Baker / Emerica / Interviews / Sidewalk Magazine

Getting Sober & ‘MADE Chapter Two’ with Kevin ‘Spanky’ Long

(Featured: Sidewalk Magazine, 9th November 2016.)

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If your formative teenage years were spent alongside Andrew Reynolds and Erik Ellington at their most indulgent, it seems fairly natural to consider that at a point, after being in the spotlight for some time, your motivation towards professional skateboarding might fall by the wayside in a similar manner.

This was the case for Kevin ‘Spanky’ Long. However, after a turbulent couple of years, that saw him dropped from both long-term sponsors Baker Skateboards and Emerica, Spanky figured things out and now looks better on a board than he ever has. Much like those aforementioned Baker and Deathwish boss men also do.

At the London premiere of MADE Chapter Two, Spanky’s part may well have been the most applauded. Even making one member of the audience swoon, “Oh, Spanky…” as Kevin ran a hand through his hair, jumped on his board and kicked things off in style on a bank spot which would get equally great return visits throughout his part. The cheers for Spanky were only beaten by the roof shaking roars, which occurred after three seconds of Heath Kirchart footage, however; “I always cheer when I see him pushing towards that thing too! Now you see a little bit less it’s even more exciting to see him pushing towards the spot”, said Spanky as we sat down for coffee on the following morning.

There was no doubting the genuine appreciation that Spanky showed as countless people congratulated him following the premiere, sincerely thanking every person who shook his hand with a boyish grin and look of surprise on his face. Skateboarding loves a comeback story, and Kevin didn’t expect his re-embrace by skateboarding, nor is he taking it for granted.

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Frontside 180 melon, photo courtesy of Emerica.

Let’s go from the start, what was your knowledge of Emerica before you got on the team?

I was always a big fan of Emerica and when I was a kid I was buying Emerica shoes. Way back when it was Jamie Thomas shoes and all that. I was a big fan of Andrew, Ed (Templeton) and both of those camps – the Toy Machine guys and, back then, the PissDrunx guys. I was fully raised on all of that and obsessed with that side of skating.

Were you riding for City Stars when you first started getting hooked up by Emerica? Bryan Herman and Leo Romero and you all came along at the same time, was it through Justin Regan that the connection came about?

Yeah, I believe it was right around then. I was skating with Mikey Taylor and Paul Rodriguez a lot and they were on éS. They were always going down to Sole Tech and I got introduced through them. We all came along through different sorts of hookups, it was all around the same time, and Regan was really the ringleader for the whole Emerica team at that point. He was like the fucking godfather over there so he took us all under the wing.

How old were you at this point?

I want to say seventeen or something like that – maybe a little younger. We got an ad together, we all had sequences in one ad; I think it was me, Bryan and Matt Allen. That was right around the time that Emerica were working on This Is Skateboarding [2003] and were still trying us all out. I guess we were the little buddies that stuck.

Did the nickname ‘Spanky’ come from the Emerica guys?

kevin-spanky-long-emerica-made-chapter-two-sidewalk-magazine-interview-quote-1That was something that I have had since I was a little kid, just neighbourhood stuff and it stuck. Especially when I started skateboarding more, I guess it was easy for people to remember so it really stuck after that.

Regarding getting on Baker; in your Epicly Later’d, Reynolds says that Dustin Dollin pretty much didn’t give you a choice about riding for the company. How true is that?

It was pretty true actually, but the truth is I was such a huge fan of those guys. It was a fortunate time in skating where, through already being on Emerica, I was just jumping from trip to trip. I was hanging out with the Toy Machine guys a lot, I had stopped going to school and was either on the road with one team or another or going on a Transworld trip. Then I ended up on a Baker trip in Australia and at that point it already seemed to be going that way. Dustin was pretty adamant, “Make your decision now. There are no maybes about Baker.” I was just like, “Yeah, of course, it’s on!” (Laughs).

This Is Skateboarding was your first part in an Emerica video, what are your earliest memories of filming for it?

My earliest memories were just being psyched to be around those dudes and that squad. It was when they had the Emerica mansion and Herman and I would shack up there as they had an extra room. Anytime out filming we were just trying to get as much as we could. Filming for that video happened pretty quickly because we were so young and trying to show off for the older guys and fit in around them. I guess just being star struck at that point: we couldn’t believe we were on a trip with Andrew or Heath (Kirchart) or filming with (Jon) Miner.

How did filming with Jon Miner back then compare to filming with him now? 

Well, it has taken a few different forms. At that point, when you’re young, there isn’t a struggle. He never had to convince us to try anything, we were just trying to learn tricks on rails and do bigger stuff. Then when it came time for the Stay Gold [2010] era I was a lot more comfortable and jaded. Getting footage out of us was probably like pulling teeth because we wanted to be doing other things.

As you were so much younger during This Is Skateboarding, do you feel that Miner gave you a sense of direction with the way that you skated?

