chrome ball interview #105: steve caballero

style or stinkbug? you choose. 

So we’re fresh off your shared victory at this year’s Van’s Pool Party. Congrats, Steve… but how did this crazy tie happen? And were you even expecting to win? I know you’d been hurt.

Yeah, I feel like I was only around 80% going into the contest. I’d suffered a big shoulder injury about a month-and-a-half before the contest and then a few weeks later, I ended up compressing my spine while riding dirt bikes. All of this while I was trying to gear up for the contest. So yeah, while I was  looking forward to it what can I say? Things went downhill pretty quick! (laughs)

With everything that was going on with me, I really didn’t know what to expect. I’m really competitive, too. I want to do the best that I can. So obviously, because of all this, I was feeling some pressure.

But to be honest, it wasn’t a tie at all. Van Doren called it a tie just because he’s a nice dude and is always looking out for everybody. I think a lot of people were confused but whenever two riders have the same score, the system automatically breaks the tie by including the highest and lowest scores that were previously thrown out.  Regular scores typically only include the scores from 3 judges, even though there are always 5. The system throws out the extreme scores as a way of equalizing any potential favoritism.

We only had the same score without the highest and lowest scores factored in. Once the computer put those scores back, I had the higher score by .2 points. The same thing happened with Pat and Magnusson for 3rd and 4th but once they recalculated everything with all the scores, Magnusson ended up being a little higher. 

So yeah, a lot of people were confused. I think even Lance was confused about everything. But you’re going to have to ask him why he didn’t take his 3rd run. I don’t want to get into all that because I don’t want to say something he wouldn’t be stoked on. I can’t speak for him. But he did have a chance to take another run and didn’t take it. That was his decision.

As we get older, the body’s natural tendency is to breakdown. With an already pronounced neck condition, in addition to any new injuries that may stack up, how are you faring at 52?  Are there tricks that just don’t work anymore?

Oh man, I miss tuck-knee inverts. Stalefishes, too. I just can’t reach back there anymore. Les Twists, where you grab behind your foot. Andrechts. Stuff like that. But all this is really my own fault. I didn’t take the time to stretch back in the day. I mean, skating was our stretching back then. Doing those tricks kept us flexible. But if you stop doing all that stuff, you’re not stretching anymore. I stopped skating vert for a long time, basically in the late 90s through the early-2000s, because I was out street skating all the time. But when you’re skating street, you’re no longer bending down and grabbing your board like you do on vert. You’re just ollieing all the time. So little by little, your back is getting tighter. You’re becoming less limber. I remember once I started getting back into vert again, I was kinda surprised with how difficult it was to reach my board!

Dudes that kept skating vert the whole time don’t seem to have these problems. Andy Mac, Tony Hawk... I never see them stretch and they can get into any position, no problem. And they skate every day!

You gotta stay limber. The older you get, the tighter you get and I think that’s what hinders me most at this point in my life, the lack of flexibility. Not to mention how much longer it takes for me to recover from injuries now. My shoulder still hurts from something I did two months ago! If this would’ve happened back when I was 20, I would’ve been fine the next day. That’s old age for you.

I was reading an old interview where you said that you had looked into getting your neck fixed and it was a 50% chance of success, 50% chance of paralysis. Is that still the case?

I’m not sure. That’s actually something my Dad told me when I was 10-years-old. They had doctors looking into whether or not they could fix the tilt of my head. I guess they could never determine how it was caused, whether it was a birth defect or that one of my neck glands possibly grew too large, throwing it off a little. But it hasn’t really affected my ability to do stuff, just my appearance. I don’t have the gnarly scoliosis that a lot of people have, mine is much more slight. But I don’t feel that it’s ever really hindered by ability to do anything.

Yeah, I think you’re doing just fine, Steve. (laughs)

Yeah, I don’t really care. At this point, I’m honestly afraid of getting it fixed because that might be what starts throwing me off! (laughs)

You’ve had so many highlights at both Combis over the years. I was always hyped on your backside nosepick photo, with no nose, back in ‘88. That had to be terrifying, right?  

Well, that was probably the easiest spot to do that at because right there, in particular, had the least amount of vert in that entire pool.

People forget how gnarly the original combi was! It was insane! It had the most vert out of all the bowls around! And the trannys were so small. You’re looking at, like, 8-foot transitions with 2 ½ - 3 feet of vert! It was way gnarlier than what’s at Vans now.

But yeah, that’s a cool photo. I think I shot a Smith grind that day for a Gotcha ad, too. You remember the ones with the cut-out 50’s people in them? That was fun. Oh, the 80s! (laughs)

Backside nosepick… that’s probably a trick I can’t do anymore either. I just can’t grab!

Another classic: you and Lance blasting with helmet-in-hand. Was that a planned thing or improvised? What’s the story there?

Nah, that just kinda happened. We were shooting with Glen Friedman and trying a doubles routine. I remember Lance went a little bit higher that time and my hand just happened to be down there. I hooked the top of his helmet, pulling it back. I don’t think we made that shot but it ended up being printed anyways. I mean, it’s a hilarious photo. You gotta run it.

It ended up as a Bones ad because I remember that they made the coping look really weird for some reason, like they airbrushed it or something. It doesn’t even match. Glen put the real photo in his book and it looks totally different. No idea why they did that.

Powell Magic.

Yeah, some of that lesser-seen Powell Ad Magic.

Speaking of Lance, were you aware that he kept your Future Primitive braids after you cut them off? And honestly, was it a little weird for you that he did this?  

I had no idea that he saved them. I only found out years later when he was showing me his collection of stuff. But that’s just Lance, he’s a collector. His Dad was super into World War 2 stuff and I know that was a big influence on him. But he was pretty smart to keep all that stuff, you know? I remember him keeping a deck I rode in Australia that was one-of-a-kind with an airbrushed dragon-and-bats graphic. We were on tour and I didn’t know that he’d saved it. I’d completely forgotten about it until it showed up in a few photos and Lance ended up selling that board for a couple grand!

But no, I don’t think it’s weird at all that he kept that stuff. You gotta remember that with his ramp, people were constantly putting together new boards and leaving the old ones, he just saved them. He was thinking ahead. Those braids were on the cover of Thrasher Magazine. I’m sure someone would buy that.

The big question is which ones does he have? The first braids I had were held together by little mini Thrasher stickers. Those are the ones that were on the cover. That’s my real hair.

The other braids I had with rubber bands, those were hair extensions. This was later on in the 80’s when everyone was wearing super long hair. I remember Christian had some hair extensions and I thought it looked cool. I’d just cut my hair short, so yeah, I had some hair extensions in for a little while. But I braided mine. Fake hair extension braids. I’m not sure if Lance has those or the real ones.

Lance had ones with rubber bands.

So those are the fake ones. That makes sense as I would’ve just unraveled my real hair, I wouldn’t have cut it all off. But that’s pretty funny, actually. No wonder he kept them. (laughs)

How did the Caballerial come about?

I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. It came from watching a friend of mine skate at Winchester Skatepark, Robert Chavelli. We used to call him “The Fly”. But he used to do this trick called the RB Slide, named after Rick Blackhart, where you rolled up fakie, put your hand down and slid around, rolling back in fakie. He also used to do these fakie 360 kickturns on the tile, coming all the way back around. He always liked to do those two tricks back-to-back.

So we’re all skating together one day and I sit down to rest for a second. I’m watching Robert skate the bowl and I see him pumping super hard out of a RB slide on one wall, going up to do a fakie 360 kickturn on the next one… but he’s going way too fast and flies out of the bowl. I still remember him flailing in the air but seeing him do that got me thinking about if doing that in the air on purpose was actually possible? Because I already knew how to do fakie ollies, what if I could go 360? So I started trying them.

At that point, with how skating was and where I was in it, I’d basically learned all the tricks that you could do in a bowl. I mean, everything was still so wide open, it was basically up to you to figure it out and start coming up with stuff. It wasn’t all laid out there yet. So all you started to think about was what’s next? It’s funny to think about now but it was actually kinda easy to get bored because you didn’t know what else to do.

I just kept trying this thing. After a while, I started to figure out that if I held my legs in longer, spinning a whole 360 might actually be possible. Finally, I got one around about 3/4s of the way, slid the rest and landed it. I was stoked.

I call up Stacy, like, “I think I invented a new trick.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a fakie ollie 360.”

