In a world of caricatures and facsimiles, pro skater Geoff Rowley is standing up for gritty authenticity.
It’s a showery late-August afternoon in London and Old Spitalfields Market – a tourist-friendly mix of craft stalls and chain restaurants, just east of the towering totem poles of finance in the City – is not what it usually is. Today, it’s been transformed into a shiny skatepark for the Vans Downtown Showdown. The three obstacles, designed by various skate teams, are inspired by Tower Bridge, a ‘Ye Olde’ pub and Jack the Ripper‘s ghoulish murder alley, all reflecting the iconic mythology of London.
In fact, the place is crawling with caricatures; scrawny skate rats, bemused tourists, boozy industry bros and nuclear families on a pleasant day shopping. But in this crowd of facsimiles, a larger-than-life character stands out. He’s a pro-skater-turned-business-owner who’s been skating for two decades or more and spends his days in southern California at the helm of his own skate company. And his name is Geoff Rowley: street skater, Flip co-founder, 2000 Thrasher Skater of the Year. “You grow up looking at skateboarding as the most amazing thing ever,” he says. “It’s so creative with so many different things going on – so to actually [still be involved] as an adult when you are not skating is like a dream come true.”
Even after so many years, Rowley still fits the skate-pro mould – worn-down vulcanised soles, a skateboard with the graphics scrubbed out, tousled hair and a hairline moustache – but beneath this veneer is something much more unique. For a start, there’s the inky mementos engraved on his skin, including a Flip tattoo on his forearm. His small yet powerful frame speaks of a man who keeps himself in shape – a necessity for a thirty-five-year-old still skating street. And his crooked front teeth – “smashed out twice” – are just one injury in a long list that he can, and does, reel out like a shopping list. Indeed, Rowley’s ability to take a beating and get back up again has been well documented in Flip’s Sorry videos. “You can probably imagine what that feels like when you wake up in the morning,” he says cheerily, in a Liverpudlian accent that hasn’t gone soft despite seventeen years of Californian life. “But at the same time, that’s my choice and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
But Rowley’s got another, slightly more unusual passion, and the hoody that hangs from his shoulders, bearing the logo ‘Predator Xtreme’, is testament to that. “It’s the Thrasher of hunting” explains Rowley. “I do mostly predator hunting; coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions – your apex predators. I really enjoy hunting them on foot or with dogs, calling them in, trying to get really close. I’ve been lion hunting every year for ten years.”
Rowley’s been hunting since his early teens. He was introduced to the outdoor pursuit by a fellow skater, working as a game warden in the Lake District, who would take him out to cull badgers and deer, teaching him the ways of the great outdoors. “I find it really intriguing to look at a mountain range and understand how different animals would use that terrain – what they would feed on, where they would be,” he explains. “It keeps me in shape and it feeds me. The meat tastes like nothing you have ever tasted. Mountain lion is the most beautiful meat, no fat whatsoever – imagine a steak that tasted like chicken. It’s really, really good for you.”
Hunting, however, has provoked opposition from those who object to killing as sport. Renowned American comedian Paul Rodriguez – father of celebrated skate pro P-Rod – once claimed that, “Hunting is not a sport. In a sport, both sides should know they’re in the game,” and Irish writer George Bernard Shaw is famously quoted as saying, “When a man wants to murder a tiger he calls it sport; when the tiger wants to murder him he calls it ferocity.” So where does Rowley stand on this morally ambiguous ground?
“It’s a very ancient form of providing for yourself and your family. I see a lot more integrity and ethics in going out and taking down something and eating it than I do walking into a supermarket and buying a shrink-wrapped chicken that was raised in a six-inch by six-inch box so it could then be slaughtered,” he says, clearly roused into defending what he loves. “There’s a hell of a lot of ignorance about the reality of [hunting]. I hunt with people who have done it their whole life and they don’t just walk out, shoot stuff and leave it – you can’t do that. Every part of the body gets used for something, and to me there is a lot of meaning to that.”
After a few more questions on hunting, he interrupts. “Hang on, are we gonna talk about skateboarding?” he asks, clearly keen to get back to his other love. In a world of one-dimensional caricatures, Geoff Rowley is anything but flat.