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Sean Sheffey Interview

Sean Sheffey started skating in the mid 80’s, when I wasn’t even born yet. When I first saw his skating, I felt an instant connection. He liked to pop over high stuff, just like I do, and you could feel that he likes to charge, which I also enjoy from time to time (where it can be dangerous to be in my way. Just check out the Battlepark game in this issue…). Another thing we have in common is that we both became fathers at a young age. I always loved the photo where he ollies his son and I also did it with my daughter (which her mum didn’t really like at first…). So when the opportunity came up to do this issue, it was a no brainer for me to include him and I was pretty excited doing my first interview with a real legend.

Hey, what's up, how are you?

Good, man. I’m stoked right now.

Same. I'm actually pretty nervous. Should we just start with the questions?

Let’s do it.

All right, first one. What’s your favorite color?

It would probably be a mixture, I’ll go with light blue.

Sick, it’s my daughter’s favorite color, too.

It’s beautiful, like the sky.

And full name?

William Sean Sheffey. My parents and siblings called me by Sean, so it was just what I was used to. But in school and for my business I have to use my full name.

All right, sick. I always wanted to have a middle name, too.

Ebou Sanyang is an awesome name, man. What is it?

From Gambia. It’s in northwest Africa. You go to Morocco, go down and then it’s in the middle of Senegal.

Nassim [Lachhab] is from Morocco.

Do you know him?

Yeah. He comes over here quite a bit cause he skates for Etnies.

You do too, right?

Yes, sir.

That’s really sick. I didn’t know you knew him.

I’ve gotten to skate with him. He’s so good. He’s a really good person, too.

He’s one of my favorites. And I love the fact that he’s going back to Morocco to do something good there from skateboarding. Next question, do you have any brothers or sisters?

I have two older brothers and two older sisters, but one’s passed.

Sorry to hear that. How was it back then at home with your brothers and sisters?

Growing up was… pretty hard. Pretty strict family, like school and stuff.

"I was getting a little good on the bikes but BMX didn’t really have the following like skateboarding. I think I couldn’t find the scene there."

I also have two sisters and a brother and I’m asking that because when I was younger, we would fight all the time, but crazy fights.

They were my older sisters and brothers, there wasn’t any fight. I looked up to them and I just had… They took care of me when my parents were out at work. So mainly, I just had the most respect for them because that was all I knew. I owe a lot to that type of respect for how I got here. I learned a lot from them. I was a baby when they were starting school.

It was a bit different with my brother being just three years older than me and my sister two years older. It was pretty rough.

There wasn’t really any argument or fighting with my sisters and brothers because they would just say to my parents: “Sean’s being bad” and they would take it from there.

They were looking out for you by doing this.

It helped me stay alive this long.

And how did you get into skateboarding?

From BMX. I was riding bikes and then I was looking at the magazines and got involved. A couple of times, I was at a friend’s house and they brought out a skateboard and I got interested. I’d seen some people skating once and I got into the scene. The guy gave me a magazine and I was like, man, I really want to buy one of those boards.

Who was in the magazines back then?

The first mag I got was a Thrasher from July 1986 that had Jesse Martinez on the cover, who turned pro for Powell and later, he skated for World Industries. There was a Mark Gonzales interview in that magazine. I ordered a Santa Cruz Rob Roskopp out of that magazine, that was my first board. I met a couple of dudes that were really into it, and they showed me what was up and gave me some more magazines.

Jesus, back in ’86, I wasn’t even born back then.

You still got the roots, man.

I grew up watching videos of you.

That’s cool. It’s good you connect with me because we’re keeping that vibe going, keeping the skateboarding family hungry for it. That’s most important. I can’t even believe I got that knowledge today when I go back and I look at the cover of Jessie Martinez, it freaks me out that I actually got to see one of skateboardings all-time greats. And in the same issue, one of the best skaters of all time, Mark Gonzales.

I feel like back then, skateboarding was better. I just don’t know in what sense.

This guy laid down so much and was able to go so far and beyond. The boards they rode are so much more difficult than what we have today. They gave it to us. We actually have it better, the skill level has progressed so much, it’s unbelievable how far it came to get us here. I think the difficulty and the maneuverability was still there. But the availability of the maneuver was absent because it was building and transforming into where the creativity got involved with similar stuff that was back then, and put into play with a more modern touch.

I really like what you just said.