“Oh! Well, when you come down for the Marina Gold Cup contest in a few weeks, I’ll pick you up a little early and you can show it to me.”

I still remember getting to the park and Lance and Neil are already in the parking lot as we pull up.

“Stacy told us about this new trick you invented! We want to see it!”

They start pushing me up to the Upper Keyhole, literally putting my pads on for me. (laughs)

But yeah, I got warmed up and bailed a few before landing one. They were blown away when they saw it, which felt really good. I hadn’t shown it to anybody yet because I lived all the way up north. The Marina contest was when I unleashed it… even though I didn’t do very well in the contest.

Who came up with the name?

Stacy did. This is back when we were doing those Intelligence Report ‘zines.

I had a whole month after Marina to really perfect it for the Upland Contest so I just kept on doing them. Once it came time for Upland, I had them wired and ended up winning the contest.

When the next Intelligence Report comes out, Stacy puts me on the cover with the headline, “Stevie Wins Upland with the Caballerial.”

That was all Stacy. I never called it that and had no idea that he was going to put it in there like that. I thought it was a kinda funny when I saw it, but I still called it a “fakie 360 ollie”. Honestly, “Caballerial” always made me feel weird. It was always a little embarrassing for me, which, of course, meant that soon enough, people started teasing me about it.

“Oh, what trick is that?”

“A fakie 360 ollie.”

“Oh yeah? Don’t you mean a Caballerial? Yeah, that’s a Caballerial.”

You also invented backside bonelesses and frontside slide and rolls, right? Am I missing anything else?

That’s true. I think I was also the first to do frontside bonelesses on vert. Invert varials… frontside gay twists, too. Switch inverts.


Yeah, I did one in my run at Colton. I’d do an Andrecht to fakie and then a “backwards invert” because there was no such thing as switch at the time. So yeah, there’s that, too.

What was your relationship like with the McTwist back in its heyday? I know you learned it with a backside grab years later but how badly did you go after learning it during its prime? It was easily the biggest trick in skateboarding back then.

You can see me trying one in Animal Chin at Borst’s Ramp. I just don’t think that I really had the proper ramp to learn them on. My ramp was only 12-feet wide. And honestly, I was always a little bit spooked by them. Lester was the second person to learn McTwists and I'd heard the story about him trying one and flying out of bowl, landing with his body on the top deck. That’s scary! I didn’t want that to happen to me! So I basically stayed away from them after hearing that. I just didn’t have the passion to learn it.

I learned the Unit, which is a frontside 540 where you plant your hand. That was good enough for me. I had a 540 with that, I’m good. I felt that would be good enough for me in contests… but it obviously wasn’t.

I never really bothered with it until I learned backside 360 ollies on vert. It was right around the time of the San Jose Warehouse, because I remember doing them there before going on a tour with McGill to New Zealand.

I remember thinking to myself that I was gonna try learning those 540 ollies that Hawk does next.

I gave them a shot and wasn’t even coming close. The board’s just flailing away… why don’t I try grabbing backside? I can already do melon gay twists, what if I just grab it like that but go 540?

So yeah, after all that time, I end up learning that trick in a demo in New Zealand in less than an hour.  After all those years! I think it was those backside 360 ollies that helped me with getting into that position of tucking my head.

I remember Steve Douglas saw me do one after I got back to San Jose and said, “Oh, Cab’s gonna start winning contests again now.”

And he was right. (laughs)

Where did the dragon concept come from?

Well, they gave me that skull-and-propeller graphic for my very first board. Remember that? They even put an ad in Action Now of me holding it with Stacy behind me but the thing is, there were literally only 6 of those boards ever produced! That’s it! I’m still not sure why they put out an ad for such a limited run.

But wow, I really didn’t like that graphic. They didn’t even show it to me until after it was done. I think they wanted to surprise me… total buzzkill. (laughs)

“I just got off a Ray “Bones” Rodriguez Skull and Sword and you’re gonna give me silhouette of a skull with a propeller?

I mean, what is that!?! They basically took an image from the Air Force and copied it for my board? No way! That’s not what I want, especially for my first graphic! Not even close!

“Well, what do you want?”

I wanted to put some thought into it, man. I needed an image that felt like a good reflection of who I am. I start looking around and noticed that on the Chinese Zodiac, I was born in the Year of the Dragon. That’s kinda cool, but what kind of dragon? So I went to my friend who is a comic book artist.

“Can you help me draw a dragon?”

He drew this dinosaur-type dragon with wings on it, which was a good start. I took it to Powell and Court made a few further renditions. We ended up going with one where the dragon is sitting on a bearing. That’s cool, let’s go with that.

Years later, they took the bearing off but kept the dragon. But you gotta remember, I had that graphic for 5 years, from 1980 to 1985. Just that graphic. So when they wanted to finally do a new one, since I’d already had this one for so long, I knew that I wanted to stick with this dragon thing. It’s obviously working for me. Let’s try a different type of dragon.

So I’m at my Dad’s shop and there’s an artist there. What about more of a Chinese-style dragon with it going all the way down the board? So that’s what he did and I take that into Powell so Court can do his thing again. This one lasts about a year and from that, Court came up with the dragon and bats.

Yeah, where did all the bat stuff come from?

The bats are sort of an inside joke. It’s pretty funny, actually.

In 1986, I’m at a “streetstyle” contest in the Carson Velodrome when Stacy approaches me with a folder full of Xeroxed photos from skate magazines. He sits me down to have a little meeting and starts laying out everything on this table. They’re all pictures of me. Covers, centerfolds, ads… everything.

“So what’s going on here?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Why aren’t you wearing Powell shirts?”

I look closer and I’m not wearing a Powell shirt in a single one of these photos.

(laughs) “Well, because I don’t want to wear Powell shirts.”

“But what’s up with all this Batman and Spiderman stuff? The Misfits?”

“Stacy, that’s who I am.”

“Well, George really wants you to wear our shirts.”

“Well, I do wear them sometimes, when I want to or if I like one, in particular. But I don’t want to wear most of that stuff.”

I wanted to be different, man. I wanted to stand out and have my own personality. I wanted to connect with people who are into the same stuff that I am.

So what did George do? He starts putting these bats all over my boards to make it look like it was all planned! I can just see him getting in Court’s ear, like, “Okay, if he’s not going to wear our stuff, we’ll just make a bunch of bat stuff and he’ll have to like it.”

They start making sweatpants with bats going down the bottom, designing my name in the bat logo… it was so crazy to see that stuff come out. I had no idea. (laughs)

Stacy claims that the entire Chin project came from your expressed desire to act. Was that a possible byproduct of Police Academy 4 and Thrashin’?

Acting was just an idea I threw out there. I was brainstorming with Stacy about what to do next and brought up possibly incorporating a storyline. Something where we can talk and act things out, like an adventure. I love movies and I’m sure I thought it would be cool to show our personalities a little. So I just threw it out there, not realizing how embarrassed I’d end up being once we actually got down to it.

It was rough pretending to be an actor through all that… and I definitely made a conscious effort not to talk very much. Luckily, there was never a full script with lines you’d have to say. It was all pretty spontaneous. Stacy would have an idea for a premise and we’d just go with it, saying whatever we wanted. Which for me, was very little. So that’s basically how it went.

Well, you might not have said much but there’s that scene after Wallows where everyone’s eating and you do that thing with the banana…

(laughs) Oh man, I don’t know! It seemed like a good idea at the time! We were just messing around, trying to make each other laugh. It seemed like we were always laughing back then.

That’s actually the first scene that we ever shot in Chin so I’m sure I was extra nervous.

What’s your favorite quote from Chin?

Probably the one where McGill goes, “You gotta push with your ahhhmmm.”

When’s he talking to Donnie Griffin at Chris Borst’s? I always loved how he said that. But there’s so many. Obviously, Tommy has his fair share with “Yapple Dapple!” It’s not like you can quote me in there! I barely even say anything at all. But yeah, “You gotta push with your ahhhmmm. Steve Caballero, watch out!”

Did the 4 inverts seem like a big deal at the time? It goes by so quickly in the video, was there a sense of missed potential after seeing Grant’s photo afterwards?

So much of those tricks were completely spontaneous. The 4 inverts was just another idea we had. You have to remember that a ramp like that had never existed before, so we’re just feeding off each other with all these different ideas. We were going with not only what we could do that day but also what we could film. We were just hyped to be getting as much as we could.

