Ben Nordberg: My Life as a Male Model

Ben Nordberg interview intro portraitPhoto courtesy of IMG

As seen in the December 2020 issue.

When did you first realize you were really, really, really good looking?
I mean, honestly, I never really considered myself good looking. I really feel like I got lucky, you know. I had good people take me on. I met my agent Mimi at IMG. I never really went looking for everything, it just kind of happened. I was just skating, really.

Was Mimi your skateboarding agent?
No, she was my model agent. I’ve had a couple of agents who try to just do skating but it never worked out. So Mimi, she’s just like my all-around agent for everything.

You struck me as maybe being a bit of a late bloomer. Growing up, were you particularly thought of as cool and handsome at your school?
Absolutely not. I was about five foot, super quiet, I had a little tie-dye phase. I used to wear a puka shell necklace. I was far from cool, I can guarantee you that. I was really into reggae, puka shell necklaces, tie-dye shirts, all sorts of stuff. I had this crazy hair and yeah, I just never ever thought I’d be doing some of the stuff I ended up doing.

Then how did this actually happen? How did it get to the point where you thought, Someone should pay me to wear clothing? How did that even become an idea or a thing?
Well, I just got referred to an agency from a friend. I think I remember going in there really hungover. Which is ironic, you know, back in the days when I used to party quite a lot. I went in there super hungover. I’m not sure if they realized or not, and next thing I know they sign me. You know, they started taking a couple test shots and stuff like that but I still didn’t consider myself—I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I think about six months went by and then I booked that DKNY campaign and I’m like, Oh shit, this is actually legit. I can really do some cool stuff here. And I think from there on out all these cool opportunities arose with so many different companies I never dreamed of working with.

Was there any sort of training involved?
No. Nothing.

Did you have to practice anything?
Nope. I just kind of winged it. I had no professional training. I’m not classically trained, you could say.

How did you figure out what face to make?
That’s a great question. I mean, honestly, when I first got into it I used to smoke a lot, so grabbing the cigarette was always kinda my go-to move. ‘Cause you know, it’s like you’re not just standing there awkwardly. You’re doing something. It made me feel more comfortable I guess than just standing there awkwardly.

Ben Nordberg interview backside 27 kickflipThrashin’ meets fashion. Backside 270 flip under moody skies  /  Photo: Burnett

I was gonna ask that question—is smoking mandatory to being a model?
I think entry level, you know, starting out you need to smoke. But I think once you’ve done a couple of gigs you can probably quit. I wouldn’t recommend it, though. Anyone reading this, never smoke cigarettes! It’s horrible. I absolutely regret that.

How does it work? Break it down. How does the modeling game work?
Well, basically your agent is always looking for jobs, is always in contact with different companies, creative directors, stuff like that. Sometimes they’ll call you and be like, “Hey, we might have a job for you with so and so company; right now you’re on hold.” You get put on hold a lot which is a thing where they kind of block out days and then you just have to wait to find out if you got the job or not. Sometimes you wait a week, sometimes a couple of hours. So that waiting period can be quite stressful ’cause you’re like, I might be about to make this much money but then a lot of the time it just doesn’t work out. But when it does work out it’s awesome. It’s a really cool feeling.

What was your first modeling check?
You want the exact amount?

It was 14,000 dollars. Pretty good, man.

Right?! Did that give you pause about what you’d been doing with your skateboard career?
No, not at all because it’s all because of skating. I think at the time skating was starting to pick up some steam and people were really starting to take notice of it. I think me being a skater definitely factored into getting those jobs because they liked the fact that I skated, you know? I think these days, especially, companies like you to do other stuff and not just be a model. I never considered myself a model.

Ben Nordberg interview pullquote 1
So they want you to be a model with some other interesting thing happening?
Totally. Whatever it is. You see it in all sorts of sports now. ’Cause I always thought other sports, you know, NBA, I’m a big football fan, these guys are getting all sorts of deals and coverage from all sorts of places and I’m like, Why can’t skating get that? Skating’s just as hard.

What’s been your best and your worst modeling job?
Best job—let me think about this. Doing H&M was really cool because they treated me amazing.

