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

Kevin Spanky Long Interview | Sidewalk Magazine, 2016 | Header photo: Atiba Jefferson

If your formative teenage years were spent alongside Andrew Reynolds and Erik Ellington at their most indulgent, it’s fairly natural to consider that at 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 period that saw him dropped from long-term sponsors Baker Skateboards and Emerica, Spanky looks better on a board than he ever has. (Much like the aforementioned Baker and Deathwish bossmen also do.)

At the London premiere of MADE Chapter Two, Spanky’s part may well have been the most applauded. One member of the audience even audibly swooned as Kevin ran a hand through his hair, jumped on his board and kicked his part off at the L.A. High banks (a spot which got equally great return visits throughout). Actually, the cheers for Spanky were only beaten by the roof shaking roars induced by three seconds of Heath Kirchart footage.

“I always cheer when I see him 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 he 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 to be embraced again, nor is he taking it for granted.

Emerica 'This Is Skateboarding' Intro Still | Kevin Spanky Long Interview by Farran Golding for Sidewalk Magazine
This Is Skateboarding (2003)

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

I was always a big fan and I was buying Emerica shoes when I was a kid, way back when it was Jamie Thomas and all that. I was a big fan of Andrew, Ed [Templeton] and both of those camps, the Toy Machine and PissDrunx guys. I was raised on all 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, Leo Romero and yourself all came along at the same time. Was that through [former Emerica TM] Justin Regan?

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, around the same time, and Regan was the ringleader for the whole Emerica team at that point. He was 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, maybe a little younger. We got an ad together, we all had sequences, I think it was me, Bryan and Matt Allen. That was right around the time Emerica were working on This Is Skateboarding [2003] and they were still trying us all out. I guess we were the little buddies that stuck.

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

That’s something I’ve had since I was a little kid, just neighbourhood stuff. When I started skateboarding more, I guess it was easy for people to remember so it really stuck after that.

In your Epicly Later’d, Reynolds says that Dustin Dollin didn’t give you much of a choice about riding for Baker. 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 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. 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 like, “Yeah, of course, it’s on.” 

What are your earliest memories of filming for This Is Skateboarding?

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 we were out filming we were trying to get as much as we could. [Our parts in] that video happened pretty quickly because we were so young, trying to show off for the older guys and fit in around them. I guess we were 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 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  Stay Gold [2010], 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 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, I’d take any suggestion he gave when working on a project. He’s 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.

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

It’s tough to explain because so much of it is unsaid but you really know that he has 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 whatever it was he was looking at 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 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 became my standards.

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

Yeah, although when Heath was team manager it was at a time where…

My life has gone 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 became more apparent that I was going to have a part just by being around them.

I get the impression filming with Miner would be more regimented compared to filming with Beagle for a Baker video. Do you have a different mentality depending on who’s filming you?

Totally. Ideally 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’ve realised that being very intentional is something I need as well and it helps me out.

 

I don’t have it so naturally where I can sit on my ass for a few weeks then step on my board and great stuff comes out.

 

I hate to be so blunt but tell me about getting booted off Emerica by Heath Kirchart.

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 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 work to maintain a certain level of skating. I don’t have it so naturally where I can sit on my ass for a few weeks 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’s been other team changes with your sponsors over the last few years, like Braydon Szafranski and Antwaun Dixon also got let go at different points. Any thoughts on how those guys took it compared 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 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.

 

There’s never a ‘convenient’ time to make a big change because it’s always going to suck at first.

 

It wasn’t 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. They were like, “Let’s go have drinks and talk about you drinking…”

But I’m so grateful it happened because I was on that verge and hearing it from my best friends inspired me to take the steps and make the change I really needed and wanted to. It was pretty fucking close to the forefront of my consciousness but when you’re caught up in things there’s never a ‘convenient’ time to make a big change because it’s always going to 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 I respect 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 which must not have been fun.

MADE Ch. 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 wanted to put into something, I just wanted to film a part of some sort and needed a project in order to focus, higher my expectations of myself and push myself.t The fact this project was already going on meant I 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.

I’m never going to be back to 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 exceeded what is going on in this video part.

Was it a similar feeling to when you were 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.

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] strangely it hasn’t been like either. With This Is Skateboarding I didn’t have to be intentional about anything. That video part just fell out of my ass because that’s 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. 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, 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 looked back at it for the first time in its entirety and I don’t like it much. At all [laughs]. That was a fun experience but it was also super stressful. It didn’t have that magic of what you love about skateboarding, about going blank and being overcome by the mission.

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 Heath just bowed out gracefully after Mind Field and Stay Gold . Is figuring out your own longevity one of the hardest aspects of professional skateboarding?

Yeah, even though the changes in my lifestyle made me feel ‘young’ again, in some ways, that’s still super relative because there’s 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. 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 32 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 MADE was an interesting change of approach but didn’t feel foreign compared to your previous video parts. There’s an impression it was a scaled down in terms of the location too but that’s a good thing. Everything’s more local now and people enjoy it because it has 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. It’s funny because there is a lot of stuff from each one us – Jerry, Herman, Andrew, myself – where we were jumping down shit but maybe that will just be in the B-Sides

I think another part of it is the video’s filmed in L.A. The atmosphere is that we’re skating school yards. We aren’t travelling much and know we aren’t going to get the majority of our footage on a filming mission to China. It’s Jerry and I getting together, like, “What are we gonna hit his weekend?” and just skating the stuff we know, the L.A. spots that we think look sick.i

It’s hanging around at those spots we love which formed the video. I’m glad it looks that way to you, although I have to say it was very unconscious. It’s just doing what you can with your surroundings.

Emerica shines through as a more of a family. People are almost raised with the company rather than getting on at a certain point later in their career. You’re no exception and the same goes for Herman, Leo Romero and Brandon Westgate. On the other hand, Jon Dickson was welcomed to the team in MADE Ch. Two but that feels special because it’s a rare thing for riders to be welcomed within a full-length video nowadays. It represents the more ‘traditional’ side of skateboarding 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. He happened to be the perfect 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.” With that, anyone who’s 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.

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.

Published by Farran Golding

Contact: farrangolding@hotmail.co.uk Instagram: @farrangolding Twitter: @Farran_Golding