When that photo was originally shot, we were just out there doing our thing while Grant was doing what he does. We were making it up as we went along. But recreating it 30 years later was much harder than I thought it would be because there was now something to compare it to. We didn’t have to worry about the angle being right before. But Grant wanted everything to look exactly the same. His positioning, our timing… it was a lot harder to do.

You reportedly walked off the set during the all-night Blue Tile Lounge shoot in Chin. Stacy and Stecyk were known for having some pretty far-out ideas back then… was there anything asked of you that you felt was weird or flat-out refused to do?

Back when we were still amateurs and I’d just met Stecyk, I’ll admit that it felt a little crazy. Having to go to this guy’s house to shoot an ad that wasn’t going to have any skateboarding in it? That felt a little weird, because I was still so young. I was so much about tricks, I didn’t realize what an ad like that had to do with me or my skating. Now I understand that they were creating a certain persona around us, building our own brands. That doing this is what would actually make our ads different and stand out. But I was just too young.

I just went with it at first. I looked up to Stacy so much that I trusted his judgment on what was cool before I really figured out what was going on. But there was never a time where I outright refused to do something.

This is a knit-picky one but there’s an ad that will always mystify me: The Tattooed Love Boys. You, Lance and Mike V with fake tats and a bottle of Jack. What was that?

Oh yeah, I remember that. That’s my real leather jacket, too!

That ad was Stacy’s way of making fun of the Alva crew. Because those guys were always trying to call us out. They were always trying to say we were a bunch of sissies. That the Bones Brigade was just a bunch of goodie-two-shoes and that we only drink milk. That ad was Stacy making fun of their image, like, “Hey, we can look tough, too.”

Granted you won some street contests early on but how seriously did you take “streetstyle”? Many pros from back then seemed to think of it more as a novelty and an easy way to pick up contest winnings.

I’ve always taken competition seriously. If there was a contest with nothing but curbs, I’d go out and try learning every trick I possibly could in order to win. That’s just how I am. Every contest I’ve ever entered, regardless of the terrain, always had my focus. So when street contests started popping up, that was just another outlet for me.

Obviously things changed as street skating started to evolve. Like, when kickflips were invented, that was a pretty big deal. Tommy was one of the first guys to start pulling them out in his contest runs. I clearly remember that.

“You’re not going to do that in the contest, are you? Aren’t you afraid you’re going to fall?”

Because in my mind, kickflips were easily the most inconsistent trick. I never thought anyone could actually get those things wired. But he had them. In my mind, that seemed like one of those subtle moments where a change was becoming apparent. That street skating was becoming more of its own thing.

You could tell by the courses: rails, ledges, flatground. It wasn’t just vert guys out there adapting their same tricks to quarterpipes anymore…. most of the early street courses were almost all huge quarterpipes so you’d see a lot of that actually. Guys were out there that couldn’t even ollie.

I always liked street skating but I honestly didn’t get super serious about it until later on… after most of the ramps were gone.

But that frontside nosebone Brittain shot was a definite early standout. How’d that come about?

That was at the old LAX banks. We were shooting photos one day with Grant and decided to head over to that spot. It’s an early grab frontside nosebone. I didn’t know how to ollie into frontside airs yet so I just yanked it.

Right, but that’s still super high for an early grab off a little bank.

Oh yeah, I could yank an early grab pretty good back in the day. (laughs)

We already had mini-ramps back then and in order to emulate what we were doing on vert, you had to grab super early and yank as hard as you could. That was me just taking the same approach out in the streets. You could do that sort of thing on banks.

A somewhat forgotten scene, what was Raging Waters like? Was that a daily skate for you? And was it weird to be skating in a waterpark like that?

Not a lot of people know this but they built that ramp just because it was getting so crowded on the weekends. The lines for the waterslides were getting super long and they needed something to entertain people as they waited. So they put all of this money into building this enormous ramp, which is kinda crazy. I mean, it was 106-feet wide!

So for 2-years straight, I’d go skate Raging Waters everyday. We got free reign of the waterslides and even free lunch if we skated. They were seriously handing out lunch tickets to skaters. It was pretty awesome.

The big thing for me was once that ramp was built, I cut my ramp down to a mini and made it wider.

You did your record-setting 11-foot air there. What’s going on in your head when you’re that high above coping? What’s your process?

You basically have to work your way up. Leading up to that, Hosoi and I had learned how to pump airs in order to go higher. He had just done a 10-foot air a few weeks before. But it basically came down to landing as close to the top of the coping as possible, so you could get the full pump onto the next wall.

It was a little different back then because of the quick transitions, you could pump super quick and get more speed. It’s harder to pump an air on bigger transitions because your legs just don’t work like that.

I’d start off by dropping in and pumping a set-up air. We didn’t have roll-ins back then so it was straight from the taildrop. That was usually around a 6-foot air or so. The next wall would be around 8 or 9-feet and then the third one is where you blast as high as you can. My 11-foot air was the third hit.

We also learned over the years that if you method it, you’re bringing your legs up over your head and can get a foot or two higher. They mark the bottom of your board as the height so doing methods was our way of getting a little extra.

But as far as what all is going in my head at the time?

“Don’t hang up!” (laughs)

Airwalk foot taps and melon nose bashes on the SJ Warehouse rafters. Was that common for you or just for the video?

Yeah, I used to do stalefish and hit my tail on it as well. I think that rafter was about 7 feet or so. The thing is that it wasn’t completely lined up with the coping actually, it was a little bit over. But you could get high enough to where you could hit it pretty good.

I actually remember doing lien airs and pushing off them with my hand. They were really kinda low.

My Ship… Underwater. Talk about that shared slow-mo part in Ban This with McGill. Was that a lot of repetition in tricks to get the shots? Did you know how it was going to look beforehand?

Oh no, I had no idea how that was going to turn out. We’d never filmed with that kind of camera before. It was like a high-speed 16mm camera, which was actually kind of intimidating because he’d turn it on and you’d have to wait while it got up to speed.

Stacy would go, “Rolling!”

You’d hear this crazy noise and quickly realize that there was a ton of film being wasted.

At the time, we only filmed tricks we had wired. Shooting stuff that we’d never done before was unheard of. That change came with H-Street because they’d go out and spend days trying to film a trick. Maybe not even getting any tricks at all that day but with video, you could do that. So they were constantly filming things that had never been done before, which became part of skating and its progression.

Bones videos really weren’t that different from contests because you’d only have a few hours to film your entire section. There really wasn’t enough time to really try stuff so you’d typically play it pretty safe.  

I’m not entirely sure how the editing process for Ban This was. We just skated. Stacy would tell us to do our thing and they’d film it. I was never behind the lens so I never knew what they were doing. I could tell Stacy already had an idea of how he wanted it to look but definitely didn’t know that he was filming my face so up-close like that. Filming my feeble grind, focusing on the wheel. He just had us do our tricks while he talked to the cameraperson. I didn’t see any of that stuff until the premiere.

There was a little more repetition with that one but not much more. It was actually kinda nice in a way because it was usually a little frustrating in that he’d film a trick we knew we could do better, be it higher or farther, but he’d always want to move on.

“But Stacy, I want to do it better!”

“Nah, it’s cool, man. Move on! We’re good!”

“Well… that sucks.”

It was around this time where your signature shoe came out on Vans. Was that the first pro shoe, prior to Natas? And how instrumental were you in the design?

It was the first pro model shoe made, produced and distributed in the USA. I’m not sure what all was going on in Europe. Etnies was out of France back then and obviously not advertising as much over here. I do remember my shoe coming out and going to a contest where I saw Natas had his shoe as well. I had no idea. I’d never even heard of Etnies. I think they’re trying to claim his shoe came out in ’88 but I never saw it anywhere.

Vans had asked me to do a shoe when I first got on the team back in ’88 but it took until ’89 for it to come out. I actually rejected the offer at first because I didn’t like the contract. It was a ridiculous contract that I refused to sign. I was already making good money for years prior to that with Powell so I wasn’t naïve about things. I was already getting a set royalty of a dollar per-board when Vans approached me for a shoe with $1.25 per pair and a stipulation where my royalty actually got smaller as we sold more shoes! It was a sliding scale!

“So what you’re telling me is that if I sell more shoes, I’ll make less money? That’s ridiculous!”

Their reasoning was that if I was selling a lot of shoes, it wasn’t because of my name, it was because they make a great shoe!

