Geoff Rowley

I think I first discovered Geoff Rowley when I was about 12 on a VHS of Flip Sorry I borrowed from a friend. I don’t know how many times I watched that part and I never thought I would have a chance to meet him, let alone interview him. Geoff is a legend and a total warrior. In the many video parts he’s released I’ve never seen anyone take a slam like him, get up straight away and get his trick next try.

Of all the incredible parts in Propeller, I think his was my favourite. Style doesn’t change, so his skateboarding was instantly recognisable to me, just solid and fast. That’s not to say things were easy for Geoff this time around though, he took some heavy slams and dealt with some very serious injuries. I wanted to find out about what really happened and how it affected his video part, if at all.

In the presence of a legend it’s easy to lose your shit, and on the London premier of Vans Propeller the legends were indeed everywhere. Sitting down with Geoff was a defining moment for me. I was nervous to say the least, but as soon as I heard that accent, I knew it would be fine. Geoff is incredibly humble and wise, when he speaks you can’t help but be captivated by what he is saying – he shared a few stories with me here, but I’m sure he has many more.

Let’s start with something I’ve wanted to know for years. Where did that mountain lion in Flip, Extremely Sorry come from?

That was a trained mountain lion from my friend that lives up in the San Bernardino mountains about 70 miles east from where I live in Longbeach. There’s a guy that lives up there in the mountains training different animals for the movie industry. He trains black bears, grizzly bears, tigers, african lions, he had two mountain lions and a couple of other different, crazy animals. We hired him for a Vans shoot for the snowboard team. I have a cabin up there where I go to hunt, so Vans used my place to shoot their catalogue with all the snowboard team. They wanted to do something with trained animals right, because they had girls on the snowboard team so they thought it would be funny to like bounce that off it, in the mountains it would have looked kinda crazy, so I let them use my house to do it. 

It turned out the guy they used to train the animals lived like 10 miles from there, really handy. He had to come over and case the joint before the whole video shoot because it was gonna be 20 of their top snowboard team, all the guys and all the girls, photographers and filmers – a whole crew. When you’re dealing with grizzly bears and trained mountain lions and African lion cubs, you can’t mess around. If something goes wrong, or somebody moves at the wrong time – they’re gonna get really hurt. So I met him at his house and we drove to mine. First, what he didn’t tell me when we got there, I got out of the car, and walked him to the front door, he then walks back to the truck and opens the back seat and not on a chain, the mountain lion gets out. And he didn’t tell me he had it. Which is pretty nuts. I’d hunted them before that and seen what they can do. I’ve seen them hit dogs like 20 foot away, 6 foot off the ground with one little swipe. I’ve seen how fast they can damage a whole scene, literally like that, everything’s a mess, and they’re gone.

And so we went in the house with it, and it’s all over my house, just out, on my back like all over me, in my face and just pushing me down. Anyway, we ended up doing the shoot at my house days after and I said to him, ‘look, you can do the shoot here, under one condition; you give me five minutes with the grizzly bear and five minutes with the mountain lion. So I shot a picture with the grizzly bear that was used in a Vans ad, me stood in front of a grizzly bear. It’s about 8 and half feet, which is a good size, but that grizzly bear actually ended up killing someone two months later, one of the trainers doing routine training or warm-up to a new movie reel for the film industry. It turned round and bit one of the trainers.

Anyway, that mountain lion, I took it on my roof, and went up behind it, that’s what it was, it was a trained mountain lion but they didn’t actually use it in the catalogue. It was very skittish, still only two years old, so it was like the equivalent of an 18 year old dude, pretty much – it’s balls had just dropped! But that’s what that was, my house!

That’s pretty crazy…

I get into some weird stuff, I’ve seen some weird stuff.

So in the Vans movie, Propeller, some of the other guys filmed their parts over four or five years right, how long have you been filming your part for Propeller?

I filmed a few other things too; I did a Berrics Battle Commander, I did an Epicly later’d, and those things take time. The Epicly Later’d was like 3-4 months of travelling, and the Berrics thing that was three months. And then I had four surgeries during those four years. I had one slam that took me out, right close to deadline, for like 8 months, with really bad internal bleeding. And so you look at some of these a think ‘ohh, four years, wow, I could do that in 6 months’. But you’re filming with 15 dudes all over the whole world, with four filmers, you know, it’s hard. Everyone gets hurt or one dude gets hurt – you put the video out when it’s done, when you’ve already made that commitment. So, I guess I’ve been filming for two years, a year and a half for the video?

