(Featured: Sidewalk Magazine, 27th August 2015.)
Within skateboarding none are more scrutinised than professional skateboarders, so it’s always interesting when someone comes along who even the most hate filled web lurkers can’t say a bad word about. Brandon Westgate is one these skateboarders and, rightly so, has been for a number of years now.
Aside from his ballistic abilities on a board, Brandon deserves the recognition he’s gained because he knows what it is to work for something. From the moment he returns home he’s straight out tending the cranberry bogs he runs from his New England farmhouse, which you’ll find out more about shortly…
The following interview took place when Brandon had just returned from a trip and literally just after he’d dumped his bags and grabbed a shower, as if taking some personal time to rest and recover from weeks of charging across Australia and Barcelona wasn’t a priority. With his powerful approach to skateboarding and quiet nature I was slightly worried that doing this interview would be intimidating, however Westgate is incredibly humble. While his approach on a board might be as no bullshit as it comes, he was more than happy to discuss his departure from Zoo York, the (then) upcoming Stay Flared tour, his new pro shoes and more.
Powerhouse by definition, workhorse by nature.
You just got back from tour right?
Yeah I was actually out in Australia, then home for a couple weeks and then Barcelona. It was an Element trip; they’re working on a video so they have a house out there for like a month and I just went out street skating. It was super fun man, so many spots. I went years ago when I rode for 5Boro. So that was a long time ago.
I saw that Slam Magazine cover this morning of you Ollieing the giant road gap, like two cars wide. Was that while you were on tour?
That was an Element trip too, when I was out in Australia.
Was it your idea to try it or did someone call it out for you? I can’t imagine how fast you were going at that thing, how many attempts did it take?
Some of those guys were talking about it, like ‘oh dude we got this ollie for you’ then brought me there. I was pushing as fast as I could and it took me maybe ten tries. I clipped once and then I landed on a bunch but would loop out; just going super fast and then trying to scrunch my legs up for as long as I could. I clipped it with my kingpin and flew forward and the ground was super rough so I was getting pretty broke off. Ripped my hands open and hips and stuff… It is pretty brutal (laughs).
The big news is the Emerica and Lakai ‘Stay Flared’ tour this summer which sounds amazing and definitely something that would only happen between skater owned shoe companies. Do you think people are swaying a lot more towards core companies again?
I think people are kinda realising like ‘oh it’s sick, they do stuff like this’. Not too many companies would do that. I’m excited to see a heavy crew of dudes that are gonna just kill it. I mean, I’ve never really met too many of those guys or have seen them skate in the flesh. I’m just excited to go and watch. It’s gonna go down in history for sure.
Speaking of tours, when I interviewed Figgy he told me about you, Heath Kirchart and Slash going rockstar on a hotel room a few years ago – TV out the window and the lot. Can you elaborate on that story?
Uh, yeah pretty much that’s what happened (laughs). Everyone was just fucking the hotel up and I kinda got in on it (laughs). That was like a Wild Ride trip so it was like maybe seven or eight years ago or something… Yeah I think that’s what it was. That trip was just crazy because everyone was just down and having a good time. People just started breaking shit and I was just like ‘Fuck it. I’m gonna break some shit too’ (laughs).
Speaking of Heath, last year he fully stepped away from Emerica as team manager to run his bar in Hollywood. How was it different being on tour with Heath as a team rider compared to TM?
I mean Heath’s just one of those people you look up to and when he says something, you listen. He’s very influential and a powerful dude. So I always looked up to him and then when he became team manager he was just really organised, on top of it and straight to the point. That’s how Heath is. I don’t really know how to describe the differences; it was just a transition… Like now ‘oh, now he’s in charge’. I always felt like he was in charge; Heath’s a badass dude you know? (Laughs) He’s just one of those people that’s easy to listen to. He’s bro as fuck too; super cool and that didn’t change when he became the team manager.
Have you got a good Heath story from over the years?
