BONES BRIGADE CHRONICLES:
INTERVIEW by DAN LEVY
Your favorite skateboarder’s favorite skateboarder. He is Steve Caballero. ’80s pioneer and icon, Caballero has had one of the longest professional skateboarding careers. Maintaining sponsors and pleasing crowds since the late ’70s, Cab has served us well as inventor, marketer, supporter and ambassador to the skateboarding community. Ride with the Dragon. Here’s Cab.
Hey, how’s it going?
Nothing much. I’m just hanging out at home and just getting things settled here.
Well, I know there are a lot of people that know a lot about you, but let’s start with where were you born?
I was born in San Jose, CA in 1964.
When did you pick up your first skateboard? How did that happen?
I guess the first time I picked up a skateboard was probably around 1975. It was just the typical neighborhood thing. You would either ride bikes or roller skates or there were skateboards lying around and it was just part of the scene. I’d see kids around the neighborhood skating, so I wanted one as well. You would see stuff on TV. The magazines were there at the convenient stores. You had Skateboard World and Skateboarder. You ended up wanting to pick up a skateboard because it looked interesting. My dad and my mom bought me one of those wooden boards with the steel wheels and then I graduated to a wooden board with clay wheels and then I just kept getting better and better ones. I kept going to the store and they kept coming out with different ones like those GT’s, those classic ones and then the urethane wheels came out, but it had the encased bearings, so the bearings would fall out, if you didn’t have your wheels tightened all the way. I started from the beginning. I even roller-skated on steel skates before I owned a skateboard. They used to have those black and white skates with steel wheels and the black ones were the guys and the white ones were the girls.
What was the neighborhood you grew up in like?
I grew up in a neighborhood that wasn’t high income or low income. It was just pretty much medium. It was predominantly Mexican or black. At my school, Caucasians were the minority.
That’s interesting, because it’s the other way around a lot of times in skateboarding. It was kind of a white-dominated thing back then, you know?
Yeah. That’s why skateboarding wasn’t very popular around where I lived. There was only a few friends that would ride around on skateboards with me. Even in junior high and high school, it was only a few of us that rode a skateboard out of the whole school.
When you first started riding a board, did you love it and you were just going to keep doing it? Did you fall in love with it right away?
I went through stages with skating. I had never skated a park or a ramp before, so I was just kind of cruisin’ around, trying to make it down the driveway, and playing kick the can with skateboards. Boys at the school were trying to push and slide on your tail as far as you can and see how many squares you could hit. It wasn’t until I started looking at the magazines and seeing what you could actually do on a skateboard that I tried to build my own ramps and quarter-pipes in my front yard. I started trying to do the things that I saw in the magazines. I ended up getting a Ty Page Freeformer skateboard that was made of wood. It had sealed bearings and grip tape on the top and that was one of my first pro boards. I rode that for a while and took that down to L.A. I had gone down to Disneyland every year when I was ten until about twelve and I saw a skateboard park on Highway 5, right across the street. I saw these people skating at a skateboard park and I asked my dad, “Next time we go down to Disneyland, can we go to this park?” It was the Concrete Wave in Orange County, right across the street from Disneyland. My dad took me there and I was trying to go down the snake run and I’d never went frontside or backside, I was learning how to go down the snake run and it was very challenging. I just kept trying it all day until I made it. Then I hopped into the pool and I was doing kickturns in there and getting up to tile. I was like, “This is so fun.” After that I was hooked.
I loved skateboard parks. Unfortunately we didn’t have any parks in San Jose until a few months later. Winchester Skatepark was being built and after that Campbell and then, all of a sudden, tons of them started coming up all over the Bay.
You were like eleven or twelve maybe?
I was 12 when I started really getting into it and I got pads. I went to the store and bought this hockey helmet and these soccer pads. You can see in the new Bones doc the stuff that I’m wearing. That’s stuff I just bought at the store because I didn’t know what to use. I was just trying to emulate what I saw in the magazines.
Were your parents still together when you first started skating?
Actually, my dad divorced my mom when I was eleven, so it was around the same time. My dad was around when he got me my first skateboard. When I went to my first skateboard park, Concrete Wave in Orange County, my dad had already left my mom and that was age 12.
