You’ll never forget your first skate video, and for me, it was Baker 3. I always found myself replaying Spanky’s part over and over – I don’t know if it was the Morrissey song, the ‘fits, or his actual trick selection, but something about that part always got me pumped to go skate the curb in front of my house and try some shitty manuals at the cringy age of 12.
I followed Spanky’s career closely from then on, studying any little web clip or full part he would push out. A few years down the road, I watched one of my childhood heroes go through a severe burn accident and a rocky patch in his life that culminated in him temporarily losing his pro status on Baker.
After a comeback part in Emerica’s Made 2 released near the end of 2016, Spanky has pulled off the rebound I was rooting for. He cleaned up his act, got back on the board, and is exploring new approaches to keep himself motivated. The 12-year-old in me is beyond psyched I got to talk to Spanky about all the peaks and valleys in his career, and where he’s looking to go next.
A few years back you survived a horrible burn accident and randomly got black skin grafts to help the healing process. Do you feel black now?
[Laughs] Yeah, I still feel it, for sure. That whole experience was so surreal and fucking crazy that it was an excellent opportunity to laugh at something weird. I had third degree burns all over my torso so first they had to put a skin graft of cadaver skin [skin taken from dead people] over the wounds to promote the healing process. Your body starts healing that area as if it’s trying to take that dead skin on, but it’ll never take. Then they ripped that off and put on skin from my head.
I think it was just a random thing that it was black skin. I remember after the nurse was taking the bandages off I was so drugged up and he was like, “Dude, you got black skin! You’re psyched! That’s the good stuff!” So I was just like, “Awesome, hell yes!”
Did you burn your dick at all?
Nah, luckily. It was mostly just from my armpit to down by my lower ribs. It burned my nipple off and it was just scattered carnage all over the left side of my body but all above the waist and below the neck.
Damn, well if you did you could’ve got a black dick…
[Laughs] Absolutely. I think that would’ve kept, for sure.
You were homeschooled growing up, did you end up finishing school?
I was in a pretty good public school, and I had all college prep courses and I was on my way to going straight into college. I had really good grades, but I was getting the opportunity to get on a bunch of trips and just missed too many days so they kicked me out.
Once I got into homeschool, they just gave me the curriculum that matched where I was at, so I was trying to teach myself advanced college prep math classes. [My advisor] was like, “Wow, you have this opportunity with skating, you should just get your GED, it’s the same thing.” But then I just stayed on the road skating for three years and never got it [laughs]. Now I just think about it like once a week. I look back at school and wish I would’ve taken it more seriously and finished. But at the same time, being on the road was such an education at that age. It was way more than I could’ve gotten from being in school learning Algebra 2.
”Being on the road was such an education at that age. It was way more than I could’ve gotten from being in school learning Algebra 2.”
Is there anything you feel you missed out on from regular schooling?
Not really. I felt like I got all the education out of high school even if I forgot most of it [laughs]. Now I just have an interest in learning, and going to college sounds like a fuckin rad opportunity. Maybe I’ll go back to school. I don’t know what I would study, but I think about it often. As far as being in actual high school, it just felt like learning how to beat the system or whatever, or comply and do the busy work that got you through the system and through to the next level.
What was one of the most valuable things you learned from dropping out and touring instead?
It broadened my perspective of humanity. I got a sense of different cultures. A first hand lesson in geography. I got accidentally exposed to a lot of art and culture. I learned a lot from the people I met from all over the world who have different political perspectives and different cultural norms. And I traveled with people like Ed Templeton who turned me onto art. He would straight up give us books to read. It seemed cool and appealing for the first time in my life to put on emphasis on being somewhat intellectual. I feel it was better than staying in the suburbs and being wrapped up in whatever bubble was around me. It potentially would have stifled my drive to learn about the world and what’s out there.
As a result of touring so young, do you think you lost your virginity at a younger age than most people?
Probably not, because I was like 17 or 18. But I probably lost it sooner than I would have if I wasn’t traveling [laughs].
So you can comfortably say that skateboarding got you laid for the first time?
Absolutely. And every time thereafter.
How old were you when you became financially independent?
It’s tough to remember, but I’d guess probably 17. People probably also thought I was a lot younger because I looked younger.
Do you remember how much you made off your first Emerica shoe?
