Portrait courtesy of New Balance Numeric.
In his early days of sponsorship, Brandon Westgate assisted his dad with handyman jobs around their neighbourhood in Wareham, Massachusetts so he could earn enough money to travel into New York and skate with the 5Boro crew. It’s hard to think this aspect of his life hasn’t contributed to his enduring work ethic.
On top of this working class background, Brandon had the fortune of 5Boro owner Steve Rodriguez guiding him at an early age. After making the move to Zoo York early into his career, he became friends with Donny Barley; a constant influence whether as teammates or through the common ground of fatherhood in recent years. Whilst we’re on this subject, a final credit is owed to Jon Miner whose Machiavellian approach to filming (more on that later) has cultivated the displays of shocking pop, commanding yet loose lines and pristine flick which Brandon bestowed onto audiences for the past decade.
The juxtaposition of an unassuming personality against his domineering force only amplifies the awe of Brandon’s actions on a skateboard and, with zero regard for trends, his impact on post-2000s skateboarding (especially the ‘East Coast powerhouse’ genre) is undeniable.
Now, as a married 30 year-old and father of two, with an already prolific career, Brandon would be within his right to start taking things easy if he wished. However, he wholeheartedly embraces the value of graft and continues to pay his dues to skateboarding with interest even though they’re long settled.
Besides, there’s no slowing down when it takes Heath Kirchart dragging you in on a motorcycle to try your tricks…
I’ve always thought that if skateboarding falls apart I can just get a job. 90% of the people out there just have a regular job to support their family and that’s how I was raised.
Hey Brandon. Congratulations on having on your second kid, is it a boy or a girl?
Oh, thank you! It’s a girl so I’ve got two girls now.
What can you remember about your career before becoming a dad the first time around? As things at Zoo York were hectic behind the scenes, for a while prior to you leaving, did moving to Element bring a newfound sense of stability which contributed to you and your wife’s decision to start a family?
I want to say I was 27; we had a house, we’d been together for eight years and we were already married. I don’t know if there was any thought of if it was a good time – we were just ready anyway.
It took a while to have our first kid. We were trying for eight or nine months. It got to the point where we gave up, because I didn’t think it was going happen, then once we gave up it just happened a couple of weeks after that, [laughs].
I don’t know if it was really a financial thing when we decided to have a kid. I’ve always thought that if skateboarding falls apart I can just get a job. 90% of the people out there just have a regular job to support their family and that’s how I was raised. So, it wasn’t a financial decision for us, I feel we were just old enough and at the right time to do this. If skating fell through tomorrow I’d have to get a job anyway. Get the nine-to-five. I’m not afraid to work, I guess.
This is a pretty broad question but how does becoming a dad change your perspective on life?
It was hard for me at first as I was used to being able to go skating or work on a project at home. But your kid comes first so it was easier as I accepted that that’s how it is. With our second daughter it was way easier because you’re already in the right mindset. Watching both of them grow and seeing how innocent and happy they are really does melt your heart. It’s a great thing to see and it’s definitely why we wanted to have another kid as well. You get past the baby stage – it goes so fast – you forget about it and then the next thing you know you’re right back in it, [laughs].
Due to the responsibilities of being a parent are you more cautious of injuring yourself and does that affect the way you skate?
I try to not think about that because it’s inevitable. If I get hurt then I get hurt and there’s nothing I can do. It doesn’t do any good to worry because, if I was that worried, I might as well quit skating. I try not to get too crazy [about injuries] because then you start spiralling.
You’ve talked about your mum being hesitant about you going on trips as a kid as you would be surrounded by adults. Now, as a parent yourself, do you have a better perspective of where she was coming from?
