While touring the new Vans office, we caught up with Steve Caballero to talk about 25 years of the Half Cab, among other things.
Interview and portraits by Jeff Thorburn
How much are you skating? I know you're doing a lot of things, and I want to touch on them, but what's your skate routine right now?
I'm trying to skate as much as possible. I'm skating a lot more now because my 10-year-old son is back into skating.
Okay. Back into skating, you say?
Yeah, he was kind of not into it for a while, but now he got a buzz into it, so every time he wants to go to a park, I take him. Been hanging out with Hosoi and his kids a lot, skating with him. I've been actually trying to concentrate on getting back in the street a little bit and doing some of that stuff, 'cause I haven't skated street for pretty much 17 years, and there's that side of my career that people don't really know nowadays.
Where would you go skate?
There is a park about four minutes from my house. But when it comes to skating transition, the Tony Hawk indoor facility is another five, ten minutes from my house, so I skate there a lot, and I also try to make it up this way, up to the Combi so I can try to practice in there once in a while.
Practice for the Pool Party that they have every year. That thing creeps up every year and I always want to make a better appearance than the previous year.
You want to defend the title next year, eh?
Always. You know, we're in there to battle. And I just want represent the old dudes that are still skating.
Yeah. I think people get really excited. Every time I post on Instagram, obviously I have a huge following, but they like video, especially if I post something that has to do with street skating, I can see what's happening, and I can see where it's going. It's like they want to see more of that. I see more likes, more comments. They definitely like moving stuff rather than just pictures.
That's the trend. Do you have a short-term or a long-term goal for your own street skating right now?
No, I don't really have very many goals for that, except for just try to skate more, and try to get all those tricks I had back, and try to show the fans that I have now that I can still do that stuff. It just takes a while to get back on the horse. It's a different discipline. I ride a different board. The wheel base is smaller, the wheels are smaller for street. My stance is different. It's just different muscles that you use. It's two different disciplines, so you have to be in the mindset of both.
Would reaching the level you've hit street skating again be harder than in transistion skating?
I definitely will not do the stuff I was doing 17 years ago, because that's why I quit. I was 35 at the time, doing the stuff and going down on huge 13 stair handrails at 35 and was like, "I'm too old for this." So I don't want to do that anymore. But for me, wearing pads feels a little bit more safe, and it felt like I was getting back into what I grew up doing, and that was vert skating and riding pools and stuff.
I like to go on different transitions as far as my motivation and things I want to do, and you kind of get over stuff after a while. When I got into street skating in '95 really heavily to 2000, that was kind of a new thing for me. Now I feel like I kind of want to go back into that. I kind of want to go backwards a little bit and refresh up in that, and just stoke people out. I make a little joke about it. I talk about it in the third person, but I call it Street Cab. So like, "Street Cab made an appearance today." It's a joke, but it's funny.
I think it's encouraging for, like I said, the older generation who have kids that maybe stopped skating, when they see that I'm still doing stuff that they were doing years ago. I can hear in the comments, "Oh man, that's so rad you're still skating. I gotta get my board out." That feels good. It feels like I'm still doing my job as far as motivating people to get stoked on skating. Doesn't matter if it's bowls, vert, or street.
That's great. It's still a job. You still put that focus on it.
Yeah man. I always treat it like a job. I'm a professional at what I do and I take everything seriously.
What's a typical day like for you? You have a lot of interests, so do you touch on most of those interests over the course of a day?
It changes. I've done day in the lives, where I've kind of faked it, where I've kind of included everything.
A little bit of painting, a little bit of Street Cab…
Then music, yeah. Ride some dirt bikes. But it changes. Especially being married and having kids. That's that aspect too that I have to be professional at as well. Wake up, take the kids to school. If they have any other activities outside, like my daughter has gymnastics on Tuesdays so I try to take her to gymnastics. Try to spend time with them because they're growing up fast. But I travel a lot, so—I had just been gone for five days, and they keep calling me, "When are you coming home?" And then I came straight here for interviews. Then tomorrow I have an interview and filming for a motorcycle thing. It just doesn't stop. Which is good.
You talk about work, being a professional. Is skateboarding the main focus or the only focus on a professional level? Or motorcycles, music, painting, is any of that ... Do you include that in the professional life?
I would say skateboarding first in my professional life, then I would say art, then music. The reason why I say music is because I don't play that much. I just started a new band called The Road Surfers and we're going to start recording and playing, so that may turn into something. But I use the word "profession" meaning I make money at what I do. Because I've gotten heavily into the art scene and I've been making money at it, so it's become a profession, just like skating did in the past. It was a hobby, it was something I really was passionate about, then I got to a certain level where I got sponsored, then I started getting paid and making money on contests and endorsement, and that turned into my profession. I was no longer an amateur. I was making a living off of it.
At this point, I have been hired by a lot of companies to do artwork, and I've been doing art shows and stuff, so it's kind of turning into a secondary job. I spend a lot of time, and I feel that the band is going to turn into that as well, because if we start playing now, that means we have to practice.
So what's your hobby? What's your non-lucrative activity?
My hobby? It wants to be surfing but I have to try to find time for that because that's a lot of work too.
Do you ever do that?
I try. I have a little bit but it's hard. It's not easy. Just the paddling part, learning how to time the waves, that's a lot of effort. But once you do catch one you're like, "Oh, this is what it's about. I want to do it again." Then you sit there for another half an hour.
