INTERVIEW BY JOEY TERSHAY
INTRODUCTION BY JAKE PHELPS
PHOTOS BY GABE MORFORD and BRYCE KANIGHTS
John Cardiel. The name alone conjures up the idea that shit is gonna go down. I stood in awe many times and watched the man work a 360 air on a broken board, snap his broken finger back into place, hang up on a 6-foot front side air on concrete, try a front side channel plant on a metal ramp and take the cope, to the face! Yeah. I seen it, but those are only a small bit of stories behind the myth. Ask him about the “the goat” or “the brick”. Well, if you don’t know by now, you will never know. All Hail Cardiel.
“I STARTED SKATING POOLS, AND MAKING DO WITH WHAT WAS IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. THAT WAS ALL WE HAD: POOLS, PARKING LOTS AND SCHOOLS. I STARTED FOCUSING ON THAT.”
What’s up Johnny?
What’s up Jo-Jo?
What are you doing?
[Laughs.] Kicking back, dude. We’re ripped.
All right. Where do you come from? Where did you grow up?
I was born in San Jose. I grew up all around. I used to live in LA for a little while. I lived in Cupertino. I lived in Sunnyvale and Campbell. I lived in Utah. Then I moved to Half Moon Bay. I lived in Half Moon Bay for like, 10 years. Then I moved to Grass Valley.
Do you have any brothers and sisters?
I’ve got a couple. I’ve got two sisters and one brother.
When did you pick up your first skateboard?
It happened when I was in the second grade. I was down at the corner store, right across the street from my house. I was kicking it there, and these dudes rode up on skateboards. I was like, “Let me try that.” The skateboard was just crazy-looking to me, you know? I was like, “Whoa”. So I got on it and I popped a 180 ollie. They were like, “Dang! Did you see that?” It was like I did some crazy trick. It just felt natural to do it. They were like, “Wow. You busted a trick.” I was like, “I did?” I got all hyped. I didn’t even know that was a trick. From then on, I was hooked.
Do you remember who those kids were?
Nah. They were just some derels at the store.
What was the first trick that you remember seeing?
That’s it. It was basically my own trick.
When did you get your own board?
It was a month or two after that. I started bugging my mom for a board and she kept brushing me off. Then one day, she was like, “I want you to fold these clothes in the laundry.” I was like, “No. I don’t want to fold the clothes.” I wanted to go ride my bike. She was like, “No. You’re going to fold these clothes.” So I was like, “All right, Moms.” So I’m folding these clothes, and as I’m reaching through the laundry to pull out more clothes, I felt this wooden thing in there. I pulled it out and it was a full complete board. It was a Santa Cruz, all set up. I grabbed it and just took off. That was it.
Where did you start skating?
I started skating in Half Moon Bay. I grew up skating hills, and tying boogie boards leashes to the bottom of my board, trying to fake ollie.
What other sports were you into?
I used to make my own skim boards and go skim boarding across the street in the ocean. We used to live by the ocean, so I used to ride my bike and skim.
Nice. What about Devil’s Slide?
Oh, yeah. I used to session it on the daily. We used to take the SamTrans over there and bust.
That was all in Half Moon Bay, right?
Yeah. It was actually in Montero.
Did you ever see skating before you saw those dudes at the store?
No. That’s the first time I ever saw skateboarding or ever even tripped on it. Then I got on it, and just riding it felt super natural. I was already doing tricks. I was like, “This is it.” I was super hyped on it. Then I was talking to this older kid that lived down the street. He was like, “You’re skating now, huh?” I told him how I got this board, and I was doing all these tricks on it. He was like, “Oh, yeah?” Then he took me into his garage and pulled out a box full of old “Skateboarder” magazines. He just dropped them on me. I was just tripping, looking at all these old mags. I was tripping on what people could do on these boards. I was starting to get super hyped on skating.
You got the whole introduction at once?
Yeah. I just got pounded.
Are you a surfer, Johnny?
No. I hated surfers. I lived in a surf town so all the surfers were kind of kooks. They weren’t kooks, but they were older, and they were mean to me. I was a boogie boarder and a skim boarder, so they didn’t really like me. I never surfed. I was always against the surfers. That’s why I loved skating. When the surf was down, everybody was like, “Oh. What do you do? There are no waves.” I was skating. I was hyped. I hated the surfers.
That was like in the early ’80s, right?
What was the first pro board you bought?
I had a Mike McGill board, but it got stolen. It was the one with the jet taking off from the aircraft carrier.
Nice. What trucks did you have?
Did you get to go to any skateparks at all?
