Geoff Rowley

Geoff Rowley

GEOFF ROWLEY
Interview & Intro by STEVE OLSON
Photo by ANTHONY ACOSTA

Let’s go to the U.S…
18 yrs old, and I’m into skateboarding…
and the weather is a lil
better, over there …
This explains who
Geoff Rowley is,
and will BE…
Say no more,
Wink, wink, nudge, nudge…

Hey, Geoff, how are you, man?
Hey, Steve. I’m doing good. How are you today?

I’m good.
Wonderful. So you’re healthy and life is good?

Yeah. Life is good.
How is your son?

My son is good. He split Girl and started his own thing. He was going to go work with Brian Anderson and that other kid and then he was like, “Oh, you guys want to do the same shit basically and I’m not into that.” I appreciate that he stepped out on his own.
Well, you know what, man? Life is short. What have you got to lose at that point? You might as well do something you feel comfortable doing; at least you’ll sleep at night. People like to look at the money and go, “Oh, well, the money is more over here. It must be great!” That was never a motivating factor for me. You shouldn’t be basing any decisions on money, unless it’s the right decision, which it can be. Alex is good. I always enjoyed it when he was staying with me years ago. I enjoyed having him around and seeing him have those little tantrums.

Oh, yeah, he’s got that quick energy, whatever, temper. I don’t know where he gets it. [Laughs] Someone asked me, “Oh, he throws his skateboard a lot. Isn’t that like a little spoiled brat type of thing?” I said, “I think it’s more of a passionate committed thing to himself. Instead of getting pissed, he takes it out on his skateboard, which isn’t operating or functioning the way he wants it to.”
As long as the tantrum is not directed at other people, it’s okay. Standing up and doing your own thing is commendable, It’s what skateboarding was built on, inspired leadership; people who aren’t afraid to stand up and do what’s right, for themselves and their own skateboarding. I have always respected that.

You have to do what you like. If you want to throw your skateboard, more power to you. Where do you come from, Geoff?
Well, I was born in Liverpool, England, which is the Northwest coast of England. It’s a very industrial city. I started skateboarding in 1989. That part of England had the highest unemployment rate and the highest teenage pregnancy rate and it was generally a pretty violent city. There weren’t cameras all over the place. That’s where I grew up. I moved to the United States when I was 18 years old. I moved to Huntington Beach, California, so you can imagine the culture shock for somebody that grew up in the equivalent of Detroit and Chicago mixed with San Francisco and San Pedro, in an English way. It was a grimy industrial city that had a lot of character and a lot of history. I loved the place. Still to this day, I love the city. I didn’t leave the city because I wanted to leave my home behind. I just wanted to skateboard more. The truth is that the concrete is a lot smoother in California and the curbs are painted, so you don’t have to wax them as much. That’s what I was looking for when I was 18. I wasn’t looking to drink and do drugs and meet chicks and stuff. At that stage of my life, I wasn’t really thinking of that stuff. I was just honestly thinking of skateboarding more.

Well, it worked out for you. Where did you start skating in Liverpool when you started skating?
First, it was in the city, on a council estate. It was basically just flat ground. Then I saw these two dudes on a bus one day, both totally mental looking. The one dude had an Overkill t-shirt on. His name was Gobo, because he looked like a big old oaf. The other dude was a full punker with an orange mohawk with denim down to the ground and he was riding an Alva Dave Duncan board. I’d never seen skateboards like that, colorful skateboards with graphics. Actually, at that time, I had never seen guys like that, a metal head and a punker, with these weird skateboards. They lived on a council estate, so I started standing on those boards and seeing those guys around. I was a lot younger than those guys too. Their balls had already dropped and they had mustaches and I was like 12 years old and tiny. I’m not the biggest dude now and I was tiny then. I started skating with those guys and some of the other local kids in the council estates and bombing hills and stuff and then it went from there. You realize, “These wheels are really fast. I can get to the bottom of the hill without pushing. That’s cool. What else can I do?” So I started jumping off sandstone walls and doing what would be like your boneless one.

Yes!
I was doing sweepers and jumping off walls onto my board and I realized that you can actually do stuff with a skateboard, other than bomb hills. That’s all skateboarding was when I was growing up. I’d seen the fiberglass G&S boards and the plastic banana boards when I was growing up, but I’d only seen people bombing hills and sitting on them and cruising. I’d never seen anyone do any tricks. I wasn’t exposed to anything like that until I started exploring that myself. We didn’t have money so when I started skating, the first board that I had, a neighbor gave to me. Actually, it was a guy that did sound engineering next door to the bread shop that my mother worked in. He gave me an old fiberglass board with one truck on it and two red Kryptonics wheels. Obviously, I couldn’t ride it because I didn’t have the other truck, and, even at that time, the truck was an antique. I didn’t have anything else to go with it, so I took the truck off of it and I put on the cheapest trucks and wheels you could buy, off one of those little plastic boards, onto this busted up fiberglass board. I rode that for a month or two. The first big real board that I got was a normal-sized skateboard and that was a Toxic board with Gullwing trucks and OJ wheels. That was all they had in the store. They had two decks to choose from. They had a Skull Skates Dead Guys and they had a Toxic team board. They had two Ranalli trucks, which were like junk, and then they had two Gullwing Pro 4s. They were two different colors. One was a luminous yellow and the other was navy blue. I put together a set-up with whatever I could get. It wasn’t a skate shop either. It was a vinyl collector’s record store called Probe Records. They just happened to sell a few skateboards and those Thrasher painter hats and Skull Skates painter hats. They didn’t sell anything that cost any money. Everything was cheap. They sold Skull Skates stuff because the guys that worked in the record shop were all punkers. That was where I started and it just went from there.

