chrome ball interview #35: brian emmers

chrome ball recognizes the skills.

Alright Brian, let’s just start this thing out at the beginning. How were you first introduced to skateboarding and what was your first board?

I was first introduced to skateboarding in the late 80’s by seeing the older dudes around my neighborhood skate. The first board I ever had was a Nash Executioner from Toys R’ Us but my first “legit” board was a Powell Peralta Steve Caballero with boneite.

Gotta love the boneite. Now you grew up in Wisconsin, right? How was the scene out there? Must’ve not been too bad as you came up with some real rippers in Aaron Snyder and Dave Mayhew. Did you know those dudes at all back then or did you meet them later on?

Growing up in the Midwest, skateboarding wasn’t as prominent as it is here in California. But there were a few really good skaters such as Dave and Aaron. There was also this dude Troy Turner who kept the scene alive.

I remember that dude. He was on San Diego Trucks with my friend Don.

Yeah, I grew up skating with Troy. He lived in Green Bay also. Aaron and Dave lived a couple hours away back then so it wasn’t until we all had moved to San Diego that we skated together daily.

Now I gotta ask about this: I was flipping through the pages of an old Thrasher, circa 1992, when I came across an ad for you on Code Blue Skateboards? They were offering your pro model but you must’ve been like 12 years old at the time. What was going on there?

Code Blue was just a company that the local shop owner started… if you could really even call it a company. But yeah, they did a run of Emmers' Glue boards (laughs)

Yup, pretty corny.

So how’d you get hooked up with Evol? Was this when you were still in Wisconsin?

Actually before Evol, I was on World flow. Rodney and Kareem came through Green Bay on tour. I remember after the demo, Kareem gave me a board and Rodney said to call him at the end of that summer to start getting boards. I was so stoked!

When I moved to California, I decided on San Diego since we had a little network of Wisconsin migrants there. And because of this, it seemed more natural to ride for Evol, a San Diego-based company. Tyrone was staying with us at that time and he just got sponsored by Evol so he was responsible getting me on.

How come you didn’t try getting full-on at World?

World was in Los Angeles and I didn’t have any serious connections in LA. I’d met Rodney and he was flowing me boards, but it wasn’t on a personal level where I could’ve crashed on his couch or anything.

photo: niko

So what was it like skating for Evol? It definitely had it’s fair share of rippers but the company as a whole has always been looked upon with curiosity. People just didn’t really seem to know what to think of T. Mag’s newest venture.

Yeah, Evol always had that feel to it, but back then I liked skating for them because the team manager, Brian Reid, was really supportive and enthusiastic. He’d always take us to these great spots and film.

Now the first time I remember you really coming onto the scene was that sick Still Life part you had where you sang in the beginning. Were you nervous at all filming for your first big project or was it pretty much attack-mode from the jump? Were you pleased with how it ended up turning out?

It was fun and innocent, but even back then I knew my skating wasn’t up to par and that I could do better. I wasn’t skating that much before I moved out to San Diego and had suffered some ankle sprains.

Was it your intention all along to make that part almost entirely all switchstance stuff or did that just kind of happen? So good.

It wasn’t intentional. Yeah, I wasn’t too psyched on that part honestly… but then again, I’ve never been too stoked on any of my own parts. There’s certain tricks that I’ve been proud of, but as far as a part in its entirety, it never happened. To have a part in which I was satisfied with every trick has always been a goal of mine.

The hourglass is going fast though, don’t know if it’ll ever materialize.

Can't believe you weren't happy with that one. Switch backsmiths in lines circa 1995? Forget it. And that switch feeble at the City College rail you ran for an ad, wasn’t that the first one to ever go down?

I don’t think it was the first switch feeble down a handrail but yeah, it did take a couple times of going back to land it.

Now after Still Life came out, I imagine you were getting lots of interested parties looking to take you away from the ailing Evol. How did Plan B enter into the mix? With such an elite team, did it take a while to get on or was it pretty immediate?

