Among the many things that Liverpool is renowned for—namely, The Beatles, the slave trade, and its "Three Graces"—there is one that matters most in our world. And as Johnny Rotten said, “It’s a scouser on a skateboard.” Geoff Rowley’s loyalty and devotion to our culture is indisputable. Most admirably, his relationship with skateboarding is a reciprocal one: he believes he must give back to skateboarding what he has received, if not more. In this interview we spoke to the latest Battle Commander about an early friendship formed with Ed Templeton, drawing inspiration from the older generations, and the much-anticipated Vans video.
Photos by Yoon Sul
Interview by Stephen Cox
Let’s talk about your life growing up in Liverpool.
I started skating when I was about 12 or something. Prior to that I was pretty much into football. I played for the school team, I played for a Sunday team, I played cricket for the school. I was a fairly typical kid growing up in Liverpool, just a little scranner [laughs].
How accepted was skateboarding culture at that time in Liverpool?
It was not accepted at all and was virtually unknown. It was pretty underground. I knew what a skateboard was—I’d seen it around—but it wasn’t really until the ’80s where the boards really changed shape and it got really colorful that there was the first kind of explosion of skateboarding culture that I saw around. The only place that actually sold skateboards in Liverpool at that time was a record shop. It was called Probe Records. When I went in there for the first time they had two boards on the wall, a Skull Skates “Dead Guys” and a Toxic team model. I think they had two sets of wheels and two sets of trucks. They had no griptape and one set of bolts. That was my first memory of going into a skateshop [laughs]. I rode my first complete with no griptape for a month or so until Probe got some grip back in stock.
Why did you ask to ride for Lost Art a while back?
Mackey is an old friend of mine. We kind of grew up skating together, but he was from a different part of the city than I was. I’ve always liked the guy and got on really well with him. As time goes on you realize who is really in it for the long haul and who really cares. What Mackey has been doing—for as long as Lost Art has been around—he’s been trying to nurture a scene and bring everybody together. That’s something I grew up being around so whenever I go home he makes me comfortable like that. I really appreciate that. There wasn’t really any master plan or grand scheme other than I grew up in Liverpool. It’s a great scene and Mackey has a great shop and I want to support that. I’ve lived in The States since 1994 but I’ve also travelled back to England every single year, sometimes three or four times in one year. I love the city, I love the people, and I love the humor. That never goes away from you, no matter where you live. The respect for your hometown, I think everyone can relate to that.
How dramatically have things changed in skateboarding since you started, generally speaking?
Creatively, I think until recently there was a little bit of a lull in skateboarding. Things were getting too predictable, same marketing approaches, re-issue graphics, same experience for the paying customer. I’m getting stoked on some of the younger brands and what they are bringing to the table. It’s refreshing, and I welcome that with open arms.
What’s next in that respect?
We’re definitely in a period of change, I think in the next couple of years you’re going to see the people that are really in it for the long haul, sticking around and the sands of time turning in their favor. A little cleansing is never bad.
Back then you took a big chance moving to The States. How do you look at those times retrospectively while this far ahead?
It seems like a dream at this point. We didn’t really have anything else going on at that time. I’d just turned 18, all I wanted to do was to skate. I wanted to go to California because I’d never been. I grew up idolizing skaters like Danny Way and Matt Hensley. I wanted to see what it was like where they skated and feel what I saw in the videos. It’s definitely trippy to think about now. I was just a little kid watching these skating videos in England and now I’m a professional skateboarder living that dream, all the way out in California. I’ve been living that dream since 1994. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t really appreciate the opportunities that skateboarding has afforded me.
Is it easier nowadays for someone to make that move because of the more widespread coverage or is it harder because of THE standard of skating?
At that time in 1994 there weren’t really many guys who came from Europe, moved to The States, and made it big time here. There was a couple of guys like Steve Douglas and Bod Boyle who became professionals for big US board companies, but there definitely wasn’t an English or European brand doing well in the United States. I think we kind of opened up some doors in that respect. It went from, “Oh, it can’t work” to, “Oh, yes it can!” More importantly, if it’s done respectfully—if you live in someone’s area you don’t talk shit on someone’s town, the history of the town, or the people, even the food. You hold respect for that because you’re sleeping in the same space that they are. That’s the way I’ve always looked at it. I think we did break down some barriers.
Something that stood out to me was that you said everyone was so welcoming when you moved to California. Can you tell us about when you first met Ed Templeton?
I think when I first met him, he cycled over on a brown bike. The apartment we were living in was dark, and I remember seeing his eyes in the dark and they were bright white. He looked like he’d just murdered someone and buried them in the bushes or something [laughs]. Ed’s real character is a hell of a lot different from that; he’s got the right balance of twisted humor. I got on really well with him straight away. As soon as we started talking it was really obvious we’d be good friends. We were into similar music and were from a similar generation. I grew up being a fan of Ed Templeton and I had friends who really looked up to him. That was nice for me to find a friend who I saw eye-to-eye with in a foreign country after I’d just moved. I’ll be forever in debt to him for that. I wish he could go and skate right now. I’d be a lot more charged up if I could skate with Ed Templeton. I miss those day.