Wow. Gnarly. During that point, you started hitting tiles. Could you make a living at skateboarding at that point or was it something that was just fun?
I guess some of the pros at that time were making some money. Obviously, Stacy Peralta, Tony Alva, Ty Page and Steve Cathey were making money doing demos and stuff. There were pros and you could tell by just reading the magazines that they would win money and they had endorsements. That was something that someone could aspire to.
I know you were 12 years old, but did it ever cross your mind, “I want to do this forever and maybe I can make it or was that something that came later?
I never looked at it as a career. I never went, “I want to be pro someday.” That wasn’t even on my mind because that’s not something that was talked about around home. It wasn’t even recognized in the media. No one was talking about becoming a professional skateboarder. I just did it because it was fun and challenging and I’ve always liked challenges. That’s what excites me is being challenged by something. It was more of an enjoyment and challenge for me. Skateboarding was something that I could be good at and progress at.
Was your mom really supportive of your skateboarding?
Yeah. Both my parents were super supportive. They bought me my first skateboards, my first gear, my first Vans and took me to my first skateboard park. My mom would drive me to the skatepark every weekend when they did open up here in San Jose. She would wait for me in the parking lot until I got out. When the parks closed, she let me build my own ramp in my backyard, so they were definitely supportive. They never looked down on it as far as not wanting me to do it. I don’t think my mom really understood that you could make a living off of it. When I turned 18 and graduated high school, I had already been pro since age 15 so two or three years had already been passed and my mom brings up the question, “What are you going to do after school?” I’m like, “Mom, I’m a pro skateboarder. I travel the world. I’ve got endorsements.” She had no clue and that’s because skateboarding wasn’t looked at as something you did as a career. She was kind of naive about that as my profession.
When you turned pro at age 15 in 1980, that was actually a transitional time in skateboarding. How did it happen that you got your first sponsor?
Well, my first sponsor was actually a skateboard park named Campbell Skateboard Park, which was in Campbell, California, within San Jose in Silicon Valley. Winchester Skateboard Park was the park that I first skated here. About six months later, Campbell Skatepark opened, which was about a mile away. I had to pay to skate Winchester. I would go every weekend and then I went to go check out Campbell just to check out a new park and I noticed they had a really good deal there where you could skate for a whole month for $30. That was like a dollar a day all day long, so I ended up just going there and skating there. It was a lot cheaper and I could skate more and I could just go after-school, but I noticed that they would do stuff for the kids. They would have events every weekend. We would have competitions and kids would get together and they could compete against each other and push each other and Winchester never had that for their community or the amateurs. They only had big pro bowl events. They never did anything for their amateurs, but Campbell Skatepark did. They were more family-oriented. The family could get together and just support the kids. They had an A,B and C team and you could qualify for those teams at the Campbell Skatepark. If you got on the A team, you were like the top team there. Being on the A team, you got free boards, wheels, trucks and equipment that they would flow you. Plus, you got to travel to the other skateboard parks and compete at the other events, so I tried super hard to get on the A team. I finally made it on there and, in my memorabilia collection, I have a sheet of paper where I wrote down every contest that I had entered from the beginning of that time at Campbell. It’s about 25 contests of the first contests I ever entered. I kept a record of what I won and where, so it was pretty cool.
So you would come home from school and take the bus to the skatepark? Did you have anybody that went with you or you just pretty much did it yourself?
I just went by myself and then my mom would pick me up at night, so I wouldn’t have to take the bus home at night. After school, I would just get some money for a transfer and take it there. Even on the weekends, I’d go there on the bus and my mom would pick me up at night. I’d just stay at the park all day. I was a park rat. I just hung out and spent my time there at the skateboard park.
That’s rad that you would take the bus by yourself at such a young age because you were that dedicated to it.
I had a passion for it, and back then it was fairly safe to do stuff by your self. It’s not like nowadays where there’s a lot more danger being by yourself. In the ‘70s, we got away with a lot. We didn’t have seatbelts back then, and no helmet laws. We played in the streets and did so many things that nowadays everyone is so cautious about.
So you get on the A team at Campbell and just started progressing?
