For many East Coast kids, getting into skateboarding is more than just learning how to flick a board underneath you. It creates the illusion that the "California Dream" is attainable. Slushy streets, skateparks covered in blankets of snow, and frigid cold could all be traded in for paychecks, year-round skating and a consistently warm climate. It's especially rough in Wareham, Massachusetts (the gateway to Cape Cod), where Zoo York professional skateboarder Brandon Westgate was raised and still resides.
But skating wasn't his ticket out -- it was his ticket in.
"I hated bundling up because you can't move that well," he said of the icy Northeast winters. "I would do long johns, thermal sweat shirt, jacket, hat and gloves. Once you skate around long enough, no matter how cold, you warm up. It's only bad once you stop."
"We lived about one minute from the beach, so we would go there a lot. My dad always had a boat," Westgate said about growing up in the Cape. "Before skating I played basketball. I always hated it though because I was so short no one would pass to me."
That small frame might not have led him to wearing Celtic green, but it led him toward skating. With his boyish looks and innocent smile, Westgate might still look like a teen, but he has accomplished more by 25 than most pros do in a full career. He's a content king who continuously drops inspiring footage that leaves many wondering how he generates so much power. He handles himself more maturely than most adults and comes off as a simple, earnest guy -- something rare in a sport that's still seen as rebellious by many. Like a true professional, he handles every trip and contest as both a challenge and part of his job, not an excuse to rage.
So for a kid who grew up and matured on skate trips, mentored by his peers including 5Boro's Steve Rodriguez, how he has managed to stay so grounded on an unstructured path is as impressive as what he does on a board. Perhaps that earnestness and hardworking nature is as simple as his small town New England roots. If you've seen his "Epicly Later'd" series, you've seen a glimpse of his craftsmanship, something that has been a constant in his life.
"I think what really got me excited about building and fixing things was my high school," he said. "I went to a trade school for marine mechanics. It had every tool you could imagine: all types of welders, fiberglass work, engine work. Anything that went wrong on a boat we would fix. It was sick; I loved it."
Though he speaks with an even tone, punctuated with an occasional smile, Westgate is passionate about everything in which he immerses himself.
"This year I decided to buy some of my own cranberry bogs," he said about his newest endeavor. "My dad is helping me run them. I have all these carpentry tools because I like building things, so I decided to make small wooden cranberry boxes you can buy full of berries. I found out the wood was going to be too much to make the boxes, so I got a sawmill and milled all the wood myself."
With such a passion for making things, he was heavily involved in creating his signature shoe, rather than just slapping his name on a silhouette. "I'm so proud to have a shoe on Emerica," he said of his tech, yet clean model. "They let me be involved with every part of the design. I sat down with August [Benzien], Emerica's shoe designer, and brainstormed ideas and talked about everything I wanted, liked and disliked until we came up with my shoe. Then I got samples and got to change or fix anything I wanted. Some of my favorite shoes are Jerry Hsu's first shoe and the Herman G6 -- it doesn't get any better."
Westgate's modesty makes it easy to forget that he's an absolute beast on a skateboard, who constantly abuses his body to get a clip. He drops parts like prizefighter punches: Zoo York uppercuts, followed by Emerica haymakers. Currently working on a part filmed in Boston and New York, even a serious injury hasn't slowed him down. Determination and focus is just how he's wired, though he is mindful of what he puts his body through. Diet plays a huge part of his routine and is something he believes strongly in.
"I've been a vegetarian for about three years," he said before discussing his recent injury. "My girl got me into [it]. We started watching all these health videos and juice remedies, and I believed in it. I think in general you eat good, you feel good. In March, I was filming for that [X Games] Real Street contest in New York. I was trying to 5-0 across one of the bars in front of a garage door. There was a gap off three or four stairs, so it was a good height. I fell over the other side with my feet sending my back and head to the ground. I landed with my elbow hitting the ground first, then my lower back, then my head. If not for my elbow, I would have broke my neck. I have never fallen that hard in my life. I walked around for a bit and was in so much pain. I still had to get home. Sean Cronan drove me to his house and then I drove home from there; it's about a four-hour drive. I got home and went to the hospital because at that point I was in so much pain. I fractured the 2, 3, 4 transverse processes [little nubs on the side of your spine]. There's nothing you can do about those you just have to sit and wait for them to heal, about eight weeks before you can start rolling around."
Westgate was forced to drop out of this year's X Games Real Street video competition because of the injury.
Like the big days of the 1980s, skateboarding once again appears polarized between perceived contest rock stars and the underground creatives. But Westgate is a unique "skater's skater" who has won both contests and the respect of those who shun them. He possesses a skill that's undeniable and inspired no matter if it's on VHS, HD, in person, or on your web browser. So who or what fueled him to achieve so much, and how does he keep his focus?
"I have no idea," he said. "I like to work, it feels good. But with my skate career, Anthony Shetler, Steve Rodriguez, Seamus Deegan and Aaron Suski were the dudes that took care of me since the beginning. They're all great people that I'm still super close to now. I couldn't have done it without them."
Shetler, who recently expanded his All I Need brand to skateboards and gained a new shoe sponsor with Vision Street Wear, talked about his longstanding relationship with Westgate.
"[Brandon] is family to me. I met him before he was sponsored. He was a very humble, thankful person -- even as a little kid. The man has unbelievable style and abilities on a skateboard. He's also earned all the qualities in this world that will allow him to create whatever paradise he chooses: hard work, passion and desire pay off!"
This Friday, Brandon Westgate will take his skill to Game of Skate for "World Of X Games." Known as a raw street skater who can get tech on things most would strain to ollie up to, Westgate has his flat-ground game locked down. It's just another business trip, one you can only prepare for by bringing your skill.
"I never plan anything," he said casually about the competition. "You never know how you're gonna feel that day."