No. I didn’t even know that there were skateparks, really. I saw them in the old mags, but I thought those parks were all graveyards by then. The only place that was like a skatepark was Devil’s Pit in Pacifica. It was a big old ditch. We skated that. We’d skate down hills. That’s all we used to do. On the side of the hills that we used to skate, we’d used to make little tracks in the dirt off the sidewalk. There’d be hips and big old dirt banks. We’d come down the hill and charge up the banks and snap ollies on the banks and land in the dirt and slide down the dirt and come back into the street. We had that all the way down on all these big old hills that we hitch hiked up every day. We used to session there all the time. It was like a big insane skatepark down the hill, but it was made of packed dirt. Does that make any sense, whatsoever?
Totally. When did you start dropping in on vert or riding pools?
This guy built this vert ramp down the street from my house. I was tripping on it. It was this super big old ramp and it had a roll in on it. I knew how to bomb hills, so I just charged the roll in. From then on, it was all about getting coping, and then getting out of the top. That was the first ramp that I ever skated. All these guys from Pacifica would show up all the time. Keith Cochrane used to show up. He’d bust. He could do inverts and all these tricks. Then he started to bust too hard. He was starting to shine way too hard, and all the local dudes at the ramp started to hate on him. They started spray painting on the ramp, “No Pacificans”. It was hella funny.
Did Fish and Cooksie used to ride there, too?
Yeah. I think so. I don’t even know. At that time, I was so young. I was just tripping. All the older dudes were just killing it. My big thing was to roll in and try to blast an air.
From there, did you start trying to get sponsors and start skating in contests?
Naw. I was cool just skating down hills and ramps and stuff. Then we moved from Half Moon Bay up to Grass Valley.
When did you move to Grass Valley?
I moved to Grass Valley when I was in the eighth grade. It was all dirt out there, so I started riding BMX a lot.
What made you get back into skating?
My friend Toad was my skateboard villain. I had brought my launch ramp and my board up there. He was like, “What is that?” I pulled the ramp out and started doing some early grab launches, and he got all lit up. So we started skating again, instead of riding bikes. All of a sudden, I just started street skating. Then this dude took us to some empty pools around the neighborhood. I started skating pools, and making do with what was around the neighborhood. That was all we had, pools, parking lots and schools. I started focusing on that. Then I started reading the magazines. I always used to trip on cement skateboard parks. I would trip on how much stuff there was to skate at skateboard parks. I’d never seen a skatepark before. I remember seeing this one “Thrasher” magazine with all these skateparks in New Zealand. I was like, “Man. Look at that. They built cement skateparks for skating.” I used to think that was the most amazing thing. It was incredible to me. I didn’t know they really existed in California. Basically, at that time, they didn’t.
They just seemed foreign, huh?
Yeah. The only skatepark that I knew of was the Derby in Santa Cruz.
That was the closest thing to anything.
Up in Grass Valley, you had your little posse, right?
My brother moved to Grass Valley in ’89. That’s when I met you. Who was in your skate crew then?
It was my friend Toad, and Hanzy Driscoll. We had the crew. It was called the THC Crew: Toad, Hanzy and Cardiel.
I remember that, dude. That was funny.
We used to blaze it up.
You guys built jump ramps.
We built little ramps. We skated schools and stuff. We just made do with what we had. There were a lot of dirt roads up here at the time, so we just had to make do.
Did you guys ever get busted by the cops for skateboarding?
Yeah. The local cops hated us. We’d just lurk all day and drink sodas and skate. They couldn’t get rid of us, because we had nowhere else to go.
[Laughs.] Were your parents stoked that you were into skating?
Yeah. I think they were just stoked that I was out of the house. They were just down for whatever. We had a lot of kids running around, so if you were gone, it was good. You know what I mean?
I was always gone anyways. I was always building forts, riding bikes and skating. I was always doing my thing. I didn’t really like kicking it at home anyway. The more I was gone, the more hyped they were.
[Laughs.] When did you start entering contests?
We got a ride up to this Boreal competition. I got a ride with a bunch of older skater heads that were going up there to check it out. We were just going to go watch. But I saw all the obstacles at the Boreal contest, and I was like, “I want to skate.” So I just started skating. People were coming up to me, going, “That was cool.” They were hyped on the tricks that I was doing. I was just stoked that there was so much stuff to skate in one place.
That was the first time you’d ever seen a contest set up?
Yeah. It was the first time ever. I was tripping. I was like, “All this stuff is for skating?” It was a trip to me. I was jin awe of the skaters. I was watching some of the tricks that the pros would do. I was amazed. That’s when I got sponsored.
You got on Spitfire first, right?
Actually, my first sponsor was Dogtown.