What does that mean?
Just how they flew me back to London, super nice flight and all that stuff and the way they treated me, where I stayed, how I was driven about and stuff was really cool. And the shoot was amazing. It was with this great photographer, huge production and part of the set was actually off a Wes Anderson movie, which was really cool. So that shoot was great. And then I went to Milan with Gucci; that was really cool. That was a crazy experience. American Eagle was really cool just ’cause of where it was shot—it was on top of Milk studios in New York.

Yep, sounds fancy. What was the worst?
I’ve walked off a set once ’cause they were trying to get me to wear full pads. They wanted me fully padded up. I guess the skatepark they had chosen was that park down in Santa Monica, the Cove. They picked that place and I guess they hadn’t had it cleared, so I think helmets were mandatory. It wasn’t just the helmet, they wanted the elbow pads and kneepads which I wasn’t really digging so I just kinda dipped. I told my agency before that, like, I’m not gonna wear it. But that’s just one of those things. It wasn’t a big deal.

Ben Nordberg interview two portraitsPhotos courtesy of IMG

That doesn’t sound that bad. That’s the worst one?
Yeah, there haven’t been any really bad ones, honestly. Everyone’s always really nice.

What are your co-workers like at these things?
Everyone’s usually super friendly. Sometimes it’s a bit awkward because you might be thrown in with a bunch of guys you never met before and they just expect you to get along. I think if you go into it thinking like, I’m not a cool guy, then I think it’s less awkward for everyone.

What about direction on the set? Do they really tell you to make love to the camera and things like that?
No. I mean, it just depends on the shoot. Sometimes I grab my skateboard even if it’s not in the shot. Like if it’s just a head shot or upper body or whatever, I just stand on my skateboard to make myself less awkward. I guess I get quite awkward when I’m standing there getting told to pose, so I grab my skateboard or something. Even just standing on it makes me feel less awkward, you know?

What about those photos where it’s supposed to look like everyone’s having fun—like, You guys, all together, you’re having fun! What about that stuff?
I really struggle with those.

Where there’s a lot of really, really attractive people on the couch laying together in strange ways.
Yeah, or just like they want you to do a little dance or something. No one needs to see that. I’m just so British and awkwardly British and reserved that the forced fun where you pretend you’re having fun is something that is not in my repertoire. I try, though, but it never looks good. No one wants to see me dance.

Have you done nudity?
No. I haven’t gone that far. I’ve worn underwear.

Are you willing to?
Hey, for the right price we’ll see what we can negotiate. It depends. Are we talking fully out?

I don’t know. I can’t imagine. That would go beyond modeling. That would be sort of a different kind of work.
Yeah, that’s a different thing all together.

Ben Nordberg interview pullquote 2
I mean, I can imagine them wanting to see your butt or something, you know?
Like just a little butt cheek? Just a suggestion. No, I think if you go fully nude that’s a different kind of magazine.

What’s the most ridiculous garment they’ve tried to stick you with?
I think sometimes they’ll ask me to skate in shoes which are just absolutely unskateable. That’s always kind of a tricky one when they want you to do tricks and stuff and you’re wearing this crazy shoe and you have to explain to them like, I physically can’t skate in these. You know, nothing too bad, honestly. Maybe a little mesh tank top or something, but hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. Some people like a mesh tank top. Not for me, but you know.

Besides Arto, who’s the most famous person you’ve seen naked?
Probably just Arto. I’ve seen him naked a few times when I stayed at his house.

Is there a lot of free-and-easy nudity backstage at these things?
No, it’s never just out. Things like guys in their underwear and stuff, you never just whip it out. It’s just underwear.

Have you ever been harassed? Has anyone ever grabbed your balls or anything?
No. No ball grabbage. That would be a little much. I think that would be an HR issue.

What’s your good side?
I don’t know. That’s a good question. I’m gonna go with right side. No reason for that, just assuming.

Have you had any modeling-related injuries?
No. These are good questions, man. You couldn’t wait to do this, huh?

I’m just curious. Do you do the catwalk? Do you do the runway shows?
I’ve only done it once.