The athleticism hasn’t changed, but the difficulty and maneuverability has because the athleticism has always been, and it’s just progressed. The tricks get more upgraded.

Skateboarding is changing all the time. Back then, did you ever think that it would get to where we are now?

I’ve seen that ability and skill level. Because those guys created the kickflip and the smith grind and the nollie and they just allowed us to progress it, get that much fresher and funner with it and throw our own thing to it. It’s super rad, because now you can do a nollie backside smith down a handrail. Back in the day, it was boardslides. Who would have ever thought that we would put that together? Or there were freestylers doing nollie flips on the flat. Now, they’re doing nollie flips down double sets. They were doing bonelesses down double sets, the imagery was there, but the tricks hadn’t yet got funkier. The nollie flip was still new and we were like: “What can we do with the nollie flip?” There was an eight-stair or ten-stair. How about that? And it was like: “Why not?”. Or a nollie flip over the handrail. People were like: “No way!” And then, Jones got with it and it became that sick. It’s possible! Let’s get down and make it happen.

I would have loved to see those first gnarly kickflips going down.

Yeah, we did them on three stairs and it was like the gnarliest feeling ever! You can actually try and pop your nose and kick your back foot and it really works. And then you have other skaters with their own style and it just allows it to go crazy. You know? We all enhance that. You see one dude, like: “Man, my nollie flips suck but that dude’s nollie flips a pretty rad. I want to learn that, because that’s the way to do it”. So you learn and it just starts to happen. It’s like that concept of skating where skating with your friends is the best because you all learn from each other. It allows you to understand things more than just skating by yourself, I guess.

That’s so good. Let’s say Andrew Reynolds is doing a frontside kickflip, to put a quick example.

When you see him doing it, you want to learn that.

And I have to tell you, I first got into Chris Pfanner and then I found out about you, too. I had no internet as a kid or anything, so it was harder but I realized, this guy is Sean Sheffey. And then I was watching Chris Pfanner, and I was like, Chris Pfanner’s favorite skater might be Sean Sheffey, too. I could tell cause he was jumping over stuff, doing the late shove’s. I felt that he was looking up to your stuff as a kid. I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s how I feel about it.

That’s cool. And also, he has his own unique flow and style. I really respect him. I look up to him in skating. He does a lot for skateboarding. I really love him, he’s amazing.

You said you were biking before. Did you practice it or just rode as a kid?

I was getting a little good on the bikes but BMX didn’t really have the following like skateboarding. I think I couldn’t find the scene there.

"I inspired my skating from a lot of vert skating. A lot of my heroes were vert skaters so I mixed it in with skill and exaggeration."

Did you practice any other sport other than skating?

I did well in football and basketball. My team won a state Super Bowl Championship. That was a big deal. We only tied one game that season.

Do you think football helped you physically at skating?

It did, it built up that natural aggression and instinct to be a little wilder and tough, too. I was able to take a fall and keep on. When I wanted to learn a trick, I would go until I completed my mission.

Now that you said that you were playing football, it makes so much sense. It always felt like you would just crash the spot sometimes, really going for it. But next question, what’s your favorite trick?

I would say the ollie. It’s most accessible. I like all the flip stuff and things but if I were to drop in on a vert ramp or a bowl, I can do a frontside ollie. I couldn’t drop in and do a kickflip or nollie flip.

The ollie is my favorite trick, too. What was your way to look at spots back then? Cause your skating was different than the rest.

I inspired my skating from a lot of vert skating. A lot of my heroes were vert skaters so I mixed it in with skill and exaggeration. So if there was a manual pad that was 10 feet, I want to skate a manual pad that’s 20 or 30 or 40 feet. I would exaggerate the length of the duration. So if you can go waist high, I would like to go head high or more. I think I learned that from vert skating because my heroes, they could go head height and above. And I wanted to do airs like that or wanted to do my ollie like that.

I was reading in the Chromeball article about the backside 180 over the bench, that you said it was only thigh-high. Back then, were you measuring the spots with your body parts, like your elbow or hip?

You want to be able to clear an obstacle and not ram into it. So when you’re feeling it and when you’re ready to jump, you measure it with that sense of care. Or like you say, you walk up to it and you put your body close to it and you’re feeling it. It doesn’t shut me down or scare me away from it. I can see my body parts launching over it and clearing it without ramming into it.

What was the limit of your body to jump over?

