INTERVIEW BY CHRISTIAN HOSOI
INTRODUCTION BY DAN LEVY
PHOTOS BY LESTER KASAI AND SK8SESSION.COM
From Vegas to LA, from the Bones Brigade to Steadham Skates Industries, Steve Steadham has persevered with natural creativity and talent. With a unending lust for tranny that’s as strong as his passion for music, Steadham continues to make his mark on the world. Steve is currently working on a revolutionary music and skateboarding video project featuring some of the heaviest names in vert skating. Look for Steadham on his tour bus at the Vans Skatepark in Orange, or across the country, coming soon, to a town near you.“I WANTED TO PUT OUT DESIGNS FOR SKATERS WITHOUT CHANGING IT INTO SOME GENERIC THING.”
Steadham? It’s Christian.
Yo. What’s up, man?
How’s it going, bro? Are you ready to do this interview?
Let’s start with where and when you were born.
I was born in Farmington, NM, in February, 1963.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Las Vegas and California. I went to high school in Las Vegas.
When did you first pick up a skateboard?
I was 17 when I started skateboarding.
Wow. You started late. What got you interested in skateboarding?
I went to a freestyle contest and it looked like fun. I was really into wrestling in high school. During the off-season, I started skating.
This was ’79 or ’80?
I think it was ’79.
What was your first board?
My first real board was a Logan Earth Ski board with Road Rider 4s.
What brought you out to California?
What year did you move out to California?
I moved to California in 1981, the week after I graduated. I moved to Anaheim and lived with Freddy Desoto for a year or two.
How long was it from the time you picked up a skateboard until you started to rip and decided that skateboarding was what you wanted to do? Was it right away or did it take awhile?
It was a few years. I was living in Vegas and skating hardcore. Then I moved out here and got sponsored by Powell in ’82. It happened so fast. I remember coming out to California and seeing you at Marina. You were tiny. You had really long hair. You were ripping. I thought you were a girl.
[Laughs.] Do you remember where we met? Was it at Whittier?
Yeah, I started hanging out with you and your dad. I’d come over and stay at your place in LA.
Didn’t you work at Whittier?
Yeah, I worked there for a while, managing the pro shop.
Who were you working with?
Lance Mountain worked there. Neil Blender, Lester Kasai and John Lucero were locals. I hung out with Lester all the time and skated with him.
I remember those days. We were going over there after Marina closed. That became my little local park. How long did you work at Whittier?
It was probably a year and half. It was so much fun. It was quite a while before they closed.
You just went straight from riding a Logan Earthski to riding for Powell?
[Laughs.] No. I started riding Mike McGill Powell boards when I moved to LA. All I rode was Powell boards. The Bones Brigade was the bomb. I was just out there riding all the parks and skating every day.
How long did you ride for Powell as an amateur before you turned pro?
I think it was about a year and a half.
What year did you turn pro?
That was in ’84.
By that time, Whittier was closed. Where’d you go from there?
I moved down to San Diego. I lived there for the next 20 years.
Who did you move down there with?
How much money were you making back then?
When I was pro, I was making $30,000 or $40,000 a year, but my board was only out for a year on Powell. Then I stopped riding for them and started my own company.
Was that your basic income? That’s what you were surviving on?
Yeah, that’s how I was doing it. I also worked at Uncle Wiggly skateboards for four years. I was making skateboards and stuff.
Who were you hanging out with in San Diego?
Grant Brittain, Tony Hawk and Tony Magnusson. I skated with all the locals like Owen Nieder and Tod Swank.
Who was that one guy that you used to live with when you had the ramp down there?
Dave Badore. I used to skate with him a lot. He used to work at Uncle Wiggly for a long time, too. We lived together and worked together. We were always skating.
What happened to Dave Badore?
He’s doing some music stuff now. I think he got married. He’s in San Diego somewhere.
I remember you were playing drums back then. Were you already playing drums when you got into skateboarding or did that come afterwards?
I played drums for a second before I started skating. I started playing drums seriously after I started skating. It was just something to do with my spare time when I wasn’t skating. Dave and I started a band called Shredded Steel. After that, I got into playing keyboards and doing vocals. Now I’m a songwriter and music producer, too.
What did you do after Shredded Steel?
I started a band called Citizen X. It was a reggae and ska band. I’m doing that full time now. We’ve been playing all over the place. We did seven or eight tours to Canada and all over the US.
When did that start?
That was around 1992.
Awesome. So you started your band Shredded Steel in the mid ’80s, and you did that until you started Citizen X. What did you skate after Del Mar closed? What year did Del Mar close?