For sure. Back then, or even still now, any suggestion that he gave when working on a project he is almost like a director. He’s never gonna tell you what tricks to try but you just know. It’s like an unspoken thing and he really has a vision for the video. You sort of form your skating around his expectations.

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Switch crooked grind on banks you want to skate, photo courtesy of Emerica.

How do you think Miner has influenced Emerica as a whole over the years outside of just being the guy with the camera?

It’s a tough thing to explain because so much of it is unsaid but you really know that he has got high standards or is after a certain kind of shot. He won’t pull out the camera if you’re just fucking around. You get a sense that it’s either on or off and that goes a long way. At the end of a project you see that whatever he was actually looking at and going for and it always turns out right. During this project it has been like, “Well, Miner knows what’s up”, and if he subtly mentions that you should probably go back and get that trick or something then it comes to the forefront of your mind like, “Miner wants that thing, it must be something special.” From that direction wearing off on me, his standards sort of became my standards.

As Heath stepped down from being team manager and has Miner stepped into that same sort of role throughout filming for MADE Chapter Two?

kevin-spanky-long-emerica-made-chapter-two-sidewalk-magazine-interview-quote-2Yeah, although when Heath was team manager it was at a time where… My life went through a lot of personal changes since then. In the beginning of this project I wasn’t meant to have a part. I just started jumping in the van because I became more focused on skating and they happened to be working on the project. I was lucky enough to just go out on missions with them and throughout it sort of became more apparent that I was going to have a part just by being around them.

I get the impression that filming with Miner would be somewhat more regimented, as opposed to filming with Beagle for a Baker video. Do you have a different mentality depending on who is filming you?

Totally. Ideally for me it comes down to finding a balance because skateboarding will always be spontaneous and it has to be that way. But from this project and working with Miner, I have realised that being very intentional is something that I need as well and it helps me out.

I hate to be so blunt on this one but can you describe getting booted off Emerica by Heath Kirchart?

To me that was super expected so it didn’t seem traumatic at the time. What was more traumatic was the place I was in – slowly finding myself falling out of love with being a professional skateboarder. I mean at that time there was a level of shame with being around Heath in general because of where I was at with it all. It was more embarrassing to skate a demo with him, or in front of him, than to sit at Starbucks and Heath tell me that I can’t be on the team anymore. Because I was already being super hard on myself, I was just like, “Yeah, it make perfect sense, I’m not in it anymore.” Not to say that it was my decision because I would have fucking way rather have been in a place where I could stick around but I just wasn’t doing my job and for me personally it takes a lot of fucking work to maintain a level of skating. I don’t have it so naturally where I can sit on my ass for a few weeks and then step on my board and great stuff comes out. I have to be skating everyday and I was so far from being that person at that point.

There have been other changes with your sponsors over the last few years like Braydon Szafranski and Antwaun Dixon also being let go at different points. Do you have any thoughts on how those guys handled those situations as opposed to yourself?

Everyone is so complex. It’s the same thing to get kicked off but everyone is in a different position. It could have been different for me as well but I was just at a point where I really needed personal change. It’s a big ego blow to lose your sponsorship. I can’t really speak on how they were feeling and how they handled it because it’s a tough blow and it is hard.

It wasn’t like an instant moment of realisation to get your shit together though, was it? In your Epicly Later’d, Neck Face says he was the first to say something to you then Jerry Hsu, Tino Razo and others jumped in. Did that situation turn into an accidental intervention?

Absolutely. It was a pretty soft intervention as we were having drinks together when it was going on, (laughs). They were like, “Let’s go have drinks and talk about you drinking…” But I’m so fucking grateful that it happened because I was on that verge and to hear it from my best friends really inspired me to take the steps and make the change I really needed to and wanted to take. I mean it was pretty fucking close to the forefront of my consciousness. It’s just when you’re caught up in things there is never a ‘convenient’ time to make a big change because it is always going to fucking suck at first. It was that push that I needed to start things off and have that in me. I’ve always had a big fear of disappointing people that I respect and so hearing them say, “You’ve got to pull your shit together”, made me feel like, “Okay, let’s do it right now.” I’ll always be grateful to those dudes for doing that very difficult thing which must not have been fun.

kevin-spanky-long-emerica-made-chapter-two-sidewalk-magazine-interview-quote-3MADE Chapter Two began during the time when you weren’t on Emerica and Baker. Did you say it was it through just heading out in the van that you fell back into properly skating? 

When I made those major lifestyle changes like quitting drinking I had a lot of time and energy that I really wanted to put into something. I feel really grateful. I just wanted to film a part of some sort and needed a project in order to focus and higher my expectations of myself and push myself. So, the fact that this project was already going on, I just had something to strive for and it really took a long time to up my expectations, I feel like I’m still on that same path where I’m trying to get to another level. Because I’m never going to be back to… I don’t know – whatever the standards of ‘gnarly’ skateboarding are now. My body just wont do it. But throughout this process – your perception and your standards of what you can do change. Even now when I look at my part I’m really happy about the journey but feel my standards at this point have even exceeded by what is going on in this video part.