I was riding for this clothing company Edward Sebastian, which was affiliated with Plan B. The team went to Santa Barbara to do a catalog photo shoot and some of the Plan B team happened to be staying at the same hotel I was. Over the course of the next few days, we all skated together and got to know each other. I ended up driving back to San Diego with Danny, Colin, and the Plan B team manager at the time, Sean Rogers.

It all happened so fast. Pretty surreal.

You gained a lot of steam pretty quickly at this point in your career. But it seems like a lot of times that it’s not the actual skating that trips up amateurs but how they handle the responsibilities and pressures of being sponsored. How well they prove to be able to work with others as well their overall outlook on skateboarding can really make or break younger skaters with their eyes set on stardom. Do you think you handled all this kind of stuff reasonably well?

That’s true. Working with others, making the best of down time and handling the pressures of producing are all very valuable life lessons. For myself back then, I was just so tunnel-visioned in the physical realm of skating that I couldn’t grasp the bigger picture of the integral workings of the industry. In short, I was young.

I was just focused on the physical act of skating, I wasn’t conscious of the political aspect of the industry and the political role in which you take on as a sponsored skater.

Your Revolution part remains one of the decade’s stand-out amateur parts and probably what you’re best known for. The part is still pretty incredible. How long did you film for that one? Did you feel you had something to prove as the “new guy” on the well-respected Plan B team?

I grew up watching Plan B videos so I knew the caliber of skating required. Leading into filming for the video, I had a couple of lines accumulated but the rest of the stuff I filmed in a couple of months. It would’ve been nice to have had a little more time to film… to do some fine-tuning. But I’m grateful for being given that opportunity. It was a great experience.

Were you intimidated at all filming a project having the Plan B label on it? Maybe more focused after being admittedly letdown personally by your Still Life part?

Not really intimidated. It was the opportunity I’d been waiting for since I was a kid so it was natural to be really motivated.

How do you react when people say your parts were ahead of their time? It’s true that a lot of those supertech ledge tricks you were doing back then weren’t really commonly seen until much later on. Switch hardflips to nosegrind on benches in ’98 were definitely ahead of the curve. What influences were you drawing upon at the time that inspired your skating?

I’m really flattered by those comments.

Those tricks were a reflection of the skating I watched in videos and was influenced by… World, 101, blind, and Plan B. And also just the challenge of doing tech tricks back then. That was fun, too.

So what happened next after the initial Plan B's demise, man? I have to bring up that there’s always been this urban legend involving a letter or press release that you supposedly sent out involving only wanting to skate for a top-tier company like Girl or Alien (as with all urgan legends, details are sketchy). What really happened? Did this letter story actually go down? And if so, what did it say?

At a tradeshow, I gave Sluggo my video in hopes of him forwarding it on to Colin, who had just started riding for Girl. That’s the extent of my pursuing Girl as a sponsor. With Alien, there was a time period when I was skating Rob’s TF here in San Diego and I had given him a video as well. But I never sent some letter out to address any of those actions…

...the rumor is that I sent a letter saying I’d like to ride for a good company? Wow, that's pretty horrible!

So it is false. I gotta admit that I’m not surprised that you debunked this long-held “letter” myth, but I am a little taken aback that you’d never heard of it before. I’ve heard that rumor for well over a decade now. Definitely one with staying power, which is even more remarkable since it is pre-message board era. Nobody ever has ever brought this up to you before or called it to your attention before now?

Surprisingly enough, nobody has.

Wow… So how do you think this rumor came to be? The more I’ve looked into this, it seems that nobody has actually read the letter itself but everyone pulls out the same quote from it everytime: “recognize the skills.”

The “recognize the skills” was something I had said to Dyrdek sarcastically, but I have no idea how it made the transition into a letter format and then taken so literally.

So what, in fact, did happen next? Didn’t you get any offers after this or did you turn them down in hopes of one you liked better? I know that Manual Labor video came out in ’00 and your curtains part in that one was as mind-blowing as Revolution… but I never knew what your board sponsor was at the time. Couldn’t Snyder have hooked you up with Shorty’s or something? What was going on with you when that thing got made?

After Plan B, I just kept skating and hoping things would just fall into place. I didn’t have the structure in my life or perception at the time to take a hands-on approach to my career. That was a result of me taking things for granted early on.