I could get over something close to the hips or above. But you start to think, if you slip and go down, you’re tending to catch your ribs or your head area.

But you probably ollied over stuff taller than your hip, right?

I’m not quite sure.

How old were you when you became a dad for the first time?

I was 18.

How was it managing your skating and having a son while you’re on tour and all that?

It really helped because in the beginning, it kept me responsible and organized. It was really good. I really liked it.

Do you think it’s good to have kids at a younger age?

I think It could be difficult, but I believe if you have an income and maturity about it, it could work out. I think it’s that youth and that care of the youth going into an adult that has so much love and care still, that their innocence will overcome almost anything.

You think that was helping with your skating?

Yeah, because I wanted the family so bad that I wouldn’t let anything stand in the way of it.

Back then, how was it with the sponsors? Because you rode for many different ones, too.

Yeah. They felt that. They were really charged about that. Like, “I don’t want to work with this dude, he’s for real”. My hunger for skateboarding was true.

When it came to choosing your sponsor, what were you looking for?

I’d go crazy. I was actually looking for something in the west. And then that guy talked to me about this company in New York City. It blew me away because I hadn’t really searched for something on the East Coast. Then I found this company, just like up north from me, and it hyped me up. I got super pumped.

"Some of my toughest things that I’ve conquered are in surfing, it’s incredible."

If you look back, what would be the one sponsor that you feel the most connected to?

I mean, every one of them was sick, but when I got to skate with the group of guys on plan B, I was blown away. I never thought that would happen. The original team was amazing.

And then is there anyone that has always been with you? Anyone that has been with you through everything in skating?

I’ve been skating almost 40 years, I have had ups and downs. But when I’m able to still be walking, I think the whole industry has been with me. I believe in religion. I will say, God, Jesus Christ, has been with me.

Right now, do you have any other hobbies?

Surfing is a big thing, I’m doing it for three years now. It reminds me a whole lot of the beginning of learning how to skate. Some of my toughest things that I’ve conquered are in surfing, it's incredible.

How was it to learn again from zero? Did skating help you with surfing?

Yeah, totally! My one friend, Jake Brown, he’s helped me. He got me started and into a routine. So it was easy, but the conditions and stuff were very hard to stick with. In skating, I learned something and I fell in love with it. Getting paid, getting boards, and the recognition and being famous and stuff helped too, to stick with it. But it also keeps me mentally steady and strong, to learn something like that, and I finally learned to not give it up and I pushed that over to surfing, to not give that up.

I’m glad you found the next step. What’s your favorite book?

I would say Steven King has a lot of good stuff. I like Closer magazine by Jamie Owens. Right now, I’m reading the Mormon Bible. I recently just turned Mormon, and that’s going good. I learned a lot more about the scriptures of Jesus Christ, and the prophets, Joseph Smith, and things like that.

My family are Muslims, because it’s what they got back in Gambia.

God bless.

Yeah. God bless. I mean, it’s not like I’m Muslim, that wasn’t for me.

How does your family feel about that?

They weren’t that cool with it. When I was a kid, they were really strict. I grew up in a family where everything was square all the time. And they really hated the fact that I was skating because I was playing soccer first for a good team. So my parents would picture me playing in the future, making money. And then I ended up skating, not being religious, having my daughter before getting married and all that stuff. So I was the black sheep of the family. I mean, we are all black, but whatever. But now they’re cool with it, they’re more open now. I mean, it’s not like I’m not religious. It’s just that the muslim thing is not the one for me, I guess. I still have to find the right one. But I would’ve never guessed that you were reading that book.

It teaches you a lot about the travels and the traditions and men and women who take their time to want to conquer good over evil, through the testimonies of time in traditional times. They traveled the land and they did their studies and they went from village to village, preaching the gospel to do right. To respect this order, to understand this, is why we believe that Jesus was here and why he saved and why he helped people. He got the homeless people food and he brought out the better side of the people. He helped the criminal get rid of its evil ways. He talked to people and wanted to help them.

My last question is not really a question, but I just wanted to say that I love that Ollie over your son. That’s been forever in my mind. I also ollied over my daughter.

That came about when I was heading out on a Plan B skateboards mission. I was warming up in the parking lot and I ollied my kids car. My filmer friend went back to my bosses house, who at the time was Mike Ternasky, and told him about that. So the next day we were heading out and my friend asked me to get that ollie over Julian again so we can get it on film.