I mean I guess it would just go along with that hotel room because it was his hotel room (laughs). I wouldn’t say he sparked it up but he definitely was down for it and we just fucked his hotel room up (laughs).
MADE Chapter Two is underway and due for release later this year. Out of MADE and your Stay Gold section, which of the two do you prefer?
I think my MADE part just because that was a smaller project. I wasn’t trying to really top my Stay Gold part, but I feel like I was at a different point and working closer with (Jon) Miner. You know Stay Gold was like the whole team so he was working with other people. That [MADE] it was more like, I just stayed at his house a bunch and was more focused on that part I think. So I like that part.
It’s Andrew Reynolds, Jerry Hsu, Figgy and Spanky that are set for parts in the next MADE. From what you’ve seen, who’s been killing it for the video?
Bryan Herman. I’ve seen a group of tricks from everybody and it seems like everybody was killing it. But definitely… I mean Figgy’s just gnarly. You see him and you’re like ‘holy shit!’ Massive rails and just hucking himself, it’s pretty sick.
I’ve heard Spanky is smashing it right now. As he’s the comeback kid at the moment there’s a lot of expectation on him for his next part.
I went out there in January and February and skated with him both times and he was killing it for sure. He seems really focused and he’s not drinking or anything. He’s doing good. I talked to him about it. Definitely he wants to try to comeback and give it one last good shot.
Your last section was ‘Zoo England’ which you put out after coming back from an injury, could you shed any light on that?
I was trying to skate this spot in New York and it was going across one of those garage doors off of a four stair. It was a square bar that turned into a round bar and I was trying to 5-0 from the square on to the round. One time I just went too fast and missed the 5-0 so it went over and then my legs went over but my body was like – I was going pretty fast because you had to gap out to it and what not and my legs fell over the other side and when they hit the bar, it kind of catapulted me down. It was so high that I couldn’t just put my arm down. I basically landed on my shoulder and then slammed my back super hard, like my lower back and then hit my head. I never fell that hard on my back, it was killing me. I drove with (Sean) Cronan back to Connecticut and jumped in my vehicle and went all the way home and was in so much pain. I went to hospital to get it checked out and fractured three of my transverse processes; they’re the little nubs on your spine. It was actually like best case scenario for worst case scenario. There was nothing they could do for it; just had to really not do anything for a month or two and then I could start kind of just moving around, skating and stuff. Just build the muscle back up. I didn’t have to do physical therapy or anything, I just went back after two months and made sure it was healing and they re-x-rayed it and it was good.
You live in New England, which is why you wanted to film the Zoo part all around there right?
Yeah pretty much I just never took advantage of skating Boston and New York and that all summer. So I just wanted to kinda do that and I like filming video parts or street skating you know? I’d rather do that than a bunch of other shit I guess (laughs).
What’s the scene like in New England right now?
Its super good man, kids are hyped. There’s a few good filmers and one of the filmers has got all these spots so it’s sick. Just meet up with that dude Anthony Shetler, he’s got his own little board company, All I Need. I pretty much filmed and skated with him and his crew all summer.
Do you still hang with the 5Boro guys at all?
Yeah we’re definitely friends. I don’t see them too much just because I haven’t been to New York in a little bit and even when I was working on that Zoo England part I only went to New York a couple times and met up with RB (Umali).
Did you get offers to ride for any other companies while you were on Zoo but Element just seemed like the best fit this far down the line?
Donny Barley came and talked to me about it and was like ‘oh these dudes are hyped on what you’re doing’. I just started talking to them and the more I thought about it and I was talking to those guys it made sense to me. They’re into cool stuff, got a really good team, they’re into the whole nature thing and they do skate camps; super rad. I was hyped and just looking forward to a change. Something different to spice it up.
Did you feel that Zoo York had changed?
Yeah, definitely. All those dudes are like… I love those guys, I’ve known them forever and I left on good terms. There was no bad feelings or anything, I was just looking for something different whereas … I don’t really know how to explain it. You know, more of a team vibe? I’d just been there a long time and it was for a change.