How long was the Battle Commander in the works for? How did it start up?
It’s been the last couple of months. The old Berrics warehouse was a little slippery for me, and that’s why I never really filmed there. Slippery floors drive me nuts! After checking the progress as the new park was being built, I found myself headed there on the regular and I really liked skating there. It was nowhere near as slippery. I filmed one line with the lights on and Chase Gabor got me fired up. I like filming with that dude. He lives down in Huntington Beach and takes the same commute through the hell LA traffic everyday to film and edit for The Berrics, totally dedicated. He’s really positive and motivating. It’s nice when you have someone who is really happy to be there, to meet you at 9 in the morning to film you, whether it’s really cold or really hot like it is right now. It took me a moment to get used to filming with the lights out. I hadn’t filmed like that in a while. I’m in the quiet warehouse, with the lights out; it’s been a while [laughs].
What does The Berrics provide for the fans and the skaters?
It’s hot off the press, that’s for sure. With the accessibility of the Internet, kids want to see things on a day-to-day or an hour-to-hour basis, and The Berrics is that outlet for this generation to see the hottest skate stuff. It’s a good thing. One of the coolest things about The Berrics are the Recruit video parts. The level of skating in the videos is insane, and as skaters, we are exposed to all the future dudes in real time. That’s one of the best parts about it—showcasing all the new dudes on the scene. That, and the Battle Commanders, of course. [Laughs]. Float your own boat.
You’ve had your fair share of horrible slams over the years. What keeps you going back for more?
I’m still driven. I’ve always said as soon as I stop progressing, then I’m done being a professional skateboarder. Since I’ve been a little kid, the only way for me to learn tricks was to fall. For some reason it’s the way I figure out how a trick works, by just throwing myself in the deep end. I think that gets rid of any fear very quickly. To the next guy, it looks like you’re going to break your neck with that approach. And that could be the case, but once the thought of taking a rare slam is out of my own head, then it loses its strength and ability to control the situation. I still skate most days of the week. I’ve been doing it since I was 12 or 13. Slams come with the territory: you fall, get hurt and you get back up. My dad always taught me that—you get back up.
I spoke to Mark Appleyard recently about the progression of his three Sorry parts. How do you feel about yours? Do you have a favorite?
The next one is my favorite [laughs]. I’m proud of all those video parts for whatever period they enabled me to document. I had a lot of injuries with the last two videos, which made it a lot harder for me to be as productive as I was with Sorry, but the last two also showed me skating more of a diverse range of street spots and had better, more personal music.
I understand a lot of your rooftop footage got confiscated before Extremely Sorry came out. How did you get it back?
Yeah, I got arrested on a roof trying to ollie impossible the gap very close to the video deadline, and they confiscated the kit. The video premiere was about eight days after that. I called up the police station a couple of days after being released and the heat had cooled down. They agreed to let me inspect the confiscated equipment to make sure all was in check. The footage then miraculously appeared on the screen in my part at the premiere. I’m from Liverpool, remember [laughs]?
[Laughs]. I’m a Liverpool FC fan and I have to ask, are you a red?
Respect. I am a red. My father is a blue. My father supports Everton, I support Liverpool. I grew up going to Liverpool and Everton games. My dad would take me when he could get tickets from the pub. If it was a Liverpool game he’d take me and he’d want Liverpool to win. If it were a derby, he’d want Everton to win, which was quite nice of him if you think about it. Cheers, Dad.
What did he think of you using “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in your Really Sorry part?
My whole family loved that. I think that for anyone from Liverpool, that song has a special place in their heart, especially with the older generation. That’s why the song was used—for my parents and my grandparents. It was nod, a thank you in their direction. I had that song in mind for a while. I was going to use it prior but it just wasn’t the right time. That was the right time. My mother loved it.
The same goes for “I Am The Walrus” then, I take it?
Yeah. We actually had my video part edited to a Jam song prior to that called “Private Hell”, but Fred and I changed it last minute. I tried to find the original “Private Hell” edit on the hard drive a couple of years later and it had disappeared.
Which would have been great to see later too.
I wanted to use a Beatles song for Sorry all along, but it was the only thing we had to kind of steer away from. At that time there was serious publishing issues with The Beatles and you just could not go anywhere near it. That’s why we went with the cover version, trying to get away with murder. I think it worked really well.
It did. Here’s something you might be able to shed some light on since Flip has a longstanding history of harboring talent: how do board companies snatch up the right skaters?
Pay attention. Kids post stuff on the Internet all day long. If you’re around the right circles you can be exposed to a hell of a lot. There’s no real secret apart from being heavily involved. Sometimes you think someone is going to be fantastic after seeing just a few clips, and then before you know it they’re not even skating anymore. It can happen in the blink of an eye. You’ve got to want it.
What can you tell us about Civilware?