“Yeah. Well, I’m not signing this. I don’t care about a signature shoe.”

That’s why my shoe took an extra year. But they just kept bugging me about it and we started to iron things out.

I actually remember talking to Lance about it one day.

“Lance, these guys are crazy! They keep bugging me to sign this terrible contract!”

Lance being Mr. Sarcastic, actually started to make a lot of sense.

“Well, you could look at it two ways: you can not get ripped off and make no money or get ripped off and make a lot of money.”

That really got me thinking and I realized that all this was just an issue of pride.

As far as the design goes, I’d been wearing a lot of Puma Prowlers and Air Jordans so I tried to incorporate those into my shoe a little. I remember drawing up something and bringing it to them and they already had something going in this same direction, which was pretty much exactly what I wanted. They had the label going, even down to the dragon scales they used to do… trying to make it relate to me as much as possible. This is cool! Let’s go with it.

As a rider, what were your thoughts on Rocco’s Powell attack?

I thought it was funny. (laughs)

But at the same time, I knew that it was all his way of trying to destroy something great. Something that was greater than him at the time. Trying to make us look bad so he can look better, which is the easiest way to stand out. It’s human nature and unfortunately, it works. Gossiping and shit-talking works. And sometimes it’s funny… it just so happened that Rocco was really good at it.

Did you know the rest of the Bones Brigade was going to leave so quickly like that? And did you ever think about leaving and/or starting your own thing as well?

Companies were actually offered to everybody because of how quickly board sales went down the tubes…. which was crazy. Like, did everybody really just quit all of a sudden? I still don’t know what happened there. But yeah, board sales had decreased to the point where it was getting difficult for people to afford living situations. That’s really what drove those guys elsewhere.

I was fortunate to have signed that crappy contract with Vans to where I was still making money. I could deal with the crappy board sales because I was making a lot of money off my shoe. So I was in a different situation than those guys. There just wasn’t any reason for me to go off and start my own thing. Why would I do that if I didn’t have to? I didn’t need anything different. I like where I’m at.

But always? I’m sure you got plenty of offers over the years, right?

Yeah, Vision reached out in the late 80’s, as did Santa Cruz. Honestly, I was pretty close to quitting Powell for Santa Cruz back then but it didn’t work out. They never made me an offer that was any greater than what I was already getting at Powell so I stayed. I’m not going to make a move unless there’s a clear benefit in doing so. Because starting over on a new team, it’s almost like having to prove yourself all over again.

The Santa Cruz offer was based on proving who I was and what I could do for them at the time… I’m not doing that. What I’ve already done in my career up to this point isn’t good enough proof that I can make board sales? This was around 87 or so… not to brag or anything but I was among the most popular pros in the world!

There was just some stuff going on at Powell that I was pretty bummed about. This was after Stacy came at me with the Xeroxed copies and some other stuff I can’t really get into. But in the end, it all worked out. I’m glad I stayed.

Talk a little more about your transition into Street Cab in the late 90s. I realize that you gotta keep your job but you were really going for it there on some big rails. Not many people at that point in their careers could’ve made a transformation like that.

It’s pretty crazy to think about because I was about 30-years-old at the time and I feel like I didn’t truly hit my peak with street skating until around 35.

Honestly, that whole thing came down to the fact that the closest vert ramp for me was 2 hours away. If I wanted to skate vert, it was gonna be a 4-hour round-trip to Sacramento. That’s just not something I could do every day.  

There were no vert pros by then anyway, only street guys. San Jose had a pretty great scene going with Paul Sharpe, Gershon, Marc Johnson and Edward Devera… basically the start of the Tiltmode Army. It was great hanging out with local kids who were so into skating. And because I love skateboarding and enjoy growing within it, street just felt something new for me. Sure, I’d been kinda doing it all along but I was really starting to take it seriously now. It became my way of keeping interest… like learning a new trade.

It was kinda nice to just skate flatground for a while. Wake up every day and meet the guys down at the ledge. Get kicked out, grab something to eat and head somewhere else. Just doing the thing, man. Filming, shooting photos with local guys… it was fun. If this is what the magazines are promoting and people want to see, I’ll give it my best shot. Maybe I’ll learn some new tricks along the way.

I’d still drive out to Sacramento every couple of weeks but I had to deal with that I had. What are you gonna do? Sit around and complain about there being no more vert ramps? Are you just gonna quit? No way, man!

How long did that boardslide Magic ender take on what is now known as the Cab Rail? Isn’t that rail like a block long?

It’s a 22-stair but the steps are double-length so it’s more like 44 stairs. But because it was so long and drawn out, it’s not very steep.

I got it that day. We were driving around and saw it, got out and did it.  

The hardest part was just getting on it. It’s super high. If you watch the clip, I barely even get on it. I had to push my board up and over before I could start balancing on it. But I remember on my fifth try or so, I came pretty close to the end. I knew I could get it after that. Just get another one like that and hold on a little longer. I think it only took maybe 15 tries or so before I got it. But that was it.

Your Class of 2000 part I feel is easily your most underrated. Legit rails on street and front heels on vert, even a 540!

Yeah, I was kinda making a statement there. And to add to it, that video was actually a contest, remember? The guy who got voted best part won $3,000. So not only was I trying to make the best part I could, I also wanted that 3 grand!

I mean, it’s a bearing video. Something like that is not always going to get top priority for guys. So throw some money in there as an incentive to sweeten the deal and give these guys a reason to go after it a little more.

I learned frontside heels on vert on the Warp Tour actually. I don’t think that people realize how big the Warp Tour was for vert skaters back then. Just being able to skate a ramp like that every day for a month, not to mention getting paid to do so. It was awesome!

The 540 in there was actually part of a bet with Phil Hajai. I probably hadn’t done one in 9 years at that point but I had 3 days left on the tour, 6 hour-long sessions each to make it happen. I ended up landing one on the very last demo of the tour. They were actually removing the rails off the ramp because the demo was technically over but I just wouldn’t get off the ramp! I knew I could do it! I ended up coming up on the back a little bit but I still pulled it off. I think Salman is the one who actually filmed it. But to do a 540 again after that long felt so good… and to have footage of it? I had to put it in the video! (laughs)

What’s your personal favorite Powell part?

I’d have to say “The Perfect Line” one in Ban This.

Did you come up with that premise or was that Stacy in editing?

Well, Stacy came up with the title but the line concept was my idea. I was going to a lot of mini-ramps contests at the time, which were super popular back then. And once again, me being me, I get this idea to learn all the tricks that I’m seeing everyone do at these contests and put them together in one run. Just to keep things interesting and kinda prove a point, I guess. But yeah, Stacy came up and we filmed it.

I always thought that one came out pretty cool.

Did you ever actually wear those suspenders or was that just some Hosoi-type flair?

(laughs) It was just a fashion statement. I never wore them. Back then, everybody was always competing with each other over styles and different looks.

In the early 80s, I used to wear a little bondage strap clipped on to my pants, which was pretty popular at the time. The suspenders were just my way of trying to be different. They kinda did the same thing as that bondage stuff but not, you know?

I don’t know, man. It was a funny fashion statement for back then. Same thing with the bleaching of the hair. That’s the 80’s for you. (laughs)

Is it hard to skate in a Wookie costume?

It is very hard skating in a Wookie costume and I even made it more difficult for myself by getting a Cortisone shot in my foot the night before!

I’d gotten a bruise on the ball of my back foot from riding dirt bikes a few weeks before. It hurt super bad and just didn’t seem to be getting any better. It was still bothering me the night before and I knew I had to film this Star Wars commercial… it’s not like I could tell these guys I’m hurt. This is a full-production!

So I call up the producer and he suggests possibly getting a Cortisone shot to numb it up and I’d be good by tomorrow. Okay, cool.

But I wake up the next morning and I can’t feel my foot at all. It’s completely numb, to where if I couldn’t look down and see my foot, I would’ve sworn that it was gone. So what’s worse? Hurting a little or feeling nothing? I guess we’re gonna find out.

So here I am skating in this Wookie costume right in the middle of this super hot day and I can’t even feel my backfoot. And I’m sweating up a storm in this suit. I was so hot, man. The suit is just soaked and I had to be in it the whole time. It was rough.

Didn’t you have to do a frontside invert in that thing?

Yeah, that was the first thing we filmed. I wanted to get the hardest one out of the way.

