Bennett Harada

Bennett Harada

BENNETT HARADA

INTERVIEW BY ERIC DRESSEN

INTRODUCTION BY ERIC BRITTON

PHOTO BY RIP

Bennett Harada is a skateboarder with a warrior’s heart, a modern day Samurai, but what lies within is a humble and focused soul. He is a solid rider with a smooth, powerful style. Bennett Harada loves skateboarding and spends part of everyday passing on the tradition to the next generations. That’s a true hardcore skateboarder. Read on. – ERIC “TUMA” BRITTON

Okay, question #1. Where were you born?

I was born in East L.A., Montebello to be exact. I remember going to intermediate school and being one of the only Japanese kids in the whole school. I used to have to defend myself daily.

You’re 100% Japanese?

Yeah. I’m from the East Side, so I’m pretty much a Samurai vato loco. My mom and dad were both born in concentration camps from WWII.

What were you into as a kid growing up? Were you skating or BMXing or what?

When I was four, my first skateboard was a blue GT. My mom bought it for me at Toys’R’Us and I’d always ride around my neighborhood on my knees. One day, I got really mad and picked it up and threw it super hard on the ground and it snapped in half. I thought, “Whoa, that was cool.” Then I got into BMX for a couple of years. I liked to jump off of curbs and go fast, but I got hurt a lot on my bike. Doing tricks on a BMX bike is so hard. At the same time that I was into BMX, I started hanging out with my neighbors Tim and Carlos. They were a few years older than me. My brother and I would go to their house after school everyday and they would let us ride their skateboards. We lived on a small hill, so we’d practice riding down, over and over. Every time we were starting from higher and higher up the hill, and eventually starting from the top. The first time that I got a real skateboard of my very own, I must have done something good, because my whole family took me to a skateboard shop and let me pick one. I chose a Hosoi Hammerhead. Out of all the skateboards in the shop, that one just caught my attention. It was black with neon green. It was sick. That’s when I really started to get into it and tried to learn tricks.

How old were you?

I was 10 or 11. It was the summer before fifth grade.

How old are you now?

I just turned 40 years young. I can’t really believe it but I still feel and act like a kid most of the time. I’ve loved skateboarding from the first time that I started. I still get that fun, excited feeling every time I’m riding my skateboard. That’s why I do it.

How did you learn to skate?

I used to study the magazines like Thrasher and Transworld more than all of my other schoolbooks. I was really into the way that you guys were skating, doing wall rides, going fast, grinding hard and flying around like super heroes. People like you, Christian Hosoi, Scott Oster, Aaron Murray, Jesse Martinez, Steve Caballero, Natas Kaupas, Tommy Guerrero and the Gonz were my idols. I remember landing my first wall ride in my friend Doug’s garage. It made me feel so good. It took me forever, but I just kept at it everyday after school until one day it just happened. We were skating, checking out the mags and listening to NWA, ICE-T, Public Enemy, Run DMC and the Beastie Boys.

 “It’s like a samurai and his sword. My board is my sword.”  

Once you got the Hosoi board, were you doing jump ramping? What were you skating?

We were watching Animal Chin and the Bones Brigade videos and we were seeing all the Dogtown and Team Hosoi ads in the mags. We just skated everyday and did our best to be like our idols. You guys created hardcore street skating. We didn’t have any ramps or bowls around, but there were streets everywhere, so we started skating to different neighborhoods, meeting new friends to skate with. For a while, we had a pretty big posse, about ten skaters deep. I started SWA (Skaters With Attitude). We started jumping on the bus and exploring new places like Pasadena, Alhambra, downtown L.A. and Venice. Sometimes we would skate all the way home from our adventures and hit all of the spots along the way back to the East Side.

What was your first impression of Venice?

I remember the first time I went there with my friends Curtis, Dan and Ryan. I was the youngest in the crew at that time. We jumped in the car and drove down to the beach, and when we got there, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was Scott Oster and Christian Hosoi having a G-turn session. It was so sick. That was the first time that I saw professional skaters. Venice was so hardcore back in those days. They had ramps up to the wall for wall rides in the back of the pavilion. The graffiti pit with the benches and the whole vibe was just so raw. I went home that day with my head spinning.

When was the first time that you skated a pool?

When I was in high school, my friend Kev Ha, called me up and told me to come over and skate his empty pool. It was totally different from anything that I’d ever skated before. I remember trying to get to the top, but I couldn’t.

What happened next?

In high school, ‘88-’92 all of my friends quit skateboarding. I could count the skaters in my school on one hand. I guess it wasn’t cool anymore for them. Times were changing. People were trying to be jocks. Cool party guys were just not down with us, but my friends and I didn’t really give a shit about anything besides skateboarding and our music. That’s when I really started getting into reggae music, roots and culture and started to develop my own sense of style.

