Interview by Farran Golding. Portraits by Anthony Acosta. Photography by various artists
Time was, tours passed through the U.K. on a frequent basis. With a tour comes a series of demos. And with a demo, a household team gets placed within an arm’s reach of skateboarders all around the country; imprinting cherished memories on those attending and adding A-list names to the folklore of local spots and skateparks. Occasionally, these jaunts are the first time you discover an upcoming skateboarder who, over the following few years, becomes embedded in our collective history. This very scenario is where my knowledge of Rowan Zorilla begins.
In September of 2013, a curly-haired kid from Vista walked into Liverpool’s New Bird DIY spot. He acclimatised to it instantly and sped around the unforgiving concrete all loose-limbed and care-free. He flung himself into wallrides, shot around awkward corners and effortlessly floated over the gritty surface. As the sun set over Mersey and the demo began to wind down, he launched towards some pool coping; snapping his board on impact and hitting the floor, chin-first, at full throttle. It was a bold first impression, especially for an audience that’s been wondering “Who’s that?” until this point.
Seven years later, you’d struggle to find a skateboarder who doesn’t know the name ‘Rowan Zorilla’. He’s been a part of three of the most eagerly anticipated videos in recent memory and now gets to watch the guy who put his name on a board skate around in a shoe bearing it. By Rowan’s admittance, making his debut in Vans’ Propeller is responsible for where skateboarding has taken him. So, as the aforementioned demo took place during his first trip to film for it, where better to start…
After the Supreme video came out; Tony was at the premiere and a few days later he was texting Andrew and he brought up my part. Tony was like, “I thought Rowan was just Riley’s pool skater buddy.”
So, the first time I saw you skate was at a Vans demo in Liverpool a few years ago –
Oh, when I fucking busted my chin open? [Laughs].
That’s the one. How did that injury set you up for the rest of the trip?
I was so young and so hyped. That was my first Vans trip. After I got my stitches, I went out and partied that night and skated the next couple of demos with stitches in my chin. A few stops later we cut them out and it was like it never happened. I still have the scar, but I was too hyped at that point to care.
Did you ever see the t-shirt that got made out of the photo of that slam? The proceeds went to the spot so at least something positive came out of it…
Yeah, for New Bird, right? My buddy has one. I think they sent some to where I used to live, where my buddy still lives now, and he hijacked it, but I’ll have to try and get one if there still are any. If the proceeds go to the spot, I’ll just buy one.
I think you’ve played your part in fundraising there, I’m sure they’d hook you up if any are still around [laughs]. Anyway, let’s go way back. What comes to the mind about growing up in Vista? Was there a local shop or a spot which played a big part in the scene?
Vista was, and still is, getting better and better but they definitely had a little dark period. When I was growing up we still had the skatepark and it was when Black Box was thriving so I would see pros from Zero skating around all the time. Vista was a sick place to grow up skating, for sure.
There was a shop called Decade, that moved around throughout Vista, but the crew that hung around there was a little bit older than me. I never really had a home shop. Me and my friends would go to these neighbouring towns like Oceanside, Carlsbad, San Marcos, Encinitas; then when the Vista skatepark shut down the only one around was in Carlsbad, next to this police station. That’s where I met Riley Hawk, Taylor Kirby and all those guys. That was the only skatepark that was close and it had lights so you could skate it at night. Spending all day at the skatepark, you’re going to end up becoming friends with the other kids there.
Shep Dawgs Vol. 4 (2014)
Were you the little guy of the group? Was any character building dished out or were you warmly taken under their wing?
For sure. I turn 25 next week but they’re all probably 27, maybe some are 28 now. Maybe there was a little bit of hazing but, for the most part, I got way more hazing from the kids I grew up with in Vista. I wasn’t just getting pushed around, I knew how to fire back. I think I got trained by the kids in my town better than anyone else because I had an interesting set of friends growing up. Even on my first skate trips, I already knew how to hold my ground a little bit [laughs].
You mentioned Riley was part of that Shep Dawgs crew before you.
Him and my friend Jacob [Nunez] who filmed all those [Shep Dawgs videos] and Taylor Kirby were basically the whole crew. Them, Taylor Smith and my friend Troy Rhoades. There’s a ton of other kids but they were the ones that were really about it, really trying to skate, really trying to film.