I couldn’t really bail in that thing either because whenever I kneeslid, it would scrape the toes off of these huge Wookie feet they had built into the suit! They’d have to fix them every time. So you really wanted to try getting everything first-try.

It was a long day. (laughs)

Incredible, Steve. And thanks for taking the time to do this. As we wrap this up, what keeps you going, man? What’s your motivation to still be out there at age 52?

I mean, I love skateboarding, obviously. But there’s more to it than that. I have to say that the fans are such a big part of this. The guys who are still excited by skateboarding and the ones that still care about what we have to offer. That means so much to me.

Sure, it’s my job. But I just don’t want it to end.

From the very beginning, just getting free skateboards, man… it’s the best! To this day, whenever I get a box in the mail, it’s still feels so awesome. All these years later, it still feels like Christmas. Whenever I have a new board come out or a wheel with my name on it… even these collaborations I’ve worked on, opening that box and seeing whatever it is for the first time will always be an amazing feeling.

To this day, man… whenever Fed-Ex or the UPS guy stops by my house, it’s like Santa Claus. Who wants that to go away?


chrome ball interview #104: ray barbee

Chops and Ray sit down for conversation in full view. 

The Step-Hop, the 43, the No-Comply… conceived by Blender but you definitely made it your own. Where did your inspiration come from to start exploring this step-off flatground arena?

I got turned on to what I call the “step-hop” by my friend Randy Smith and the Go Skate Crew, out in Sacramento. They were the ones who turned me onto those ideas. Back then, there was a big interest in skating flatground, which I think had a lot to do with finding yourself in lit-up parking lots and tennis courts at night. Finding yourself where there were minimal things to skate but because of the lights, you could skate, so you got creative with whatever you could. Even if it just meant getting creative on the ground.

This is back when I lived in San Jose. My friend Robert Torres and I started going out to Sacramento a lot to skate because we’d met a bunch of people from there. It was a 3-hour Greyhound ride but it was like an adventure. Leaving right after school and hopping on the bus. By the time we got there, it would be 9 or 10 at night so we’d usually find ourselves at Quimby Park because it was the only spot lit. There were a few benches there but it was really just a tennis court with smooth flatground. It wasn’t much but since it was Friday night, everybody would be charging anyway.

Of all the tricks everyone was doing, I really gravitated towards all the step hops that Randy was doing out there.  

For us, “step hops” is where you hit the tail off the ground. “No Complies” were when you used something else, like bonking off a curb. Even though we’d seen Blender doing those off curbs, it didn’t excite us as much as what we saw Randy doing. We were more into doing it off the tail because you were cutting out the middleman. You didn’t need a curb. You could do it wherever. So from there, we all started coming up with as many different variations we could think of.

Flatground lines became your calling card early on as street skating was just starting to develop. Did you expect this approach to catch on the way it did?

Nah, I didn’t have any expectations like that. Much like anything, when you’re in the moment, you’re excited and that’s all you really need. Everything else that comes afterwards is the cherry on-top. I’ve never been too conscious of where things might possibly lead.

I actually grew up skating ramps but I’d broken my wrist. My parents took my skateboard away while I had my cast on but I was lucky enough to have a back-up board at a buddy’s house. The problem was I couldn’t go back to the ramp during this time because my parents knew where it was and I’d get caught. But I still wanted to skate so because of that, I ended up skating more street.

We’d skated street before but it was more like something to do after the sun went down or maybe when the neighbors were over you skating the ramp. But now, we were starting to skate street all-day, not just as an afterthought. It’s like we had opened this little treasure trove of possibilities to explore.

But once again, it goes back to Sacramento and seeing Randy do tricks back-to-back. It was so cool to see and I knew immediately that it was adding another level to things. Tricks are fun but doing them consecutively like that was a real challenge.

It started as seeing how many tricks we could do in a row. From there, just like a vert run, you started to think about how certain tricks flow into other tricks. It was the same mentality. Like, I always liked doing backside airs on one wall and then flowing right into a frontside ollie on the next one. It just feels right to me. It’s this same idea but on the ground. In a sequence. In a line.

Back then, there was so much emphasis on contests. They played a much bigger role, especially for “streetstyle”, because street skating wasn’t really being represented in the magazines. Contests and street jams were all we had as ways to get hip to one another and see what everybody was doing. But because of these contests, I started seeing how important flatground could be because no matter what the course looked like, you always had flat. It was a great way to not only throw in new tricks but also connecting obstacles in your run.

I know you had a few sponsors prior but how did Powell enter the picture? How did Public Domain come about? And why a shared part?

Well, I got into skating up in San Jose and in-between my sophomore and junior years, my parents decided to move us down to Orange County.

You gotta remember, skateboarding had its own version of hip-hop’s East Coast vs. West Coast beef back then, NorCal vs. SoCal. And growing up in San Jose, I come from that NorCal school. The Bay Area was my stomping ground. When I found out that I had to move down south, I saw it as a death sentence! I was bummed, man! But I quickly found out that SoCal is where the bulk of the industry is. Before I even knew, I’m out skating with Natas, Gonz, Jason Lee, Jeremy Klein, Chet Thomas, Steve Saiz… the list goes on and on.

So I started getting more into the mix when I heard about this Powell demo coming up. It was kind of the thing back then where, no matter who was at the demo, you wanted to go and skate with them. Granted, at the time, I was riding for G&S but I still went out there to skate the course before the demo started. It was actually Chet and Steve Saiz’s demo, who I already knew, so it was pretty mellow. I was just out there skating around beforehand and when it came time for the demo, they wanted me to keep skating. So I did.

Chet started talking to Stacy about me after that demo. Evidently, Tommy had already been talking to him for a while as well, so now he’s starting to hear about me from a few different sources. A few weeks later, I was at a contest and I see Chet talking to Stacy, pointing over at me. That’s when Stacy came over and asked me to ride for Powell. This was about a year prior to Public Domain.

Vert was pretty much the whole industry at this time. Brands would support this little street thing but it was mostly by just sponsoring amateurs. There still weren’t too many street pros yet so brands would have all these street ams to represent them at the little street contests we were talking about.

Stacy and Dorfman were always the guys at big brands who supported street skating, to the point where they actually had street models in their catalogs. Obviously, you had Santa Monica Airlines but Skip was hip, man. He knew what was up. But as far as the other big brands, G&S didn’t have any street pros at the time. And Santa Cruz had Jeff Kendall, who because he was so versatile, had a vert and a street model... but that seemed different. His street board almost felt like by default or something. He didn’t seem like a dedicated street guy.

Stacy already saw the potential in street skating. He knew what was going on out there, under the radar. First by acquiring Tommy, Jesse, Thiebaud and Vallely and then by getting more amateur street talent, like me… I figure he saw Public Domain as his coming out party. Let’s give this a chance.

As far as it being a shared part, Stacy realized that there was power in numbers. You couldn’t just put an amateur cat out there by himself that nobody had ever heard of. At least, not that at that point. It’s way easier as a crew. So that’s how the Rubber Boys came about.

Where did the “Rubber Boys” name come from? 

You know, Stacy has never told me. I still don’t even know what it means. (laughs)

It’s funny to think that I’ve never cared enough to inquire! But that’s just Stacy and Stecyk doing their thing.

My hero in skating has always been my buddy, Randy. He was my inspiration behind my ragdoll graphic and everything. Randy skated super loose and I’d always try to get down like that, too. I always thought terms like “rubber” and “ragdoll” painted the picture to me of something flowy and loose. Elastic, if you will. That’s always been my interpretation of it anyway.

That part was a couple of days or so, right? Had you ever skated any of those spots before?

No, that was the first time I’d ever skated any of that stuff.

Our part in Public Domain came about as, “Hey, you’re gonna meet up with Stacy and some guys to film.”

That was it. We showed up and he had a list of spots he wanted to hit. That’s where we went and that’s what we got. 3 days, back-to-back, in the same clothes.

Were those your typical daily tricks back then? Did you bust out anything new for the cameras?

I mean, skating back then was still like how it is now with progression but it hadn’t gotten to that place yet where difficulty was high, which meant that you could be more consistent. But it’s all the same stuff. You have a trick set and that’s what you draw from. Tricks just weren’t as hard yet. But yeah, there were a few things I’d never done before in there that I just made up on the spot.

Like what?