I got on the A team there and then we had competitions at our home park and then we would go to other parks and there was a series called the USASA Northern California Series. Our team got top honors for beating all the other skateboard parks around the Bay area and we got invited down to Southern California for the nationals in Escondido in 1979. Stacy Peralta and Steve Cathey were the judges for the contest and it was an age division thing. I ended up getting fifth place in the event in my age division, and my other teammate Clay Townsend got first. After the event, Stacy Peralta walks up to both of us and says, “I really like the way you skate. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Stacy Peralta. I’m looking to start a team. I’m starting a new company called Powell Peralta. I’d like you to join it.” We were just blown away. We didn’t even know what to say. We were just meeting Stacy Peralta for the first time and now he wants us to ride for his team. [Laughs]
That’s so crazy.
It was crazy. On the way back home, Clay and I were just talking about it. The whole team was talking about it. It was a really neat experience. I just told Stacy like, “Well, can we give you an answer later? I have to ask my parents first.” He said, “Well, I’m coming back up there next month for the Hester series contest at Winchester. I’ll be up there skating with some of the team and you can give me your answer there.” I was like, “Alright.” So my dad said yes and I was very excited not only to see the Hester Contest and the pro bowl there at Winchester Skatepark, but to also tell Stacy that I wanted to be a part of his team.
Let’s back up for one second. When you got fifth in that contest, what were you doing as far as maneuvers?
I was doing backside airs, backside roll-ins, inverts, laybacks and rock n’ rolls. I think that’s why Stacy saw something in me. I was doing tricks that the bigger guys were doing and at age 14.
Okay, so at the Hester Series, do you remember the conversation with Stacy?
I just remembered going up to his car and he had some team guys there and he had some products in the backseat. I just walked up to him and said, “Hello, Stacy, I want to ride for the team. I came to give you our decision.” He was stoked and I got to watch the contest and see him in action and watch him compete, which was pretty cool.
How did he do?
I’m not sure how he did. I remember he was very serious about his competition. He took it very seriously. I think he got upset when Strople placed higher than him. I could tell that he was a very fierce competitor. [Laughs]
[Laughs] That’s so cool. So now you’re on the Am flow team for Powell Peralta? Is that how that went down?
Yeah. He would just ask me what I needed and he’d send me a package. I got my first package and I got photos of me at the park with my new set up. I had a yellow Ray Bones Rodriquez board with the red skull and sword with Bones Wheels and Bones rails.
Tell me what it was like when you first got your first package from Powell Peralta.
I was just blown away, especially by that board. To this day, the Ray Bones Rodriquez is one of the most amazing graphics ever. You can see that in the film. You could see it in the magazines in Ray Bones advertising. Getting it in the mail was surreal. I couldn’t believe this was really happening. I’m actually on a team. I’m going to be traveling. Stacy had mentioned that I would be traveling down to Southern California every once in a while and he took us to all these skateboard parks and got photos taken of us. He was definitely preparing us for what was to come and what it was about. Stacy was like our agent. He was showing us around, calling the magazines. He did everything for us. We just had to do our thing and he set it up, just like any artist. He was a rad team manager. He really made opportunities happen for us. We’d just follow through and do our part. We worked as a team. He did his part as an agent and a manager and we did our part as the talent.
At this point, who else was on the team?
Well, if you look at the old Bones Brigade in the class of 1979 ad, Scott Foss is in the ad next to me. He’s another Northern California skateboarder from back in the day. He replaced Clay Townsend because Clay actually quit a month after we got that package due to just being a teenager and not really into it anymore. He just seemed to like partying and girls and cars. I was 15 and he was 17, so he was already a little bit older. He got replaced by Scott Foss, so it was me, Scott Foss, Mike Jeslowski, Jamie Godfrey from New Jersey, Mike McGill and Alan Gelfand from Florida, Ray Bones Rodriquez and Jay Smith from L.A. and Stacy Peralta.
Wow. That’s a heavy crew. After you were in your first Powell Peralta ad and it came out in a magazine, did you think to yourself like, “Oh wow, this is going to be what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.”
