You have to wonder if there’s something in the water in Québec that graces people with a laissez-faire attitude towards life, a higher than normal level of athletic prowess, and smooth, natural style. Ben Leclair is another export from La Belle Province with such attributes. At the relatively young age of 20, Ben is making a name for himself and carving out a starting position with the stacked and immensely talented Slingshot Wake team. Bucking the trend of making the semipermanent move to Orlando like every other wake up-and-comer, he spent months of the last year traveling around the world riding in high-profile wakepark events as well as shooting videos and photos.
Ben is not one to be claiming tricks or constantly searching for the centre of attention, his calm demeanor lets his riding speak for itself. And so far it’s paid off. It will be interesting to sit back and watch how far he goes in the coming years.
Swtich Tail Press, FISE, Montpellier, France. Vollert photo
“I’m so stoked to have a spot on this team beside all these sick riders. Slingshot has always been pushing wakeboarding in the right direction. Everyone has their own style, and everyone brings something different, which makes it such a complete team.”
Front Board, Lake Winona, Clermont, FL. Levitt photo
Let’s start with basics: name, age and hometown?
Ben Leclair, 08/27/1993, Valleyfield, Québec.
What was your first experience being towed behind a boat, and how old were you?
My neighbour used to wakeboard all the time. I would hang out with them and get whipped around on a tube by all the older dudes behind their boat. There was also an old kneeboard I would play around with trying to jump or stand up on.
What about the first time you strapped on a wakeboard; what kind of board was it?
The first time I strapped on a board was when my sister convinced my parents to buy her a setup. A Liquid Force Trip 128 was finally a board that was almost a good size for me to ride.
At what point did you become focused on wakeboarding and wanted to “make it” as a rider?
When I started riding rail contests with my crew of friends is when I started to push my riding. From there, I just continued riding and have been progressing ever since.
How did you get hooked up with Slingshot?
Slingshot team manager Wade Wagley came to Raph [Derome’s] cable in 2010 to show him some boards and see what he thought about them. There was a whole line of press boards to try out at the cable, and I just loved the boards. We were all riding “rigid” boards at the time, and switching to flex boards just felt so much better. I guess Wade saw how much I liked the boards and that’s were it started.
The Slingshot team is considered one of the most stylish and progressive teams in the industry. What’s it like to be a part of that?
I’m so stoked to have a spot on this team beside all these sick riders. Slingshot has always been pushing wakeboarding in the right direction. Everyone has their own style and everyone brings something different, which makes it such a complete team.
You started to make a name for yourself when you did the Rv trip with Slingshot last year. Describe that trip.
That trip was so much fun. I didn’t know the ShredTown guys at all before that; they just got to BSR Cable in Waco, TX after the Monster Energy Triple Crown stop, and I hopped in the RV with [James] Windsor and they were super cool about it. We drove all over Texas stopping at different cables, and made a stop in ShredTown. It was sick to ride and hang out with these dudes for two weeks.
It seems like you’ve shied away from the Orlando scene. Do you have to move to Florida if you want to make it as a professional wakeboarder?
I don’t think I have to move anywhere if I continue traveling like I’ve been doing this year [laughs]. But my plan is just to stay active, continue making video edits, shooting photos and try riding more contests.
You’ve been logging some serious air miles this year. What’s been the highlight and the lowlight so far?
I was in the Philippines for two months this winter. I came back home for a couple of weeks before I got back on the road. I flew to Dallas to ride at BSR Cable park with Graeme [Burress], then headed off to ShredTown for the Slingshot 2015 product shoot. I came home for a day and flew to France for FISE event in Montpellier; it was such a sick event with so many people. After FISE I toured around with Slingshot for their demo tour that visited a bunch of cables and surfed a lot for two weeks. After that, I was off to Austria for the Red Bull Wake of Steel. The airline lost my luggage, and I only got my board back the morning of the contest—that was the lowlight of my travels for sure. After Wake of Steel, I flew back to France to shoot photos and videos at a couple of cables like TND, Iwakepark and TNG. It was super fun riding with Hugo Charbit and Antoine Allaux. We then hit the road to Andorra, Spain for the next stop of FISE. Finishing in second place on the podium with Daniel Grant and Antoine in Andorra has to be the highlight of my trip. It was a sick final with a sick crew of riders. It was the craziest spot for a wakeboard event I’ve ever seen; the contest was on the top of the mountains up above the clouds.
Switch Nose Press, CamSur Watersports Complex, Philippines. Pastura photo
What’s the biggest life lesson you’ve learned from traveling?
Everywhere I’ve travelled, I have encountered so many amazing people that have gone out of their way to help me. It’s taught me that you can always depend on the kindness of strangers. They received me in their homes, made me discover all the cool spots, and have made the travels that much better. Traveling is all about breaking out of your comfort zone and discovering different cultures.
How influential has it been to ride with the Derome’s at their home lake?
I’ve always ridden with really good riders since I started wakeboarding. When you see people riding at such a high level, it just helps you progress
much faster. I’m stoked to have a good crew of riders to shred with. Now that we have more cables opening up in Québec, I hope it will bring more
riders and crews like us to push the progression of wakeboarding in Canada.
Why are there so many good riders coming out of Québec these days?
