LB: Do your parents know that’s why you choose Arizona?
BW: They definitely were surprised as I am the oldest child and they didn’t expect me to move across the US. More than anything though, I think they were just excited that I was pursuing further education. We all laugh about it now, but skateboarding was a great vehicle to get me interested in psychology, which is what I eventually went on to study at Arizona State University.
LB: Who are or were some of your influences now? You seem to cover a very broad sect of skating. One day you’re with a few guys that are both 40+ bucketing pools on the west side of Phoenix and the next, you’re jumping down stairs with kids that are 3 or 4 years younger than you in Tucson. How is it comparatively speaking, skating with Hoss Rogers and Wez Lundry one day and then skating with someone like Chris Millic the next?
BW: As far as influences in skateboarding goes, my friends are the ones who get me more stoked than anything else. It’s great to get older with your friends and keep skating all the way through it. My favorite part about skateboarding is that it has no age cut-off. Older dudes might not still be jumping down stairs but it doesn’t mean they can’t get the same feeling out of skating by turning to pools, ramps, and skate parks. One of my good friends Hoss Rogers is 52 years old and still grinds pools every week. Wez Lundry is getting older too, but is always ripping! When I first moved out to Arizona Tim Ward introduced me to the younger dudes who skated street and you introduced me to some of the older dudes who skated pools. Even though I couldn’t skate pools well at first, I was so intrigued by the different backyards we would trespass in while skating pools and as a photographer really enjoyed the ever-changing scenery and process that goes along with finding, cleaning, and then covertly skating pools. There’s just something sacred about the whole process. Typically, a lot more goes into skating a pool than does driving downtown to skate a ledge. It was also really fun to go out street skating with all of the dudes my age and spend all day exploring downtown Phoenix and ending up at a skate park at the end of the night. I just like to try and skate everything which is the reason why I go out with the older dudes to skate pools some days and then the younger street skating guys other days.
LB: You’re all over the place with hobbies/issues, besides skating, what else are you into and how did you get into it?
BW: I’m definitely into too much random shit and need 2 lifetimes to sit down and focus on things. Skateboarding is awesome at exposing kids to other creative endeavors and ways of thinking. I was exposed to a lot of different people who then imparted bits and pieces of themselves onto me. In 7th grade, I remember getting really really into Minor Threat which was kicked down from Rick Eusey to his little brother who then turned me onto it. I spent a lot of my free time researching music which is still something I love doing. When I started going on skate trips at 13, I began to take disposable cameras along because I really wanted to bring those memories home. Eventually I bought a 35mm Canon slr and began shooting anytime I went out skating or on trips. Taking some photo classes in high school really solidified me as a photographer. I’m also really into documenting freight train graffiti and oilbar monikers. Through learning about the history of oilbar monikers, I began reading about the depression era hobos and their migration by freight trains in search of work. It got to the point where I wanted to ride a train and felt comfortable attempting it, as I knew how to carry myself due to spending a lot of time in train yards photographing the graffiti and monikers. My good friend Ceech took me on my first train ride in the summer of 2009 and I’ve been riding any chance I get since then. I’m also very involved in Jai Tanju’s Filmporvida Print Exchange Program.
BW: Well, the funny thing is that I moved out West and started to get really into the freight train culture but there are far more trains in the Midwest! Almost all of the riding I’ve done has been on the West coast but I definitely want to do some Midwest and East coast rides in the next year.
LB: What is Black Butte, CA?
BW: Black Butte is a small stretch of land between Mount Shasta and Weed, CA. There is a small black lava butte, along with the Black Butte Center For Railroad Culture (which is a railroad museum some of my friends run) which borders the Union Pacific mainline tracks and is across from a 1920s era water tower that was used for steam locomotives. The BBCRC has retained some historical old cabooses and wooden boxcars that are on site and have renovated them into libraries/movie rooms/galleries/stages. They also have extensive gardens and forest restoration projects. The whole area is so rich in railroad history. Black Butte is one of the favorite places I’ve traveled to and I always look forward to my yearly stops by the BBCRC. If interested, check out bbcrc
for more info.
LB: And what about photography, where did that come from and what have you been able to do with it as of late? Ive seen a few zines youve made and a few others that you were highlighted in, care to explain?