What happened next?
Skating started to pick up again in the early ‘90s and not necessarily loads of people started doing it, but it started to progress again really quickly around 1990 and 1991 when the Plan B Questionable video came out. That was shocking to me, at the time, to see that much progression happen with this many dudes all on the same crew. I remember being pretty influenced by the progression. I was looking at that and all these guys skated different. Not every one of them was doing big handrails. You had Rodney Mullen doing some of the most technical flat ground tricks ever, inventing them. In the same video, you had Sean Sheffey, which is the equivalent of a piece of well-done steak on the street, doing everything with absolute weight and power. I always liked that kind of skating. I was always that dude that looked at Julien Stranger and went, “I want to skate like that.” I wanted to skate like that because he skates fast and he masters tricks. He doesn’t just learn them and do them. He masters them and sits on them. He slides on his back lips and back tail slides. I remember consciously going, “Man, if I can do a frontside tail slide, I want to be able to do a backside tail slide. I can do a frontside 5-0, so now I’ve got to learn a backside 5-0 or I’m not really learning that trick properly.” From when I was 15 years old up to when I was 18, I think I progressed the most that I’ve ever done during that period because that’s all I did. I didn’t do anything else. I just wanted to skate.

That was it. You just skateboarded.
Yeah. I still had no idea where I was going or what was going to happen. I just wanted to keep rolling down the street.

So you came over to the United States when you were 18?
Yeah. I moved to California in 1994 when I had just turned 18 years old. I came straight to Huntington Beach, California, straight into a Denny’s. I went down to Main Street in Huntington Beach and I ended up staying. To tell you the truth, when I first came here, I didn’t know I was going to stay here. I didn’t know I was going to be able to be a professional skateboarder and be able to feed myself.

How did you get the money to come over?
I saved up. I had $154. I paid for my flight and flew over with Jeremy Fox and Ian Deacon. I had $154 in my pocket, so I just ate Ramen noodles and whatever was the cheapest food I could get to keep me going. Then I started working a little bit setting up completes. I did that for a month or so as Flip was being set up. I think my first check from Flip was $50. The next month I made $150 and it just went from there, slowly and steadily. It was just enough to feed ourselves and, thankfully, the company paid for some of the rent for a certain period of time to get us off the ground. I pretty much ate noodles and just like everyone that moves away from their parents, I did whatever it took. We lived in an apartment with 13 dudes. All 13 dudes were staying in this two-bedroom apartment. It was six guys that lived there permanently and there were another five to eight dudes that were there on and off. Eventually, you get out on your own because you’re sick of having roommates and you want to spend some time with your lady.

When you’re in Liverpool, and you’re skating, when did you start to figure out that you were hooked on skating?
I don’t know. I don’t think I ever did anything half-ass. I can look back now and I’m not the oldest man on the planet, but I’m in my late 30s. I’m 38, almost 39 years old, and I’m starting to get a little bit of perspective on my life and a little more understanding of certain periods of my life. I don’t know how I even made it through certain sections of life. There wasn’t really one day when I felt hooked. Even now, I don’t feel like I’ve done it. I feel like I’m just doing it and I’m thankful that I can still move. Even when you get sponsored, you may stop and go, “Maybe I’m really good at this. Maybe I can really do this and maybe I can make a living at this.” I never really thought about it like that. It worked a lot better when I focused on what I was doing on that particular day.

Right. When you reflect and look back, there is progression that happens for people. It’s different for everyone. I’m just curious. With you, when you were doing front tails and you were wanting to learn back tails, or whatever, there’s a point that I’m aware of, where it was like, “I’m actually okay at this and I can see progression happening within myself.” It becomes a personal challenge.
I maybe felt that between the ages of 15 to 18, but when I moved to the U.S. at 18 years old, knowing nobody in the United States, it took me two years before I even felt like I was starting to get back on track again. I was definitely affected by moving to a foreign country and not having my friends around me. Again, my brain was just head down to the ground and learning to skate every day. When I moved to the U.S., I had to figure out how to feed myself and how to wipe my own ass. I had to figure out how to make sure I always had shoes with Shoe Goo on the side of them because no one was going to be buying them for me. Do you know what I’m saying?