Interesting that it was Donny Barley that approached you about getting on because I’d say you can see a lot of Donny’s influence in your skating. Were you friendly with any other guys on the Element team the team before you joined?
Yeah for sure, I mean I’ve always looked up to him. He rode for Birdhouse for a little bit when I rode for them and he’s always up in this area. Also, he rode for Zoo York so I rode with him for a while and went on a bunch of trips so I’m super close to him. He only lives like forty five minutes away so we skate the park and shit like that. I knew Julian Davidson, met him a few times. I actually used to go on a few Volcom trips with Mark Appleyard. Then I knew the team manager from a long time ago when I came out to California, Anthony Shetler was staying at his house so I stayed at his for a couple of days. I knew Evan Smith just from contests and stuff like that. They just seemed like a group of cool dudes.
What about Ray Barbee, have you seen much of him since getting on Element?
Yeah we did one trip up to Nor Cal and he was on the trip. He was the raddest dude. So calm and nice, just jamming on the guitar and that was sick. That was another thing I was stoked about, they do camping trips and stuff and I’m into that. I’m not like a diehard camper but if there’s an opportunity I’ll definitely take it. All those Wild Rides, we camped on all of those. The first year I didn’t have a motorcycle and that was the year we were driving really far in between so everybody would come back beat after skating and driving that far on their bikes. I would set people’s tents up for like ten bucks. Then I started charging fifteen bucks because I was over it and I was like ‘if I just up the price, they’ll be over it’ but they were still paying (laughs).
It was really surprising when Zoo York dropped Zered Bassett and the other guys, how was it being around that at the time?
I was pissed because it was a shock. I didn’t know it was coming and he’s my good friend. Then I’m like ‘are they kicking everybody off?’ What’s going on here? I don’t really have a reason why they did, I never like tried to get him back or whatnot, but was pretty pissed. They were working on trying to rebuild the team and then kind of just couldn’t.
I think from then onwards people have been expecting you to move on.
Yeah for sure. Also, there were dudes I was really close to like the photographer, the filmer and the brand manager. Even Chaz (Ortiz) – known him forever, had our differences but still. Ron Deily, all the dudes… It was really hard at the same time to leave those guys though, knowing them forever. It was always like ‘we’re gonna fix this’. Always trying to get it back but I just felt like we never really could get it back I guess. That bummed me out. We went on some trips after Zered and Eli (Reed) got kicked off. With that it brought a lot of change so we weren’t travelling too much and then just last year I worked on a solo part and so it was kind of like, I didn’t go anywhere other than New England all summer. It didn’t seem the same when we were travelling and shit like that.
So you’ve just been on tour with Element in Australia, how was that? What’s it been like getting to know your new team mates?
Oh super fun, we just did a lot of demos, signings and travelled around. Everybody in Australia is sick and everybody on the team is super rad. They’re actually a really close team. I think it also goes down with like all the camping vibes and stuff, but seems like every trip we’ll have a team day where the team manager cooks the whole dinner. We stayed in this one apartment that had a bunch of rooms so everybody was in the same apartment and had this huge table and kitchen. It was like Thanksgiving with my family, it was tight.
You’ve got a new shoe coming out this summer too. Isn’t it sort of a vulcanised version of your previous Emerica shoe?
Kind of, well I’ve got two. It’s a cupsole and a vulc sole and they’re basically versions of the runner style shoe actually. If you look at the two of them closely, they have similar situations but toned down a little bit. The runner style shoe has a lot more technology in it, so it’s a little more expensive. These are similar but a little less, the sole has a couple changes that make it a little easier to afford. I really like that cupsole that’s coming out. I’ve been skating it, had like ten samples and I’ve only been skating that shoe, I’m really hyped on it.
Why did you go with that runner style shoe originally?
