Steve Caballero is a name in skateboarding that needs little introduction. As the pioneer of various tricks as well as creator of the world’s longest running professional skate shoe, Cab’s status as a legendary professional in the industry goes without saying. We were lucky enough to get a few words with him at the Vans ‘Propeller’ video premier in London earlier on this year. Not only was meeting him a blessing in itself but also a wonderful opportunity to hear such a seasoned veteran’s perspectives on the world of skateboarding as we know it. As one of the company’s most integral ambassadors and contributors, there are few that can give such an in-depth insight into how Vans has become the global powerhouse it is today. This is the Steve Caballero interview.
When we spoke to Ray Barbee last year he was telling us what it’s been like witnessing the growth of Element since he got on. We were wondering how its been for you after 27 years on Vans?
Wow… Man I’ve seen a lot of changes with that company. Gone through about 4 or 5 CEO’s, about 10 team managers, tons of designers. But one thing that remains the same is Steve Van Doren and his daughter Krissi. They’ve always been there promoting and supporting. I’ve seen a lot of team riders come and go as well. Nonetheless, it’s a great relationship that we’ve built… It’s got a solid foundation and it’s one of those relationships that’s gonna last a long time you know? Relationships are hard either way, there are good and bad points throughout them. But if you stick through the bad times and make it through, you build a more solid foundation and something you can be proud of having integrity and pride behind. I guess its been tough over the years but because of the hard work from both sides, like supporting each other to get through the tough times in the company; we’ve built a pretty good legacy. It’s been pretty amazing and it’s cool to say that I still ride for vans after all these years.
Alongside Vans, skateboarding has grown and changed a lot over the years too. How do you feel about all that?
Skateboarding has changed a lot man… I started from the beginning pretty much. I went from riding little plastic skateboards that you buy at a sporting goods store to getting my first board that had urethane wheels and ball bearings that weren’t sealed so they’d fall out if your nut wasn’t tightened.. Different types and shapes; from skinny boards to 10 inch wide boards back to skinnier boards. From the birth of skate parks, from growing up skating pools and cement parks that were privately owned to them being gone; then on to back yard ramps.. DIY skating everything, ditches, curbs, then to the 80’s where vert ramps were a big thing and competitions were coming in. Major blow out as far as how big skateboarding got in the 80’s to it dying in the 90’s, then going underground moving into street skating and then back in to bowls and ramps.
Parks are coming back you know? They’re built all over the world now. So I think right now skateboarding is at a really good state. I think it’s the best time to be in skateboarding because it’s well received everywhere and every style is accepted as well. So I think people are having a great time with it. I would say right now being a skateboarder to me is amazing. I can come to London and come into a building that has a killer bowl in it, its pretty amazing. Then fly over to France and there’s another one. Then to Germany; now we’re off to New York and they have a bowl inside their building. There are skateparks all over the US. I was born and raised in Northen California and I’ve just moved to Southern California.. Where I live is the mecca of skateboarding. Within a twenty mile radius there’s 7 vert ramps, about 4 or 5 parks and some of them are privately owned. There are about 3 that are indoors. It’s pretty amazing where I live; all the pros live there. I have to turn down sessions you know? It’s crazy! I’ll get a call from Bucky Lasek like “ Hey come skate my bowl!” and I’m like “nah I’m gonna go skate with Pierre-Luc at the DC ramp. I’ll get a call from Neal Hendrix like, “Hey we’re gonna skate Hawk’s ramp”. It’s pretty cool!
We also talked to Ray about the comings and going of trends in skateboarding. With your shoe standing the test of time after over 22 years, what do you think it takes to keep something like that alive for so long?
Well first off I think you have to have a good design. Also, you have to have a great company to back it as well. Vans has that whole package deal behind it and the whole history behind it that has made the half cab become an icon within our sport and within our industry. It’s prevalent outside our industry as well as it transcends to other creative outlets like music, or art. Vans is a great company because they’re a lifestyle brand, so whatever you’re in to they back it. Whether it’s mountain biking, bmx, surfing, snowboarding, motocross. Everyone wears shoes you know? Vans back people’s passions.
If you have a passion for something, Vans will back it and I think because of that and because of what we’ve created or what I’ve created in my career; as well as being one of the very first skateboarders to have a shoe, and going with the flow of things you know. The half cab kind of presented itself. My shoe came out in 1989 and it was a full size high top. By three years later street skating started coming in and vert started going out so a lot of the guys were demanding a lower top shoe and they just took my shoe and cut it down. I saw that and started doing it myself, so I started following that trend and after the third pair I was like, “there’s gotta be a better way”. So I just called up Vans like “ Hey, lets make the shoe the way people are wearing it and call it the half cab, because we’re all cutting it in half. I’ll find a logo that shows me doing one and call it the half cab”.
Because Vans trusted me, trusted my idea and went with it, I can sit here today and say I have a shoe that’s lasted over 22 years. We were talking about this the other day, Vans could have easily said “nah, not a great idea” but they trusted me and went with it, so here we are. I think they’re just as stoked as me! [Laughs]
Favourite colourway ever?
Wow.. I would have to say the pair that I did in 2012 for the 20-year anniversary. It was the red pair I did where I actually got to redraw the logo as well. I called it the ‘Cab Dragon’; I think that’s my favourite by far.
As you mentioned with the growth of skateboarding globally, the European scene has definitely come up, are there any Euro skaters or companies that you’re rooting for at the moment?