Yes, I do.
I was thinking about all of this different stuff and it took years before I looked back and realized that I was freaked out by moving to a foreign country and I didn’t even know it. It was culture shock. It was such a difference between where I grew up and how Southern California functioned. That was a learning curve, and I’m really thankful for Ed Templeton. He gave me the confidence to kind of progress my skateboarding again. He also gave me confidence in myself. He accepted that I was this young kid that always looked angry, but I wasn’t angry. That’s just the way I looked. That’s the North West Coast of England look. People from the North West Coast of England look like bulldogs chewing wasps. Ed accepted me. He made fun of me and I got that middle class sense of humor that I needed to have around me, moving to a foreign country. I spent a lot of time with Ed Templeton and that was when he was skating really good. That was when he was filming for the first Toy Machine videos. We listened to a lot of the same music like early Black Flag and Minor Threat and that kind of stuff that we grew up watching in the early skate videos in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. I was also aware of your generation, Olson, and the impact that had on skateboarding and the guys that made it what it was for us, whether they gave us new tricks or an attitude or a look or even new products, and that was good too. It was good to have someone that I could listen to Minor Threat with and go skate, and not hip hop, which was pretty popular at that time. The early ‘90s was baggy pants, small wheels and Beastie Boys. If you didn’t look like that, you sucked. I looked a little bit like that but, at the same time, I liked Black Flag. I didn’t speak very clear English, being from the North of England it was mostly slang, which is not the traditional Queen’s English. Northerners mumble a lot and slur their words. We also look down a lot when we’re talking. It’s not necessarily an easy way to communicate in Southern California when you’re from a place like that in England. Ed accepted me. I will always have a special place for him. [Laughs] It’s not in my pants, but I will always have a special place for Ed because of that, because he went out of his way to say, “This dude is okay.” I appreciate that. Plus, I learned a lot of weird tricks from him too. He had rad style. He was always doing different tricks than everyone else, which, to me, was something that I appreciated. At the time, people were turning their nose up at smith grinds and feeble grinds. You had all the fresh dudes with baggy pants and small wheels skating with backpacks on. They’d skate really slowly with their little tiny wheels. Ed was riding 58mm wheels and doing really fast smith grinds on flat bars really long. I looked at that and went, “He doesn’t care. He’s going to skate the way that he wants to and why shouldn’t he?” We can all learn a lot from that. It comes back to that leadership side of it. If you’re just going to follow everyone else or wait for someone to do the latest hottest trick, that’s not progression. There was six months when every guy in the world was doing a backside 360 ollie. Even though that trick has been around for a long time, it’s hot shit right now. Six months later, it’s on to the next trick. I have to say that I get a kick out of it now. I see it for what it is. I look at it and go, “Where is the progression in that?” If I want to see a guy doing a backside 360 ollie down a triple set, I want to see them turn the 360 at the last minute. I want to see them do the trick in a way that no one else can do it. Show me something special. Don’t just copy what you see from everyone else and think that that’s progression. I see a lot of younger dudes that are going that route. I wish they’d just try some new directions with street skating. I was fortunate enough to grow up with a guy that started skating in 1972 and he’s 10 years older than me and he rode for Z Skates in England. He was the only guy outside of the United States that rode for Z. He schooled me early on about Jay Adams, Tony Alva and yourself, and what you guys did and what that meant to skateboarding. This was at a time when all my friends around me were into hip hop. I was standing there going, “Look at Jay Adams!” I would look at a picture of him and go, “Look at that aggression. Look at that style. Look at the way he’s leaning back as he’s grinding.” He looked like he was looking at the sky. He didn’t even know where he was going and he didn’t care.” I looked at that and went, “Yeah!” If you’re going to hit the streets, hit it with new tricks and take some of that with you. If you’re grinding concrete and ripping steel to pieces, why not have fun doing it?

Yeah. From my perspective, I would look at magazines and video parts with my kid, due to his fascination and passion for it. There was a time when we were in San Francisco and he was with some of his friends, they were little kids, and we were over at Embarcadero and we saw you and Arto. You guys were just cruising around and it was pretty late at night and you were checking out some really heavy rail or a set of stairs. I was like, “These dudes are truly committed. That is gnarly to me.” It was a pretty gnarly thing. I said hello and you guys were just doing your thing. I was like, “These guys are just committed beyond belief.” It was the same as any progression I’ve seen in skateboarding. I was like, “These dudes are gnarly.” It seemed as though you guys were taking it to another level.
Again, I think some of that came from skating with Ed a lot. Ed was a guy that always skated. In that period, not everybody was focused on that. If you look through the history of time in skateboarding, you see that when guys were on fire, they weren’t necessarily skating their best when they were doing the most drugs. They were skating the best when they were focused on skateboarding. There was a period when they would do whatever it took to get that trick, and, by that, I don’t mean that they’d turn their nose up at everyone around them and go, “Check this out. I’m going to do this. I don’t care. This is what I’m all about.” It was like, “I’m going to do this because it needs to be done.” That’s drive. It can sometimes be mistaken for being extremely serious or maybe taking skateboarding a little bit too seriously. At that time, I was probably 23 years old and Arto was probably 18. We were looking to find stuff because we wanted to do stuff that we knew we could do but we just didn’t know where we could do it. You have to search spots. I do it all the time. I’m constantly climbing on buildings and roofs and looking at things differently and going, “How can I find something to continue to make this interesting to me?” The side of skateboarding that I like is finding spots. I seek out a spot and go, “No one looked at it like that. I can skate that. No one skated anything like that.” That motivates me to want to go back and hit it because no one has grinded it or no one has gone across that gap. No one has skated that particular obstacle in that particular way, and then I move on from that. When I’m filming videos, I’m always trying to find new spots. It’s not so I can do a trick that someone else has done, but so that I can continue to progress for me.

What about the Vans video you’ve been filming for?
This Vans video is basically that. This is the first video, since I saw you in San Francisco years ago, where I haven’t really been as involved with the production as I was on all those Flip videos, so I get to sit back. I get to go out and film with Greg Hunt who is the best filmer and the raddest dude to hang out with and I get to smile and I get to have the same result. I’m the luckiest dude in the world right now. I get the best filmer and I ride for the raddest shoe company that supports me and I can go ahead and finally feel comfortable skating the way that I always wanted to try to skate. Now, because I have the ability to go out and film with Greg Hunt anytime that I need to and want to, that’s motivating. I know if I go out and get something, it’s going to be documented by the best in the business. I’ve had a lot of fun filming this video. My personal standard that I set with those Flip videos is always going to be there, but now I enjoy the process a lot more. Whether I like it or not, I’m going to finish a video part and go, “I suck.” Most of us do that and go, “Oh, man, I suck.” The video comes out and you think your part sucks and you think the stuff that you did sucks, but if you remember back to each and every one of those days, it gives you a clearer perspective on it and maybe you can have a little bit of respect for yourself too. You can recognize the small goals of getting one new trick and celebrating that. Why not?

I know exactly what you’re saying.
Yeah. I’m enjoying it.

Did you start Flip when you came over from England at 18?
I did not. It was started in the United States by Jeremy Fox and Ian Deacon. I flew over with Jeremy and Ian on July 2nd, 1994. Ian stayed for two or three weeks and then went home, and then it was just Jeremy and I. I didn’t have any ownership in Flip at that time. That came later in 2001, due in part to my heavy involvement with the team, videos and graphics.