What exactly were you taking for granted? And in what ways would you have done things differently if you could go back?

I took certain people’s camaraderie for granted… friends, the opportunity of riding for Plan B.

If I could do things differently, I would’ve got a job right after that happened in order to teach me how to work well with others and to get me grounded in reality. And then I would’ve made a conscious effort of getting sponsored again.

Do you find it ironic that that you’re falsely known for aggressively looking for sponsors after Plan B when the reality is that you probably weren’t aggressive enough?

I don’t think “aggressive” is the right word, a tactful approach would’ve helped.

Skateboarding is a tricky thing because while so many things only tend to go to those actively pursuing them, this very act of pursuing career goals is largely frowned upon. Especially in the 90’s. One wrong move and you're in Andy Mac territory. Would you agree with that?

I agree. That’s part of the politics.

I think back then that it was the industry’s way of monitoring and controlling who was allowed in and where they stood. But a few companies were able to break the stronghold that a couple of the other companies had which opened it all up to be a fairer playing field.

There was also a generation shift, which I believe facilitated the change.

Do you believe a blacklist exists?

No, I don’t. People can say or do things to hinder their success in the skateboard industry but ultimately if you have the skills, a good attitude and the willingness to produce, you’ll shine.

Now I don’t want to skip over that super sick Labor part of yours. What was the deal behind that video? It definitely wasn’t the easiest video to find back in the day. Who put it out? You really swung for the fences on that one… were you trying to utilize that project as a way to show and prove and maybe get hooked up somewhere?

Manual Labor was an independent video by Dave Schlossbach. Getting a sponsor was part of the inspiration of filming for that part but with all the footage I’ve ever filmed, it was more about the desire to instill that same awe-inspiring feeling I got from watching my peers in videos.

Not that I attained that, but it’s what I aspired for.

And there weren’t any offers after that one? That’s insane.

No, unfortunately there weren’t.

What was the story behind that Primo vs Emmers section in Baker Bootleg? Were you at a demo or something in that thing? I take it that you didn’t know you were being filmed at the time... 

Yeah, I was just skating flatground. That was footage was all taken out of context. I found it hilarious… classic Ty Gilbert and Ali Boulala with Strickland filming.

We used to have some good times skating in front of Hamel’s and drinking cold ones on the beach.

Over the years, you’ve seem to pop in and out of coverage at random. A couple clips here, a photo there… and it’s obvious that you’re still skating and killing it. It looks like you’ve never stopped skating. Any chance for a full comeback? I know you had Germ going as well as that Land Bolts project in the works there for a minute, what’s going on with those?

Definitely never stopped skating. Germ was done before it started actually. We had a fun tour with that company but that was about it. Matt Brode, R.I.P.

Land Bolts is a brand that Aaron and I are working on. It’s essentially a hardware company but we have a lot of respect for and knowledge of skateboarding’s culture. We wouldn’t want it defined or limited just by that.

How do you react to the outpouring of support that people still seem to be giving you to this day? “Brian Emmers Appreciation Threads” are pretty common…

I appreciate it, of course. It’s one of those cliché-type things where I wish I knew then what I know now. It really could’ve helped me have a more successful skateboarding career.

What do you think of the ultra-tech ledge disco-dancing that’s going down these days? You had a large part in ushering that in.

It’s a thin line when dealing with the disco dancing… some of it’s progressive and some of it is gimmicky. Gimmicky in the sense that the trick isn’t technically all that difficult. A lot of it has to due with the way the trick is done.

So what you think of the new Plan B? I remember hearing your name being thrown into the mix at one point as potential rider, any truth to that? Have you had any contact with the camp over there?

The new Plan B is great, I was psyched to see Duffy back on the team. But no, I never heard anything about being a potential rider. And unfortunately I don’t keep in contact with any of the guys over there.

Maybe they’ll see this. Are there words of wisdom you’d like to tell younger skaters who may be finding themselves on the come-up in the skateboard industry? Anything you’d want to convey to the “hot” amateurs out there trying to make a name for themselves?

Yes, my advice to them is to keep a balanced life and stay grounded. Otherwise you’re subject to being left high and dry, which is so often the case.