That kickflip 50-50 on a bench with the backside 180 out? I’d never done that before. I gazelle’d out of a 50-50 in there, too. Never did that one before either. Some stuff is just improvised, man. You can’t call it. You just start making stuff up and if something’s close to what you’re already doing, you make it happen.

Everyone draws from a certain vocabulary, the same bag of tricks. You just apply it to wherever you are. That’s all it really is. Just like skating a contest course for the first time. It’s all stuff you know, just in slightly different situations.

But the kickflip stuff you were doing was way ahead of the curve. And I know you didn’t get many tries during filming so that stuff had to come pretty quickly…

That’s what was so cool about back then, you just sessioned. It was all long lens stuff so you were able to tune everything out. You were basically just skating. Filming was more about documenting the session back then anyway instead of going after specific tricks.

You could try all kinds of stuff over the course of filming and you either made things so they had footage to work with… or you didn’t. You had to be smart about it. If you’re out there bailing the whole time and not getting anything, when it comes time to move spots, you still gotta go. You just got nothing.

The cool thing about street skating back then is that the tricks weren’t all laid out. There was much more variety. I remember being able to tell where a skater was from by how they skated. The influence of their environment. Every scene was its own individual thing. Like, if you went to a contest, the guys from San Francisco would always be skating faster than everyone else because of the hills. Dudes from Venice would be doing a bunch of wall stuff because that was their approach. Even guys from Southern California, which is where Saiz, Chet and Sanderson were from, I feel like they were more inspired by the vert scene down there than the rest of us. Grabs and things like that.

I was a lot more freestyle in my approach because of that Sacramento flatground influence. So because of that, I had a lot of kickflips into things, step-hops, and things like that.

The overall climate back then was everyone out there doing different things. One guy’s doing this kinda thing while this guy’s over there trying that sorta thing, both at the same spot. There was no generally-accepted way of going about it. Everything was so fresh and new.

Did Stacy make you remove the labels off your Vision Street Wears?

(laughs) Oh, you’re smart! It took me a while to figure out why that was.

Yeah, I was only 16 at the time and there was definitely some “ignorance is bliss” there. I didn’t think my Vision shoes were a big deal since Powell didn’t make shoes. Why would they care? The reality was that Vision made skateboards and that’s what made it an issue. I just didn’t think of it that way.

They never communicated that to me, though. Stacy knew that I wanted to wear my shoes and he was trying to work with me but rather than just explaining that to me, they grabbed my shoes and cut off the logos when I wasn’t looking.

They didn’t even tell you they were going to do it?

Nah, the first time it happened, we were shooting an ad and I went to change clothes. When I came back to put my shoes back on, “Huh… the logos are gone.” (laughs)

That’s just being a naïve teenager. Not really knowing how things worked. That’s why I was so lucky to have Lance around. He was huge in helping me understand the realities of being a pro skater, that there are real responsibilities to this job.

But yeah, after I finally figured everything out, I started cutting the logos off myself.

Was it hard getting comfortable on Powell at first? Did you have any difficulties being the new street guy?  

Not at all, man. It was such a great time and they were all so open to everything. I’d always had so much admiration for the Bones Brigade. I’d known Tommy for a while and Lance, who was always my favorite, really took me under his wing. I’m so thankful for all of it.

I will say something that was a little trippy and kind of a bummer was just the timing of everything. Once Public Domain came out and Stacy saw the response, it was obvious that street was going to be big. This made things tough because a lot of the vert guys who were already in-line to receive pro models got shelved because of us. Our boards came out and some of theirs never did. That led to some awkward moments in the van, for sure.

The Rubber Boys came out right at the start of the whole vert-street rivalry. And this was back when everybody was functioning together. Like, if you’re going to Europe for contests, these are vert and street contests, together. So everybody had to be hanging together the whole time. You had to know that vert skaters were feeling the pressure from us essentially coming in and taking their gigs. It wasn’t intentional on our part but it’s just how it was. And a lot of these vert guys didn’t really have any respect for street either, which pissed them off even more… like, “How are these guys going to come in and take our shine?”

So would you often talk about these politics with other street pros who were also facing the same team dynamic? In addition to bouncing around trick ideas and concepts?

We wouldn’t talk too much about the team dynamics, more about just trick ideas.  Like I said, moving to Southern California changed everything because I was around everybody now.

It was great becoming friends with Mark Gonzales pretty early on. I still remember these long phone conversations we used to have where we’d dream about doing certain tricks. Mark would always call me back claiming that he just did the trick we were talking about learning. But the next time we’d skate together, he couldn’t come anywhere near pulling it off.

Later on, he told me that he would do that so he’d have to learn the trick. (laughs)

As a black skater in the 80s, did you experience any static within skateboarding? And not necessarily overtly negative, maybe just a few awkward dealings with suburban white kids?

Actually, most of the hassles I’d experience were from other brothers and sisters.

“What the heck are you doing? Why are you trying to be white?”

Skaters could’ve cared less. The only thing skaters care about is if you’re a kook or not. Are you someone that we want to be around and skate with? That’s really about it.  

So thankfully, nothing really in skateboarding. There were a few instances when guys starting dabbling and being influenced by Nazi culture… I remember the Godoy Brothers getting into that a little bit at one point.

Iron Cross Skateboards.

Yeah, that was the closest I ever experienced to that kind of thing within skateboarding. It was a trip, too, because I think that was more to do with those guys just being intrigued by all that… I was never sure if they really believed that stuff, deep down. It almost seemed like a fashion thing at the time. The sad thing is with that fashion statement came along all the lame hatred, too. I just stayed away from all of it.

That being said, that stuff felt more like a phase because all of those dudes are super cool at the end of the day. I guess it was something they had to go through and come out the back end of. It wasn’t some deep-rooted thing that a lot of people struggle with. Kinda weird.

Arguably the most popular black skateboarder ever up to that point, were you aware of any influence you may have had in this regard? Did you ever feel any added weight as a possible role model?

I was just skating, man.

Honestly, I’d always get the occasional interview question about this, which would be the only time that it would even dawn on me… like, oh yeah! But that’s the beauty of skateboarding. Once you fall into it, the culture keeps you so engrossed that you don’t even think about some of these heavier things. It’s only when you get older that you start to reflect on everything.

When you’re in it, you’re just in it, man. Doing your thing. You don’t have to get caught up in all these other concerns. Because it can be a bummer when you become too aware of weird politics and drama. You gotta push that stuff out. So I’m kinda thankful that I was so oblivious and didn’t let it affect me.

You mentioned earlier that your friend Randy had something to do with your Ragdoll concept?

Yeah, the Ragdoll was inspired by Randy.

This is right when Sean Cliver had become an illustrator for Powell through that ad. My board graphic was one of his first assignments and I still remember sitting with him one day, talking about stuff I’d be interested in.

“What about a ragdoll or something?” Because I loved how loose and free Randy was while he was skating. We’d always say that he skated like a ragdoll. And because I was so inspired by him, people began to say that I had the same type of thing.

I had no way of fathoming how Cliver would interpret that but I totally fell in love with what he did. It’s like he made a superhero out of it! I think it’s still one of the coolest things ever. It reminds me of Spiderman or something. Even the beads and the friendship bracelets around the wrist, that was all stuff that we wore. The hat and the name in the cards… Sean’s amazing.

His name keeps popping up, whatever happened to Randy?

A knee injury took him out. It was terrible, man. His skating really was something special.

Sounds like it. So were you more nervous about Ban This being a completely solo part on the eve of turning pro?

Ban This was different because we all knew how big it was by then. It was no longer Stacy taking a chance. The response to Public Domain had shown that street skating had arrived. 

The team had really grown with more street skaters. By that time, Stacy had already sponsored Guy, Rudy, Paulo and Gabriel and they were out there filming their part as well. I thought all of this was great. The more, the merrier, you know? It didn’t even dawn on me that most people would feel added pressure with these younger guys around. I just wasn’t thinking of it that way.  

I don’t know if Stacy could sense that but I remember him sitting me down before going out to film and showing me their part. Basically as a way to show me what was going on. I was hyped, though. I thought their part was awesome. I understand that he wanted to motivate me but I’ve just never had a competitive mindset with filming parts. It was cool as a source of inspiration but I just looked at it like I can only try my best and do what I’m going to do. And that’s what we got. 

That part ended up being way different but it was still only 2 or 3 different get-togethers with just Stacy and I.

How was it different?