Who did you first get sponsored by when you came to the States?
Well, I was riding for Flip, but there were no boards when we came over. Jeremy and Ian came over to start Flip with borrowed money from their close friends and had arranged distribution through Birdhouse Distribution (later Blitz Distribution). I was there from ground zero, driving around everywhere with Jeremy, and trying to figure out the first graphics, the logos and the print ads and all that stuff. I saw the company be re-launched over here and it wasn’t easy. A lot of people were turning their nose up at this European skate company coming to the United States. No one had ever tried to do that before. We were from England, but we recognized that the center of this industry is in Southern California and we wanted to be a part of that because we loved it. That’s the way I looked at it. I love this country and once I was comfortable living in a foreign country, and being away from family, I realized that this is somewhere that I want to stay for the rest of my life. I’ve got a lot of pride for the United States. I love the country. It’s a beautiful country. I don’t like all the laws and I don’t like a lot of silly things, but I don’t like a lot of silly things in other places also. Home is where your heart is. We’ve got some of the most beautiful public land and some of the most scenic country in the Southwest United States. Now I’m an American citizen. I was brought up respecting the ground you live on, and I did strive to integrate from day one. Hopefully, people will see it for what it was, which is some skaters and some people that always dreamed of making it in the States and wanted to succeed and also wanted to respect where the core and the birth of the industry is from. Once people accepted that we weren’t going to go anywhere, things started to pick up. Tom Penny really helped with his ballistic skateboarding. He was faster to adjust than myself. Although I got the cover of Transworld after two weeks of being in the U.S., it freaked me out. I saw it and I was like, “Why would you put this little kid that nobody knows from England on the cover of the raddest magazine in the world? You’re blowing it.” I remember going into Lucky’s supermarket, which doesn’t exist anymore, and looking at the newsstand and thinking, “There is something wrong. They made a big mistake. They’re going to take all the mags back.” [Laughs]

[Laughs] Right.
It just didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel like I deserved that. It felt disrespectful to all of the gnarly dudes that I looked up to. It freaked me out for a little bit, but I slowly figured it out. I should thank Dave Swift for doing that for me. He gave me a kick up the ass after two weeks in the country. [Laughs]

With getting that cover, did it motivate you to throw down even harder?
I was never exposed to American skateboarding or the heart of the industry or any of the mags before that time. I didn’t know any pros over here. I didn’t know any of the company owners. I was being flowed gear from Gullwing Trucks and they were always super cool to me. Ian Deacon hooked that up through his friendship with Randy Janson. They would ship me trucks from the U.S. to England. I didn’t really know anybody. I went skating and I shot that picture with Dave Swift, which was a 360 kickflip. It was down a bigger flight of stairs, like a 13-stair, where everyone skated the handrail. I remember he took me there and Alphonzo Rawls was at the spot. I remember him saying to me, “You could ride for any board company doing stuff like that.” I remember sitting there and going, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I didn’t feel like, “Oh, man, now I have to perform at this level to get in the mags.” I actually had no idea what was going on. I was like a fly on the wall. I was the fly and I was on the wall.

You were also doing something that you loved, no?
Yeah, but I was also freaked out. I thought everyone does this. I’d seen that stuff in the mags. I thought, “Don’t guys do this every day?” I remember doing it like five times. I was like, “What’s going on? I have no idea what you’re talking about. What do you mean guys spend four hours just to get a sequence in a mag? I don’t get that. I don’t know what you mean. They do it all day long. I watch it in the videos.” With certain dudes, they did do that stuff all day long. Danny Way and Tony Hawk and Lance Mountain did that stuff all day long, but I didn’t even know those guys then. I was just freaked out. How do you feel about that? Do you remember the first coverage you got in the mags and the first time you got a cover or someone said, “Let me give you a free t-shirt or a free sticker?”

Yeah. I was blown away. I was like, “Whoa. This is amazing.” I washed dishes when I was 13 because there was a skateboard at some bicycle shop and I thought, “I can work and make the money and get that skateboard.” My parents weren’t going to spend money on a skateboard. They were like, “Build your own.” Then I got the skateboard and I was like, “This thing is a piece of shit.” I worked my ass off to get the money to get this skateboard and then I ended up making my own board. Back then we had to make a lot of our own stuff to ride.
I made a few boards, but I never pressed them. Did you press them yourself?

I made some ghetto ass presses, but I had an older brother that was a craftsman. He was the kind of guy that got into it, so he would school me on what I was doing wrong. In my time, that’s just how it was in the States. They had shop classes in high school and junior high school where you had to do a wood shop, metal shop, plastics shop and drafting. It was more trade-oriented.
Do they make kids do that anymore?

No. It’s so sad.
They just hand them a laptop or an iPad and say, “If you have any questions, just Google it.” Is that what they do now?

I’m not sure because I’m well past that, but it seems that way. Getting your first free stuff is amazing. When I got paid to skateboard, I was like, “This is insane.” I wasn’t skateboarding to get paid.
Yeah. It’s a great feeling.

It was a wild time back then. Things were changing. Every day there was a new product coming out. It was out of control.
What year did you start skating?

I started skating in 1966 on metal wheels. It was amazing because you could just try to hold on for dear life going down the hill.
It’s like a combination of skiing, skateboarding, surfing and concrete sliding, possibly sideways. When they brought out the first urethane wheels, was that a heavy transition?

It was one of the raddest things that ever happened as a skateboarder or a surfer.
It must have felt super smooth.

Yeah. All of a sudden, you have tires on your wheels that roll a thousand times smoother and also had some kind of traction to where you could put a little dig into your turn and your wheels weren’t going to slide out. It was mind blowing.
Do you think we’ll see anything like that in the future? Do you think we’ll see newer products taking out the older versions? I mean, in the late ‘90s, people were riding extremely little skinny wheels with wide trucks and wide boards with no noses and wide tails and Everslick on the bottom. Now we’re riding popsicles and all of these weird retro shapes with slimmer trucks and slightly wider and bigger wheels than the ‘90s. I’d like to see someone come from left field that is so damn good at skateboarding that what they’re riding is something that they couldn’t be doing those tricks on without that particular board. I’d like to see guys like that pop up. That’s why I liked to see Ed Templeton riding those 58mm wheels in the late ‘90s, He was starting to ride bigger wheels again before a lot of people.