Was it a similar feeling to first getting on Emerica? Hanging out, going on skate missions then that naturally turning into filming a video part?

Yeah, it felt a lot like that because I felt that gratitude to be around except there wasn’t the ease of getting tricks left and right, (laughs). I didn’t have that seventeen-year-old bag of tricks.

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Classic USA dream spot. Chunky kicker to yellow hydrant frontside flip. Photo courtesy of Emerica.

So, if this is ‘Career 2.0’ – has your mindset for MADE been more akin to filming for This Is Skateboarding rather than if it was just the next part after Stay Gold?

(Laughs). Well strangely it hasn’t been like either. With This Is Skateboarding I didn’t have to be intentional about anything and that video part just kind of fell out of my ass because that is how you are when you’re a teenager. It didn’t feel like Stay Gold or any other part because with those I was just trying to appease my sponsors. It was like doing a school project or something. I mean it was such a fun time in my life but I never got super intentional about any of it.

Were you disappointed in your Stay Gold part at all? 

Yeah, I mean there aren’t a lot of parts where I feel proud but Stay Gold is pretty hard for me to watch. At a certain point during this project I actually looked back at it for the first time in its entirety and I don’t like it much at all, (laughs). It’s hard for me to watch. That was a super fun experience but it was also super stressful. It didn’t have that fucking magic to me of what you love about skateboarding – about going blank and just being overcome by the mission.

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Recently, Jerry Hsu said that having to work around his age and past injuries gave him a different perspective on MADE. Reynolds has spoke about having to do something different too, rather than focusing on just what is ‘better’ for this video. Whereas going way back, Heath Kirchart stepped away from professional skateboarding after Mind Field [2009] / Stay Gold to bow out gracefully. Do you think that figuring out your own longevity is one of the hardest aspects of professional skateboarding?

Yeah, even though the change in my lifestyle made me feel ‘young’ again in some ways that is still super relative because there is just no way around it. You can’t do what you used to be able to do with your body after twenty years of jumping down shit. After being a child influenced by Zero videos and dropping off fucking garbage bins and roofs when you’re eleven years old, you just can’t maintain that forever. As much as I like to think that I’m in the best shape of my life, I’m also thirty-two and can’t keep jumping as much as I would like to. So yeah it is always a struggle with what your body will actually let you do.

For yourself, Andrew and Jerry, I felt that MADE presented an interesting change of approach but without feeling so foreign to your previous video parts. There is an impression it was a scaled down in terms of the location too. But that’s a good thing, everything is more local now and people enjoy that because it gives a more grassroots feel.

Part of that is all of us getting older, having to adjust and try and do new things without having to go a stair higher on the tricks we know how to do. It’s funny because there is a lot of stuff from each one us, Jerry, Herman, Andrew, myself; we were jumping down shit but maybe that will just be in the B-Sides. We missed on a couple of main things.

But I think another part of it is the video is filmed in LA. The atmosphere is that we’re skating school yards because we aren’t travelling much and know we aren’t going to get the majority of our footage on a filming mission to China. Jerry and I getting together a lot of the time like, “What are we gonna hit his weekend?” and just skate the stuff we know, the LA spots we think look sick; it’s hanging around at those spots we love that kind of formed the video. I’m glad it looks that way to you although I have to say it was very unconscious really. It’s just doing what you can with your surroundings.

Emerica really does shine through as a more of a ‘family’ and people are almost raised with the company rather than getting on at a certain point in their career. You’re no exception and the same goes for Bryan Herman, Leo Romero, Brandon Westgate and Figgy [Justin Figueroa]. On the other hand, Jon Dickson was welcomed to the team in MADE Chapter Two but that feels special because is it’s kind of a rare thing for riders to be welcomed within a full length video. It represents the more ‘traditional’ side of skateboarding that Emerica has helped carry the torch for throughout the years. Would you agree?

Absolutely and I don’t think that would have worked with anyone besides Dickson. That just happened to be the perfect fucking dude for that to happen to. All the circumstances just led up to that so it was a no-brainer even before seeing all the footage he already had. All of a sudden he was in the van. We hear he might get on the team and then the kind of shit he is doing we’re like, “God damn, of course.” And with that, anyone who is going to come on board is going to come on because they believe in the Emerica team and the brand and that still means a lot. They’re not gonna come on for a massive pay cheque like they would for another brand that can just afford to hook them up like that.

Right, we’re almost done. Best memory of Heath Kirchart as a fellow team rider?

My best memory of Heath is being on trips and betting on tricks. Whether you’re the one
skating or if you’re off on the sidelines he got super into betting on whether somebody was going to make a trick. You would be trying a trick and suddenly everyone would be screaming if you mess up, (laughs).

Best quote from Heath as a team manager?

Fuck, there wasn’t a lot, (laughs).

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