Stacy and I would literally just drive around looking for stuff. He’d see a spot or maybe even just a backdrop he liked and pullover. We’d get out, film a line real quick, get back in the car and cruise around some more. It was way more on the run. We weren’t camping out for that one at all.

There were some spots that I dug, so I’d just keep skating. Like, the stuff with the stairs? That was just around the corner from the Pink Motel. We were filming for Sk8-TV and I happened to find those stairs so we went for it. I was able to get all those tricks in-between stuff for Sk8-TV.

But something that came to light in Guy’s Epicly Later’d regarding Ban This was talk of Stacy possibly throttling their coverage in favor of his more merchandised pros?

I’m not sure, man. I feel like Stacy probably thought that he had enough for their part. Why go back for more? That’s how Stacy tended to look at stuff. You have these days to film and then your part is done. That’s it. Stacy had no desire to be sitting there forever so someone could get one trick. He didn’t have that mentality… at all, which became a challenge later on.

It was just different back then. So much of how things are now come down to the riders’ input. They have so much input with everything where as back then, the rider really didn’t have much say in how things were done by the brand. You were either part of the program or you weren’t. Riders can throw fits now and get what they want. In the Powell days, Stacy would’ve just kicked you off. (laughs)

You have to remember that Stacy was managing so many people. He didn’t have time to switch things around because his schedule was so tight. It had to be in order to get everything done. He couldn’t afford to be that flexible.

“We’re done, man. I don’t have time for that. You should’ve done that when we were filming.”

Were you concerned with Stacy’s treatment of street skating compared to H-Street’s bro-cam trick porn? That these dudes are blowing doors while you’re out filming scooter races?

My initial thought on the H-Street videos was that there were a lot of rippers in this video but the presentation is just so overwhelming! It took more work to decipher everything because there so much stuff going on. It was just so different.

That being said, Matt Hensley’s skating really stood out to me as being special.

Talk a little about your 1990 Transworld Pro Spotlight. Did you tackle that just like another video part? Did you expect it to have as much impact as it did?

It’s funny to hear you say that because to this day, I still don’t know how much of an impact it had.

What!?! That’s a classic!

You have to remember that I had so much rolling out at this time. Everything felt well-received, to be honest, so it was hard for me to see different levels of things. There wasn’t a clear contrast. I was just thankful to have gotten an interview.

It’s only in hindsight where I really learn how people looked at these things. 

Had you ever worked with Spike before? Because he really brought a special look to it.  

Oh, I loved working with Spike. I’d actually met him years before when he was at Homeboy. So yeah, when I found out he was shooting my interview, I was hyped. Because for me, especially back then, I got out with so many photographers. All I care about is if I want to hang out with the dude because you end up spending a lot of time together. But I dug Spike. Right away, it was a win-win.

Spike was cool because he’d always skate the stuff with me. That always helps. Go to a mini-ramp, Spike’s dropping in as well. It’s more like hanging out with a friend while we also happen to be working on this thing together.

But I remember one of the first shots we got, I’d taken him to this school. It was around noon or so, but I was ready to get the trick. Let’s do this.

“Ok, cool. Let’s go get something to eat and maybe check out another spot. Let’s come back to this one around sunset because that’s when it will look the best.”

“What!?! Sunset!?! I’m ready to do this now!”

But I listened to him and came back later. We got the trick and when he showed me the photo later, it looked so sick. I trusted him after that. Ok, cool… Spike knows what he’s doing. I’m not tripping on nothing.

I remember him telling me that he’d won some photography award for those pieced together frames he did of me.

Like the Talking Heads cover?

Exactly! I thought that was super cool, man. If anything, that’s what I remember most about that interview, just the fun times I had with Spike and him getting that award. I was really impressed because it was an award outside of skateboarding.

That Spotlight was a great early example of how to shoot street skating… because I remember you having a few ill-timed photos published elsewhere that would’ve never run a few years later.

Guys were just used to shooting vert. In their defense, that’s like going from 10-foot airs to some little flip off the ground. And it’s not like we were catching it either. It’s rocketing the whole time. I don’t really know how you’d go about shooting that. (laughs)

Fair point. Do you still like the Bangles?

(laughs) Yeah, man. I do.

Here’s what I’ve realized about my personality: if there was ever an emotional connection with something, that never changes for me. I can never relate to people who “used to like” something. I always wonder what happened to make them not like it anymore? Those reasons never change for me.

But yeah, there are some cuts on that second Bangles album, back when they were signed to IRS before they got big… “All Over the Place”, when they were super in the mix of the LA punk scene with Red Kross and all that. So many good tracks on that album.

What’s the story behind that shot of you pushing that Powell ran as an ad?

I have no idea, man. Magazines would come out and I wouldn’t know where half of my stuff even came from.

“Huh? What’s that? When did that happen? Well…. Okay.”

Back then, you’d go out with Powell for a day or two and get so much stuff done. You’d shoot a bunch of photos and they’d sit on the stuff, rolling it out as needed. It’s not like today where companies call up different photographers, seeing if they have any pictures. Powell would just backlog a ton of stuff for each rider. So yeah, when that came out, I didn’t even know.

“Wow, we shot that so long ago… and why did they just shoot me pushing?” (laughs)

Everything was very conceptual back then. If you think about Stacy’s style, tricks were involved but not how it is today. It was much more about that rider’s personality, closer to how record labels market their stars. Sure, this guy’s a ripper but does the personality come through?

Here’s photo of Ray pushing. Here’s one of a bunch of dudes hanging out on the deck of a ramp. That was an ad. Stacy’s approach was to connect skaters to the person, rather than their tricks. I mean, I had an ad doing a handstand! That was the magic of Stecyk and Stacy.

Rocco come from that school, too. Those early World ads are just the product of guys sitting around, cooking up goofy stuff. Half of the time, there was no skateboarding even in it. That was the climate. We weren’t to the mid-90s where everything got so militant. It was still fun, man. It had character. As corny as some people think that stuff is, it gave way more insight into that guy’s personality than just seeing them on their boards.

I know we talked earlier about how we really didn’t see H-Street as a threat, Rocco was a different story. He was blatantly attacking Powell. And I could tell Stacy was getting flustered. It became pretty obvious that Powell didn’t know how to respond, which became a much bigger issue and concern for all of us.

So what were your thoughts on Powell’s notorious MeMeMe ad? Did you realize it was going to yield such a gnarly retaliation from Rocco?

Oh, dude. At that point, with that ad... to me, Powell was really struggling. I remember thinking that if that’s all they could come up with, we were in big trouble.

There’s a verse I love in the Bible that says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly or lest he be wise in his own eyes.”

You can’t come up with a World Industries ad to battle World Industries. It just doesn’t work like that.

So yeah, I knew it was bad idea. But again, this was my job. And I’m grateful for that because it taught me to be professional. I work for the brand. I’m not the boss, so… ok, here we go! (laughs)

It was a tough one, though. But yeah, that’s when I knew it was over. This ad was all she wrote. And that’s pretty much how it went down. Stacy bailed shortly after and we were all left looking at each other, wondering what we were going to do.

When did Lance bring you into his plans for the Firm?

Right from the jump.

At first, George wanted Lance to do a company through Powell. George would run it but the company would be headed by Lance. That’s when Lance reached out to see if I’d be into it and, of course, I was down.

Honestly, by that point, I really didn’t know what we were doing at Powell anymore. It was kind of a mess after Stacy left.

So that’s how the Firm started. It was originally going to be Lance, myself and Colin McKay… somebody else, too, early on. I think maybe Moses Itkonen? I can’t remember. But yeah, as time went on, Lance started to realize that building it this way would mean that he’d always have to deal with George. That even with all the hard work he was ready to put in, the company would still never truly be his. So he took out a second mortgage on his house and started the Firm.

Unfortunately, Colin bailed but we ended up getting the Gruber brothers and we were on our way. I was hyped.

freakin' wholesome

Did you have any other offers at the time? I imagine with Powell slowly dissolving, you had to be getting hit up on all sides.

Not so much. Because I think as far as everyone else knew, I was planning on being at Powell for the duration.

This is funny in hindsight, but Rocco actually hit me up to ride for SMA a few days after I got on Powell. It was all the same week. This is back when he was just starting out and didn’t have a team yet. I know he was already in a few peoples’ ear, though. He was already talking to Rodney and Vallely… it was pretty obvious that he was trying to kill Stacy from the beginning.