What was his theory behind the bigger wheels? Was it to roll faster?
He wanted to roll and skate faster. I remember that because he never cared what other people were doing. He only cared about how he wanted to skate and what he wanted to ride. He acted like a little kid about it, and yet he wasn’t a little kid. I love that about Ed, he’s timeless.

I always wonder if there is going to be a break-through revolution.
It’s going to come from the board. It’s going to start with the board.

It’s got to start somewhere. One thing about Santa Cruz is that it seems like they’re always trying to push product development.
Yeah. Santa Cruz has always been at the forefront of product development when it comes to skateboards, wheels and trucks. They’ve introduced a lot of new stuff to skateboard technology that has become standard over the years. You’re probably laughing at all these weird shapes that are popping up over the last year. All of a sudden, every kid wants to ride a board that looks like yours from 1992. Everyone out there now wants to ride an old Alva Dave Duncan shape, or something like that. That’s what it looks like to me. I go to a skatepark and look at the boards and they look like Tom Knox Santa Cruz boards. I look at the next guy and he’s riding what looks like a Mike Vallely double kick board. I look at the next dude and he’s riding something that looks like a Steve Schneer board. Everyone is riding some weird shape and it’s not new. I see that and go, “Did we change our board shapes because we thought we could make them better? Now we’re going backwards a little bit.” It almost seems a little gimmicky to me. That’s why I say that I hope someone pops up that helps take our industry and skateboards to the next chapter.

It’s inevitable that something has to happen like that. What it is, who knows? What shocked me, in kind of a consumer way, were the Penny boards.
Yeah. That came out of left field.

Yeah. I was like, “Okay, I get it.” It makes the kid that’s not a skateboarder able to transport himself from point A to B.
I saw that happening. I live in Long Beach and there are a lot of colleges and schools and there are a lot of kids skating the streets around here. I saw that craze years before anyone was starting to sell any real volume on those plastic skateboards. All of a sudden, I started seeing kids dressing like late ‘80s surfers. They were wearing slightly shorter shorts and wearing the bleached hair combed to the side and the button-up shirts where you button up your top collar and they were all wearing Vans. They were all skating around on these little boards and I’m like, “It came from surf.” It was a re-invention or a re-interest in that surf lifestyle and that transitioned into sidewalk surfing again. I watched it happen. I was like, “We should make a knock-off board like that.” I wasn’t thinking of a cheap plastic board. I was thinking a small handy skateboard that we can all use, not just these plastic boards that kids are picking up because they’re thinking that they are new. The reason people stopped riding plastic skateboards was because they were junk. They really were. Try to ride one of those things. They’re dangerous. You’ll get hurt on them. It was kind of amusing to watch that happen and see everyone freak out. It was kind of funny to watch everyone that owned one of the top boards brands that weren’t able to capitalize on how quickly that all happened. I don’t like to see that happen because we don’t want anyone from outside of the industry coming inside the industry and benefitting hugely and not putting anything into promoting amateur skateboarding and promoting the industry as it stands. That’s always a tough one when someone comes in and takes and walks away, so I don’t like seeing that happen. In the same light, what are we doing as a skate industry if we can’t see that coming before anyone else? What are we thinking? Are we thinking about our checkbook? Are we trying to make more money each month, so we’re not looking at the bigger picture or what’s happening at this particular moment? I saw it as a wake-up call for everybody somewhat. It was weird.

It makes perfect sense. How many of those people that grabbed those weird little plastic boards are going to transition into the next level of skateboarding?
I don’t know. I think some of those guys transitioned into all of those weird retro shapes and the bigger boards. They went from the small cruiser plastic skateboards they were riding into a wooden cruiser board and then they started riding those weird shapes. I see some of those same kids with the same kind of style and it appears to have evolved into a street skating style versus a straight surf-influenced style. I looked at what they were riding and I go, “Whoa.” I’ve been skating for a little while now and if you want to ride forwards and backwards and utilize your board in ways that none of us have seen before then you need the product to be able to do that. I don’t know if all of these gimmicky shapes are necessarily going to progress skateboarding in the long run. In the same light, I’m just focused on skateboarding. In the majority of my footage in the Vans video, I’m riding big OJ filming wheels just because I can’t be bothered to push anymore. I just want to drop in and roll down the hill and go faster than when I took off without pushing, even when I’m skating street. I just ride whatever will make the job easier. If I have to ride a 9-inch board because I’m only doing a 50-50 and riding a 9-inch board will make it more stable, then I ride bigger boards and filming wheels. I still ride Stage 7 Indys from the early ‘90s. I have been riding Stage 7s since 2005 because I don’t like the way that modern trucks turn. It’s a problem when you have a whole pick up truck full of shrapnel of old Indy hangers, baseplates, kingpins, bushings, washers and bolts. Right now I have a set of Stage 7 blue anodized Indys. I don’t know whose they were. They could have been Eric Koston’s from the early ‘90s and they found their way to me. I like slow turning trucks on street. I like it when you go slow and your trucks don’t turn that much, but when you go fast, the faster you go, the smoother and longer turns you can make. I find that they work better for street skating if you like to skate fast. It doesn’t work as well if you just want to skate a ledge or do a flip trick and slide six inches on the ledge or three feet on the ledge. Then you might as well get a tiny board with tiny trucks and small wheels. That’s not the way I skate. I don’t like to learn a trick unless I can almost do it forever. I like to try to master the trick. If I don’t master it, I just move on and try to find something else that I want to learn to do. I wish they would make some Indy classics. Please beg Bob Denike and those guys to make them. I have been praying that would happen because it’s getting tough to find those old trucks now. It’s extremely tough.