Oh man, Euro skaters? Well a lot of them are living in California now you know what I mean? There are a lot of guys that have come from Europe that have chased their skateboarding careers and now they are based in the US. I would have to say Sam Beckett for Vert, I think he’s doing quite well. As far as street skaters, I’m not really sure, a lot of guys are coming from Brazil that are killing it in the streets. I’m not sure, there’s too many! [Laughs]
There are a lot of new companies popping up on your side of the pond. What do you think of your teammates’ ventures, F.A, Hockey and Mother Collective (now Quasi) ?
Oh I don’t follow those. Are they clothing brands or are they board companies?
They’re board companies yeah…
Ah, to be honest I’m not really following the smaller brands, especially ones in Europe. If they’re not a hit in the US right now they’re probably not making an impact right? I’m sure I will hear about them. I think the brand that is making the biggest hit is Cliché as far as a European brand. As far as the smaller brands go I haven’t really heard of them.
As well as innovating a number of tricks in skateboarding yourself, you’re also an avid collector and established artist. What do you think it is that has pushed you to try your hand at so many things?
I think it’s because I’m very passionate about things and when I get into something I want to do the best job I can with it; so I try and research things. I’m the person who likes to make the least mistakes so what I’ll do is research, ask a lot of questions and watch things and study them before I try and attempt them. The sky is the limit when it comes to being creative and being able to express yourself in discovering what you’re capable of. A lot of people live in fear of what people think of them and what they’re doing.
I look at the world as a whole and think there are so many rad things about it and rad people so I always say I don’t believe in natural talent. I believe that everything we do takes a lot of blood sweat and tears and hard work and dedication and if you put your mind to anything you can do it; so that’s why I like to dip into different things.
I’ll look at something and say “why is that person like that” or “what’s so great about that?” Then I’ll research it and be like, “woah this is fun, how can I excel in it? How can I be good at it?” That’s what I like about those kinds of things. So obviously everyone loves art, everyone loves music, but I also like things that are dangerous. Skateboarding is one of the number one dangerous activities. But then I’ll step it even further and I’m also into motocross. That’s even gnarlier because you go bigger and faster. Those activities have their cool factors as well. I’ll drive around in my truck with my dirt bike in the back; I know that it takes a lot of courage to ride one of those things because it’s no joke. Things can go bad really fast and I’ve gotten hurt.. I’ve got broken off, but if you can excel in something like that people respect you and admire it; that’s what I wanna do.
Even at my old age of 50, I wanna let people know that you know what? You can still feel and act young; age is just a number. You can still do these things if you have a passion for them. I’m trying to inspire and encourage others not to give up on things just because they got a little grey hair and a couple wrinkles. I’m 50, some people are 30 like, “ah I’m over the hill; I can’t do this anymore”. I used to do this when I was 12 or 13 and they see me doing it now; that kind of encourages them like, “ah man Cabs still doing it, I’m gonna give it a hit!” Then they think, “ouch my back!” [laughs].
I think with anything, if we stay healthy, have a good positive outlook on life and stay away from things that are going to hinder you from your performance, you’re going to last a long time.
Your loyalty to the companies you ride for is something that I guess isn’t quite as common in skateboarding today. Do you think that’s it’s just an inevitable part of skateboarding growing?
I think it really depends on your personality. I know that integrity goes a long way. Loyalty goes a long way too and there’s always going to be problems. This world is all about relationships and how we interact with people, I’ve had many relationships on and off the board, I’ve been in bands where you have 5 people and if you have 5 people in your band there’s 5 different relationships going on and its difficult man. It’s difficult dealing with people because we all have different attitudes, different personalities, different opinions and it’s hard when they don’t all mesh together. But like I said, with Vans and Powell Peralta I can say that I’ve held it down as the longest rider for both those companies. For any company, shoe or board brand, I think that says a lot about my personality and who I am. I think that when people see that, maybe their attitude will change as far as “how does he do that? What makes him tick? How has he lasted that long at that company?”
Here’s my chance to be interviewed by you guys and say you know what? It’s hard. There’s gonna be good times and bad times, but the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. It’s all about sticking together and working things out. If you’ve got problems you can work these differences out, and if you’re about to do that you can build a relationship that lasts longer than just a few years.
With the ever-growing popularity of skateboarding we’re seeing a lot more corporate involvement these days. Do you think that’s a good thing?
I think any kind of promotion is great for skateboarding because what they are doing is helping to get the word out there; and the word is ‘skateboarding’. If there’s any company that wants to put money into that then more power to them. If they leave then nice knowing you… They help skateboarding grow, and that’s why I’ve always supported the X games. I’ve always supported brands that perhaps may look like they are trying to use skateboarding to make money, but they’re also giving money to the industry you know? They aren’t just sucking money out. Skateboarding will be here whether they’re here or not, nobody controls the sport. Skateboarding will go where it wants to go and when you have money floating around it helps build things like this (House of Vans), so corporate involvement is important. There are certain brands I won’t support because it goes against what I believe, that’s where integrity goes in. I’m not gonna take money from a company that I don’t believe in because then I’m a sell out and that’s not who I am. I support brands that support me but I have to be in to what they believe in.
At 50 years old after a long career in skateboarding, what’s next for Steve Caballero?
Ah shoot I don’t know. I would say try and maintain a good healthy lifestyle and take care of my kids. Build a foundation for them; something that they can fall back on as well and inspire them to carry on the legacy that I have built within the industry. I want to encourage them to follow their dreams, their passions and just try and stay as positive as I can in dark times.
You can now buy Vans ‘Propeller’, directed by Greg Hunt, to watch in full over on iTunes
Words: James P.Lees
Images: Kieran Sills