On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Vans Half Cab shoe we met Steve Cab in Berlin and had an interesting chat with him.
Hi Steve, how are you?
I’m good, I’m trying to stay warm here in Berlin, it’s really cold outside.
Yes, January is not the perfect month to visit Berlin, he he he. Do you remember the first time you came to Europe?
Hmm, I think it was 1981, I came with Mike McGill on tour. We went to Livingston skatepark in Scotland. Over the years I came pretty much regularly with the Bones Brigade Tour. I did a really cool tour around 86/87 with Thrasher Magazine, with Mountain, Gonzales, Rob Roskopp, Marc “Gator” Rogowski, Pat Ngoho, Dave Duncan. Such a cool tour, we went to Italy (to the Monza Ramp), we went to Spain, Germany, and France. We had a little schedule of demos and planes, but after that we could skate ramps and hit museums, it was a good time.
It was different back then.
Yeah, the European scene was really small, not much street skating, backyard ramps and little skateparks. The scene was so small. We went to compete in the Munster Mastership, that back in the days, was amazing. It used to be the biggest contest around. That tour motivated us to go there to skate and compete, and after that we keep coming every year.
You’ve been to George Harrison’s house during one of your European tours…
In 1988 or 1989 we went to London on a Powell tour. We were in the hotel and we received a phone call from someone… I think it was George’s wife, asking us if we could go to their house for a dinner. They have a son, named Danny.
You still remember his name!
Yes, ha ha ha, so Danny skated and he was a Bones Brigade fan. He was 10 years old at the time… it was pretty surreal. We took a cab for 40 minutes outside London, in the middle of farmland. As we arrived at the house, George Harrison opened the door, ha ha ha. It was pretty amazing. We drank some beer with him in his garden, talking about music. After that we checked his collections of Beatles records, guitars, and other stuff. He showed us his 24-track recording studio, where he was doing music for movies. He was in a band called the Traveling Wilburys at the time and he played a song for us that was for a Mel Gibson movie. He took pictures of us. Well, it was one of the biggest moments in my skateboard career.
Did you tell him, “Hey, I have a band too!”
Ha ha ha, actually I did, he heard that we played in a band and I told him, “Yeah, but I’m not very good, I can’t read music,” and he told me that he couldn’t read music either… he only played by ear! It was really inspiring !!!!
Do you still have a band?
Yeah, I’m in “The Faction.” We recorded a bunch of albums from around 1982 till 1984 and every once and again we play. Last week we played a set in Palm Springs for the “El Gato Classic.” It was really cool to play for all those old school skaters.
So cool. Well, actually I think you’re the most loyal skater ever!
Ha ha ha, I’m very fortunate to have this relationship with George Powell and with Vans. It’s something I’m very proud of. I always tell everybody that a sponsorship or riding for a team is like a relationship with a woman. You have ups and downs, there’s gonna be good and bad times, it’s like a marriage.
There were times when I wanted to quit riding for Powell or Vans, because of differences and problems between the company and the riders… sometimes you look at the situation and you think that not everything is gonna be ok. But if you remain loyal, you fight the storm, you can survive everything bad that’s happening at the moment, and I’m very proud that I never quit when I was unhappy.
Good decision. But if you didn’t skate for Vans or Powell, is there a company that you really would like to skate for?
I don’t know if I can say that, ha ha ha. There were times back in the 80’s when I was looking to skate for Santa Cruz or Vision, you know, we had talks about that with the TM, but I stayed on Powell. I knew that with Powell I could last longer. I respect Santa Cruz, I like what they’ve done with the OG Riders. Jeff Kendall and Rob Roskopp are doing great things for the company, which has a lot of ups and downs, like Powell, but they work together to keep going and progress, and now it’s still a relevant company. S.C. gave the OG Riders the opportunity to grow with the company after their skate careers… so if I ever quit skating, I’ll drive to Santa Barbara to work for Powell, ha ha ha.
The Cab and Half Cab are really iconic shoes you designed 25 years ago. Do you ever look at your shoes and think, “Well, I wanna change them!”
Over the years we tried to make the Half Cab better, and we failed, ha ha ha. We tried different materials, different colors, designs, but the look of the shoe is perfect, it’s iconic, and it works, so why change it? I’ve already said it in other interviews, but the only reason the Half Cab is what it is now, is because I’m a trendy person, and I follow the trends. I saw what street skaters were doing with the original Cab shoe, I took notice and tried to cut down the shoe myself… and they worked better for skateboarding. I was trying to emulate what they were doing at the time, ‘cause it was the street skaters’ movement and I liked it and I wanted to follow it. After 3 pairs of cut Caballero’s I thought, “This is dumb, why don’t we make them already cut?” Ha ha ha. We came out with the idea of the logo of me doing a halfcab, and we told Vans to call them the “Half Cab” ‘cause we were cutting the OG shoe in half. Vans listened to me! They could have said, “No, the shoe is good as it is,” but they listened to my advice and the Half Cab has been running for 25 years!
During the late 90’s the waffle sole and vulc shoe were pretty much forgotten. You’ve had tons of pro models and the shoes were big and technical. In the early 2000’s the “classic” waffle sole came back. Were you happy that you could skate the OG waffle sole again?