No. I still didn’t. I was an amateur skateboarder on a skateboard team. It really had nothing to do with the profession. I was 15. I was still in high school, so I was still thinking about going to college, even after I got sponsored by Powell and Peralta. It wasn’t until I got a model in 1980 and started making money that I knew that this was my passion, and my direction. Then I knew that this is what I was going to do for a living. I was going to compete and do contests and demos and have signature boards and endorse products. That’s what I chose. After that, through high school, I didn’t really care about going to college. I was too busy traveling to even go to college.
How did it all happen when you got your first pro model? Was it a phone call? How did that go down?
Well, the way it came down, Stacy geared us up as far as something that we could strive for with the more we progressed and the better we did in contests. He always pressed that your contests results determined how good of a skateboarder you were, so I was brought up competing. That’s been my life. That’s why I’m so competitive because that’s been my life since the beginning, being a competitor, being on top. I understood that the more you brought to the table, the higher you would place. I knew that I had to progress and learn tricks. I knew I had to practice at a very young age, so that’s what I wanted to do. I would just go to the skateboard park and try to learn tricks I’d seen in the magazine. I wanted to learn it because I wanted to do what those guys were doing. I wanted to be at their level.
So Stacy just called you one day and told you that you were getting a pro model?
Well, Scott Foss and I were the top amateurs at that time and we were winning either getting first or second in all the contests in Southern California, and then there was this Winchester open that happened. It was a pro/am and I ended up getting second place behind Eddie Elguera who was the number one skateboarder in the whole world. Scott Foss got third, Duane Peters got fourth. It was a pro/am, so you could win money and back then if you won money and you took it that meant you turned pro. It had nothing to do with having a model. It had nothing to do with having a pro shoe. Being a professional means to be paid for skateboarding, so I don’t understand the whole thing where amateurs are getting paid. That doesn’t make you an amateur. Anyone who gets paid is a pro. In my book, that will always be that way and I don’t see anyone changing that. It’s kind of fake when you hear about guys getting paid and they call themselves amateurs. It’s not true. It’s a false reality. So at that contest, Scott and I got second and third and we turned down the money because Stacy said, “Hey, I want you to turn down this money. I want you to stay amateur for another year. I want you to dominate the amateur circuit. Make yourself well known in contest series and in the magazines and when it’s time for you to turn pro, you’re going to get a model.” So that was something to shoot for. I was trying very hard to become the best amateur skateboarder in the world.
So you agreed with that immediately?
Well, yeah, because I didn’t know. I was just following Stacy’s lead and he was my team manager and my agent, so I was going to listen to the guy that just gave me this opportunity to become a sponsored skateboarder. He’s a pro and he owns the company, so I guess he knows what he’s talking about. Scott and I just did what he said and stayed amateur for another year. I rode the Ray “Bones” Rodriquez board my whole amateur time and when I did turn pro in the Gold Cup Series in ‘80. Through that whole series I rode a Ray “Bones” Rodriquez board. I was still riding someone else’s signature board being a rookie pro for a whole season, until I got my first model.
Wow. So you’re extremely competitive and you’re winning contests and that’s a different kind of mentality. Some skateboarders run for the hills when it comes to competition.
[Laughs] They can’t deal with the pressure.
What does it really take to win a contest?
Well, it’s just the same with anything. The more time, effort, dedication and thought you put into something, the more you’re going to be successful at it. Obviously, when you come up on top of a podium and you become first place, you’ve actually been successful that day. What I learned at a very young age is that it takes a lot of thought, strategy, practice and hard work to get on top and stay there, so I take contests very seriously. It’s not a joke to me because it puts me on top, and it puts my sponsors on top. It’s the way professionals make a living. There’s a prize purse, so that money does help support my family. It’s always great, but the money part never really drove me. That’s just the icing on the cake. When I’m in a competition, I’m not thinking about the money. I’m just thinking about the place.
What do you mean by that?
Back in the day, when you got first place, that meant you got your picture in the magazine, so that always was something that inspired me and encouraged me to win. It was cool to see the magazine and see your photo in there. That was always a really cool thing.
There was no video yet, so the magazines were everything, right?
Yeah, the magazines were everything. If you wanted exposure, you had to be in the magazines.