What's been your relationship with Vans over the years? When did you first get involved?
My first experience with Vans would probably be 1978 when I bought my first pair. They had a small little Vans store in Northern California. I would just look at the magazines and I'd see all these ads with Stacy Peralta promoting the skateboard shoe, the world's first skateboard shoe, Vans. Go to the park, "Oh, people are wearing Vans, I need to get Vans." So I bought a pair of Vans. When I got sponsored by Powell-Peralta in 1979, I started getting free Vans, not from Vans, but from Stacy, who was sponsored by them, and over the years I'd wear Vans.
Then something happened with the company. It's gone through a couple changes, but we just weren't getting Vans anymore, so we started wearing other shoes like Chuck Taylors, Jordans, Pumas, then I started wearing Airwalks when they first started, and I think Vans kind of caught wind of maybe them not seeing themselves in the marketplace. Then I got a call from Everett Rosecrans, who was the team manager at the time here. It was 1988, and he said, "We're interested in you. We want to pay you. We want you to ride for Vans, and we're thinking about giving you a signature shoe." When I heard “pay, signature shoe,” I signed up real quick.
Did that happen right away? The shoe? What was the process of that?
The shoe took a while, only because I wasn't too happy with the contract that they were giving me. It took me a while for them to convince me to sign it. But over the years, I've seen about five different CEOs come and go, and one CEO landed here where I was able to change my contract after the Half Cab came out.
When did the first version come out?
1989. It was Caballero high-top. Then three years later, in '92, the Half Cab was released. Then after around '93 or '94, Vans distribution went worldwide and they started making shoes in Korea, and that's when the first Low Cab came out.
What was it like seeing all the chopped down Cabs?
It was cool. I started seeing that around 1990, '91.
Do you remember the first time you saw it?
I don't. I talked to someone at Thrasher, and I wanted them to do the research as far as the first time a Half Cab cut down with duct tape ever showed up in a picture. I want to find out who that is, then I want to interview that guy and ask him, "Who did you see do that?" And then, "Oh, I saw this person do it." Then interview that guy, "Who did you see do this?" And so on, and I may go down to find who did the first cut-down, or maybe everyone's gonna claim, "I did it first."
Yeah. First guy would say he never saw anybody do it.
Yeah. Who knows? But that would be really, really cool to find out who influenced that, because I don't know who did it.
Did you ever do it?
I started copying people. Yeah. I started seeing the magazine, I started seeing people do it, so I did it myself as well, then probably after the second or third pair, I was like, "This is dumb." I called up Vans like, "Can we make a shoe that's half the size, 'cause everyone's cutting my shoe down and duct taping it. I've seen some people sew it, people putting stickers." I called either Everett or Steve Van Doren, and I said "Hey, I have a great idea. Let's cut my shoe down, let's call it the Half Cab. Let's make it like the Jordan and have it like he has the Jumpman, so let's get a silhouette of me doing a Half Cab and let's call it the Half Cab, and put it out in a bunch of different colors." And they went with it. They went with that idea and here we are today, 25 years later celebrating its anniversary and it's still one of the most popular shoes from Vans.
You've had other shoes in that time period, but why do you think that the Half Cab has endured? I know it’s had ups and downs maybe, but why does it still stand up today?
I don't think it's really had ups and downs. It's always been in the line, just like the Classic Slip-On. I just think if you look back at history, within Vans it hasn't really been pushed because it's an old shoe. It's not like you want to keep pushing an old shoe. They're always trying to develop new shoes and offer something that's a new development. I just think that something happened within the company—I guess it could relate to Geoff Rowley, when he signed on and helped push his shoe, which was more toward the old school vulcanized look, and they tried to focus on that, the roots, so the low top Vans, the high top side-stripe, the Slip-On, they started focusing on those. And because my shoe, the Half Cab, was in that line, has always been in that line as a Classic, that it just brought attention to it again.
Then when they did Vault, and when they did the Syndicate, they did really cool collaborations with the shoe that were only for specialty shops, which hyped it up. Then they started doing collaborations with Supreme, started doing collaborations with tattoo artists and other artists. You do certain special things that are limited, then it kind of brings the hype back up, up to the point where we celebrated my 20th anniversary in 2012. That's the first time in 20 years they've run a full campaign, releasing a Half Cab each month, so that was a big push. That brought sales up.
How much say do you have in what a Half Cab looks like nowadays.
So it can be anything they like.
Pretty much. I'll see new colourways if I go to a store. Now, because Instagram is so global and you can see everything, I'll see a collaboration with somebody. But it's not like I get a phone call every day going like, "Hey Cab, we've got a new collaboration with this shop. What do you think?"
What's the craziest Half Cab sighting you've seen, on a celebrity or someone you admire?
Brad Pitt was shown in a magazine wearing some, which is pretty cool. Who else? What's that one guy? That rapper dude? Is he a rapper? I forget, what is his name? They're releasing, actually, I just saw some shoes, some Full—did you guys see them?
No, well maybe…
Oh. Maybe they're not supposed to say anything yet. But I saw some shoes upstairs that were the Full Cabs. There's three colourways upstairs. What's that guy's name? His nickname is Yeezy? Who's Yeezy?
Kanye West. He was spotted in a pair of Full Cabs. Because of that hype, I think someone here wants to rerelease them and sell to that crowd.
I actually re-posted that. Yeah, Kanye ... I'm not a fan of him or anything, but he's a famous dude, so I thought it was funny.