I don’t remember specific figures, but those were definitely the good old days. That was definitely a different kind of income than I’ve experienced in the last 10 years, and especially recently [laughs]. But that was a different time in skateboarding, and especially for skater owned shoe brands.
What did you do with your first big check?
Nothing [laughs]. I’d just go to New York or pick up dinner a lot, and back then I’d spend a lot of money at bars and shit like that. I’ve always driven a shitty car, had the same apartments, or lived in skate houses. I’ve always just spent my money knowing that it was temporary. Even in that golden era, I knew that it couldn’t last. At the time I was just living in an apartment without furniture and driving an ’87 BMW that was broken down most of the time. Not because I was intentionally trying to be frugal, I just didn’t really have any want for any super big, material things.
Why do you think skaters are so bad with money, or at least get that rep?
Probably just because of the way that we start earning money. It’s usually at a young age, and it’s for something that we love and the work is kind of abstract. The pay for work, it’s just not your typical job where you’re climbing the corporate ladder. You’re getting paid like a child actor and kids don’t know what to do with it because they’re kids. We don’t realize that it’s a career that typically doesn’t last forever and that your body doesn’t either.
You guys had the Emerica mansion back in those days. What was it like living in Hollywood Hills?
That first Emerica house was the only one that was actually a mansion. That was kind of on its way out right when I got on the team. Herman and I would go and stay there as we were dropping out of school at the time. That one dissipated after This Is Skateboarding. I think it was there to facilitate everyone being in the same place for that video. At the time, those dudes were going through their phase of quitting drinking and drugs, and I think that was just a really transitional time for a bunch of people. Us young guys, we didn’t even know what was going on.
Do you know what rent was like back in that time?
I have no idea, but I think they must have gotten a pretty good deal on it. Even though it was in a super crazy neighborhood, the thing was literally falling down. I remember these big giant pillars that were basically about to fall down. It was like a ghetto mansion. It was the perfect scenario. It seemed like the landlord had to put in millions of dollars of repairs and didn’t want to do it and just needed to get rent from somebody, so it was a perfect opportunity for a party house with quarter pipes and a flat bar in the back.
Were there ever any celebrity sightings?
I think Danny DeVito lived right next door, or at least on the same block [laughs]. To me, there were no bigger celebrities than Heath or Andrew, though.
After living and skating with Andrew Reynolds for many years, what would you say are his most pronounced qualities?
[Laughs] Ok… Well… I think that Andrew has the gift of willingly simplifying life. He’s a mild mannered guy who’s pretty extreme by nature. He’s very impulsive and the way he simplifies life makes him a pleasant person who is driven by his passion. [Laughs] I don’t know… And he’s a fuckin skate rat to the core. And he’s a dork. He’s just a nerd who makes dad jokes, we have that in common.
”Andrew’s got this thing he calls ‘The Jeff Goldblum Phenomenon’ where your eye is just drawn to someone”
What about when it comes to finding new talent for Baker. Is that something only Andrew does? Do you help him at all?
Those are the instances where I wish I was more in touch. I think Andrew’s got a fucking gift for that, actually. Andrew’s got this thing he calls “The Jeff Goldblum Phenomenon” where your eye is just drawn to someone. They say that when Jeff Goldblum is on screen, you just look at him for whatever fuckin reason, and I feel like watching those kids skate at Tampa Am with all the other kids now, although they may not be doing the craziest tricks your eyes are drawn to them. I think that’s what Andrew is good at recognizing.
You stopped partying pretty recently, right?
Yeah, that was a huge change. The thing with partying, it’s easy for weeks to disappear just having fun and getting distracted, but then I get back on my board and I feel like shit. Even now that I don’t drink, it’s easy for me to get so distracted. My attention span is either all in on something or all over the place. If I can harness that and put that toward a project or just prioritize skateboarding, then I find it works a lot better.
I think skaters on Baker are just examples of extreme personalities—even for skateboarding—and addictive behaviors that could take one of two paths. They’re really just all-or-nothing type of people who have to transfer that all-or-nothing energy into distractions or into being productive, if that makes sense.
Did anyone help you out with getting clean?