I think that was the main thing at first. When I met them, I was like, “These kids are cool,” but they were just kids I skated the skatepark with. Then I noticed they were going out on missions, filming a lot and making videos. When they started asking if I wanted to come around, I’d never gone on a real filming mission before. My friends used to have dad cams or handy-cams, and would film shit, which was fun but I’d never filmed with someone who has a VX1000, makes videos and films lines. So that was my introduction to that.
Being friends with Riley, did you ever see Tony Hawk around and get starstruck as a kid?
Definitely the first couple of times I met him. I didn’t really see him too much. There’s actually a funny story Andrew Reynolds told me. After the Supreme video came out; Tony was at the premiere and a few days later he was texting Andrew and he brought up my part. Tony was like, “I thought Rowan was just Riley’s pool skater buddy.” The only time I’d skated with Tony is when Riley asked if I wanted to skate pools with his dad and Lance Mountain. I don’t even know what it was for but I was like, “Yeah. Of course!” So, I don’t think Tony knew much about me other than that I was Riley’s buddy who skated a pool with him one time [laughs].
Ellington has always made them look cool. I wasn’t like, “Nate Sherwood is my favourite skater, I’m going to do pressure flips.”
I recently heard that Ali Boulala is your favourite skater, which explains a lot, but what else were you into as a kid when you weren’t recreating Ali’s Sorry part?
[Laughs]. Shit, honestly the Baker videos. Growing up, Baker 3 probably had the biggest impact on me and then Baker Has A Deathwish. I saw the Zero videos, New Blood and My Generation through being lucky with YouTube, you know? You see the videos that come out and then someone says, “You know there’s three of those that are older?” so you get to go back. That’s what happened. I think I saw Baker 3, New Blood, Suffer The Joy – that time period – then realised I had an unlimited database so I got to go backwards in time from there all the way to Video Days.
Those are fairly stair and handrail heavy videos but you’re pretty ambidextrous. Did you have any more tech influences growing up?
When I was a kid, not really. That came when I got a little bit older because when you’re a kid you can’t do anything very technical. As much as you want to, you don’t have enough pop. Once I got older and I could skate switch a little bit more, I think Scott Kane was my first kind of tech influence. Even though he’s not crazy tech, he would skate rails in switch so that got my hyped; his part in the Bootleg video.
How about pressure flips? They’re an uncommon one to have in the repertoire.
That stems from a kid I grew up with, actually. He would always do them so I learnt them, then that’s how I learnt impossibles so I’ve always had a soft spot for them. As far as other people who do them, [Erik] Ellington has always made them look cool. I wasn’t like, “Nate Sherwood is my favourite skater, I’m going to do pressure flips,” [laughs]. I could just always do them and when someone you look up to makes them look cool, you’re going to keep doing them.
Frontside wallride for Rowan’s first Thrasher cover back in July 2015. Below: Propeller era backside 5050 in Jebediah Springfield’s beanie. photos: Michael Burnett
You started out filming for scene videos and made your way in skating by important people, like Reynolds, taking notice. That’s a really organic way of coming up and, considering the sway the internet has over everything now, you could say it’s a more traditional route too. Have you given much thought to that?
Yeah, I’m stoked. I’m a little bit too young for the whole ‘send a VHS tape’ sponsor-me video but I think the YouTube videos are just the same thing. Not that I cared that much when I was at that age, because it didn’t really matter, but that was the way I could put those out and not seem like I cared to send a company a direct sponsor me video, you know?
More a case of having your output exist somewhere and people might find out about you as a result.
Yeah, I’m super thankful that I just missed being so young that all that would have had to happen on Instagram. I’m fucking stoked that I know what it’s like to go out with your friends and film a full-length homie video with a VX.
Going back to what we were talking about at the start; with that Vans tour being your first trip did you feel any pressure to make an impression which could take you further or were you just excited to be in that situation?
I think it’s a mix of the two. Skating-wise, I skated as hard as I could but looking back: I almost missed a flight, I thought I’d lost my passport one time, I went out with Dustin [Dollin] one night and got all my shit stolen. I was definitely taking advantage of the fact that I’m a young kid, it’s my first trip and I’m out of the country with a bunch of pro skaters. I could have just focused on the skating a little bit more but I guess the skating I did shined through enough to overlook me blowing it a few times. Definitely, on the flight home, I thought, “Fuck, man, I hope that’s not my first and last trip.” [Laughs].