You had some pretty serious injuries. Could you tell me about that?

Yeah. All of us got injured. Trujillo had a hard time too, you know he had a couple of surgeries on his ankle that went really bad, he had some problems. And I had some surgeries early on, and then I had a space in the middle where I was starting to get some good stuff, but then I had a really bad internal bleeding slam.

"My whole back cavity was bleeding inside because it was a lacerated kidney, and it was right at the point where I was starting to get to that fitness level, that level where I was really trying to hit the spots hard and get stuff that I was stoked on, and then I got served. Bad."

You can’t mess around with that stuff.. If you jump around too much, it can start bleeding again, even six months later. So unfortunately, for the last year and half, I lost like 8 months, right up to deadline. That’s not normal for me. Usually I don’t have that problem right at deadline, I’m not a kid either, I can’t recover that fast, it takes me a minute to get back up to jump down 20 stairs or something. But it was actually kinda fun, because I filmed right up to deadline, and then just kept filming. I’ve got quite a lot of stuff that’s actually not gonna be in the video, that I filmed after because I’m still in filming mode, I can’t stop, I don’t know what to do so i’m just keeping filming as i’m in good shape. If that answers your question, you know, you hit it when you can, you make the most of it.

In the last part of your Epicly Later’d, you were in the desert and you said ‘I feel good, I feel like a baby’. Is that how you feel now?

Well yeah, that lasted for 6 months and then I got the worst slam ever, not far off dying. If I’d gone to sleep that night I wouldn’t have woken up. Luckily it was so uncomfortable I couldn’t sleep. But that’s skateboarding man, it’s no different for anyone else. it could have happened to an 18 year old kid.

You’re known for getting back up.

You don’t have a choice at that point. You’ve broken so many bones in your body you either sit down and shut up, or you get on with it. I’m fine with that.

Where did you get most of your shots for Propeller?

Most of my stuff is in Arizona, southern California, a little bit up in northern California, Sacramento, and then a little bit in England. That’s pretty much it I think, almost exclusively. I like those places to skate. I like Arizona because you don’t get kicked out, the other videos we filmed when we we’re hitting those handrails all in downtown, I don’t have time for that now, I just wanna be on my board. I don’t wait 2 hours to hit a spot for 10 minutes and then go back the next day and do that for a week straight, that’s not skateboarding to me man, not at this point anyway.

Sure, so you said you’ve got a lot of footage left over, when will we see that? What are you going to put that towards?

I’m working on another project but the stuff I filmed after Propeller won’t go in that. I’m gonna do something else. I don’t know yet.

You’ve got a new Vans apparel line coming out in a few weeks, could you tell me about that?

I started riding for Vans like a year and a half ago, before that I’d ridden for another clothing company for 18 years. I switched to Vans because I like working with the people at Vans and I have a really good history of working with the footwear side of design. I could see that it would be helpful for someone like myself, that had worked on apparel and footwear, to bridge that gap between apparel and footwear. It’s actually been really, really easy to work like that. I guess that’s what this apparel line is, it bridges the gap between the footwear and apparel more than we’ve done before. It’s not rocket science. We got some really good chinos in there, some decent printable tees and decent jackets, we’re not trying to change the world but hit the mark and give guys what they want you know. Next season we’re gonna hit denim, and try to make some good Vans denim finally.

You run Civilware as well, which is sick. It’s quite unusual for a pro skater to move into something different like that, what was the inspiration behind that, why did you start that?

I have one partner in that. Between him and I we run the whole business, every part of it. I started that because I’ve done a lot of design work over the years, I’ve designed a lot of different product and worked on a lot of different product from the manufacturing side all the way through to in the store on the wall or direct to consumers through retailers. So, I knew from being so heavily involved in the outdoor industry, I don’t know if you guys know I own an outfitting company too, we do guided hunts worldwide. Exclusive guiding hunts and my partner is one of the most phenomenal outdoor guides in the world, he’s absolutely just insanely talented on every level. He runs a search and rescue unit, in the mountain that we hunt in, and he’s also a guide and an outfitter. I hunt with him a lot. All the product was influenced by mountaineering, and we’re not out there mountaineering. We’re doing different stuff, we need different stuff.

