Skateboarding. Art. Music. They’re all the same to Kevin Long, who moved to Los Angeles almost 15 years ago as a little skate rat nicknamed “Spanky” with big dreams of making it in professional skateboarding. At age 30, he’s matured into one of skateboarding’s most charismatic individuals and resident renaissance man, a true “skater's skater” with an eclectic bag of tricks, expansive vinyl collection, and exclusively analog art style.
Albert Camus once said, “Life is a sum of all your choices. So, what are you doing today?” The day we talk to Kevin Long, he’s newly embarked on a skateboard tour as part of a renewed commitment to his journey as a professional skateboarder. “We’re in Atlanta right now, starting a three-week East Coast Tour with Baker Skateboards,” he says, stoked to be back on the road after a recent four-year career hiatus.
Hey Kevin, how would you describe life on a skateboard tour?
Life on a skate tour is not very glamorous, that’s for sure. It’s a lot of motels and skating in parking lots, and then demos in weird small towns at skate parks. It’s not pretty, but really fucking fun!
On a typical skate tour there’s always the smoke-filled “party van” where all the shenanigans happen. Are you still on board or have you mellowed out?
I’m riding in the old guy van! I still hang with all the partiers but I’ve mellowed out significantly. I couldn’t do both anymore....
Is it safe to say that you are working on a comeback right now?
I guess you could call it that. I’m working on a video part for Emerica, the shoe company I’ve been riding for over 14 years now. I’ve been giving it another go and taking it more seriously than I did when I was younger. Just not taking it for granted and working really, really hard at it. But I’m also having a lot of fun, just being on the road.
Kevin’s in his element on the road. Europe, China, Japan, you name it — his skateboarding journey has taken him all around the world, allowing him to build friendships everywhere. “Spanky is one of those people that have this weird magnetism. ...Everyone loves him,” says Don Brown, marketing VP at Emerica.
Kevin’s friend and former team manager, Justin Regan, is on the same page. “He's always been a charismatic leader who follows his own gypsy code, and people naturally gravitate to him. I see his influence across skateboarding in subtle but profound ways and we are far better off for having him.”
Life on a skate tour isn't glamorous. But it's really f*cking fun!
Your skating always seemed mature beyond your years, a blend of old and new. Where do you draw inspiration from?
Thanks! I think one of the great things about skateboarding is that it’s subjective and there are a million tricks to choose from. And over the years you just accumulate what you think looks good and what works for you. It’s also a matter of who you grow up skating with and I’ve been fortunate with guidance from lots of talented friends like [Baker co-founder] Andrew Reynolds and all the Baker guys.
You also developed an eclectic taste in music. I remember your video parts featuring The Cure and Captain Beefheart, not your typical young skate rat choices....
Watching skateboard videos early on was great for absorbing a lot of information about music. But as far as taste goes, it’s mostly just an accumulation of being around a lot of people that I think are really cool who turn me on to new shit. I moved to LA when I was really young, 16 or 17, and lived with my team manager at the time, Justin Regan and his wife. He had all these closets full of CDs and records and I feel that he really shaped my taste in music.
What are some of your all-time favorites, music-wise?
Some of my all-time favorites would have to be Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Captain Beefheart, Can, Brian Eno, things like that. Those are the ones that are always on the top of the pile of records because they just age well, I think.
You actually have a vinyl collection?
Yeah, but I’m not like a complete snob about it. I also have digital music, but it’s just easier for me to lose that kind of crap. I’m not that good with technology. I like tangible shit. I also get burned out on just listening to a playlist and like to be stuck in an album.
The entire experience of listening to an album?
I really happen to like that, hearing it all the way through. Hearing it the way it was meant to be heard.
Wise words from an old soul that’s come a long way from the little kid who moved to LA in search of skateboarding and found much more, including life-long friendships. As Justin Regan puts it: “He’s like a brother to me. I feel very fortunate to have him in our lives and to have witnessed firsthand his transformation from inquisitive teenager to a charming and thoughtful young man.” A thoughtful, and as Don Brown adds, very talented young man: “He’s definitely one of the best and most stylish all-terrain rippers and he’s a super talented artist, too. He's good at everything, that bastard!”
You can see Kevin Long and his work in a variety of mediums: the “Post Acid” music video for Wavves; stunt work in the Spike Jonze-directed skits for the skate film Pretty Sweet; and artwork for his sponsors Emerica and RVCA. He’s also the guitarist in pro skater band The Goat and The Occasional Others, and part of a tight circle of new bohemians including pro skater/photographer Jerry Hsu, artist Neckface, and photographer Patrick O’Dell, who produces the VICE show Epicly Later’d.
Do you draw inspiration from the Epicly Later’d crew?
I think because of skateboarding you tend to link up with other people that you think are cool and creative. People that are doing things to inspire you.
What’s the story behind all the art in your place?
Most of the stuff was just laying around the house. I’m not working on anything in particular right now. Most of it is just an exercise, stuff I do when I’m not skating, just to keep my hands busy. Sometimes it’s very conscious and direct and mindful, but most of the time it’s just an exercise to clear the mind and have a little other form of expression. Some of it is graphics work that I do for Baker or my RVCA.
Was there a specific experience that got you into art?
It’s kind of always been a part of my life, but traveling around and seeing some of the older guys with that DIY-mentality played a role. I think that being a skater, you’re not as likely to be afraid of failing at something. Because for the first years of skating you’re just constantly bailing stuff and not landing your tricks. You’re not obsessed with being good straight away at something.
Does skateboarding encourage creative pursuits?
I’ve been really grateful for that aspect of skateboarding, just doing whatever feels good. With art, it’s just another form of expression where you get that same kind of feeling. I don’t really like to sit down and watch a TV show. I like to just do things. Make stuff. Skate. It’s all the same feeling. And as cliché as it is, that’s the drive for all of it.