Birling the Skatepark Effect
Wesley Lee, Drop down to 50-50. Cayer By Adam Wawrzynczak There was once a time when skateparks acted primarily as warm-up spots....
When was the possibility of a pro model shoe first brought up with you? What’s that conversation like?
When it was first brought up, I thought of it as a tool for Vans keep me on track, but I didn’t think it was a possibility, you know? Maybe like three four years ago, they’re like, “You know, we wanted to make sure you’re staying on and doing your thing. We want to maybe get you as one of the shoe guys later down the line. I kind of took it as more like, “Maybe just get your shit together, stop fucking off and partying.”
I thought it was more of like a guidance tool—which it was, and I kind of didn’t take all that into consideration. At the same time, I didn’t think that they were serious.
The first time it was brought up like somewhat seriously was probably like two and a half years ago. They’re like, “We think you’re gonna be the next shoe guy, we just want to make sure everything’s aligned.” And I was like, well, don’t tell me that unless it’s like, for sure. Don’t get my hopes up.
But then sure enough, like a few months goes by and then, about two years ago to the day almost, they were like “Yeah, you’re the next guy. We’re gonna start the process now and you’ll have a shoe in 2020,” which at that point I was like, that’s never going to be here, that’s so far away. And now we’re a week away from it being a reality.
Once you knew it was really going to happen, what were the first steps in design, and what was the ongoing process over the last two years?
I knew some of the shoe designers already from colourways and stuff. But still, getting introduced to everyone I needed to know, all the people that were going to be involved in the whole process.
After that, I pretty much worked at Vans. I didn’t have to, but I did because I wanted to make sure what we ended up with was something I was proud of and stoked to wear. So I was going in almost twice a week at certain points. For the first six months I was going at least once a week, oftentimes twice, and I was sitting with all the shoe designers just talking about everything from what I liked about previous shoes, to what I don’t like about some of my favourite shoes. We talked for a couple weeks, and then after that they started putting stuff down on paper, just various sketches and stuff.
From there on out it was a lot of saying “yes” or “no” to a lot of different ideas and sketches. They made it super easy for me to say no to stuff, because it could have been super hard and I could have felt super awkward to be like, “You know what, I don’t like that,” but those guys are so awesome and good at doing what they do. It pretty much went from there.
I like the two stitching on the Half Cab, and obviously a lot about the Old Skool. I liked the height of TNT’s fifth shoe, and I kind of wanted to get make it similar, not quite a mid. It’s just a lot of going back and forth, shooting ideas off the wall. We finally got like four or five sketches that we liked, and then sampled two of them. The one that was actually my second favourite sketch, not my first favourite, when it came in shoe form, I liked that one better, and so did the designers, so then we moved to that.
Who would it be the most stoking to see wearing your shoes?
About two weeks ago, we were doing a wear-test for other Vans shoes and they had some of mine there as well. Reynolds put a pair on and was doing flatground Kickflips and Frontside Flips, and I just had this insane moment of like, What the fuck? This is not right. Andrew should not be wearing myshoes; I should be wearing his shoes. That was a pretty surreal moment, for sure. Anyone that’s been on Vans forever, or anyone that I looked up to, to see them wear a pair of shoes with my name on them would be pretty crazy.
What does your family think of all this?
My family’s awesome. They’ve been super supportive throughout all my skating. They encouraged me to take a step back at one point because I was kind of not focusing on school too much—but rightfully so, as any parent should. You can’t expect skating to work out until it actually does. Once they saw any evidence of me having a possible future in this they’ve been 1,000% for it.
Tell me about growing up in Vista and what your family’s like.
My dad was the first one that put me on a skateboard. Banana board style.He skated little bit growing up, but he was never like a diehard skate rat, but he did it. He surfed a little more, so he got me into that when I was younger. My mom’s from the east coast. She came out here and then that’s how she met my dad.My two younger sisters are great athletes. The one that’s closest to me in age just finished school at UCLA. My youngest sister is currently at Berkeley on a full scholarship for field hockey.My sisters are thriving.
Was skateboarding common in your neighbourhood and at your school when you were growing up?
Yeah for sure. I was into it before I had friends that were into it. By the middle of elementary school, third or fourth grade, I was all about it. And then there were other kids that were about it too. From there it got crazy.
What did you like about it early on?
It was sick that you could progress at this thing that that there wasn’t like an end goal to. I was super athletic kid. I played soccer and was decent at it. Played baseball, and all these things where you could win the game, which is like the best you can do. Skating with the only thing that I was just like, I’m just getting better and better this, without an idea where this was going to go. Even before being a pro was a thought. Then obviously, once I got older, like any teenager that skates, I’d think, Whoa, what if I was one of those guys one day?