It was something that I really wanted and knew deep down I really needed. Jerry, Neckface and Tino [Razo] sat me down and they were like “Dude, we wanna see you skate, get clean and just pull your life together.” That was the thing that really gave me the strength to do it. Those were my best friends and drinking buddies, and it was a real wake up call. It didn’t feel like a betrayal, just the push that I needed.
There wasn’t an incident or anything like that, they just saw more potential in me and could see that I was basically giving up on skateboarding and ready to get a job. I had the examples of Andrew, Erik, and Shane and a bunch of other dudes that I really look up to that kicked their habits, and their lives changed for the better because of it. It was a lot of talking to those guys and them being encouraging. I know that a lot of people wouldn’t be able to do it without AA, and I’m a big fan of that for the people it works for, and I’ve seen it fully work, but it wasn’t my route.
So you didn’t do AA? It was all willpower?
I’d be lying if I said I did it strictly through willpower. Meditation helped and eventually I went to therapy, which I wanted to do for as long as I could remember. That helped out with getting to the core of the issues that were running my anxiety and what I was trying to escape. I think therapy is one of those things that’s really stigmatized. I’m a big proponent of it. I feel like it’s a major luxury if you can afford it, to not burden your friends and family with every neuroses or insecurity or anxiety that you have.
How did you get into meditating?
I came across it when I was going through a rough divorce and trying to deal with my anxiety when I couldn’t be completely active and skating all the time. Also, when you’re quitting drinking and drugs and all that, you’re left with all of your emotions and anxieties and everything is just out on the table. I got some suggestions of beginner first step meditation things, like guided recordings. It’s really basic stuff, and I’m not good at it by any means, but it’s rewarding when I do get to a place where it helps me.
I think meditation is one of those scary words that just seems so fuckin’ granola [laughs] and something that I would not be a part of. The picture in my head when I hear of someone meditating is just very jacked. But for me, I realized that with skateboarding and art and anything that I truly enjoy, what I was ultimately seeking was clarity of mind as well as just being in the moment.
”When you’re quitting drinking and drugs and all that, you’re left with all of your emotions and anxieties and everything is just out on the table.”
How long do you meditate for? What’s the actual process like?
Well, I wish I did a lot more of it, but ideally it can be anywhere from five to 30 minutes. It’s just about getting into a quiet place, focusing on your breathing and letting your thoughts come but not running with them and letting them pass. Eventually your head stops racing and you can focus on your breath. Sometimes it’s helpful to have a mantra. I found that it helps with skating too because when your mind is racing when you’re trying a trick, you’re just trying to get out of your head.
There’s apps like Headspace, and there’s a lot of good guided meditations you can get on iTunes. It seems counterintuitive, picking up your phone wouldn’t be the best way to start, but anything that can get you in the process of getting you in touch with yourself and zoning out can be good. I’m someone who’s suffered from anxiety my whole life and it helps me out to try and do those types of things.
What happened when you had a gun pulled on you in South Africa?
That was fucking crazy! We were in Durban and there’s a few different backyard pools. We’d seen footage of Grant Taylor skating them, so we were stoked to get into one when we got there. The guys there told us that the owners were never there and you were allowed to skate them.
There was another pool right next door and even some tranny built next to it, and you could tell that it gets skated all the time, so we were pretty comfortable in there. I was shooting a photo and the session was kind of winding down. Then suddenly, I heard everyone being like “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Just the sound of panic from the group… I looked up and saw a dude on the hip with a gun pointed down at me and I was just like, “Oh shit… This is how it ends.” It seemed like one of those moments that fuckin’ lasted forever.
It turned out he was the homeowner’s son and he just came in hot to scare us. In the end, he was fine with us skating. He was still standing there, but he didn’t have the gun out anymore and was just like “I wanna see some tricks” [laughs]. My fuckin’ legs were shaking so hard from the experience, but he probably wasn’t as hard as he came in.
What kind of gun was it? Like full on AK-47?
No, it was like a pistol, and… it wasn’t a real gun. Which I wouldn’t have left out! But it was like a modified air soft gun to make it look like he has a real piece or whatever [laughs].
[Laughs] Well now it just sounds like he was just fucking with you.
[Laughs] Yeah, but I don’t think they were. It was a few dudes and even after he put it away they were still barking like they were going to fuck us up or whatever, but yeah… it wasn’t a real gun.