Okay, as promised, here is the first installment of three to feature the amazing, somewhat Hitchcockian, and oddly prophetic "swirl" on Mark "Gator" Rogowski's first few Vision pro models. Prior to joining the Vision team he had two models on G&S—the first of which is largely unknown and much more rare than the original Jeff Phillips model on G&S—but for all visual intents and purposes the '80s didn't begin in skateboarding until this particular graphic started optically popping up on the walls of skate shops in 1984. This is, of course, subject to personal interpretations, but to each his own in their graphic memories!
According to its graphic designer, Greg Evans, the "swirl" originated from placing a board template over a trippy image in a design book—the very humble origins of what would become the synonymous face of Vision (and its soon to be bastard offspring Vision Street Wear). Incidentally, and way off topic, Marc McKee and I jokingly created a very similar "tool" at World Industries in 1992—possibly after seeing the H-Street Colby Carter Cool World rip-off graphic—that we dubbed the "Magic Graphic Finder." It was basically a piece of paper with a more or less popsicle-shaped cut-out in the middle that could be lain atop any image—photo, painting, illustration, whatever—and voila! Instant board graphic! Unfortunately some took this "tool" much more seriously than we'd intended. So it goes with art department wit.
Anyway, the first advertisement for the Gator model appeared in a May 1984 issue of Thrasher. So, for what it is trivially worth, this graphic does indeed predate a strikingly similar design used on the cover of Debbie Harry's "Feel The Spin" maxi-single released in 1985. Apparently, some other art director had the same optical art book on his reference shelf ... or just happened to have a new wave eye on artistic developments going on in the underground skate world. Okay, perhaps it was just another plate of shrimp ordered up in the great cosmic unconsciousness of the world, but I'm inclined to believe otherwise given the proclivity of artists to take inspiration when and wherever it may strike, even if it does mean standing upon the shoulders of others who came and created before them.
Although I never had any personal connection to Vision* or its inner production workings back then, it's not too hard to play amateur archaeologist when it comes to "dating" the various versions of Gator's first model. In 1984, Vision had some very large wheel wells going on in the wake of Sims that soon became much more shallow. You can see how the graphic first fit snugly to these wells [red "team" model shown at right**] and how subsequent runs have more space between the graphic [the eight production models shown below]. Judging from comments made by both Greg Evans and the late Bernie Tostenson, Vision had yet to perfect its manufacturing and screening processes then, so they were only running one full-length color from nose to tail—hence the predominance of white-dipped decks at first with simple two-color prints. Later runs on black would require a white pass beneath the colors to keep them bright and poppy, e.g. the fluorescent greens and pinks, adding a second full-length pass into the production mix. The last significant developments with the first Gator graphic would be the stained-ply boards, a manufacturing advancement that didn't come about until later in 1985, according to John Lucero.
To the credit of the Vision screening department (or perhaps the various chemicals they were working with and inhaling on a daily basis), these guys were always switching up the colorways on the decks. The Gator graphic definitely opened up the door to seemingly infinite possibilities, which certainly kept the model looking "fresh" for the several years it spanned on the skate shop display racks. There are far, far more colorways than those shown below; these are just some of the schemes I encountered while shooting and collecting photos for both Disposable books (unfortunately I was never able to snap a quality photo of the NOS red and black Gator suspended above the entrance hallway to the Skatelab, not to mention many other impossible to get to decks caked with years and years of skate park dust).
* Fair Disclosure: Although I'd previously stated I was never a Vision man per se, I did acquire a barely used Gator board from a local skater in early 1987. The board was a red stained-ply with a fluorescent green graphic on the bottom, the colorway of which I painstakingly reproduced in fluorescent green grip-tape on the top (killing a pair of my mom's scissors in the process). Unfortunately, the board shape was not to my liking—in short, it sucked for anything remotely progressive on the street aside from hand plants, which I just so happened to suck at—so I soon swapped it for a used Schmitt Stix John Lucero X1 that I skated the absolute hell out of (and consequently kicked off a longstanding skate affair with the Lucero X2 model well into 1988 ... but that's a board story for another bored time).
** Although I'm having a difficult time remembering the exact story behind the early orangish-red Gator board, I was told by the present owner that it originated from Mark's parents' home. Something about movers being hired to take care of some stuff in their garage and given four of his old boards in trade for the services. This stash purportedly included NOS versions of his two G&S models along with this team rider board (the other I can't recall).