That’s your preference, the older trucks.
That’s all I’ve been skating for the last ten years, vintage Indys. Is that crazy?

No. It’s preference.
It’s a pain in the ass. That’s what it is. Every time I break a hanger I’m freaking out and I’ve got my toolbox open in the back of my pick up truck and everything on the floor and I’m looking through it going, “Oh, man, I hope I can find something else that matches up and works and isn’t broken.” It’s my thing. I like those old smooth turning Indys. I use the old bushings that came originally in those trucks. A lot of times they’re now hardened and don’t really turn anymore. It makes for some interesting skating on occasion.

Let me ask you about injuries within street skating and going big? It must take a toll on your body.
Yeah. It’s a legacy of brutality. The longer you do it, the more damage you’re doing to your body. Skateboarding is hardly strength-building and when it is strength-building, it’s in a way that is going to offset you. Meaning if you go back into normal society and put your skateboard in the cupboard or hang it on the wall above your mantelpiece and you walk down the street, you’re going to be lopsided. You’re going to have one leg that is really big from leaning over and one leg that’s really skinny from doing all the pushing, but isn’t really getting any strength because your body weight is all going on your front leg and then it compounds your knee joint and your ankle joint and you then break that ankle and bust that knee up and it changes all your dynamics. Street skating is extremely physically brutal on your body. I’ve had a fair amount of injuries and a fair amount of slams. I’ve had four surgeries during the filming of this particular Vans video. Two of those were from a car accident. I had to have injections into my neck cavity because I have bone spurs on the base of my neck from such extreme whiplash. It was miserable. I’ve had to have two of those, which are just injections, but they have to put you under. I’ve had ankle surgery and knee surgery, during the filming for this video. I’ve also had a lacerated kidney and I had extremely bad internal bleeding. That’s what it took for me to film the Vans video. It’s extremely physically demanding. You’re going bigger and heavier and faster when you’re talking about street skating. You fall and it’s like a motorcycle accident. You’re going 25 MPH with no pads and you might be coming from 15 foot in the air and your momentum is going 20 feet forward before you even hit the ground. If you’re not in shape, the more you get beaten up. I’m fortunate that I’m not the tallest dude. I’m a little bit stumpy. I have a longer torso and short legs and my feet look like hobbit feet. They’re built to stay up straight without all that additional weight. I’m fortunate that my build has kind of helped me get away with murder. As time goes by, you have to be stronger, you have to be harder and you have to be faster. That’s what I fear with getting older. You don’t speed up as you get older. You slow down. You don’t heal as quick. You don’t jump as fast. All of a sudden, you hit the brick wall and you’re like, “I didn’t even see the brick wall.” I hit it and I didn’t even see it. Six months earlier, maybe you caught a glimpse of it before you smashed into it. Now I go to walk out of the room and I walk into the side of the wall and I don’t even know that I banged it. We’re definitely going to be seeing the effects of all this heavy street skating. I think my generation is going to be one of the first ones where you’re going to see what it’s really going to do to people.

How long have you been shooting for the Vans video?
It’s been like four years. I’ve had a lot of injuries. If you throw in those four surgeries, two of them were between eight and ten months of being out. If you take out all the injury time, it’s been like a year that I’ve been skating for this video. It feels like I’ve been skating every single day, but that isn’t the case. With those bigger videos, every single trick is gnarly. Well, not every single trick is that tough because some of the technical tricks aren’t as physically demanding, but as you know, some of the technical tricks and the little things are what you sometimes get hurt on.

What else do you do besides skateboarding?
In order to keep moving, I have to stay in good shape. I was never the guy after surgery that was in the gym sweating with the headband on. I was that guy that was like, “How can I train quicker and faster and get back on my board?” I don’t want to build strength in my arms and I don’t want to build big ass legs because then those big ass legs have to carry this body. Those big ass legs put weight on my knees and my ankles. I went, “You don’t need to build any muscle. What you need to build is strength.” You need fast movement that’s sustainable. I don’t know if you saw that Epicly Later’d, that I had that Patrick O’Dell filmed. I cycled from the Grand Canyon to Monument Valley in a couple of days, and it’s over 200 miles. I did that to show people that this is how I get in shape and recover from surgery. Get on your bike and then go quick because it’ll build that lung stamina fast. If you haven’t been skating for 12 months, and you try to go out and skate, you feel like you’re going to die. You feel like you’re going to puke. You’re in a cold sweat and then you get hot and you have to lie down in the grass and then you puke because you’re not used to that extremely physical pounding. I have to go out and do quick short ten-day long bike journeys, so I can breathe again. Then I stop doing a lot of that quicker bike training and started hunting a lot. I always liked hunting and I grew up with a friend that is a Game Warden. Instead of going into the gym, I go hunting in the mountains twice a week, pretty much year round. I’m in high elevation up in the hills with a big pack on my back. I’ve found that’s the best way to build mental and physical strength that’s sustainable.