I think they bulldozed it in ’85 or ’86. I built a ramp that I skated all the time. I had a big ramp for a long time on the side of the freeway down in San Diego. A lot of people were skating that ramp. It was pretty cool. Danny Way was hitting it all the time.
Was there anything else to ride?
I would skate at Mike McGill’s skatepark, too.
So you continued to skate and then you started traveling around with us and going to all the contests, when you were riding for Powell.
When did you stop riding for Powell?
It was around late 1985.
Who did you skate for after that?
Who did you do that with?
I had an investor that was an owner of Sure Grip, the rollerskate company that made all of the rollerskates for all of the rollerrinks around the world. We just put it under my own name, because I didn’t want to ride for Sure Grip. It was called Steadham Design SGI. We did that for five years, doing full production stuff.
How did that work out?
That worked out good, but it wasn’t good for my skating. I wasn’t skating as much, because I was running the company. That takes away a lot of your mental energy, or at least it did for me. Instead of thinking about skating, I was thinking about ad deadlines and production. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. I was picky about my graphics, so I always had to change stuff and over see stuff. That took a lot of time.
Did you continue entering contests?
Yeah, I was skating in contests until ’89 then vert slowed down.
So in ’89, you stopped entering contests, did you continue doing the skateboard company?
Yeah, I had the company for a few more years. There were a lot of vert and ramp contests. When I had the company I was sponsoring riders and doing all of that. Then I discovered I had a passion for music, so I started doing that full time. I started traveling doing music.
And you were living in San Diego the whole time?
Yeah, I lived in Cardiff, and then I moved to Santee. I had this big recording studio for about five years. I had a house fire and lost everything.
Wow. You had a fire and it burned everything you had? Tell me about that.
We went to go to Jack in the Box one day before we started rehearsing. I was coming back and I see all these helicopters above my house. I was like, ‘That’s crazy. It looks like it’s near my house.’ I didn’t think it was my house. Then as we were getting closer, I was like, ‘Wow. That’s right by my house.’ But my mom was at my house, so I didn’t think anything of it. I turned the corner and some skater kid rolled up and said, ‘Your house is on fire, but your mom got out okay.’ My jaw just dropped. It was crazy.
What caused the fire?
The house had a fire a year before we moved into it. There was something wrong with the electrical wiring.
So you lost everything that you had?
What year was that?
Did you have lots of memorabilia in there?
Yeah. I had a ton of stuff. I had all my old boards and my old graphics. I had $80,000 worth of recording equipment. Like an idiot, I didn’t have renter’s insurance. I was buying the house, so it wasn’t in my name yet. It was a lease to own option thing. I had all of this recording equipment and, the next thing I know, it’s all burned up. The firemen were pulling it out of this pool of water. My mom got out okay, so I didn’t really care about all of that other junk. It didn’t mean anything at that point.
That must have been devastating for you, huh?
Yeah, it was really hard. It didn’t really hit me, because I was just happy that my mom got out. I figured that I could replace all the other stuff.
During my drug days, I lost one of my storage units. It had everything in it. It had all my toys from when I was a kid. It had all my clothes and my collectible leather jackets. I had all this stuff that I’d collected throughout the years, and I lost it all. I wasn’t able to pay the monthly rent for it. I was out of town and I had asked someone to pay it for me and they didn’t pay it. I ended up losing all of my stuff. It was pretty devastating. It’s awesome that your mom got out of there. Did she have a hard time getting out?
No, she got out okay. I had left the phone on top of the stairs, which I never do. It was a two-story house. I’d walked upstairs, before we left and gave the phone to my mom. I was like, ‘Mom, someone might call about rehearsal, so if they do, just tell them I’ll be right back.’ While we were gone, one of my friends, a musician named Derek, called my mother. She went downstairs to see where I was, and saw that the house was on fire.
Wow. That’s insane.
It was a real blessing that he called. She saw the fire and got out of there. She was trying to go back inside and get my keyboards and stuff, but the people next door were like, ‘Forget that stuff.’ God is great.
Let’s go back. What was it like skating for the Bones Brigade?
It was awesome. It was the best experience of my life.
I rode for them when I was an amateur, but only for a short while. That was in 1979 and 1980. Tell me what it was like to ride with Cab, Hawk, Lance and McGill.
It was so awesome being on that team. I never thought I’d be good enough to skate with those types of guys. Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero, Tony Hawk and Mike McGill were the nicest people I’d ever met. They weren’t stuck up at all. It was so perfect. It was a trip. The energy and being part of the team was one of the best experiences ever. They just loved skateboarding so much. They were so into skateboarding that it made me skate better. Steve Caballero is my all time skate hero.