Yeah, definitely. But being able to do that, being surrounded by older people – I was also surrounded by a lot of good people who were looking after me. My mom knew a lot of them too like Steve Rodriguez. He really looked after me and she was close with him. If there was someone like him, who I trusted, I would definitely be happy for them to take that route. Seeing different places and experiencing life on a way grander scale, than staying in a small town, is really beneficial. You can’t control someone else’s choices so hopefully I can raise them well enough to have a good head on their shoulders.
Seeing different places and experiencing life on a way grander scale, than staying in a small town, is really beneficial. You can’t control someone else’s choices so hopefully I can raise them well enough to have a good head on their shoulders.
Is ‘Bring Your Parent to School Day’ still a thing in America? How do you feel about the prospect of showing up to one of your kid’s classes in a few years and introducing yourself as a professional skateboarder?
[Laughing], I don’t know if that’s still a thing but I would definitely do that. I’m down to share what I do and get the kids stoked. I think that would be great anyway because it’s a future generation of possible skateboarders you could inspire. The more the merrier. It’s a great ‘sport’ and I like that skateboarding is independent but also has team vibes. You’ve got your crew but, when you’re on your board, you have your own thoughts, style and trick selection.
How do other parents, who you and your wife are friends with, react when you tell them what your job is?
I guess the people we surround ourselves with just know about it so it’s the norm. It’s not like we’ve gained more friends, because of the kids, as newer parents.
For anybody living in my general area, I think they’re confused and don’t understand it. I usually tell them to just Google my name and then they seem impressed. Seeing all the videos gives them a better understanding of what I actually do rather than trying to explain it, [laughs].
Since I’ve gotten into farming, I’ve met a lot of older famers who have no fucking clue [about skateboarding] but I’ll tell them to Google my name and they get hyped, [laughs].
Since I’ve got into farming, I’ve met a lot of older famers who have no fucking clue but I’ll tell them to Google my name and they get hyped
Despite occasionally telling people to Google him, Westgate is too humble to bask in the grandeur of his accomplishments in skateboarding. As a result, he dedicated this 360 flip to Old Glory (who you can see cheering him on in the background). Personal satisfaction never came into the equation. photo: Jake Darwen
Did you grow up in a pretty blue collar environment?
Yeah, for sure. Both of my parents had full time jobs and my dad has always worked. He’s even had side projects landscaping or fixing houses after hours. They’re both hard workers. When I was younger I had to mow a certain amount of lawns to get a skateboard. My dad had a little thing going on in our neighbourhood so I would get out of school and go push the mower around with a couple of buckets and a weed whacker. After I did so many he would buy me a skateboard. I guess that’s where I learned if you put in a certain amount of time you’ll be rewarded in some way.
Then you got sponsored and the lawns in your neighbourhood ended up overgrown.
[Laughs], yeah. No, my dad would do them too. Then I needed money to take the bus into to New York to meet up with the 5Boro guys so I had to continue cutting lawns to be able to afford a bus ticket.
Has inheriting that work ethic from your parents influenced the way you’ve approached being a sponsored skateboarder?
Yeah, it’s definitely a job even though it’s something I love. I work for companies who expect a certain quality, or amount of effort, in return.
With that in mind, have you found it difficult to relate with, or frustrating to be around, people who have never really known any responsibility outside of skating for a living?
That makes sense but I never really think about skating in that way because even though some skaters don’t do anything, other than skate, it’s still hard work. It’s a lot more mental than some of the other work out there. Plus you’re slamming due to the physical aspect so it takes a certain type of person to skateboard [for a living]. I think it takes a work ethic. Maybe people don’t apply it to other things in their life but I feel everyone who is a sponsored skateboarder works hard.
Donny Barley’s influence is really apparent in your skating. Has he been somewhat of a mentor, or ‘other dad’, to you over the years?
For sure. I was with Donny the weekend before last. He lives about an hour away and I was chatting it up with him, getting advice and whatnot. He’s definitely been a role model and idol to me.
He helped out with getting me on a few companies, like Zoo, and a long time ago I rode for Volcom which I think was down to him putting in a little word for me. He’s been looking out for me even more than I know, on the backseat, which I appreciate. I love Donny.