How was that?
That was wild. Honestly, it was really intense, way scarier than any trick I’ve ever done. I’m telling you, it’s so intense. The show I did was a massive show and there was 100-something guys in it. It was a Dolce & Gabbana show in Milan and you get there about five hours before the show and everyone’s getting their hair done and all this stuff. You kind of focus ’cause there’s a lot of people out there in the crowd and it’s just you walking down that little runway and everyone’s staring at you, like, What if I fall over? You just kind of black out.

What are you telling yourself the whole time?
Just, You can do it, bud, I guess.

Ben Nordberg bigflip sequence NEWEST K‘Next try for a drink’ or $14K to stand around smoking. Nordberg must really like this skateboarding game. Bigflip in the Valley  /  Sequence: Hammeke

What about the turn at the end? Is that where you really gotta concentrate?
The turn is the scariest part.

Compare it to a skateboard trick.
Any kind of handrail. The turn is terrifying. You don’t know if you did it good. You’re like, Did I turn well enough?

The catwalk turn is your El Toro.
Exactly. And then there’s these little stairs at the beginning I had to walk down and I was like, Alright, I really need to focus, no thought, I need to focus on going down these three little steps. You’re in this like snazzy suit, there’s all this music and light and you kinda black out. In front of you there’s all these photographers and lights and then it’s all these people off to the side and you don’t really notice any of them ’cause you’re not supposed to break face. The whole time I was walking down there I just wanted to laugh but you gotta try to keep a straight face.

Is there anything you have to do to keep model ready? Do you ever have to diet? Is there a time where you can’t go skate because you know if you scrape yourself up you’d lose the big job or something?
I mean, if it’s been a big campaign or something I definitely err on the side of caution skating a couple of days before. Actually, I think one time I had a job and I went surfing and I hit my face on my board or something like that and I got a little cut on my face and I’m like, God, that wasn’t worth it. So I’m like alright, from now on it’s—If you’ve got a big job and you break your ankle then you’re gonna lose out on some good money. So I’ll probably just chill until after it’s done.

Has having this income stream and this new direction changed the way you’ve approached your skateboarding career?
My income’s very sporadic; that’s how it goes modeling. One minute you’re getting really good jobs then the next minute it’s quiet. So I don’t really let it affect my skating. I definitely had some years where I could have skated more and I regret that. But lately I’ve just been super focused on trying to get my skating back to where I feel like it can be.

Ben Nordberg interview pullquote 3
Right. How old are you now?
Thirty one. Yeah, getting there.

So you’ve had two ridiculous jobs: skater and model. Which is more ridiculous?
Modeling. Skating is the best. Although, you know, sometimes you do question like, Why am I doing this to myself? But when you roll away from something that you’ve been trying forever, everything’s worth it.

I was really surprised how hard you went in on this little interview. You’ve got some pretty heavy moves in here.
Thanks, man. Hell yeah, I just wanted to kind of show everyone I can still—I’ve still got it. Maybe I never had it, I just wanted to do my best and try to do some good street stuff. ’Cause I feel like everyone has this perception of me that I only really skate transition, I’m not willing to throw myself down some stairs or take a slam, but these days I’m actually enjoying skating street and trying to get back into that more. Transition’s just always been easier for me because of where I grew up skating. That’s what we had really, so I just kinda didn’t have a choice.

So you recently left Flip after many, many years. What led you to that decision?
I did indeed. I would say it was a combination of things; the main one being my fiancé Annabelle. She inspired me to make the change. She could see that I was ready for a new venture. Sometimes you need a good push to make a move like that. She’s a very strong businesswoman which is rubbing off on me to make decisions I may not have made before. I’m very lucky to have her in my life. I’m excited to start this new chapter with SOVRN.

Ben Nordberg interview fakie 360 flipHectic fakie tré. Must not have any gigs lined up  /  Photo: Hammeke

Does this mean you will finally be getting a pro board?
You know, that’s entirely up to them! I certainly hope so at some point. I’ve been skating hard for the last six months or so and will continue to work hard. SOVRN has such a great art direction and the graphics are always on point. If you guys can, go check out the collection; it’s awesome.