You got on Dogtown before Spitfire?
Yeah. Red Dog came up to me at that contest. He was like, “Dude, we like how you ride.” He was all stoked on me. He gave me a bunch of boards. He said, “Give me a call.” So I called him up and he hooked me up with free boards. Red Dog was hella cool. He hooked me up with Keith Cochrane to get me trucks from Venture. Then a week or two later, I saw Shrewgy at a contest, and he hooked me up with Spitfire. I think it was at a contest. I don’t know. It’s all kind of fuzzy in that area.
I think it was at the curb.
Yeah. It was at that curb. All of a sudden, I was riding Spitfires, Ventures and Dogtown. Freak out, you know? I was just riding and having fun. The first time you get free boards you progress so quickly.
When was this?
That was like ’91 or ’90.
Let’s go back a minute. Do you remember skating your first pool?
Yeah. This guy had one in his backyard. He saw us skating in Grass Valley, and he was like, “Hey. I’ve got this pool in my backyard. It looks like a good place to skate.” So Toad and I went and started skating it. We were like, “This is hellica fun”. We kept skating it until the summer came and they filled it with water.
That’s dope. You had your own private pool?
Yeah. It was dope, for a little bit.
Before you missed, you knew.
Did you ever go sess out pools after that?
You know how pools go. We just got lucky. You can’t really search pools out, unless you live in a place where there’s all kinds of pools. It’s always been my experience, that it’s word of mouth. Things just pop up. Pools are weird. You never really know.
So you got on Dogtown after you entered the contest at Boreal?
I didn’t even enter the contest. I was just skating there.
Do you remember your first picture in a magazine?
Yeah. It was a Dogtown ad. There were two dice. My picture was on one of the dice and this other dude’s photo was on the other. It was some freak from LA. I can’t remember who it was. All I can remember is me. Me. Me. Me.
Did I ever tell you about you, Johnny?
Let me tell you the story about me.
Have you ever been arrested for skating?
Yeah. I’ve been thrown in jail a few times. I got thrown in jail with you, one time. Remember that shit?
Aw, dude. I remember it. We both had weed on us.
[Laughs.] Weren’t we at the bottom of Haight?
We bombed the hill, ran the stoplight, and the cop was right there.
Yeah. He was all vexed, because he was yelling at us for days, but he couldn’t ever catch up to us. We were out.
Arto and Julian got away. You and I got busted.
I stashed my weed behind the seat.
Yeah. You stashed yours in the seat of the cop car. I still had mine, but I didn’t want to get rid of it. I was like, “Fuck dude. I just got this.” I tried to stuff it in my shoes. Then when we got processed, they searched us. I was hella tripping. They weren’t going through anybody’s shoes, but then the one person, they go through the shoes with was me. They went through my shoes and found the weed. Then they strip-searched me. Then I got locked up. That shit was fucking wack, dude.
I remember that. I kept telling you to put it in the seat.
No fucking way, dude.
Yeah. I remember that. That was weak. Order a pizza.
[Laughs.] Yeah. That was crazy.
What did you think when you got your first board out?
I was hella stoked. It was rad. I got my first board. I was a pro. All my dreams were coming true. Everything I’ve ever worked for my whole life was happening.
[Laughs.] Did you get your picture on a cereal box?
Yeah. Go for the gold.
You got a board on Dogtown, right? That was your first board, right?
Yeah. Check it out. My first board came out. We had the graphics all done. Everything was ready to go. The ad came out with my graphics on it, and then Dogtown fell apart in San Francisco, and my shit got shit canned. I had to call up Lucero and bust on Black Label.
Then you had your Dogtown board come out on Black Label, right?
Yeah. My first board was the Copenhagen board and then it was on like, Donkey Kong.
Who drew those graphics?
I forget his name. He’s an artist at Santa Cruz.
I liked Nate. I used to work with him a bunch.
What was his last name?
I’ve smoked too much weed to remember.
Yak! Nate Carrico!
Yeah. That’s it. How many boards did you have out on Label?
26.5. [Laughs.] I had mad boards. I don’t even remember.
What was it like riding for the Label?
It was the best thing ever. It was the best. The only thing that happened was, at the end, the paychecks stopped showing up. Board sales were low and things just started dying out. Then Julien [Stranger] and I hooked up. We started talking about doing this skate company. We started talking about trying to get some heads and busting it out. Lo and behold, Anti-Hero was born.
How did you come up with the name for that one?
That was Julien’s gig. He had it all concentrated.
That worked out for you guys.
Yeah. It was tight. A friend of Tobin’s was an artist named Chris Johanson. We hooked up with him and started getting some graphics together. That’s all she wrote.