How much weight is the pack?
The pack weight depends. If I pack out with an animal, it’s a heck of a lot more weight, up to 100 pounds. It can be extremely easy or it can be a physically demanding thing where you’re wondering whether your sanity is intact. There have been times where I have been at 10,000 feet elevation in snow up to my chest walking for ten yards and then stopping and letting my friend go past and doing that for hours, so that we can get to the particular animal. You can’t build that kind of core strength in the gym. That’s how I stay in shape now. I go hunt. I’m happy doing it. I get to spend time away from the smog in Southern California and I get to look across at L.A. from the highest mountain in Southern California when people are just getting out of their beds and I’m already two hours away from the highway. It keeps me sane and it keeps me happy. More importantly, it keeps me healthy. I still drink and have my fun. I’m not that guy that has spandex on and is that serious about his training. I decided to just do it naturally. I skate better. I can skate longer now at 38 years old than when I was 28 years old. It’s not because I’m necessarily stronger. I’m stronger mentally, but physically I’m just doing the right stuff. I’m not spinning my wheels and I’m not paying anyone to train me either. I’m training myself. It’s all core strength and breathing and legwork, and that’s what we do when we skate. A lot of the younger dudes I see now have broken legs, broken ankles, broken wrists and broken arms. All of the guys that you see doing Street League and the guys that are getting in the mags, they’re all constantly getting surgeries. When I was growing up, not every single one of my friends was getting surgery and all of them were going for it in their own way. That tells you how physically destructive the bigger side of street skating is going. I think we’re seeing a lot of guys looking at that now and going, “Well, that’s not the only side to it. Why does all the craziest stuff have to be physically demanding? Why does it have to be down 30 stairs and 20 foot across? Why does that have to be the progressive side of skateboarding? Why can’t it be spinning on a fire hydrant or doing a streetplant on a fire hydrant.” I’m looking forward to the next generation and looking forward to the kid that is going to pop up from Alaska or somewhere like that so far North or so far South that we didn’t see it coming. I can’t wait for that kid to pop up and help us really progress street skating a little more. I always loved Eric Dressen for that. I was super inspired by Dressen because, as I said, my best friend really loved that whole era and the era of you and Alva and Jay Adams. If you were a Dogtown fan, or you were a fan of Venice and Santa Monica, it was Eric Dressen. He’d been skating for a long time and he had that style of the older generation, but he was doing newer tricks. He was a street skater, but he was also really good on ramps and he could skate vert. He had a good style and he had good aggression too. I get stoked on seeing guys like that. Anthony Van Engelen reminds me of that. I know that Anthony has been skating better than he’s ever skated and his Vans video part is going to be the best video part he has had so far.

Oh really?
Yeah. I’m excited to see that. His part is the part that I want to watch in the Vans video because I know that he’s skating the way that he always wanted to skate. He’s at that age where he’s been able to document four years of street skating and film a lot of stuff and then replace it with stuff that he’s happy with. I look forward to seeing that.

It seems to me as though skateboarding is still young. We’re still skating in our 50’s and it’s still as much fun. With you cats coming up and everyone getting older, the rules have not been set yet.
I agree.

Within the time frame of when I was coming up, you could skateboard until you were 25 and then you had to move on. Now you can skateboard until you’re 40 or 50 or 60. It’s inevitable that you will skate until you can’t, if you really love it.
That is true. That’s when you look at the kids and think, “Please reinvent the wheel. Please bring that forward and keep progressing skateboarding.” Some of what we’re seeing now, I don’t think that’s going to necessarily be what it is. I think a lot of those weird shapes that we’re seeing now and a lot of those younger brands and things are going to go away. I have nothing but support for a young guy starting his own company and doing what he wants to do, but there is always the progressive side to it too. You have guys that started companies that have now been around for a long time. Some of those guys that run those companies are still considered to be the best skateboarders in the world, like Eric Koston, Andrew Reynolds, and those kinds of guys. They came out of nowhere. They came from smaller towns and they changed skateboarding and they were super progressive. The brands that they’re involved with have changed skateboarding. I just want to see that. I want to see whomever benefits from it directly put some of that back in so that we can all keep it growing.

I think it’s going the opposite direction.
Yeah. You can swipe out that last answer and just replace it with a question mark.

[Laughs] What was your day like when you were a kid? Did you skate all day every day 12 hours a day?
Let’s say, on a Saturday, I would be at a friend’s house by 8:30 AM on the dot. We would take a bus into the city at 8:42 AM. We’d get our skate gear together and put on some high top Vans and some bright Bermuda shorts and a Santa Cruz Speed Wheels shirt or OJ shirt and we’d take the bus into the city. We’d go to the skate shop first because that was on the way to the skate spot. We’d get off the bus in town and skate down the hill to the skate shop and see if any of our friends happened to come in. A lot of guys would meet at the skate shop in the morning and then everyone would go skate different parts of the city. We’d see guys that we’d never met before but they skated so you could skate with them. That was when I started to meet people from different sides of the city, and not just people that lived in my area or went to my school. I’d meet guys from the other side of the city that were just as motivated and wanted to skate just as much as I did. We’d go skate all day long. We’d eat the worst junk food and then take the bus back home in the afternoon at 3 or 4 o’clock, eat dinner and then take a bus or skate to the local council estates or up to one of these schools where we’d skate these banks and we’d skate there all night until it went dark. When I first started skating, any time I wasn’t in school, that is pretty much what I would do every day, if I could afford the bus fare.

It was just skate.
Skate. Skate. Skate. Absolutely. When I was growing up I played a lot of sports like football. I played soccer for my school and I played soccer for a Sunday team. I played cricket and I ran, so I was pretty active. When I started skating, I had to transition out of playing soccer on Sunday morning because I would rather have gone skating. I realized, “Why are you doing this? You should just be going skating.” I’d go skating and I’d be wearing soccer shorts and football socks with a Liverpool football jersey with Vans shoes on. There’s probably old video footage of me in a full-length soccer kit with skate shoes on. Once I transitioned out, I pretty much just skated. Like anyone at that age, you start experimenting during that time. Growing up in England, when I did, we didn’t have to wait to get to age 16 and say, “Oh, I want to get drunk now.” I grew up being around that. I was going into pubs and bars from since I was old enough to move. A pub in England is a social place. You can bring your kids there as long as your adult is there. I would go to football games with my father. He would play football and then go to the pub with the whole team, just having won the game or lost the game, and drink beer for two or three hours before they’d go back to their wives. Some of them would continue on and drink all night until the next day. I have memories of that from when I was six years old on. I remember having my first beers when I was 12. I remember smoking a cigarette when I was nine. I smoked weed when I was 12. I did acid a few times when I was 14 or 15 years old. I was drinking from age 12, on and off. When you’re 12, you’re not sitting there drinking four bottles of wine. You drink whatever you can get and then you puke on the floor or you projectile puke in the air while you’re skating down the street. You’re not a professional drinker, at that point. I was exposed to that at an early age, so when I moved to the U.S., I didn’t drink for like three years. That wasn’t because I didn’t like drinking. I just couldn’t buy a drink because I wasn’t old enough to walk into a store and buy it. I ended up meeting a girl when I was 19 and she didn’t drink, so I didn’t drink for the few years that I was with her. When we split up, I started drinking again. In England, you’re exposed to it from a younger age and you don’t have any hang-ups about it. It’s comfortable and accepted.