Fashion comes in and out every other decade. I’m glad that we followed the trend of puffy and athletic shoes, ‘cause it was fun to skate something different. It was new. I don’t look back and disapprove of those designs, like the Cab 4 to the Cab 7. They were good shoes, they were comfortable and we sold a lot of them worldwide!! The first shoes were made in Orange County, California, they were limited! Then Vans chose to produce them overseas in large quantities, and now I own my own house, ha ha ha. If they hadn’t done that, maybe now I would have a different job, so I’m glad that they went in that direction. Everyone tries to reinvent and change themselves, but after that they go back to the original idea. When shoes were getting very technical and puffy, I got a call from Steve Van Doren. I was on tour, and he told me that I was gonna get a paycheck cut… they were gonna cut my royalties in half… nobody wants to hear that, but I was very “fortunate” because it was during the late part of my career, and I still had a signature shoe for Vans and a pro model for Powell. The company needed to survive and I had to do my part to help the company that believes in me… so I had my royalties cut! A couple months later, Geoff Rowley got sponsored by Vans, ha ha ha. Geoff was promoted by the company a lot. I was blown away, and I was a little jealous at the time, you know, I had been riding for the company for many years, and had never seen a Vans skater get so much attention! But when you’re shortsighted you don’t see the final result in the future. For a moment I was a little jealous, but I could see that the attention Geoff was getting could help us all. It was a matter of time, and Geoff just brought back the OG Vans style, the classics, and got the hype pumped up to the older look. And the Half Cab was already there, and it started to sell like crazy again. It was good to have the paycheck cut, so Geoff could have the resources to promote the OG style and make Vans become huge again. I‘m benefiting not only from Vans’ success, but from his success as well. You have to be humble and appreciate what you have, and not think about what you don’t have. It’s hard to see the future, but you have to be wise. Those kinds of experiences helped me to deal with today’s problems. I saw the same thing with the X-Games, everybody was talking about Tony Hawk. Tony Hawk this, Tony Hawk that, all the attention was on him. Obviously, he was the N°1 skater in 1995, and once again you looked at him and thought, “Why does he have so much attention? Why is everybody focused on just one guy?” Once again, years down the road, what happened to Tony? He got his own skateboard video game, and after the first huge success, guess who got picked for the second one?
Ha ha ha! For all of the attention that he got, I look back and realize that you shouldn’t be jealous of other people, because you can’t know how their success is gonna affect you. I can only speak through experience, so I rarely get jealous of people now, ha ha ha.
Who has sold more shoes, you or Stefan Janoski?
Ha ha ha, I don’t know. Only Nike can tell you that.
This is a skate nerd question: who had the first pro model shoe? You or Natas (for Etnics… now Etnies)?
A lot of people would say that he had the first pro model, and it’s probably true, but Etnics was a European company and at the time nobody knew what Etnics was. My shoe could have come out sooner. I got sponsored by Vans in 1988, and they approached me with a contract about a signature shoe, but I said no to them. It was a terrible contract, I didn’t wanna sign. Lance Mountain talked me into signing that contract, because I didn’t want a signature shoe at the time. With that contract I felt like they were gonna rip me off, because the more shoes I sold, the less royalties I was gonna get… it looked like I was going to be ripped off. They kept bugging me about signing the contract, and I talked to Lance about the royalties problem. Lance simply said, “You can look at it in two ways: you can get no money, and you won’t get ripped off… or you can get ripped off and make a lot of money.” Ha ha ha! You know… I thought it was better to be ripped off, ha ha.
After a few years I resigned my contract, and got one that I liked, around 1994-1995.
Do you still own the world record for the longest boardslide?
Hmm, I don’t know. The longest I’ve done was a 22-stair rail, but the stairs were double-sided, so it was like 44 stairs. I remember that around 2000 I tried a longer rail for the Tiltmode Army video. I remember it was 9 stairs, super high, so I had to put a ramp to jump onto it. So 9 stairs, a kink, and a 22-foot long curb that went down 13 stairs. In my mind I thought I could do it, so I went for it, but failed. But the footage is still amazing! I was 35 at the time.
How was skating the Chin ramp again? Was it different from the original one?
It was pretty much the same ramp. Well, this one had metal coping and not pvc… super slippery, and the surface was different. This one was way better. Size and transition were the same. But the vert spine was still gnarly!
How was meeting the guys and shooting with Grant Brittain again?
It was really really neat to see the ramp again, with the same people, because I skated the OG Chin ramp for 4 days only, and after that it was gone. So seeing the ramp again was like seeing it for the first time. There were a lot of different emotions and fears, you know, “Can I do the same tricks? Should I try some different tricks?” The main thing with the new one is that we had to shoot the quadruple invert. If we could get that, we could be done… and we shot it pretty fast. Everybody was really hyped and pumped, so we skated a lot after the invert photo. One thing that I wanted to do on the original Chin ramp was a boardslide to lipslide transfer. Back in the day we didn’t have noses on the boards, so now I could land it and I was amazed. A nollie to tail transfer on the spine is something new that was impossible back in the days.
You have tons of iconic photos of yourself, which do you think is the most iconic one?
Hmm, probably the fs handplant in Winchester. That’s probably the most iconic photo of me. It was on the subscription page of Skateboarder. Maybe it was Action Now. It was on the cover of another magazine that came out maybe 20 years later. The photographer sold it to 2 different magazines.
Thank you Steve, it was a real pleasure!
Thank you guys!!
(Interview Guido Bendotti. Photos Davide Biondani.)