When did you know that you wanted to be a professional skateboarder?

I remember reading a Christian Hosoi interview in the L.A. Times Magazine. Seeing him do all those cool tricks and talk about how he made money doing what he did and how he made it look so cool really inspired me. Ever since I was a little kid, I loved to spend my time skating and practicing and having fun. Something about learning tricks and how good it feels when you can do something that you couldn’t do before is just so magical. I also used to get grounded, so I stayed home a lot and practiced in my driveway for hours every day.

When did you start skating in contests?

That was back in the Ryoki days. After high school, I started to hang out in Little Tokyo at night. I was the late night Samurai, skating, drinking sake, chasing girls and having fun. Across the street from one of my spots was a skate shop called Ryoki. One day they asked me to ride for them. It was cool getting some free boards and gear. That was my first sponsor. I eventually helped them put together a skate team of local skaters. I would drive the team to the C.A.S.L. contests. Those were super fun times. After a while, I got the chance to work at the shop. That’s when I started to learn about the business side of skateboarding. Working at the shop opened my mind to how big skateboarding is other than just skateboarding. There are so many different aspects to it.

 “I’m so addicted to the feeling i get when I’m skating. when I’m standing on my board going fast, nothing else matters. i can go as fast as I want and as high as I can.” 

Were you at the demo in the ‘80s when Hosoi and Oster skated in Little Tokyo?

That was a crucial moment for me as a youth. I grew up going to Little Tokyo, even before I skated. They have a big festival every summer called Nissei Week with a huge parade. One year, I was there with my little skate rat friends, holding our skateboards, watching the parade when, all of a sudden, this cool looking jeep with a jump ramp in the back pulls into the parade out of nowhere. They park and out jumps Christian Hosoi and Scott Oster. We watched as they busted method airs, judo airs, ollies and 360s over the jeep. It was sick. I had a broken foot at that time, but that demo absolutely blew my mind.

You were a downtown L.A. kid, huh?

Skating downtown is hardcore because everywhere you go you get kicked out real quick, but there are so many good spots. It’s one giant skatepark. Skating downtown literally taught me how to be street smart. I’ve been hit by cars, and there are a lot of shady people. I’ve had to defend myself many times downtown. There’s security and cops everywhere. I’ve had handcuffs put on me just for skating one of my favorite spots. I’ve also had some of the best times of my life skating downtown. It’s crazy down there. It’s my roots of skateboarding.

The last few years have been the most active years in your skateboarding career. You’ve been doing non-stop traveling and entering contests. You’ve been across the United States, Japan and all over.

The last few years have been crazy. It all started when I was in college. I was taking some GE classes and skating after school. Some of my friends were traveling to Japan and making money, selling clothing, boards and jewelry. After hearing sick stories from my friends, I decided that it was my turn to go for it. From the first time that I went to Japan, I was hooked on traveling and skating. The whole feeling of going to a new, faraway place is so special to me. You dream it, you plan it, you save some money and you go for it. When you get there it’s almost like you’re in a dream. I always trip out on how different things are in other countries or other cities and states. I also trip out on how much some things are the same. I love skating something that I’ve never skated before with people that I don’t even know. It’s cool to make new friends and see and try new things.

We’ve been hanging out together for the last few years and skating pools nonstop.

It’s been so sick. I knew about you from the videos and magazines when I was a little skate rat. I went through that phase of trying to be like my idols. I used to try and wear the same clothes and do the same tricks. In a way, that’s made me who I am today. Then I met you at Old Star Skate Shop. It was like “Hey, man. Let’s go skate.” Even nowadays, I still get excited like, “Oh, shit. I’m going skating with Eric D!” Just being around you makes me want to skate faster and grind harder. I’d say that you showed me how to be a pro.

[Laughs] Who were your other big influences?

I grew up looking up to you, Christian Hosoi, Scott Oster, Aaron Murray, Jesse Martinez, Jeff Hartsel, Pat Ngoho, Shogo Kubo, Tony Alva, Jay Adams, all of the Venice O.G.’s because you guys skated with power, attitude and style. I was always trying to be like Steve Caballero and Tommy Guerrero, Gonz and Natas too. It was sick how everyone had their own style. Over the years, it’s been such an honor to skate with most of my idols. I’ve learned that even though we’re all different, we all share the love for skateboarding and that’s a big part of who we are.

FOR THE REST OF THE STORY, ORDER ISSUE #72 BY CLICKING HERE…

Bennett Harada

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