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Hervé André-Benoit (41) is CEO of the French agency Hurricane Action Sport and founder of FISE, the international action sports event with up to half a million spectators. He talks to ISPO.com about expansion plans and cooperation with the international cycling federation UCI.

ISPO.com: Monsieur André-Benoit, FISE started as a kind of skate park in Montpellier about 20 years ago, now it's part of the international cycling federation UCI - what happened?
Hérve André-Benoit: You are right: FISE and my company Hurricane Action Sports started in 1997, but for me the story started in the 80s. I started riding BMX, then tried windsurfing - and fell in love with freestyle and action sports in general. I studied at the University of Montpellier and developed Phenix there.

Phenix? What is that?
It was a study project between 1996 and 1997 to create an event to present my sport to a wide audience and to be able to show the different sports. For a year we tried to find a sponsor and contacted a few riders. 1997 was a good year because we could offer an event with no entry fee and a small budget of 10,000 to 15,000 euros. The weather in Palavas, a seaside resort near Montpellier, was also perfect, for sports like wakeboarding and windsurfing with Robby Naish, that was important.

Were you successful?
Especially the BMX riders helped me to push the community to come to the event. And the crowd was there: 100 riders and 35,000 spectators over three days!

Schwerkraft? Für die MTB-Athleten kein Hindernis. Genauso wenig wie dieser Looping.
Schwerkraft? Für die MTB-Athleten kein Hindernis. Genauso wenig wie dieser Looping.
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That sounds like a very good start indeed. How did you develop the event?
I took a year off from my studies and started my own company in 1997. For a year I tried to rope in sponsors by fax and computer - from my parents' room. I managed to get Adidas, Playstation and Orangina to participate in the second event in 1998. Two new disciplines were represented: Street and Kitesurfing.

The circumstances have probably changed in the meantime.
18 years later, we try to focus on the riders to give them the best possible conditions and to be able to design especially crazy setups. In 2005 we dug three 15-meter pools for the wakeboarders: the biggest wakeboard event in the world, much bigger than the Americans made it. The story grew every year: more and more riders, the level grew and FISE started to happen at contests all over the world. It started as a local event, became national and now it's an international event.

An event that is now spread over several countries...
Four years ago we decided to push FISE with a series. During all these years we have organized different events all over the world: in Tunisia, Algeria, Costa Rica, Dubai. Very international, but without a story. Then we made a bidding process for a tour in all the different sports. The first year of the FISE series was held in Montpellier, Doha, China and Malaysia. In 2016, we will be in Montpellier, Croatia, Canada, the US and China. This is a great success! It's very important for our sports to have a tour like this, to bring sponsors and more prize money to the contests, just to grow the sport.

"BMX, inline skating, skating and mountain biking."

How many disciplines are there in the World Series?
In BMX we have park, spine ramp, flatland and street, in inline skating we have slopestyle and spine ramp, in skating park and spine ramp and in mountain biking only slopestyle. Also wakeboarding and in Montpellier and Denver, because we have a lot of riders from Colorado there, also stunt scooters.

Does inline skating really fit into this program?
I know there are a lot of riders who hate inline. In my opinion, it's a good way for young athletes to start, to become a part of the community. Or they can start with scooter and then move on to skateboarding or BMX. That's also why we opened the door to mountain biking eight years ago. Before that, it wasn't part of the program. We were one of the first events to do it - now it's an important part of FISE. If we can support new disciplines, we are open to it.

What will change by working with UCI?
Before we started working with UCI, we were already able to have the best riders at our events. In the World Series, 95 percent of the best riders participate. But for the last five or six years, we believe that we need to work closer to the federation because it is an important part of the development. To push BMX to another level, it's very important to be close to the UCI and combine our forces. FISE and UCI will give media exposure and more credibility and maybe even bring BMX to the Olympics.

What is important to you personally?
My main goal is to make our sports more popular. I myself do judo and a few other sports, but action sports help you in all areas of your life, with your family, with your job - because of the power, the energy, and the choices of how much risk you take.

Is it true that the relationship between UCI and a few riders has not always been so easy?
In the past, there have been disputes between riders and the national and international federations. But I believe that we have to keep control of our sport. With UCI, it's clear: the rules will be our rules. UCI is very open to that. The federation knows that we have the knowledge to do it and professional riders give us regular feedback. And the riders are also open to UCI. They know that a world championship is important for the media and sponsors. We are trying everything to make our sport better. That's why we decided to join UCI.

What about a possible cooperation with ISPO in the Asian market?
Of course it is possible! It would be a pleasure! ISPO is the biggest sports show in the world and a big player in the action sports scene. I have been coming to ISPO for 20 years. A collaboration would be perfect. We have already organized two events in China. There is a great potential for there, to find new riders, new talents.

Die besten Biker der Szene präsentieren sich auf der FISE World Series.
Die besten Biker der Szene präsentieren sich auf der FISE World Series.
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That sounds promising. So, when and where will the next FISE event take place?
From May 4 to 8 in Montpellier, my hometown. Admission is free, we expect 500,000 spectators. The riders love this event because of the weather, the infrastructure, the crowd - and the girls. That's exactly our attitude! And a bunch of kids will start riding after the event.

What about you? Are you still actively skateboarding?
I stopped skateboarding three years ago. Now I practice wakeboarding a lot, like five or six times a week. I have a small ramp in my backyard. It's impossible for me not to do it.

Author: Thomas Becker