I’ve always been a fan of weird gas station trinkets and attire.
I read that you only just made the cut for Propeller so at what point was it decided you were going to be a part the video and how long did you have to film for it?
Well, actually after that trip I was at home and I got a call from Jamie Hart. I didn’t know if it was going to be good or bad, but he said, “Hey, obviously you know we’re filming for this video.” That tour was at the end of 2013, so he’s like, “[Propeller] comes out at the begging of 2015, so basically you have all of next year to film a part and if you film a part we like then we’ll put it in the video.”
“Cool, that’s all you need to say.”
I couldn’t really do it on my own, so I told them that I’m down to go on any trip they’re on. That whole year, basically, I was just going on trips and trying to collect enough footage. I got hurt a few times, for two or three months at a time, but luckily by the time it came out I had enough, and it was something that they were stoked on.
Did you have any expectation of what filming for a video of that scale would be like? And, if so, did it match that expectation?
I don’t think I had any expectations. I was still so new to travelling out of the country and state-to-state that I was just in the van and couldn’t think of somewhere I’d rather be. Showing up to spots, I was 18/19, so I was so fresh and skating every single day. Any spot we’d pull up to, I’d try and do something out of excitement. That was probably the easiest that filming a part has ever been. Don’t get me wrong, there was some tricks I struggled for in it, but there wasn’t much stress in that one.
Then the video comes around and you’re the poster boy. One minute you’re filming for this thing as an am, the next you’re going to premieres in foreign countries and people are walking around with your photo on their t-shirt.
That was one of the first surreal moments I had in skating.
How did your parents react? Was that the point where they realised this could take you somewhere?
Yeah, I think that definitely was the first [instance of that] because I would get free stuff and, they thought it was cool, but how far is free stuff going to take you? I graduated high school with good grades, and I was thinking of going to college, or community college, then I worked a summer job. That ended and then I went on that tour where I split my chin, and I didn’t really spend my per diem, so I came home and had a bit of money to survive. I went on another trip and then the trips kept coming. I was just running that same program of trying not to spend on the trip so I had money when I came home.
I think my parents were still kind of tripping. “It’s awesome that you’re getting to travel the world but is this going to work?” I couldn’t care less at that point. “Dude, I’m going to run this into the ground,” you know? [Laughs]. But then, like you said, that video and seeing me on the poster; they were like, “Holy shit, he’s actually doing something,” not just fucking off with a bunch of skaters. That being said, they were mad supportive the whole time. They let me do my thing. I was their first kid and they were definitely a little worried when I started to show less interest in school.
Any lasting memory from the Propeller days?
There was this one tour right in the middle where I got a lot of my part filmed. It was Phoenix, Albuquerque, Oklahoma City, Kansas City then Denver and it was about a month long. Just driving. Before that, it was, “Okay, I have some footage,” but after it I was like, “Okay, I almost have a part.” That was the turning point in thinking I could make a part happen in time. Now, if I’m on a trip for a few weeks, there’s a point where I’m like, “Man, this trip has been long,” you know? That one was over a month and not a single day did I care where I was or anything like that because a year prior I was sitting in a classroom. Not that I’m too jaded now, but it was just different [laughs].
What’s the story behind that raccoon skin cap which made a few appearances in there?
I’ve always been a fan of weird gas station trinkets and attire. I think I saw it at a gas station and certain places were kind of cold so I got it and was just rocking it [laughs]. It was the trip I was just talking about; I think two or three clips in the video ended up being in that thing.
Rowan frontside flips over the Dreams warehouse clearance and lifts onto a switch 5-0 in the suburbs. Don’t underestimate the everyday bump, Ben Colen will tell you a thing or two…
It’s hard to be proud of footage that’s just sprinkled around. When you put out a full part you feel like you’ve done your job
Baker turned you pro within about a year of Propeller coming out. So, you’ve got a place in skateboarding, a part in a big video and a pro board under your belt; did you feel like there was any expectation hanging over you?
Maybe a little bit but I’m stoked that the pro board came at, not the same time as a full part, but at least off the back of some footage I was proud of. After that, I didn’t really film a full part until the Supreme video due to injuries. A few shorter Vans projects came out, like two in a row, and I had a minute-long section or ten clips in both. I would have wanted to have a part but, due to what was going on with me, I just couldn’t make it happen. It’s hard to be proud of footage that’s just sprinkled around. When you put out a full part, you feel like you’ve done your job as a skater.