It’s just a creative outlet for me, for stuff that I’m interested in. It’s a house to place that stuff, whether it’s product or a visual project. I’m just having fun with it. We are making coffee, axes, and variety of other oddities to begin with. Hopefully guns at some point, then it would get really fun [laughs]. Obama would be running for the hills.
Your next part is for the Vans video. Can you spill anything for us?
The video is just getting in full swing. I’m finishing off this Battle Commander, but after that I’ll be getting back on the Vans program. If you’re a fan of the guys that ride for Vans, seeing all those guys in one video will be top-notch. That drives me. I like the guys on the team. They’re rad dudes. Trujillo and AVE rule. I’m looking forward to putting everything I got into this video. Vans has supported skateboarding through thick and thin, when all the bigger footwear companies left us breathing our last gasp, Vans stood up and threw down. I want to give back to that.
It’s been a long time coming.
We’ve made three Flip videos that I’m proud of and I’ve been with Vans since 1998. I really want to give back to them. By that I just mean film the best video that we can, but also do it in a way that Vans supporters are going to appreciate. It’s not the same approach as a Flip video. This is the Vans video. It stands by itself in that respect. That’s exciting. I know people are wondering how it’s going to look or how it’s going to be edited, but I don’t think that matters. What matters is that it’s a true representation of the brand. It’s going to be filmed and edited by Greg Hunt, and Greg knows Vans and its riders. Say no more.
I understand Natas Kaupas influenced you with your last video part in terms of the truck hangups. Have you been inspired in different ways this time around?
That is true. I always liked that raw street action—powerslides and hangups on street. They are fun to do. I’m definitely thinking along the same lines. There are loads of different approaches to hitting street spots that I’ve always had in my head. That’s what I did with Extremely Sorry. I started wanting to do really fast hangups that could break your trucks. I think it would be really cool for someone to go full speed and just ollie 16 feet, or even do a nollie flip 12 feet on flat, to an axle stall on a ledge. I mean, just really turning it backwards and opening the doors of creativity. That’s always been a driving force for me. There are young dudes out there that are definitely pushing new boundaries for creativity, but I still look towards the older generations for real inspiration: the form, the approach to street skating, even the way they rolled, the attitude. I take from that. When you watch the Street League, which The Berrics is involved with, and you have 10 dudes or whatever in the finals, you can see the variety of styles and the ways that they approach the same obstacles. I always want to try and turn that on its back, you know? [Laughs]. On a side note, some of those hangups, they really hurt my feet.
It surprised me when I found out where it came from.
Yeah, Natas from A Reason For Living was the main inspiration for that. He was the first one to catch kickflips in videos. I started watching it again one day and something just clicked. “I wonder what he was thinking about at that time? I’m going to flip this board higher and catch it onto my feet?” He was doing what he thought was weird. He was pushing his creative boundaries. I think people get so stuck in the way to be. People hit the handrail up and they’re done. I can’t ever get my head around that. Street skating to me is different every single day you go out. I’ll intentionally go out and skate the same obstacle the opposite way I did the day before.
How conscious is this in the progression of today’s skating?
We’re all a product of our environment. I think there was a trend in skateboarding for a little while to master the tricks forwards, backwards, and every which way: catch them all high, catch them all the same. When you do that, you homogenize form. That gets a little too controlling and creatively confining long term for me, and I think a lot of people feel the same way. There are guys out there like Colin Provost. He can skate all kinds of obstacles and he’s got that fresh approach to stuff. David González has that approach and attitude as well, where they take from different generations because they respect it and they want to evolve those elements. I’m motivated and inspired by that. I still appreciate that guys can do nollie heelflips perfectly down 10 stairs every single go, but there is definitely a good argument at the moment for the old saying, “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.”
Ben Powell over at Sidewalk said to me I should ask you about Fez.
Fez is one of my best friends who has been skateboarding since the early ’70s. He’s from Liverpool. He was probably one of the biggest inspirations for all of us that grew up in Liverpool at that time. He taught us our skateboarding history, to respect the roots and to push forward.
Why haven’t we heard of him?
He’s not well known because he doesn’t really subscribe to any of that stuff. He is as stealth in the woods as anybody that I have met. He taught me “real” patience—sit and watch and all shall be revealed, the law of the woods. He was in skateboard magazines in the late ’80s and early ’90s. He was a sponsored skater but his real passion is trailing, hunting, and drawing wild animals. He’s actually a gamekeeper that covers parts of the North of England. He is somebody that I keep in constant contact with and he’s a real good friend to me, very supportive and true. He helps me keep a clear mind and perspective on what I’m doing. I’m heavily driven by the outdoors. No matter how much you try and bring the concrete to the woods—to the forest—it’s not supposed to be there, and vice versa. Fez taught me that fact. He’s the raddest. He kills more deer than anybody in the whole of England. Think about that.
Can you recommend a Motörhead song for us to finish up on?
I’ve got one for you. It’s called “I Don’t Believe A Word”. That’s an excellent one. It’s a little bit dark. It’s so well written, but it’s definitely dark [laughs].