Do you feel this is what happened to you?

Yeah, but ultimately I let myself get carried away with the skateboard fantasy. I’m not shifting blame on anyone. It’s a statement to illustrate that the reality of a sponsored skater, with little to no responsibilities, is a sharp contrast in relation to the working class. If you don’t prepare for life after skating, it’ll more than likely be a reality you’ll have to face.

I used to blame others for not reaching out to help me with my skateboard career but the fact is that I didn’t have my act together. If anything, I can take the lessons I’ve learned from those experiences and apply them to my adult life.

I appreciate your honesty. Alright Brian, that’s all I have. Thanks for doing this and talking so openly. Hopefully we can set the record straight on some things. Is there anything else you’d like to add? What’s up next for you?

Well, I still check skate blogs and forums before CNN so I’m definitely still a skater at heart.

I’ve been concentrating a lot of my time and energy on my current job with Injinji. It’s given me the opportunity to meet a lot of great people and introduced me to other outlets for staying active and healthy. I’ve also been trying to make it to LA when I can to work on Land Bolts with Aaron but we both have other careers, which makes it difficult at times. But we’re rocking steady.

I’d just like to thank everyone that has supported me, past and present. Thank you.

Special thanks to Mike Munzenrider, Rob Sissi, Aaron Meza, and Brian for taking the time.


chops said...

...and for any naysayers out there, Brian's story checks out 100%.

Skately said...

Great read! Always been a Emmers fan and was pretty bummed when the industry seemed to turn their back on him. Dude definitely seems humbled by the whole experience. Hopefully he finds a sponsor soon, I'd be stoked to see another part from him.

Anonymous said...

that revolution part was a serious game changer for me and my homies, always thought his trick selection was top notch

kitunes* said...

i have and always will be a fan.

Leiv said...

I had a feeling it would be Brian Emmers.

Anonymous said...

Had a chance to skate with him just after the revolution came out , he had a good vibe . Always wondered why he never had a board sponsor after plan b too .....

Anonymous said...

Great interview chops.
Always wondered what happened to Brian Edwards and what was the real story with "recognize the skills" quote.

t.a. said...

Criminally underrated. A spot on the industry for their lack of support. Emmers is a game-changer and ya'll missed out. Not only was his style clean and his tricks progressive, he knows how to put together lines.
That switch fs lip on the white rail? One of Justin Eldridge's first coverage was a slew of tricks their- years later, of course.
And the switch hardflip- ams and pros alike are still taking lesser tricks to that spot.

Thank you Chops and thank you Emmers.
Happy Friday People.

iSapien1956672 said...

Dope, interview... Saw this dude skate back in February at Stoner Park, HUGE frontside flips over the gap to switch back nose blunts on the 1/4... so dope to see in person.

Anonymous said...

blackists are alive and thriving in the skateboard industry today as well as back in the early 90s.rick jaramillo had a picture in a 93 big brother mag doing a switch feebs down the la rail.

Austin said...

I think he's referring to this:
Which was in 96, around the same time as Brian's, IIRC


Great interview, Choppers!

stephen said...

i hate the thought of blacklists or any elitist, 'too cool' attitudes in skateboarding. shit like that just goes to show that the industry can be just as juvenile as it's target demographic. on a different note... great interview! emmers definitely rips and he seems like a humble dude.

Anonymous said...

the actual quote was "can't deny the skills"

small detail.

cousin harold said...

Amazing. Seems like a humble and cool guy. Glad all that weirdness is cleared up. I have always beena fan, but that stuff buzzed me out. Sick interview.

Keith said...

Solid interview E. Glad you asked some tough questions and he answered them (for the most part) without dancing around.

Dude definitely seemed like he came out of nowhere to fuck shit up in that Plan B video. That was the first time I ever heard of him... back then, I didn't even know he rode for Evol nor did I see that Evol video. I thought his style looked sort of jock-ish, if that makes sense. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But smooth and crazy tricks.

Can't believe he had all those other clips post Plan B and never got hooked up again. I guess in the skateboard biz, skill only gets you so far, which is unfortunate.