BW: I got into photography from going on skate trips and wanting to take the scenes from the road home with me. I didn’t have any understanding about the technical aspects about photography, but read a lot and learned a ton from my amazing high school photo teacher Kevin Daly. Even though I had completed his class, he would talk with administration each semester and tell them that I would be doing an independent study with him for the semester. We ended up running this scam all 4 years of high school, so I pretty much had my own private darkroom and free reign to print whatever I wanted. I really fell in love with photography during this time and gained a deep appreciation for the darkroom processes that go along with silver gelatin printing. I didn’t buy a digital camera until my sophomore year of high school when I started experimenting with flash photography in skateboarding. I shoot almost all film photos but use my digital camera when shooting skating with flashes. I do an annual zine called Over & Out that is full of skateboarding, mail art, freight train riding, as well as monikers and graffiti but have taken the last year off to work on other projects. I’ve worked with some other photo collectives and done some other zines over the past few years. I think zines are really important because photos that are posted online or on instagram just get lost in the digital abyss. It’s so nice to be able to hold something in your hands and put it in your bookshelf to pull out and look at for years to come.
LB: Do you plan on taking that anywhere else in life?
BW: It’s hard to say. I would love to make a living as a photographer without doing anything much different than what I’m already doing…which is the main reason why I haven’t pursued it too hard. To me it feels a lot more pure to just be making photos for photography’s sake without any other bells and whistles involved (deadlines, assignments, etc.). I will never stop taking photographs and currently work another full time job in order to fund my addiction to photography and traveling. There’s no money in making zines, it’s just a way to put your work on paper and trade it with other like minded individuals. I’m eventually going to put out a book, but that is a long way down the road. I still do enjoy shooting skate photos and trying to find them homes in magazines and other publications.
LB: I almost forgot, you set up a traveling railroad art show that started in Alabama of all places, where’s it going next and when?
BW: Yeah, that turned out really awesome. I partnered with my amazing friend Byron Sonnier from Birmingham to do a show called Reading the Rails and we both began to contact railroad related artists who sent in work from all over the US and Canada, while Byron located a gallery that gave us free range to do anything we wanted for an entire month. Byron and Albert Kuhne played an instrumental role in setting up the show and handling all of the business on the ground. The result was unbelievable! The amount of freight train folklore present in one gallery was astounding. We hope to do one show out East and one show out West and are currently brainstorming on how to fund it and make that happen.
LB: Is this something you plan on doing for a while?
BW: With proper funding, I think that would be something really fun to take around. People would really appreciate the variety of work in the show.
LB: What would you suggest to younger guys , or older, looking to get in to something like this?
BW: If you want to do an art show, just spend some time networking with other artists. Get to know some of the folks who run galleries in your city. Look at other people’s work as much as possible and try to stay current on what people are making out in the world.
LB: You also teach, what’s the details on that?
BW: I am very lucky to work with kids with special needs during the school year. You remember when teachers always asked you what you wanted to be when you were older? I could never come up with an answer but knew that I didn’t want to sit in a cubicle all day, didn’t want to sell anyone anything, and wanted to have genuine human interaction while working a job. As I got older and was going through college, I realized that I wanted to eventually teach and work in the schools. My job is really great. I get to work with a lot of amazing kids who bring me so much joy. The other great part about my job is that I have a lot of school related breaks which works well with traveling around by freight or for skate trips. My last day of work was on May 23rd and I came out to NYC on May 24th and will be traveling all summer until school starts back up.
LB: I know how hobbies/lifestyles, whatever you want to call it, can take over your life, but how do you find time to teach, skate, shoot photos, ride trains and everything else you do?
BW: Ahh man, trying to find a balance is the hardest part of my life. It’s really stressful sometimes but I guess I’d rather be overwhelmed than bored. I try and keep things as simple as possible but that can be hard. When I’m in Arizona working most of the year, a typical day for me is working until 3pm, scanning some film when I get home, sending out some postcards, grabbing some pizza, skating a park or pool with some homies, and walking through the train yard to end my night. Getting in a good routine while I’m back home in AZ working really helps me as a photographer. I shoot a ton while I’m out on the road and when I come home I spend a lot of time archiving my film and deciding what I want to do with my images.
LB: Will you tell me about your most recent train ride and the train stopping before the conductor came running down the tracks screaming at the top of his lungs?