The thing that really sticks out is watching Donny skate. He’s in his mid-40s and – like I said – I was with him a few weekends ago and he was ripping. I like seeing that because a lot of people, especially in this area, think I’m going to be beat to shit when I’m 40 years old but Donny Barley still looks beautiful on a skateboard and he’s like 45. I really look up to the fact he’s still out there ripping, at his age, and he’s got a job and three kids.
A lot of people, especially in this area, think I’m going to be beat to shit when I’m 40 years old but Donny Barley still looks beautiful on a skateboard and he’s like 45. I really look up to the fact he’s still out there ripping, at his age, and he’s got a job and three kids.
You’ve also had Jon Miner pointing a camera at you for the majority of your career, spanning from your Emerica days until more recently. A few years ago, I interviewed Spanky, around the release of MADE Chapter 2, and he said through filming with Miner that “his standards became my standards.” How do you feel about that statement in regards to your own relationship with Jon? I get the impression he’s kind of a hard-ass but in a way which brings the best out of people by making them take things seriously.
Absolutely, I’ve been working with Miner for so long. I know when he’s happy with it then it’s good, you know? I always knew the effort I was putting in was worth it – I would never have to do a trick again because he blew it. He’s always had a really strong vision so I listen to him. Once in a while, I’d argue here and there, but I feel he has a good standard so I’ve tried to make it my standard as well.
He’s definitely is a little harder than most but I think it’s a good aspect [of his personality] because the end result is well worth it. If a project turned out half-assed I would think, “Yeah, Miner is crazy,” but I’ve always looked up to what he did and been inspired by it. I like to work with someone who also has a work ethic to make it feel like you’re accomplishing something.
As Miner made the move from Emerica to Element to work on PEACE , this is probably a good place to bring up you parting ways with Emerica for New Balance Numeric. It was refreshing to see how amicably it wrapped up between you and Emerica especially considering certain sponsor changes over the past few years. How do you feel the Emerica guys shaped you as person?
I got to ride for one of the best shoe companies and hang out with some of the best dudes like Leo [Romero] and Andrew [Reynolds]. When you’re skating with guys on that level you have to step it up. You can’t fuck around. Miner too – he had a lot to do with that. There were a lot of good times. I rode for them for 12 years and when I parted ways everything was understandable. I was cool with them and I waited until my contract was up and I talked a lot about it with them.
You’ve had a recurring running shoe influence throughout your signature shoes. Obviously, New Balance originate from running so was there anything eye-opening which occurred to you during the development of your NB Numeric shoe?
The amount of technology they have is insane. When I went in they had 3D printers and endless materials but we used TPU, which is a plasticky type of rubber, as part of the lace stay. I wanted a shoe that didn’t bag out so the designer, Jeff, came up with the idea of using the TPU because it doesn’t really stretch and should hold its form a lot better. I think it worked out, the shoe feels great on your foot and doesn’t feel soggy after a few sessions.
In your Bog Town part , you kind of reinvented the wheel with how to skate bank-to-bank spots part by taking a couple as step-up gaps. Those steep red brick banks… Judging from the footage in your Rough Cut, that spot doesn’t look like it offers much clearance.
To push an ollie up it was pretty hard. I don’t like messing with those bungees so a tow-in was the best option to skate that spot. The brick one was so steep. You have to go really fast but you hit the bottom of it so hard that it jolts you and you lose your speed. That trick was just luck combined with hope that I could fling one up there. I’d have it figured out then two tries later I was at a point where it wasn’t consistent enough to seem like I would land it – then one just went up there.
It actually hurt my back a lot, over the next couple of days I was super sore from hitting the bottom of it so fast. I landed one, but I wanted to do it better, and I tried for an hour afterwards but my legs were getting cooked the longer I kept going. I just had to settle for the one that I got.