Tell me about the day that they came to you and said they wanted you to ride for them. Who got you on the team? Did Stacy approach you?
I was at Upland one day. I used to ride in all the CASL contests. I would enter every event. The Powell team was all there for some event that was coming up, and they were all watching me skate. I heard someone say that they were looking at me to sponsor me. I was like, ‘Yeah, right.’ I didn’t really believe that. Then I guess they had all the riders vote. They all had to agree with a vote to add someone to the team, so they were all watching me skate. Then Stacy walked over and said, ‘Hey, we all like what you’re doing. We want you to be part of the Bones Brigade.’ That’s pretty much how it went down. I still didn’t believe it until I got my first huge boxes of product at my door from the UPS man. I think the UPS truck is the best truck in the world.
You were just skating one afternoon at Upland and you got sponsored. You thought it was a joke?
Yeah, I thought they were just pulling my leg. Even after he asked me, I thought they were pulling some prank. There weren’t a lot of black riders then. It was like a dream come true. I couldn’t believe it.
There were a few black riders like Marty Grimes and Freddy Desoto. They were some of the best guys. Who else was there?
There wasn’t anyone else that I can think of. You pretty much named them.
So here you are, one of the only black riders during that time, and you’re one of the best. When did you decide you wanted to turn pro? Was there a point when you thought you were ready?
Well, I skated in all the amateur CASL contests, and I won a lot of those events. Kevin Staab would always beat me in pool skating, for some reason, but I always got first or second in the pool events. I won the banked slalom events and the tight slalom stuff. Then I was at Upland skating at those contests and won those. The next day, I told Stacy I was going to turn pro. He looked at me like I was crazy. He said, ‘No. We don’t want you to turn pro. We’re not going to pay for you to turn pro.’ I looked at him and said, ‘I guess I have to pay for myself.’ I actually entered the contest on my own, and paid for it myself. Stacy wasn’t going to support me to turn pro, but I turned pro the next day anyway.
He continued to sponsor you though, because he ended up giving you a model.
Yeah, I earned the model. I didn’t fall once during the whole contest. I ended up getting fourth place at my first pro contest.
Was Stacy stoked?
Yeah, he was stoked, but I don’t think he was too happy about it either, because he was wrong. I was ready to be pro. He was a really powerful person and I don’t think he was wrong that often. So I did really well at that contest. I won the pipe contest. I won the banked slalom. I won the longest carve. He was like, ‘Wow. This guy isn’t kidding.’ He was cool, but I never really had a good vibe with him after that. He was stoked on me, but he didn’t want me to turn pro, and I didn’t like that.
How long did it take you to get your model?
Well, I entered a contest the next weekend at Eagle Rock and got second. I thought I should have won, to be honest. Back then, if you were a new pro, your image and your hype with the judges isn’t there yet, so you had to skate a lot better than anyone else. The next contest was in Nebraska. I got fourth. I beat Lance Mountain. That’s when Stacy said, ‘Okay, I’m going to give you a board.’ I’d done three contests in a row and placed in the top five in all of them.
That’s awesome. I remember being at a lot of those contests at Eagle Rock and the Midwest Melee in Nebraska. What were some of your favorite contests?
Upland was my main thing. I always did well there. It was the biggest pool and it was the gnarliest lines and stuff.
Were you there for the Animal Chin ramp?
No, I quit right at that point. I wasn’t part of that. I probably should have stayed on the team for a few more years.
What made you quit?
I had the best selling board on their team since the day my board was released. I actually got letters from George every month saying I had the most orders again. Then they sent the Bones Brigade on vacation, but they didn’t send me. The other guys on the team got back and asked me, ‘Where were you? They told us that you were too busy working to go.’ I was like, ‘What are you talking about? Where did you go?’ They said, ‘They sent the Bones Brigade on this vacation to congratulate the team because we did so well. We all went and hung out together.’ That’s when I realized that I wasn’t that important to them. I knew I was the only black guy, but they must have thought I was retarded or something. Even to this day, I truly believe that. It was like, ‘He’s the best, but he can’t figure anything out.’ I was selling the most boards and they didn’t even invite me on the vacation. When I realized that, I was like, ‘You know what? If I get hurt, I’m through. They’re not going to take care of me. I’m not going to have anything.’ So I quit. It wasn’t about money. It was about self-respect. They weren’t respecting me, but they were making money from me, so I decided to ride for myself. I rode for my own name. I felt like I was doing something for myself. I figured if I did get hurt, I wouldn’t have someone pulling that kind of stuff on me. It just wasn’t right. It was a hard thing to do to quit the team.