I actually had an idea for a knife like 7 years before we started Civilware, that was the first knife we put out called the striker. That was actually a backup self defense knife for somebody that spends a lot of time out in the field. What it was designed to do was to cut and bleed, so if somebody attacks you in your house, or a big black bear or big animal happens to get close to you where you don’t have time to pull out a firearm, or you don’t have a firearm, or you’re camping with your family or something. There’s a lot of places in California where the law is just crazy, it’s just wrong. Like you can’t carry firearms in national parks, but they’re predator pits, there’s so many big animals there because nobody’s messing with them.

So I had a situation when I was mountain lion hunting, where I had two mountain lions run either side of me through the brush, I couldn’t see them and I didn’t have a gun with me that day, sometimes we just don’t carry guns, it depends on who’s gonna take the shot or we just do it for fun anyway. So as that situation happened, I had an idea for this knife because I literally had nothing, I put my hands in my pockets thinking fuck, this isn’t good. So I designed the knife for that, if something is on top of you, you pull it out and put it in, and you don’t have to do anything. You hold it, and it’s gonna cut and bleed. That’s your best form of defense against an animal that size that could cut you up quick. That’s it, I went down to San Diago to visit a friend of mine who makes knives. We made one sample and started using it in the field, gave it to my other friend. I liked it, so I started a company from that, for fun. I just do it on the side, but it’s doing really good, so we’re going to do more, new stuff like that.

When is your new shoe coming out?

The whole apparel line and these new shoes, come out June 13th, I think. These shoes were influenced by the original made in USA Vans. They’re not made in the USA anymore but I always liked to skate in the original made in the USA Era’s which are a lot different to the ones they put out now. If you look at the shape of the ankle, it actually comes up a bit higher, the eyelet spacing is a little different, there’s a lot more space. I think that just fits my feet good, I always skated good in those original made in the USA Era’s so I wanted to try to recreate that. The only way to do it was with this pattern and we put Duracap behind it so they last a little bit longer, I’m stoked on them. They’re rad, they’re great.

So I saw your new shoes on your Instagram, but as I looked through your other photos I noticed a lot of 35mm stuff. How long have you been shooting photos for?

Yeah, I’ve been shooting photos since 1995.

Did you shoot a lot of photographs during Propeller?

Yeah, quite a bit, mostly towards the end when we were filming some of the intro sequence and the end credits. That was a time when we were just having fun, and Greg didn’t actually want us to try and do any tricks. At the start of the video, which you guys haven’t seen yet, but you’re going to, he just wanted everyone to do what we would do anyway, just hanging out, cruising around, so I shot some pictures during those times. I mean I’ve always shot photographs with 35mm film, I’ve been shooting film photography since 1995, and I have photographs from every video and every person I’ve ever been around since 1995, I’ve just never shown anyone the pictures.

Where are they? Will we ever get to see them?

At home, all filed, all just ready to go. Maybe I’ll do a book or something like that, at some point, just to have it all under one place you know, just archival kind of thing.

That’s 20 years of photography there.

Yeah, there’s pictures of everybody. Every dude that you can think of: Ed Templeton; Jamie Thomas; Tom Penny; Andrew Reynolds; everybody. Some of them skating to, some little snippets here and there, but I enjoy it. I love it. I shoot digital too, I just don’t like it as much. i find that I shoot too many frames whereas film, I shoot 2 or 3 shots. I bracket it, I don’t use a light meter, I just gauge the light, know what film I have, just by eye. That’s how you learn, that’s how you figure it out. If you shoot similar film all the time you kind of learn it, you learn the ins and outs of what you can and can’t do with that particular film, whether you can push it or not, how far you can push it, but yeah it’s fun dude, I love it.

Alright cool, I guess we’ll wrap it up there Geoff, but thanks for taking the time to talk, it was great to meet you.

You’re welcome man.


Words: Will Sleigh

Photos: Tom Kirkby & Anthony Acosta

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