd met him. I just didn't think it was going to go anywhere, and I didn't want to chase it and by some try-hard kid.
Then a month or so later Craig said, 'Dane's psyched for you to ride for Former', it just kind of happened.
And you've been on a few trips since then right?
Yeah, few down the south coast again, and then like a couple days ago in Newy. Craig's a really good guy, he's humble and I'd consider him to be a good friend now.
So, what's the plan, I know you're not the sort of dude to think you're a 'pro surfer' now or something?
I still don't know what I'm going to do. Just keep working with dad driving excavators, bobcats, and trucks for whatever materials we need to load. I'm going to get my semi licence as well so I can work more.
Dad is flexible though and said I can do trips whenever they want me to, and I'm so grateful for that.
And launch. Based on this session alone we're certain Ben will be tagging with Craig for every South Coast mission.
I'm so fucking stoked to be on Former. To me, they're like the best brand in the market at the moment. They're doing good things for surfing.
It's great to see a brand run purely by the riders, just surfers and skaters in this case.
I think a lot of people say this, but if surfing could be a bit more like skating, it would be great. Just the hype that other skaters have for their mates when they land a trick and they all blow it up. Surfing is such a selfish sport, you want your own wave and you only want one person out there or not. Skaters are psyched to go to new places with their mates and other people.
And comps? It's cliche, but did you ever do them?
I did a few, but I stress out, I got so much anxiety. It's similar to when i was getting injured, I'd get so much anxiety. When I was injured I think the boredom made that worse, and anxiety was a big issue throughout school as well.
I think it can still affect me sometimes, it's not fully gone. A lot of people struggle with it. But it's getting a lot better now, it's much easier to find help.
How did you cope?
Mum was really onto it. I saw psychologists and counsellors throughout school and that helped, you approach the problem instead of just sweeping it under the rug. I went to a lot of fucked ones though [laughs], there's a lot of bad ones out there.
Anyway, you wanna get back out there?
Looks kinda fun still, let's hit it.
Side note: Head over to John Respondek's site (the gent who caught each stunning image above) to purchase his latest photo book 'Craig.'. Featuring the best moments from Craig Anderson's past five years.