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WORDS: Stu Gomez
Gabriel Rodriguez, a legend in skateboarding who was the catalyst for one of the most influential video segments of all time, has passed away today at the age of 46.
Rodriguez started skateboarding in 1984, in the Pico-Union neighborhood of Los Angeles. An early connection with future teammate Rudy Johnson inspired a lifelong love affair with skating; they became inseparable as they progressed and developed their own styles.
In the mid-’80s, skateboarding was at its peak in popularity, but news nevertheless traveled slowly among skaters—the World Wide Web was still years away. Even so, there was a buzz in Los Angeles about Rodriguez’s crew. Gradually, he hooked up with Angelenos Paulo Diaz and Guy Mariano, like-minded skaters who fed off of each other’s skating.The group became known as the “LA Boys” and kicked off an incredibly innovative era in street skating with the release of Powell-Peralta’s Ban This in 1989.
The story of how Rodriguez got on Powell-Peralta is full of serendipitous twists and turns, which we won’t go into detail about here (watch Colin Kennedy’s The LA Boys for the full story). Essentially, Rodriguez had planned to send his sponsor-me tape to Santa Cruz, but Stacy Peralta’s secretary randomly got her hands on the tape in the interim. As she suspected, Peralta—the brand’s co-founder—was down with his skating and quickly asked Rodriguez to ride for Powell-Peralta, which at the time was already a global phenomenon. But Rodriguez, loyal to a fault, suggested that Peralta consider adding his homies Mariano, Diaz, and Johnson to the team as well. The rest, as they say, is skate history.
Ban This’s “LA Boys” section was filmed over the course of two weekends, which wasn’t out of the ordinary for the era but was considerably abbreviated for Powell-Peralta. The company pioneered blockbuster feature-length skate videos, with high production values and—at times—complex choreography. Rodriguez and the LA Boys proved to be so consistent that there was a surplus of footage from the filming (again, watch The LA Boys for more on this)—literally filmed on film.
Ban This was Rodriguez’s only Powell-Peralta video. He would move on to World Industries’ “101” brand in the early ’90s—collaborating with Natas Kaupas on art direction—while Mariano and Johnson moved to Blind. (Diaz stuck it out at Powell-Peralta for a few more years, eventually moving to Stereo.)
An early Rodriguez 101 ad was instrumental in the creation of Big Brother magazine in 1992. Known as the “Suicide Ad,” the spread features bailed sequences of Rodriguez doing frontside 360s on the left, and an image of him holding a gun to his own head on the right. The ad was rejected by Transworld Skateboarding, which inspired World owner Steve Rocco to embark on his pioneering (censorship-free) print venture.
By 1995, all four LA Boys were reunited under the Girl umbrella: Mariano and Johnson on Girl; Rodriguez and Diaz on Chocolate. In 2000, Rodriguez officially retired from professional skateboarding and returned to school.
From the beginning, Gabriel Rodriguez stood out as a king on his skateboard. His fellow LA Boys have all gone on record to say that his advanced skill and natural style was a major influence on them. In a 2011 interview with Seb Carayol, Rodriguez talks about where skating fits in his life, post-professional career. “When I skate it’s an even a better day,” Rodriguez said, “My body is not what it used to be, but I still have fun.” Rest in Peace.
Rudy Johnson, Guy Mariano, Paulo Diaz, and Gabriel Rodriguez at an LA Boys screening in December 2016. Photo: Yoon Sul
Rudy Johnson posted his condolences on Instagram earlier today:
“On 8-9-2019 we lost a true legend. Gabriel Rodriguez was a unique beautiful human. He not only inspired me when first meeting him, he inspired the world as well with his amazing talent. Words can’t describe the loss, he was a true brother. The fact that we came from the same neighborhood, living only blocks away as kids and getting to experience the skate life we lived and experienced, was always a great conversation between us, a true miracle. In his last days we assured him on how he impacted the Globe inspired People. In the end he was at peace with that, and the fact of his soon to be reality. He now rests in peace. See you on the other side my man.. I love you Gabe. I will miss you dearly and never forget you brother.”