Who gave you your first big break with Vans?
It was Jamie Hart, 100%, and Griffin [Collins]. I mean I’m sure other people were putting in the good word, but they took the risk, with me being a young kid. It was actually a pretty big risk: I almost missed a few flights on my first trip, like, got lost, thought I lost my passport—you know, from then until now, it’s crazy. I thought that was going to be my first and last trip.
You seem to have a good centre of balance, and it looks to me like you learned to skate regular and switch at a similar pace. Was that the case?
Maybe not at the same time, but shortly after. All the switch stuff stemmed from an ankle injury on my normal guiding foot; my right foot, because I’m goofy. I healed enough to skate, but I couldn’t Ollie or Kickflip. So if I went to the store or went to go get some food or to my friend’s house, I would just skate there switch. And then maybe like a crack comes up or a curb and I started going up them switch. From there I was like, if I can go up a curb switch then maybe I can 50-50 one, and from there it kind of just snowballed of trying to get to the point where it’s stance-less. Going down hills and transition, that’s the hardest part. I feel like with flip tricks it’s about equal now.
What do you enjoy outside of skateboarding?
I’ve been surfing a lot. I was into it as a kid but then kind of gave it up as soon as I got decent at skating. So I’m getting back into that now. It’s pretty fun. I went yesterday and this morning.
What are you doing if you if you’ve got to take some days off from skating and most of your friends aren’t around?
Just catch up on the couch time. Watch movies, draw, read; a bunch of boring stuff that I like to do but never have the time to do.
Can you recommend any books or movies?
If you’re hurt on the couch, go through a trilogy. Watch Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings or something. One of the best books I’ve had recommended to me was You Can’t Win by someone named Jack Black. Not the actor. That’s a good one. It’s about a career criminal but he’s got a huge set of morals; at least in his own head. He’s robbing people, but in a way that he can justify. My friend Tino gave me that book. I think he got it from Andrew Allen. And then, I might be making this up or getting it completely wrong, but I think Dylan gave it to him. I know Spanky’s read it as well; we’ve talked about it before. That was an ankle break recovery book that I read.
Do you live strictly in the moment, or do you find yourself thinking, planning, and wondering a lot about the future?
I’m always thinking ahead, for sure, but I try not to not let that affect my current state of mind.
I’m definitely trying to set myself up for good things in the future, but at the same time, if that compromises anything I want to do right now, it’s out of the cards.
What’s your favourite thing that’s happening in skateboarding right now?
That’s a tough one. A lot of my favourite stuff that happened in skateboarding happened a long time ago. It’s a biased opinion, but just watching my actual friends is always going to be more pleasing to me than watching someone I don’t know.
Are you a big follower of skateboarding? Do you watch all the videos? Or do you stick with just what you like?
I used to go on Thrasher every single day, but not so much anymore. I’ll watch something if I’ve heard about it, or it’s someone that I want to watch. I try not to get too caught up because that shit makes you sad, thinking you’re not that good. It’s kind of annoying, getting overwhelmed with skating on the regular. Just keep it to what I want to see, when I want to see it.
Who’s your favourite skater that you’ve never met?
I’m pretty sure any time I’ve been asked a similar question it’s always the same answer. It’s Ali Boulala, 100%. He’s been my favourite skater since I was a little kid. I’ve had other favourites too, but he’s always been there.
You’ve never met him?
What is it that you like about him?
Something stood out, when I was really young. Everyone’s good, but some people do it special.
If you watch a part and you’re amazed by the skating, but also laugh out loud throughout it, that’s something special. You can be as good as you want, but I might never care.
Let me give you a hypothetical situation: The Boss, Andrew Reynolds, says he wants you to start a team through Baker, your own brand, and you can pick four people to put on. Who do you take?
I’m trying to steal Kader. I know everyone company is probably trying to steal Kader, but I’d try my best at that. Figgy’s getting taken, too. Grant’s coming. I probably need a regular footer on the team too. All my favourite skaters have always been goofy, by the way. It’s relatable, when you’re growing up. Shit, I’ll see if Aidan wants to come, too.
What’s something that you can do on a skateboard that almost always feels good to you.
Most of it feels good, but I think just going down anything that’s barely a hill at all, or your going really fast, just being able to roll without doing anything. You can be the sorest you’ve ever been, but if you can just stand on a skateboard and go, then you’ll get the feeling.
That’s a great answer. Thank you for taking the time to talk, Rowan.
Thanks, I appreciate the call. Have a good one.
Interview by Jeff Thorburn / Photos courtesy of Vans
The Vans Rowan Pro and signature apparel collection will be available on February 15 at your local Vans retailer and Vans.ca/rowan.