The idea was daring. Geoff Rowley didn’t care.
Then a young skateboarder from Liverpool, England, trying to solidify his name in the U.S., Rowley brought a cameraman and extra chunk of courage with him to the Los Angeles Convention Center on a Saturday morning in 1999. On the front steps, not far from a sparkling new arena named Staples Center, he planned a trick still talked about to this day.
Rowley wanted to do a 50-50 grind on a hubba, riding on just the metal axle of his board down the concrete edge of a barrier separating two halves of an outdoors set of stairs. The move was complex. A security guard on patrol complicated matters, passing by Rowley and his photographer every few minutes.
“It took six tries,” Rowley recalled. “And the security finished his loop every nine minutes.”
Finally, Rowley pulled it off, giving birth to an iconic photo in the skating world.
“Every time I’ve got a trick, I’m stoked, big or small,” he said in an email. “That ledge was just the first of the really high, far and long spots that we’re seeing pros skating today.”
On Thursday, Vans immortalized the moment with the unveiling of a bronze life-sized statue of Rowley, captured mid-trick, outside the L.A. Convention Center. For the next month, the statue — which is part of a Vans campaign celebrating Rowley’s 20-year career — will remain displayed near the spot he pulled off his renowned move.
“Not a skateboarder in the world goes by this spot at the Civic Center without thinking about what Geoff put down here,” Jamie Reilly, vice president of Vans Global Creative, said in an email. “We wanted to share that story with a broader audience. You don’t need to be a skateboarder to appreciate how heavy that trick is. You get goosebumps when you watch because the risk is so clear and present.”
For skateboarders of his generation, the photo of Rowley sliding down the concrete ramp, which featured prominently in a Vans ad, became an indelible image. The picture helped encapsulate his professional ascent — he was named skater of the year in 2001 by Thrasher Magazine and the 26th-most influential skater of all-time by Transworld Skateboarding magazine in 2001 — that coincided with a spike in popularity of the sport, which next summer will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo.
In the skateboarding world, Rowley is known for his series of death-defying tricks. Another signature image of his career was snapped in 2008, when he cleared a 15-foot gap between 52-foot tall container stacks in Long Beach with a 180-degree spin through the air.
“He proceeded to shake up the conversation so significantly that things haven’t been the same since,” Reilly said. “When you look at the people today doing technical tricks on huge obstacles, that can be traced right back to Geoff and his influence.”
Now, there’s a physical sculpture to show for it.
“It’s flattering,” Rowley said, “that the brand regards its pro skaters in that light.”