How did Supreme come into the picture?
Shortly after Propeller, and right around when I turned pro, I moved out of San Diego up to L.A. I needed a new canvas of spots and it was getting stale down there. It was harder to be motivated to skate. Or not to be motivated to skate but motivated to film. So many good parks popped up that I would skate maybe twice a week, for an hour, and have a great time but not care about filming. I thought, “If I want to make this happen for a lot longer, I might have to get out of here for a little bit.”
Moving to L.A. was a form of self-motivation then?
Yeah, and I wanted to be more involved with Baker. It’s all up here. I wanted to switch it up and it also came to a point where I was spending three weeks out of every month on peoples’ couches anyways and I was paying rent in Oceanside. My parents still lived down there so I knew I could go back at any time, if I wanted.
I had already known Aiden [Mackey] for a while but once I moved up here, we were staying in the same neighbourhood for a while. Bill [Strobeck] was in town and took notice that I was hanging out with a lot of those kids and he thought that I’d be a good fit for that crew, I guess.
Were you a fan of “cherry”?
Yeah, for sure. I went to the premiere and I was stoked on it. It’s sick to see people just do their thing and get recognised for that even if they’re not doing the biggest fucking handrail. Then, obviously, Dylan Rieder’s part was insane. But yeah, I loved “cherry” when it came out. It was just different than everything else.
“cherry” was pretty New York heavy with dashes of LA whereas “BLESSED” was more geographically diverse. Did being on the opposite coast to Bill and most of the guys affect your mindset while you were filming for it?
A little bit, but I don’t know. Filming for “BLESSED” was pretty cool because it was like normal life but if Bill or Johnny Wilson or anyone that films for Supreme was in town, you’re like, “Okay, you’re here for two weeks, it’s time to turn it on,” and just skate. Also, I got to go to New York seven or eight times over the two years we filmed. Filming for them is different because you can’t just film with whoever you want. If you’re around one of the people that can film for Supreme you just know you’re focused for that period of time.
Say you were out skating one day and started getting a feel for a trick you wanted to film. There’s a filmer on the session but they don’t film in a way that fits with how Bill and Johnny made that video. Would you hang fire and come back with those guys or just film it anyway and hang onto it for Baker 4?
Kind of both. During “BLESSED” I was thinking about Baker 4 but there wasn’t an exact date yet. If I was with a random filmer I would hold back and say, “Yo, Johnny. Next time you’re in town I have a spot I want to skate.” There are a few things I filmed with Beagle and I wasn’t going to not film it with Beagle because I wanted to film it for the Supreme video. But if it was just on a random session I might have kept it in the back pocket a little bit.
I was just fucking around and kind of threw one out – not over the bench, just on the bank – because my whole life I’ve liked to do nollie flips off cracks and on weird banks without really popping.
Did hearing about Tyshawn Jones going on filming missions at 4am ramp the pressure up?
Yeah, definitely a little bit [laughs]. Like, “Fuck, am I trying that hard?” He killed it for that video. He was on a different mission than me, I was just stoked to be a part of it. I wanted to make something I was proud of but I wasn’t trying to make the best part I had ever made. Also, most of the spots I skate, it doesn’t matter what time you go [laughs]. If you’re trying to skate Madison Square Garden, you have to go at five in the morning.
Was your nollie flip at the China Banks in S.F. planned or a spur of the moment trick?
No, that day we were just at a loss for spots. We were with Caleb [Barnett], Aiden and my friend Bag. It was about to be the end of the day, so we said let’s go end the day up there. We were all carving the benches. I was just fucking around and kind of threw one out – not over the bench, just on the bank – because my whole life I’ve liked to do nollie flips off cracks and on weird banks without really popping. I threw one out and it flipped a little bit so then I went really fast and threw one over the bench and it didn’t really go. I tried a few more and I had one little glimmer of hope. I was racing the sun and it just worked. I think I stuck one, one-footed, pretty early on so I knew it was possible, but probably one out of every ten tries flipped because it’s pretty unpredictable.
Have you always been into that spot and wanted to put your mark on it?
