Interview by Daniel Nodzak
Images provided by Oli Benet
Yesterday Flying Eagle released the first full image of the upcoming Flying Eagle Enkidu aggressive skate on social media. This morning I had the chance to speak with the skates designer, Oli Benet, about it’s four year development process and he was kind enough to share plenty of information about it to satisfy all of the blade tech aficionados out there.
Let’s start with some background. Hopefully you can help me out with the dates here but you originally got involved with Flying Eagle as their European distributor through your former company Renegade Distribution. Tell us a little about how that came together.
Hey Daniel and thanks for the interest! Basically Joan and I opened ROEX in 2014 which was a 100% skater owned, 100% inline skate shop. We only sold inline skates and accessories, as well as starting a 100% free inline skate school for all styles of skating and all ages, it was an awesome project that we invested a lot into and were really excited about it.
Of course when you embark on something like this, you would expect to have the support of the inline skate brands - there really aren't many - and this was crucial for survival. Sadly, we didn't receive the support we expected and to start with, only Powerslide and Fila would send us skates. Seba did eventually. Rollerblade treated us appallingly and this led to us suffering a bit at first. As someone that invested their life savings in a project it hurt. It meant that we were a 100% inline skate shop but with less options than all the other shops.
As a result, we had to find a way to get something special that nobody else had, and after a big old search and an email from a skater in Africa asking for sponsorship - he said in exchange for sponsorship he would tell us about a secret new skate brand - we discovered Flying Eagle. We contacted them, and made a sample order. We absolutely loved the skates - and yes, we got skates sent to the African skater too!
Once we had started taking photos of the skates the major brands threatened all kinds of things, legal action, global boycotts, they told all the other shops they weren't allowed to buy the brand, they made a big old hoop-la.
At this point we were so tired of all the brand politics and we realized that if everyone was going to be banned from selling the brand, we had a European monopoly on it, but would have to sacrifice all the other brands. We decided it was worth the risk and went ahead. Also Tracy had been treating us incredibly well and with so much support and respect compared to all the bullshit we were dealing with with from the global brands. So... not having competition we were like - we have monopoly, let's be distributors... and it was a massive blessing in disguise.
Okay so let's skip a head a little bit. After facing some stonewalling from the industry you persisted and brought Flying Eagle out of China and into the European market. How did you go from introducing a new freeskate brand to working with Flying Eagle on an aggressive option for their product line?
Right, well I'm an aggressive skater, love it, been doing it all my life... When we lost all the brands we could no longer get aggressive skates. Roces had changed their local distributor and the old distributor sold us like 200 pairs of Valo with 70% discount, so we could still offer aggressive skates, but we knew there was a sell-by date.
We also knew that if we produced our own it would cost a fortune, and sales on aggressive... only shop owners will know... appalling... but we wanted to offer the service.
At the time we were selling hundreds, literally hundreds of Freeskates. A lot of people wanted to do some tricks as well, but not focus on it, and the idea of buying 2 pairs of skates was impossible for most. Also, most aggressive skates really didn't cater to small sizes.
We all loved the F5/F6 boot, it's superb and has a full size range from 35-46 so I was playing about with different soulplates and just couldn't stop thinking, if thousands of Freeskates are being sold, these people are going to get better and better at skating, and then they will want to try aggressive so why not make aggressive adaptors for freeskates. As a sales point it's also great, two skates in one. So I emailed Tracy at Flying Eagle who was always super receptive to projects (we produced a lot of self designed products in collaboration with her) and we started talking about it.
Obviously Tracy was receptive to the idea of this adapter of yours or we wouldn't be having this conversation right now. Can you walk us through the design process?
So we're just two kids with a skate shop, by then we had a couple of people helping us too, but none of us were designers or 3D designers and we couldn't afford to hire one. So what do I do? I buy some hand molding materials and start making different options for plates.
I made a few different shapes, put them in the oven, harden them, Dremel them, make some more... I have been involved in the design process with dozens of skates, but never at such a poor person level, haha. So I had to work out the angle of where wheels would touch, the ideal width, thickness, groove shape, groove angle... [It took] hours and hours. Then ship back them to China when I thought I had it. Tracy would make a hand mold (less strong version of a machine mold) and send it back, I would dremel it, alter parts, lose material, send it back... basically a tennis match.
Can you explain how this soulplate mounts to the boot? Is the F5/F6 mount exposed through the bottom to mount the frame directly?
It's not exposed. That’s something I played with, by cutting bits out, but in the end it was less stable. Also it wouldn't be possible for both to be exposed because of the raised heel, only the front. In the end the soulplate is fastened by up to 4 bolts, but 2 work fine, right into the 165mm mounting. While it is UFS compatible, it's a small bit of a struggle to get aftermarket frames on it as it's a millimeter or so out, UFS is basically 164mm. I was skating ground control frames on them for ages though when I was getting people to test the samples so it's no biggie.
The soulplate is fastened on the base of the Freeskate base, which is super, super strong, as it's fastened directly into an aluminum block, so it's probably the most stable plastic aggressive skate I can possibly think of. Basically, take out 2 screws and you have an aluminum based freeskate that's compatible with almost any 165mm frame that exists and for sizes 41 and up it’s also compatible with 195mm frames.
One other thing. There are big wheel wells on the front and back, so you can actually put 76mm wheels front and back on pretty much any frame, if I remember rightly... I think it’s up to 80mm on the stock frame - I haven't got them in front of me and I'm trying to remember but it was made with that in mind, to go big front and rear wheels if anti-rocker or freestyle is your thing.
For anyone that already owns a pair of F5 or F6's these will work with older models too, correct?