BW: I was riding trains through the desert and I caught an eastbound night train in an open boxcar and everything was going great. I dozed off to sleep but was abruptly awoken up by the train slamming to a harsh stop as the train was traveling at 55mph. I immediately knew something was wrong. Freight trains go into “emergency” which is when all of the brakes lock up and the train stops all at once. This may happen for several reasons, such as an air hose breaking, a coupler snapping apart, or a train getting into an accident. I got off of my boxcar and quickly realized that I was pretty much in the middle of desert farmland but could make out some housing from a small town on the other side of my train. I found a small concrete full pipe to hide in on farm property close to the train. I watched the conductor get out of the engine at the front of the train and begin walking the train with his flashlight. At this point I was assuming he was just trying to locate the defective train car and fix it. He came up to a train car that was only 5 or so cars in front of my boxcar and started screaming and crying at the top of his lungs, “fuck fuck fuck fuck, help help help!!!!!” I have never heard a human make sounds like the screaming and crying he was making, and my initial suspicion was confirmed that our train had struck, dismembered, and likely killed someone. Minutes later the area was crawling with police and I had to hide out with the fear of being caught and somehow implicated. It was a pretty terrifying experience. As daylight broke, my suspicions were confirmed…a local man had stepped out in front of our train and been struck and killed.
LB: How have those events changed how you look at life or even your priorities with what’s important to you?
BW: Well anytime I’ve been around death, it just makes me appreciate being alive that much more. I’ll never get the conductors screams and cries out of my head though. I think a lot of people have painted quite an unrealistic picture of train hopping when in reality it is a very dangerous activity for a multitude of reasons, even though that dude stepped out in front of our train.
LB: Being a teacher, what do you plan on doing the rest of the summer?
BW: Well, I’ll be out East here for a little while longer and then I’m headed back out West and traveling up the coast of California into Oregon and then on into Vancouver, BC. I’m just traveling alone and meeting up with friends all along the way. It’s really nice not to have no agenda other than to be back to Arizona in a few months to start working again. I’ll just be skating, riding trains, shooting photos, hanging out with good friends, and eating lots of good food.
LB: You’re still young, but how long do you see that this can last?
BW: I’ll move around like this until I can’t walk anymore, but even then I’ll still try and get out there. For me it’s just the key to happiness. It’s simply wanderlust. I’m never content…there is too much shit to see and skate. I’m only working 182 days a year in the schools, which leaves me over half the year to get out into the world and make shit happen.
LB: What do you want from skateboarding?
BW: Skateboarding has given me everything I could ever have asked for. I never really cared about “making it” as a skateboarder and always knew it would be a very long process that I wasn’t really interested in pursuing. These days, it’s nice to just skate for fun all the time without being worried about filming and putting together video parts. There are also a lot of other great things out there in the world besides skateboarding, so I would encourage other skateboarders to seek those things out and find something else to put your energy into while you’re not out skating.
LB: At this point in your life, what dreams have you actually lived out? Dreams you thought you would never accomplish, but have and do on a daily basis.
BW: I just put it into perspective how stoked my 10-year-old self would be about what I am doing these days and what I have done leading up to the present. I never imagined where skateboarding would take me and all of the amazing friends I would make through it. I am definitely really grateful for all of the amazing humans that are a part of my life.
LB: Is there anything else, any stories, ideas, or dreams you want to live out, share, or explain?
BW: I definitely want to ride trains in Mexico, as well as doing some longer hops from West to East and back. Those are things on my checklist for sure. There are a couple of skate spots on my radar that I really want to seek out and skate. I’ve also been working on a book that will be coming out in a few years.
LB: Who do you want to thank after all these… well, you’re still young as hell, but after this past decade of skating, traveling, and train hopping?
BW: So many people have helped me out over the years and I could write about it for days. I’ll thank my amazing family for all of their support over the years. I’ll thank you (Lee Bender) for getting me out of Indiana and everything else you’ve done for me. Buddy Best, Rick Eusey, Hutch, Ryan Smith, Tim Devlin, Tony Allanson, Rob Walker and all of the other Indiana dudes that played a positive role in my youth and helped me out so much along the way. I’ll thank all of my East Coast friends such as Jersey Drew, Phil Jackson, Steve Marino, and Bruce B for putting me up and showing me the ways. My friends in the North West Erik Ursin and Kevin Willrick who continue to put me up year after year. Kevin Erst and Melissa Rodriguez for saving my life. All of my brothers in the railroad are constant inspirations and have contributed a lot to the culture. All of the NSL boys in Vancouver. My friends down south in RVA and Birmingham. Neil Shoemaker, Tim Ward, Ari Shiffrin, Matt Price, Nich Kunz, Jai Tanju and all of the film por vida family, the BOTY homies, the LFL boys, Benji Wagner at Poler, Sean Waeiss, Casson Valiyi, Dylan Messer, Brett Reed, Wez Lundry, and Hoss Rogers. I feel like I’m leaving some folks out but I just feel grateful for all of you! At the end of the day, my friends are the ones that really inspire me and keep me moving forward. Keep skating, doing whatever creative things you all do, and continue to leave your marks in the world.