Q&A: BRIAN TUNNEY / LARRY’S DONUTS IS DEAD

Fans of BMX history and nostalgia rejoice! Brian Tunney just released a new project entitled “Larry’s Donuts is Dead”, which chases down spots from (older) iconic BMX photos/magazines and juxtaposes them with modern day pics. We caught up with Brian to learn more.

Click below for the Q&A with Brian, then go HERE to pick up a copy.

What’s up Tunney. How are ya?

I’m still alive at the time of this writing and not trying to get too insane over the current state of affairs regarding covid-19 outbreaks. But when I take a step back at this very moment, it’s kinda hard to retain a sense of optimism. Having said that, I just walked my dog friend Pablo in the rain. 

You’ve been revisiting and documenting iconic BMX spots from old magazines for a few years now, and you’re about to release a magazine with your findings. What sparked this project?

Well I first moved to Redondo Beach in 2011 and when I started exploring around, I began to notice that certain locations were really familiar to me even though I had never been there. Then when I opened up all of my old magazines, I was like, “Woah, I know these spots because I studied these pictures to death as a young teenager.” 

A little backstory: Wizard Publications, the publisher of BMX Action, Freestylin’ and Go: The Rider’s Manual was out of Torrance, a bike ride away from where I live now. The majority of their coverage focused primarily on riders and photogenic spots in the South Bay of L.A. From bike checks to new tricks to jams at the publisher’s office, the staff made the area their playground for a few years when I was very impressionable, and I always wanted to visit even as a 14-year-old kid in New Jersey. Then I got here, many years later, and noticed that not much had changed on the surface. It was fascinating to me that I was a child yearning to ride these spots, then lived here as an adult and instead of riding, I’d be going to spots made famous by Todd Anderson to get groceries. 

Anyway, I started compiling photos in 2014 for Instagram, before the era of layout and 4:5 photos existed, and it was frustrating to fit some of my before and after finds into a 1:1 format. So I thought, hey, I worked on magazines for a long time, maybe I should just do this as a one-off tribute.

Then, I moved to Austin. And priorities shifted a bit, but I kept it on the back burner. Finally, in January, I went to see a few National Geographic photographers speak at X Games Aspen. They talked about how they balanced passion projects with commercial work. Technically, I was there working, but I took what they said to heart, bought Adobe Spark when I got back home and started laying out the final magazine. The first few pages ground me to a halt because I’m not a designer and hate the nuances of alignment and continuity. But I just did a few pages each night and managed to finish 30 spots I had visited for before and after shots. 

How did you determine which spots to seek out and feature? Was it based off classic magazine photos, a certain period of time, certain areas, etc…? Explain your process.

Everything was based off of, “Hey, I know exactly where this spot is and this photo is still sick.” The majority of the whole project is from Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach and Torrance. But then I dug a little deeper and included a little bit of skateboarding, Venice, Austin and Cabazon. There is never a concrete process to any of this though. If I know I’m going somewhere and I can make a stop at a nearby curb cut or wallride, I’ll just do it when it’s convenient.

I could see this being a casual endeavor that eventually ends up becoming an obsessive thing. Am I on the mark with that?

Everything I get into becomes obsessive. I think that’s part of my flatland dna.

How long did you work on this?

From absolute start to getting the finished product tomorrow, it’s just about 6 years on the mark. But this was always super part time and never a full-time endeavor. But going back even further, the first time I visited Hermosa Beach was in 2000ish, and I remember cruising around, stumbling onto a wallride from Freestylin.’ I shot some photos of it and wrote about it for Dig many years ago, so in a way, this has been unfolding for a long ass time. 

The “then” and “now” aspect of this is pretty interesting. When all is said and done, what have you taken away from this project?

What I’m ultimately taking away from this is that so much of life has happened between the initial photo and my revisiting, and also how differently certain parts of the environment are utilized according to what brings us there. Places I considered sacred as a kid are just parking lots for people at cash-only bars. And places I dreamed of riding as a kid aren’t really that great when you finally get there. I think more importantly though, the South Bay is amid a transformation from old to new and I’m seeing it happening right before me. I wanted to capture the out of the way spots I worshipped as a kid before they turned into beach front condos. 

Is there a holy grail of spots that you just couldn’t find?

I found it but it wasn’t there. It’s the last page in the magazine. There are also a plethora of locations in North County/San Diego/Santee that I’ve never been to that I’ve always wanted to visit, such as Ron Wilkerson’s old house (home of the Enchanted Ramp), the Vic Murphy tabletop off the curb photo (which I think I found but it doesn’t feel right) and even the Nude Bowl outside of Palm Springs. 

What can people expect from the magazine? Who else is involved?

 I’m hoping people can expect a rush of nostalgia when they see the original photo juxtaposed against its modern surroundings. But I’m also hoping that I can properly pay my respects to the staff and ethos of Freestylin’ Magazine. That magazine was my bible as a teenager and it shaped a lot of what I still hold dear in my life, which is nuts. 

No one else is involved in this either. Some people helped me find certain spots (Mike Daily used to live with R.L. Osborn and brought me there, Jason Pitschke brought me to a few spots as well) but otherwise it’s all me except for the original photos shot by the Wizard Publications staff. 

What’s up with the title? – “Larry’s Donuts Is Dead”

It pertains to the last spot in the magazine, which is no longer in existence. I was originally going to call it “In The Deep End,” a spin on an Andy Jenkins column from Freestylin’,, but the Larry’s title just came out and I liked it better. I also didn’t want to sound like I was riding Andy Jenkins’ coattails too much. Dude has moved on from BMX and doesn’t seem to want anything to do with it anymore. 

Where can people go to pick up a copy?

Hopefully, https://larrysdonuts.bigcartel.com/ is working. If not, just pester me over dm and I’ll make it happen. I paid for printing this out of my own pocket so it would be nice to at least cover shipping. Otherwise, I’m hoping the rest of the world can just go through Empire BMX to get one. 

Wild card question – Does the spot make the rider, or does the rider make the spot?

I guess it depends who you ask. Todd Lyons might tell you one thing about how he created a legacy of greatness from a UC Irvine stair set in a Jnco commercial from Props, while Mat Hoffman will tell give you a completely different answer about the first handrail he grinded in OKC. And then there’s Brad Simms. Can you name a flat wall after him cause he manual wallride whipped it? 

Thanks, Tunney. Anything you’d like to add before we wrap this up?

Knob High Football rules!

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