I just wanted to skate something different, I was kind of at a point looking at shoes and stuff and everything was kind of similar. I wanted to try and take it outside the box. I like that style of shoe to cruise around in when I’m at home. Thought it’d be sick to skate in these and just worked with the Emerica shoe designer, August (Benzien). Taking what you’re asking for and turning it into an actual shoe then getting samples; he knows all this technology that’s good for your feet. If you put that shoe on it’s super comfortable and it’s not too thick to the point where you can’t feel your board. There are grooves underneath that help, the sole bends a little better which I was totally into, just little things you know.
So, why did you want to switch it up so drastically and bring out the slimmer vulc and cupsole versions then?
Well pretty much, just options you know? Some people would want to skate in vulc shoes or ‘I like this but I want this’. Kind of trying to make the shoe that I wanted and a bit little high tech but if somebody wanted something that was similar to it but a little more toned down. Hearing people’s suggestions and what they wanted, I feel like all three shoes give a bit for everybody to choose from. Emerica is rad because we have meetings were the actual team gets together and makes decisions. Whoever has a shoe goes in and they try really hard to make what the skater wants. Which at the end of the day, the skaters are the ones repping the product, wearing it and skating in it. Emerica’s always been good at that.
You hear about a lot of skateboarders not having a plan for their life after professional skateboarding until quite far into their career. As your family has the Cranberry business, I suppose you’re already set for life after skateboarding?
Yeah I guess. I mean, the cranberry thing, we don’t really have enough to survive off of after skating but I feel like at least I’ll be able to get a job growing cranberries somewhere. I’ve learned so much after having the cranberry bogs. It gives me an opportunity and it’s not like I have a college degree or anything. So after skating, obviously it comes to the point where you have to get a real job. I think it’s prepared me because there’s stuff that I’ve got to do regardless. Like come home from a trip and at the end of the year you’ve got to pick like seven and a half acres of cranberries. It’s hard work.
Has that business always been in your family then?
Actually no, it’s never been ‘in’ our family. My dad’s just been growing cranberries for somebody else since before I was born, that’s all he’s ever done so he came up on this property that had a house and some bogs that were in good condition and a good price… I could go into it forever, this whole thing like…. We don’t sell to Ocean Spray, we sell independently and the independent market is a lot lower than Ocean Spray so the property was a lot cheaper. My dad works across the street so he handles things when I’m gone. He’ll come over and take care of our bogs, so this is the first we’ve actually had owned our own I guess.
So to clear this rumour up, you don’t grow the cranberries for Ocean Spray then?
No I don’t (laughs). But the ones that my dad grows, he grows for Ocean Spray. The company he works for sell to Ocean Spray. Across the street he actually takes care of like two hundred acres and we have like seven and a half so that kind of gives you an idea of what we have, it’s not a lot.
Is it hard managing that around being a professional skateboarder?
Not really, because I actually enjoy doing it. It’s kind of a hobby you know? I come home, I cut grass and mess with the sprinkler system and at the end of the year we have all these cranberries and its super exciting because I’ve done all this stuff all year to grow them. To pick them is super rewarding. You’re out there with little machines and bags and putting them in bins and you’ve got an insane amount of cranberries and it’s exciting.
It must be nice to come back from tour and take some time away from everything.
Yeah were we live, it’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s very peaceful and green and there’s birds and animals, it’s quiet.
Would you be stoked if you could make that work the long run for after pro skateboarding? It must be a big contrast going from throwing yourself around on the streets to relaxing on the farm.
Definitely, I mean I probably will (laughs). It’s a different type of work you know? I feel like skating is a lot of like mental and physical work. This is like… A lot of it you don’t have to think, but still physical. I’m walking in the ditches weed whacking around like a three acre piece, then a four acre piece then you’re putting sprinkler heads out and then when you’re picking it, with these little like lawnmower things that put them in burlap sacks and we walk off like 20,000 pounds. So it’s a lot at certain times, but at the same time it’s not like you’re trying to jump to this rail where you might get sacked or something you know? It’s change of pace without but I like to always be doing something
Photos courtesy of Emerica. Brandon would like to thank his wife and the Westgate family, Emerica and Element.