What is your preference of a drink?
I like beer and I like wine. I can’t really drink liquor anymore because I’m a professional athlete, I say that with a really big smile. Now I can’t drink hard liquor all night and then go out and try to go film. I don’t want to waste Greg Hunt’s day or the photographer’s day by showing up at 38 years old hung-over at the skate spot. I don’t care to do that anymore. I have a son and he’s almost four and I have a beautiful partner that I’m thankful for. I just don’t have the energy for it. Even though I do drink fairly regularly, I can’t really drink hard liquor anymore. It locks up my muscles and I end up skating like crap. I enjoy going out and having a good time skating and I can’t do that with all these injuries I’ve had with my ankles and knees and everything. It takes all the fun out of it. What’s the point in going skating when your face looks like a scrunched up ball of pain?

What about when you go out and you conquer something like you did at the Staples Center? What kind of personal satisfaction is involved with that?
It’s seek and conquer. I saw that spot at the Staples Center, driving along the highway. This was when they were building that building and they were renovating a lot of the buildings around it. The streets were all derelict, so you could go check that stuff out a lot easier. Now there are security guards absolutely everywhere. I remember going there and looking at it and going, “If I start here, I know I can go 12 feet and land right there. If I come here and ollie from here and land right here, everything is fine. If I land one foot earlier, I’m not going to get on top of it. I’m going to slam and it’s going to be awful. If I go past it, I’m going to die. It was one of those things where I knew I had to go as fast as I could push and ollie as high as I could ollie. At that time, I was shooting a lot of photographs with Daniel Harold Sturt. I love Dan Sturt. He’s my favorite photographer and one of my favorite humans in the whole wide world.

I’m very good friends with Dan.
He’s the raddest dude. Dan has always told me exactly how it is. He doesn’t sugar coat anything. He was one of the first guys to say, “If you keep doing this, you’re going to be crippled like this guy, this guy and this guy, people I thought were invincible. Watch it.” I was like 20 then. I was going shooting with him and he was like, “You’re going to be crippled.” Years later, I’m calling him and saying, “Hey, Dan, remember that time you told me that if I kept going that something was going to break? Well, it finally broke.” To this day, I appreciate Dan for how genuine and honest and straight-forward he is, I wouldn’t have changed any of it with that dude. I felt confident when I was going out shooting with him. If I shot with Dan Sturt, I would have bigger balls and I could do anything. I would call and say, “Meet me here. We’re going to shoot this thing.” We got to the spot and I remember Dan looking at it and going, “Are you going to hit that?” I’d said, “Yeah. I’m going to hit it right here and land right there. That’s what I’m going to do.” I remember going back to skate that spot and I could see the tops of the buildings as I was riding, but there was no perspective. As you landed at the bottom of the stairs back then, there was nothing in front of you. It was like a wasteland. If you look at it now, you have more of a perspective. Back then you had no perspective. I remember going, “This is bigger than anything I’ve ever skated. When I hit that and made the trick, I remember thinking, “Well, if I did a 50-50 like that, I wonder if I can do a frontside board slide on this other chest high ledge, so I started to knock off the tricks I was really confident with and I tried to do them as big as I could possibly do them. That’s it. I didn’t want to do them again. I wasn’t going to do a straight 50-50 down a big ledge, even if it was bigger. It was the same thing. I already did it. I don’t need to add an extra three inches onto that to feel good. That was just a matter of looking at some spot and going, “It’s a little higher than what I can ollie, but I know if I go back enough, I’ll land on the ledge.” That brings us back to when we were talking about spots that people look at as unskateable. It just looks too outrageous; whether it’s so high that no one could ever ollie onto it or it’s so steep that no one could ever roll away at the bottom. Those are the spots that I look at and go, “Well, what if someone just tried it?” Thanks to guys like Mark Gonzales, John Cardiel, yourself and Tony Alva, and everyone that showed us that, unless you make the decision to go ahead and try to do it, you’re just doing the same as everybody else.

Yeah. That is boring.
Yeah. So are you going to come to the premiere of the Vans video?

Yeah. When is it? Is the video done?
They’re looking for an L.A. location right now.

Good. Keep me posted when the video comes out and I will show up for sure.
I will. This has been cool, Steve. I appreciate it. I’m glad that we did this. It’s good. Thank you.

 

Check out the trailer for the Vans Propeller video, which debuted in April 2015, and download it now at http://www.vans.com/propeller.html

FOR THE REST OF THE STORY, ORDER ISSUE #73 AT THE JUICE SHOP…

 

GEOFFROWLEY1-2

[Update] Since this interview appeared in March 2015, Geoff Rowley left Flip Skateboards. In October 2015, he made this announcement regarding his departure… “I am proud to have been riding for Flip Skateboards for over 20 years, enjoying many years of success and good times. But, as a rider the time has come for me to part ways with the brand. I have nothing but love for the team, past and present, and wish all continued success for Flip. Exciting new opportunities will allow me to be utilized to my fullest potential, and I’ll be divulging more in the coming months on the positive change for the future.”

We’d like to wish Geoff great success into the future. Thanks for reading!

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