There’s some confusion and controversy about SOVRN. What should we know about them?
Personally, I’m not aware of any controversy. SOVRN was started in 2014 by Michael Jenks and is operated by a few people out of LA. It was initially backed and helped by the Berrics but has been independent for the last five years. Mikey Taylor has been leading the team since he got on in 2015. It’s a very small company but they have a great group of guys who love what they do—focus on skating with friends, making great videos and working with artists from all over. I’m really excited to help the company any way I can to make it grow.

What’s your relationship like with Thrasher videographer Ewan Bowman?
It’s great. We don’t see each other enough. I owe a lot to Ewan. He really pushed me when I first moved out to the States. He used to call me Princess Daffodil. I’ll be the first to admit that I was not pushing myself hard enough, but I think he saw that and I think in a way it was endearing because he probably saw I could push myself more and in his very Scottish way—I’m a Brit, so we have a way of encouraging each other in strange ways.

He was pretty tubby in those days but now he’s quite fit. You’d think he could find work as a model.
Yep, I think there’s definitely something out there for him. I think he works out more than anybody. I think he’s ready. That’s what this has all been for.

Tell us about your new business venture. You’re not just a skater, you’re not just a model, you’re also a haberdasher. Now what are you doing?
Oh, so me and my now fiancé, we just made this little clothing company together. It’s something I’ve always wanted to try out. I’m very picky about what clothes I wear so I was like, Oh, we could just make our own little line. And when we first met we started talking about that because she has a manufacturing company. And then we ended up getting together and now we’re engaged.

Nice, congrats.
Thank you. I couldn’t be happier.

Ben Nordberg blunt kickflip sequence NEWEST KEasy on the eyes, hard on the streets, Nordberg goes Blue Steel on a classic Hollywood spot  /  Sequence: Hammeke

So what are you making?
Clothes. You know, just plain t-shirts, hoodies, pants, button-ups. It’s kind of a crossover so you could wear it smart or you could wear it casual.

Right. And what’s it called?
It’s called BA1 which is basically just the area code of where I grew up, Bath. So it means Bath area one. So it’s definitely a cool learning experience and I’m just gonna try and build on it.

Where do you see yourself going here? What’s the future hold for Ben Nordberg? You can’t model and skate forever.
That’s very true. With advances in science you never know, but for the immediate future I’m just gonna keep skating. I want to put out a video part. That’s what I’m working on at the moment and I’m going to try to keep shooting pictures and filming and stuff like that for the next few years and then see where it goes from there.

What advice would you give to a really, really handsome skater who might want to start modeling?
Be nice. Be super nice to everyone.

Is it one of those industries where shitty behavior doesn’t get you very far?
Exactly, yeah. If you’re easy to work with—but something like that applies to anything, you know?

That’s how skating is these days, too.
Yeah. I think if you’re pleasant to be around and have a good, positive energy then you can go places.

Do you have a greatest modeling story that I haven’t asked about that you should tell?
I’ll tell you a funny one. When I was in Milan for that Gucci show they did this big after-party at a huge swimming pool in Milan. And I think I got—I don’t know if it was jet lag or I hadn’t eaten enough or I got spiked or something, but someone gave me a shot of vodka and the next thing I know I just blacked out. And I was on this walkway going over the pool, like plexiglass, but I didn’t realize that one bit of it wasn’t plexiglass, right? So I step my foot on it and the next thing I know I’m completely submerged in the pool with hundreds of people around. I’m wearing this suit that they gave me to wear and it’s completely drenched. Yeah, that really sucked.

It didn’t set off a hilarious moment where everyone jumped in the pool and started partying?
No. Just me. Everyone just stood there awkwardly. Can you imagine? It was horrible.

Life’s tough, Ben.
Yeah, you know.

From Milan modeling pool parties to the bottom of a ditch.
Yeah, much better these days. I’ve got me, my fiancé and my little dog. We’re just cruising.
UPDATE: Ben went pro for SOVRN with this buttery full part:
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