Whether it was intentional or not, the combination of a frontside flip and a tow-in is a bit of Heath Kirchart tribute. But you also launched a back three over ‘the Heath gap’ after getting towed in from the man himself. Let’s wrap this up by talking about that trick. Where is that spot and what lead to you trying it?
It’s in Southern California. Miner talked me into trying it. He does that a lot, [laughs].
How did he pitch it?
He has a certain way of talking you into things. It starts with: “I think you need something right here [in a timeline]. A single trick…” He’s already got the spot and the trick in mind.
It’s a gradual progression. It’s really casual, and almost like a new conversation, but I know it’s premeditated, every time he brings it up. The first time I tried that back three it was for two hours and I couldn’t get it but he stayed positive. I flew home, chilled for a few days and then Miner calls me up and I already knew what’s coming.
“Alright dude, this is what I’m thinking…”
“What are you thinking?”
“Fly back out and get the back three. It will fill in this section of your part. Then if we have time we can go get this kickflip over a fence with better lighting.”
He has a way of talking people into things and he’s been doing it for a long time. He knows how each individual works, so I’m sure he has his own way with each skater, but I guess that’s how we go about it, [laughs].
The first time, there wasn’t anyone at the school. I got towed in for two hours and it was totally casual. The second time, there was all this shit going on at the school. There wasn’t anyone in the basketball courts, it was all indoors, but before we even started skating, before Heath brought his bike in, this lady came up and said: “I hope you aren’t trying to skate here because this is illegal.”
Did you ask Heath to tow you in or did he catch wind of the trick and was down?
Miner linked it up. You know what I was just saying about how he suggests a trick? He literally has everything planned out in his head so you almost can’t say ‘no’. He’s already got the trick, he’s got the spot, he’s thought of Heath because Heath has a bike…
We barged it and, sure enough, 20 minutes later the lady came back and was pissed. She got on the phone to the cops. It was actually the first time I had seen Miner stressing out because he’s usually pretty collected. The lady was [on the phone] saying: “They’ve got a motorcycle in here!” She said she was a superintendent or an official. She worked for the school so getting busted in a California schoolyard, with a motorcycle towing you in, would have been even worse. We were just ignoring her, we weren’t being rude of anything, I just kept on going because sometimes that’s what you’ve got to do.
As soon as I landed it, Miner bolted off this trash can [he was stood on] and took off. There was this other dude, Ryan, perched filming on a basketball hoop and I had to grab the trash can and help him down. Mason Silva was there and he went to the front lot, where he had parked, as the lady was getting worked up because he didn’t want to deal with the cops. Mason said as soon as we took off the cops were rolling in so if we parked in the front we would have gotten nailed. Luckily, Miner had some inclination to park in the back, I guess he was nervous and didn’t want to walk his camera gear by the front doors. We bolted and Heath drove his bike out, parked it on some side street and started walking around. When he took off, he told Miner, “Grab my shit!” because his helmet was in the van and he was spooked he was going to get arrested. It all worked out somehow but we were so close to getting tickets and getting Heath’s bike impounded.
He’s already got the trick, he’s got the spot, he’s thought of Heath because Heath has a bike…
Heath has put in a his fair share of suffering at that spot. What was he giving it in between towing you in? Was he surprised at the trick you were trying?
I don’t know if he was surprised. We rushed off and everyone got split up. It was every man for themselves and we somehow all got together and no-one got caught. Miner went to some shopping plaza. Heath was walking around without his phone, so he couldn’t get in touch with us, but I guess he found Mason so they jumped in together. We met up and it was this moment of, “Holy shit, we almost got caught.” He was definitely stoked. Heath hasn’t been on a skate mission where you can get busted in a while and was saying he’d forgotten about the adrenaline [of those situations]. Miner let Heath choose wherever he wanted us to eat. Heath picked some steakhouse and the three of us had a dope meal.
Interview by Farran Golding.
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