You’ve ridden for Vans since 1998 and your first pro model came out in 1999 at a time when virtually ever other shoe company was making skate shoes that looked more like hover crafts from the future: what was the thinking behind keeping it so simple and true to the heritage of Vans?
In 1998-99 Vans was only doing a very small and limited run of vulcanized shoes, just 2 shipments a year of a few thousand pairs. Due to this limited supply I ended up purchasing shoes directly from all the Vans retailers that had old stock at that time, all original ‘Made In The USA’ models. Once I rode these and remembered how grippy and good they were for skating I quickly decided to have my first shoe fit that mold, adding improvements in fit and comfort, something that the original Vans lacked. I rode the original Vans Era, the only true 100% skateboard shoe, in my opinion. I also liked the clean look and simplicity of the original Vans patterns, logos and details, timeless and always classic. At the time it was popular for skate shoes to be big and bulky, but that served no real purpose other than an aesthetic appeal, and time has proven this to be true. Buyers like the right balance of toe-down appeal, comfort and durability. In recent times Vans was the first to offer this.
Your iconic Staples Centre 5050 Vans advert is credited with re-igniting the market for simpler vulcanized shoes – presumably this was intentional…
I guess there was a certain amount of intent, I definitely liked the idea of doing bigger and gnarlier stuff with minimal protection, I feel the same way now, Dan Sturt taught me that with his approach to skate photography: he would tell me that he wanted to continue to use his old cameras and forego digital, and still shooting better pictures than people thought was possible with the tools at hand. There is a certain amount of confidence that comes with being familiar and comfortable with your tools; the grip and board feel on those Vans Eras definitely helped my skating. To this day my favourite shoes to wear when not skating are original ‘Made In The USA’ Vans.
Over the years you’ve had various different types of construction and design elements in your shoes – from the slightly bulkier earlier XLT series with a kind of cup sole, through to say the Rowley Specials, which are obviously heavily influenced by the original Lampin – despite the differences in design is there still a dominant theme to your shoes would you say?
Most of my shoes are built with a U-Throat construction on the top of the vamp, which keeps the shoe from stretching out when you skate a bunch. It also holds the shoe tighter to the foot, and helps with durability. This way it doesn’t really matter what the upper design looks like because I am guaranteed a similar fit from model to model. Another dominant feature has always been detailed original Vans branding. The side stripe, hangtag, heel tab, foxing stripe, OTW skateboard logo, waffle outsole, and other small design details, etc…
So with the release of your latest shoe you’ve gone back to your original Vans shoe design but with some changes – can you talk us through a few of these and the reasons for these modifications?
The major upgrade is the sock liner, which now has an UltraCush HD insert. We also adjusted the collar height slightly so that it didn’t rub on the heel when wearing no socks, plus the tongue padding was thinned out a little so that the toe-down view was less bulky. Other than those minor adjustments the shoe is fundamentally the same as it was made in 1999.
The Rowley Pro is a classic Vans vulc shoe but now has the addition of a custom insole – does this allow maximum board feel whilst offering more protection that your standard vulc shoe? Is that the idea?
Yes. It also potentially prolongs the life of the shoe, allowing the wearer to replace the insole if needed, or adjust to a thicker or thinner insole if it helps them with the fit. I replace mine with a thinner insole because I like maximum board feel.
You’ve been skateboarding for a long time Geoff – is there any sole that can even come close to the waffle? What is it about that particular design that makes it so perfect for skateboarding?
Nothing I have seen even comes close. The vulcanized construction in itself lends itself to custom molding, through wearing. The tread pattern has just enough grip in the forefoot and a little more stability in the heel, the sidewall comes up pretty high on the sides of the outsole giving more friction for ollies. A custom rubber compound completes the perfection. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Do you have a favourite shoe from over your entire time as a skateboarder? If so, which one and why?
I have a soft spot for black canvas original ‘Made In The USA’ Vans Era’s; those and my first Rowley [PRO] in black, white and red.
You’re deep in the filming process for the Vans video at the moment and are on record as saying that you’re out for blood with this one – how’s it going so far and do you have any idea of when we should expect to see it?
You will have to ask Greg Hunt when the video is scheduled to drop; I’m just the talent, (laughs). Vans have given so much to skateboarding and it’s time for all its riders to give back. I ain’t getting any younger but with age comes wisdom, and so far it’s been going great. Blood has never scared me, nor has a deadline.
How does the design process work between you and Vans when it comes to coming up with a new shoe bearing your name? Are you in the office with the designers, picking materials and all that?
I am involved 100% with every single shoe that bears my name. I usually hand sketch, or draw the idea up on the computer and then sit with the designers and go over all details, I wear, skate and test these shoes personally. Sometimes I am wearing these models for years at a time, so they have to fit my feet like a glove. I am fortunate enough that Vans embraces my involvement and allows it’s riders to have a total hands-on approach to product: most shoe brands don’t work like that, trust me. With Vans you are getting the real deal.
So from your informed perspective – what should skaters be looking out for and be conscious of when they buy their next pair of skate shoes?
That’s a hard question to answer in a nutshell! I would say if you plan on skating in the shoe, make sure it fits your forefoot well and doesn’t have too much heel rise. If you are looking at Vans then try the [PRO] models because they have added details that will protect and prolong the life of the shoe when skating a lot. Also be mindful of how your last pair of skate shoes wore down, take them to the store and try to pick a design that will protect you in your specific wear zones, that way you will get more bang for your buck.