Yes, the plate is compatible with all past F5 and F6 skates, so there's already a ton of boots and colours and spare parts that are compatible, so from day one there's loads of custom opportunities.
What about other Flying Eagle models?
Only the F5 and F6, but all of the model years. No mods necessary. Theres 5 soulplate sizes and 2 frame sizes that cover all of the boots.
36-38 - 4.5-6 (US)
39/40 - 6.5-7.5 (US)
41/42 - 8/9 (US)
43/44 - 9.5-10 (US)
45/46 - 10.5-11.5 (US)
I'm sure someone is going to try this eventually so, theoretically speaking, if someone were to try putting these souls on another 165mm mount skate, would that be possible?
The base of every skate is different, so yes, but with the help of a Dremel.
What can you tell us about the Flying Eagle aggressive frames?
The frame was designed to be 4x66mm. However we discovered there was going to be a high chance of the wheel and UFS bolt lightly touching depending on the bolts, so officially it's 4x65mm, I'd rather that than make the frame higher. The real surprise is that it's not symmetrical, which makes it fit better with the Flying Eagle boot, but depending on which skate, it sits slightly forward or slightly further back depending on which way you put it. That has its advantages and disadvantages. The material is super super fast and wheel bite is basically zero.
I asked feedback from close friends. The thing is for me, I've always been an anti-rocker fan, but I knew this was a sort of transition frame, 4x65mm so it would be fast, but with well protected parts so it wouldn't catch. Kevin Chow helped with this a lot too.
When I got the first prototypes, Ground Controls frame had just been released which was a bit of a blow (doesn't matter at all as it's taken 4 years to release this now!) I made a fake "coming soon" ad because I wanted the industry feedback, and because I didn't want people to think we had copied [Ground Control].
So many times I have seen companies release products that get massively criticized, so I thought lets get the picture out, get massively criticized and then use all the feedback to make it right, because everyone has different opinions. It worked great, and if you look at that photo and the new one, you will see that the groove is much more protected. That was mainly thanks to Ivo Vegter of Thisissoul actually. So we kept testing all the parts, the wheels, the frames, got a full size range eventually.
Let's talk about the liner. Is the Enkidu using the standard F6 liner or did you find it necessary to make any improvements for the needs of aggressive skaters?
It's the same liner the F6 comes with, it's actually super comfortable, I loved them as they were so I didn't see any need to modify. They have a neoprene toe and are really high quality.
That brings me to my next question. Among people who skate Flying Eagle they've quickly gained a reputation for their high quality, yet affordable products. You aren't involved with Flying Eagle anymore but do you know what price we're looking at and when the Enkidu will be available?
I'm still on great terms with my old business partner and he tells me they will be coming in at the end of this year. To be honest I can't remember the price. It's reasonably priced beside all the competition, but I would say - and it's probably a bit of a conflict of interest - the quality of production, parts and attention to detail makes them very well priced.
Also worth considering that they are a high end Freeskate that's compatible with almost any 165mm frame that exists and for sizes 41 and up they are also compatible with 195mm frames. So they have a lot of selling points. Like I said, I don't want to get involved with a conflict of interest but I was very passionate about the project!
I can appreciate that. The Enkidu was your baby and you put a lot of hard work into developing this over several years so I'm sure it's exciting to finally have a chance to talk about it publicly. Can you tell us why you're no longer involved with Flying Eagle?
Well, I was super excited about it, I had been working on the project since 2014. The major problem is I got really sick, doctors weren’t sure if there was anything they could do, but after major and life-changing surgery I was given a second chance. After that, I took a look at my life and decided I didn't want to run my own big business any more.
We had a distribution company, two shops, around ten employees, every day was a stress. The company was doing really well, but I was exhausted. I started taking some holidays to recover, but at the same time was super conscious that I needed to be at work constantly managing dozens of projects.
I had a chance to return to working with Powerslide "as my own boss" as sales rep for Spain, with my own time management. I had previously worked at Powerslide for ten years and they had always treated me phenomenally well - I didn't want to be on the daily fight to expand, to survive, to manage staff, to open new shops, to have staff meetings... I was exhausted and it wasn't helping my health.
I took the opportunity to return to Powerslide and I can't tell you how happy I am. I put a lot of passion into it and I only have myself to answer to. It's still hard work, but it's a challenge that goes in one direction, not in a thousand, you know? Let's say a manageable challenge that leaves me motivated rather than exhausted and broken.
Yeah, when you're trying to juggle as many things as you were it's hard enough but it becomes extremely taxing when you're burdened with some very serious health issues. So while this skate is just about to be released, you're no longer involved in any capacity at this point?
Since May 2018 I'm 100% outside of the project, I really appreciate the opportunity to do this interview because I really had a vision for the project and spent hundreds of hours on it, so it's nice to be able to talk about it a bit, how it all happened and why, but aside from that, I have no influence or say in anything in regards to it since last May.
What was your original vision for the project?
The original idea was a type of Reverse Powerblading, rather than pure hardcore aggressive. I saw how we had influenced hundreds of aggressive skaters to try big wheels, which led to massive popularity and the rise of freeskating. This Enkidu skate was born of the idea of getting freeskaters to try aggressive, to try and get the sport healthy again by further blurring the line between styles.
I called the original concept, jokingly, “Freegressive.” Does that make sense? Start with freeskates, learn how to skate well, add a soulplate and learn to grind, and all of this with only one skate purchase.
Well Oli, thank you so much for chatting with me this morning. We're all very excited to see this skate enter the market and I know a lot of people are very curious about it so I appreciate your time. Best of luck with your new ventures.
I have to go and sell a tv. I might get murdered hahah.
For purchasing information you can email European distributor Renegade Distribution at: firstname.lastname@example.org