I’ve always thought it looked epic and I’ve skated it so many times, growing up close to S.F. or on the California coast. I’ve tried to skate there before, I’ve tried to do grinds over the bench, on the ledge, but I’ve never had any luck doing anything except for carving the small bench frontside and backside. Maybe that’s the only thing I could do there that I’ve happened to figure out [laughs]. But John Cardiel skating there, Phil Shao skating there, that clip of Julien [Stranger] carving the long bench; that spot’s pretty epic for S.F. It’s cool to go up there and just carve around but I’m glad I was able to think of something I could do.
Boardslide. photo: Ben Colen
How did filming with Beagle for Baker 4 compare to working with Bill and Greg Hunt? All three are accomplished filmers but I imagine Bill and Greg are a little more serious in their approach.
Maybe, but Beagle is super motivated, to be honest. Bill and Greg might be a little more serious, but Beagle will hit you up every day and have an idea for you. A lot of the time it’s like, “Dude, I can’t do that,” [laughs]. But also, the whole Baker thing, I had a smaller period of time coming straight off of “BLESSED” and the world tour for the video. Almost everything I filmed for Baker 4, aside from a few leftover clips from other things, was filmed the year it came out. Since Andrew doesn’t really care as much what the video looks like you can film with whoever you want. As long as it’s a good clip and it’s not filmed terribly, he’s going to use it. It leaves it more on you to get your shit done.
Does having people of that calibre behind the video make the process easier, because you know people are going to respect how your part looks?
It definitely takes the pressure off in that sense but it puts the pressure on, where you think, “I want to make sure that what they have to work with is good shit,” so they’re not trying to make an epic video out of mediocre footage.
Those three videos, Propeller, “BLESSED” and Baker 4, are the kind that stick will stick with a generation. Being in one would be a big deal, let alone three, so what does each one of those parts mean to you? Are they timestamps of your life in a way?
Yeah, definitely a timestamp. Propeller holds a special place for me because if I wasn’t able to make it happen, or didn’t get the opportunity to film that part, I don’t think any of the stuff that I’ve done since would have followed. Maybe I would have had another chance in a smaller Vans thing, or in a different video, but that kickstarted everything else that I’ve done.
How does the sense of accomplishment you get from those bigger videos compare to the projects you worked on as a kid? Are you just as proud of the Shep Dawgs parts as you are the more silver screen videos?
Yeah, actually. Maybe if you asked me a while back, I wouldn’t say the same but now, it’s like you said, it’s a timestamp. It just shows you were stoked on skating at that time and out doing shit, you know? Obviously, my very first part isn’t technically as good as the Baker video but that’s how I was skating at that age and that time. I’m really stoked I have that to look back on one day.
Baker 4 (2019)
The fact that he edits every Baker video and at the end of it he doesn’t put “edited by Andrew Reynolds” – that says something. He does everything to make, not just himself, but everyone around him successful.
How much of a trip is to have Reynolds going from being your boss to your teammate on Vans too?
It’s fucking crazy, man. It was crazy meeting him, the first time I was on a phone call with him, it was crazy the first trip I went on with him and, more recently, him asking me advice about the Baker video; asking me to come over while he’s editing it and me tell him what I think.
Out of all of it, probably the craziest thing would be a few months ago. Before my shoe came out, someone had a brand new pair in his size. He put them on and did a frontside flip on flat and I just lost it for a second. “Dude, this is not right. I should be in a pair of the Reynolds 3 still.” He shouldn’t be wearing a shoe with my name on it. That’s not what is supposed to be going on right now. [Laughs].
I read a recent Thrasher interview with Reynolds, and he got asked something along the lines of, “How does it feel to be 41 and have a flow shoe sponsor?” He answers with, “You’ve got to work your way up,” and that really struck me. To be that guy and be that humble is really something. How has he influenced how you conduct yourself as a pro on a more personal level?
The fact that he edits every Baker video and at the end of it he doesn’t put “edited by Andrew Reynolds” – that says something. He does everything to make, not just himself, but everyone around him successful. His work ethic with skating and in every other aspect is inspiring. I can’t think of an exact moment, off the bat, where I’ve done something strictly because of Andrew but I’m sure there are plenty of instances.
You’ve accomplished a lot, all before you’ve turned 25. In fact, you’ve checked off most of the major career milestones. What’s left for you now?
Well, shoot, I think what’s left for me to do is not fall off the map right now and keep up what I’ve been doing. Maybe I can’t just film a better and better part until I’m 40 but I can keep putting out shit that I’m proud of with where I’m at in life.
Switch frontside flip from one awkward situation to another.
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