Because French Canadians are the coolest Canadians [laughs]. The level of riding is good in Québec because of the older generation of riders. They were so good that we had no choice but to push ourselves so much to ride at their level. Guys like Didier Godbout and Raph were killing rails so hard already when I just started riding. They influenced all the riders in Québec and pushed wakeboarding to another level.
Where do you see your wakeboard career five years from now?
If you would have asked me that five years ago, I would never thought I would be where I am right now. I don’t have that many plans right now, I’m kind of going with the flow. I would really like to make a video section for a wakeboard film. I also want to start winching more. There are so many possibilities out there. I’d like to continue shooting photos, making videos and have fun on the water.
What needs to happen in wakeboarding to reach a greater audience?
Wakeboarding is on the right track right now, in my opinion; more cables opening everywhere makes our sport way more accessible. Big international cable events like FISE and the Red Bull contests in Europe showcase wakeboarding in a good way for the audience, but also to showcase how high the level of riding is. The next step would be to bring back wakeboarding to the X Games with a wake park obstacle event instead of a boat contest. I’m really excited to see where wakeboarding is going in the next couple of years.
Do you still ride behind the boat, or do you spend all your time at wake parks?
I only took four sets behind a boat all of last year. So, yes, most of my time is spent in wake parks. I like riding wake parks because there’s so much variety. Every cable has different setups and lines you can take; it just feels more natural for me. I’m not turning my back to boat riding yet though… I would like to ride more boat if the opportunity presents itself.
What do you prefer: full cables or straight-line two-tower systems?
I’ve always ridden two-tower systems or hit rails while being towed with a Jet-Ski, so full cables were kind of a new thing for me, which made me like them better. The obstacles on the cable are what makes me prefer certain wake parks more than others though. I like full cables because you can ride for so long and just cruise around hitting a bunch of obstacles. Two-tower systems have their advantages too though; you never mind falling knowing you’ll get picked up right away to retry the trick you just fell on.
Who influences you both on and off the water?
I get influenced by a lot of things around me. Music is a big influence for me, Whether you’re making music or just listening to it, it’s always been a good way to relax. My father is also a big influence in my life. He’s always got a positive way of seeing life, and has always helped me a lot. Then there’s a bunch of athletes in many different sports. I love watching technical riders like John John Florence on a surfboard, Luan Oliveira on a skateboard, and a bunch of sick snowboarders who kill it in the streets. I generally admire all the riders who ride with passion and have fun doing what they do.
What keeps you occupied when you’re not on the water or traveling the world?
I work part-time as an industrial mechanic when I’m back home; I also play guitar and listen to a lot of music on my spare time; I hang out with my friends and go skateboarding as often as possible. But every time I get the chance to travel, I’m always down.
How would you describe your style?
I guess I have a simple style. I’m a pretty mellow person who doesn’t try to complicate things more than they already are. I have a precise way I see the tricks I want to do, and I try keep it fluent. I just do what feels right and have fun doing it.
If there was one thing you could change in our industry, what would it be?
That’s a hard one. The wakeboard industry needs a bit more of a “core” aspect to it, which is hard to get when your sport’s background is waterskiing. I would like people to associate wakeboarding to freeriding, expressing a form of art instead of a physical activity behind a boat. Wakeboarding is still a young sport in a constant progression. With guys like ShredTown riding street spots, guys like Harley [Clifford] and [Mike] Dowdy behind the boat still making up new tricks and all the insane cable riders out there, wakeboarding is on the right path.
Switch Nose Press, CamSire Watersports Complex, Philippines. Rutledge photo
Are contests becoming less important in wakeboarding? It seems more and more riders are focusing on releasing video parts and shooting photos.
With social media now, videos and photos are so accessible to the world that riders can showcase what they do on larger scales then ever before. I still think contests will always be an important aspect in the sport. It doesn’t always give justice to how good a rider is, but it’s always a good way to measure yourself against other riders on different setups. When contests are well run with good courses, it’s a great way to showcase our sport to big audiences, and get people stoked on what we do.
If you could ride anywhere in the world with any crew of riders, where would it be and who would be there?
There are so many good spots in the world to ride now, and so many sick riders out there—it’s too hard to choose. If I had to pick a crew, first of all I would bring my little crew from back home, then I would take a couple of French dudes, because they are sick riders and cook really well. Next would be a bunch of Australians, because we all know how crazy they get on and off the water. I would take a couple of Germans too, but not too many, because I can never understand when they talk with each other. I would also take Kaesen [Suyderhoud], Raph and [Aaron] Rathy to make HBA tournaments every night after riding. I could never forget to bring a couple Americans, especially from Texas, because they always have bigger and cooler stuff than we do in Canada. I’m pretty sure anywhere in the world could be fun with a crew like that, but if I really had to choose one, we would go to Valdosta Wake Compound when they open their full-size cable, because I’m sure Quinn [Silvernale] will make an insane spot to ride.
Who would you like to thank?
First of all, I want to thank SBC Wakeboard for putting out sick magazines every issue. Thanks to my family and friends for all the love. I also want to thank my sponsors, O’Neill Canada, Slingshot Wakeboards, Axis Boardshop and the Dragon Alliance for their support.