I just couldn’t take him seriously. I’d was on Powell-Peralta, man! They were huge at this point! How is this freestyler going to start a brand that would ever take out the Bones Brigade? (laughs)

That’s weird to think about. But going back to the Firm, you guys put out La Buena Vida pretty quickly. Was there an excitement at the beginning with having complete control? Or was there possibly more anxiety now since there was no safety net?

Well, my level of concern was different from Lance’s but I was excited. At that point, Powell had kinda run its course and skating was entering a whole new phase. Obviously board sales weren’t what they used to be but as far as overall excitement, it was a great time! Everything felt so new and there was so much potential. Even though we’re all wearing Blind jeans with bearing covers for wheels, it was all still a breath of fresh air that you could appreciate.

We had control now. There was sense of ownership. Doing it for ourselves, for this thing that we believed in. We weren’t submitting something to a bigger idea. We were in charge now going forward. It was a blast, man!

La Buena Vida was so much fun to do. I’ve always felt that the best scenario a skateboarder can find themselves in is to just be out skating with friends and the Firm was like a family, man. Stacy wasn’t controlling everything anymore. It was all up to us, which was huge, but also meant that we were entering the era of very loose deadlines. Things started to get done… whenever they got done. (laughs)

So yeah, all of this is came into play with La Buena Vida, which is why that video has the feel it does. Lance had always talked about wanting to do a video that felt looser and wasn’t so serious, that was more about friends skating together. Even down to the guys leaving their house and stopping by my place to pick me up. Those are really our houses! But that’s how skateboarding truly is, man. It was cool to showcase that.

Why go with Firehose’s “In My Mind” for your part not long after Tom Knox had just used it in Speed Freaks?

That just kinda happened. I didn’t really think about it until I heard from a few people after the fact.

Playing music, I’ve always been a huge fan of Firehose and the Minutemen. In a lot of ways, I learned how to play guitar by listening to those albums. Ed Crawford’s riff on that song, in particular, always got me. I remember my friends and I always used to play that one live. So I had an emotional connection there, irrelevant to who used it before.

FIrehose was in San Pedro, right under the bridge from Long Beach, so I’d always go see them play. I actually remember asking Watt one time, “Hey, I want to use one of your guys’ songs for my video part. Is that cool?”

“Take something from SST. Don’t take anything from Sony. They’ll come after you.”

Because I actually wanted to use “Down with the Bass” off Flying the Flannel but Mike didn’t think that was a good idea, which led me over to the SST catalog. “In My Mind” just felt right.

I honestly didn’t realize that Tom had used it before.

Give us your favorite Lance Mountain story.

Ok, this is the first one that comes to mind. We were in Barcelona for two weeks, filming for Can’t Stop. We were in a hotel and I still don’t know how Lance thought to do this but I guess whenever he was in the bathroom, he could hear everything going on in the bathroom a floor above us. I remember it being Anthony Claravall’s room with a few of our guys. But I guess the bathrooms were connected somehow.

I don’t know how it started but he figured out that there was a way to push up on the ceiling to where you could get through to the pipe and up to the next floor. I guess he thought it would be funny if he tunneled up through the ceiling to our friend’s bathroom and surprise them! The only problem was that the set-up was too small and Lance ended up getting stuck! (laughs)

I just remember thinking to myself, “Man, what are we gonna do? Lance is stuck in the ceiling in Barcelona and we can’t get him out!” (laughs)

Needless to say, we were able to get him out. He was covered in all this nastiness, man. Just filthy. But those are the kind of child-like antics that are just so good…

I always try to imagine how housekeeping would’ve reacted had they walked into this construction zone scene with some dude stuck in the ceiling. (laughs)

Amazing. Going back a bit, the ’94 Firm Video seemed much more traditional in comparison to Buena. Was this the company possibly getting more serious about things? Regardless, not enough people talk about Weston Correa’s part.

Right!?! How good was Wes, man!?!? Wow!

But yeah, that’s just where skateboarding was at the time. Skating was beyond serious during those years and that video just reflected the times. Like, this trick is accepted, that one isn’t. The crew is cool, that one’s not. Things weren’t so warm and fuzzy back then. There was a definite non-inclusive feel to it all.

That being said, none of that was really conscious at the time, even though it is affecting you. It just shows up in things, like how you make a video. You know how it is, everything goes through phases and this was skateboarding’s “serious” phase. And with all of these new riders on the team, James Qua and Weston… that was more of their deal, too. Those guys just wanted to get down to biz.

What was the relationship between Girl and the Firm around this time? I know you guys went on several tours together, Lance did some graphics in addition to your Gas Station cameo in Chocolate Tour.

We were just friends, man. Simple as that. Friendship and respect. We had this feeling where we were all in it together. I can speak for Lance in that we always had a feeling of community with the Firm. Everyone has their respective brands and interests but we’re all still skaters, trying to enjoy the whole trip.

With Girl, you have to remember how many connections we had over there through the Powell days. Those are deep friendships from early on, in addition to the guys that we got close to later on. It just made sense. We were always skating together anyway, might as well tour together, too.

The Chocolate Tour cameo was Spike’s idea and you already know the history there. Of course, man. It’s all family. That was fun, too. Spike’s always a good time.

How would you and Lance conduct your careers with regard to spirituality in the often-shocking Rocco era?  Individually, you guys made your faith known but it was never like The Firm was branded a “Christian Company”. What’s the balance?

We just felt that only people can have the Holy Spirit in them, not a company. Not the Firm. But you’re right, as individuals, Lance and I both put our faith in Jesus. For me, it has more to do with loving people and being sincere. At the end of the day, we love skateboarding and skateboarders and pray that somehow, in some way, we will be used to draw people in to want to know God’s love.  

But I know you got grief over the years as the “God Squad”, right?

Oh, that’s rad! I’ve never heard that before! (laughs)

It’s one of those things where this is so real to me, that other stuff doesn’t matter. When you’re on your deathbed, who cares what people think about you? It doesn’t mean anything. Faith is only as good as what it’s placed in, so hopefully, whatever someone puts their faith into is worthy of it. I have such a peace that I’ll die for that faith, which makes it easy not to get discouraged when you might be getting made fun of or called names.

I always think to myself… are these people gonna help me when I die? What are they doing for me and my life? I got some heavy stuff happening, what are they doing about it? Because I know who helps me and gets me through.

So no, that doesn’t affect me at all. It’s not like I’m getting martyred for this. There are people out there getting killed for their faith. This kinda stuff is whatever. Getting called “The God Squad”… I actually like that! (laughs)

People get caught up in a lot of stuff. Most of it, at the end of the day, doesn’t really matter.

What kept you on the Firm through all the ups-and-downs?

Relationships, pure and simple. We’re family. And if Lance didn’t pull the plug when he did, we’d still be at it. I’m very thankful for Lance, Yvette and my years with The Firm. I learned a lot. Lance is the older brother I never had. I have so much respect and admiration for that guy.

But how bad did Salman’s sockless feet smell back in the day?

(laughs) Dude! Sally and Stranger both, man! Whew!!!! If those cats took their shoes off in the van, you were done! If you lived through that, you are one tough cookie!

Not that I can say anything, I was right up in there with no socks, too. But I chose to keep my shoes on. I wasn’t trying to air them out in the van! (laughs)

And doing that is so bad for your feet! Blisters and all that… especially where the seams are? Don’t do it!

What about filming your first “modern part” for Can’t Stop? Did you take a more 2000s approach with trick lists and sitting in on editing?

No, I never had any trick lists but I’m pretty sure I sat in on some of the editing.

The big difference with filming Can’t Stop was that we traveled together to a lot other countries. We also took longer to film for it, too. But whenever you travel together for filming like that, you tend to find yourself at a lot of different spots based on what other guys want to skate. You end up filming wherever because people see things and they get ideas… but there are always spots that you’re maybe not that interested in, which can make you feel like you’re just tagging along in a way. So you start to hope that it’s a spot that you can get something on, too. That was a big change.

You never went on any solo missions?

There were a few times where I felt the need to grab Kurt Hayashi and hash some things out solo, of course. Maybe a few spots that I saw earlier in the day that I wanted to hit by myself. Ideas where I didn’t necessarily want to make the other guys wait around for me to do it. But it’s always more fun with a crew.

Honestly, I feel like I’ve gone about all of my solo parts the same way, just with different tricks. My thought process has always been more or less the same.

“What can I do here? How can I get excited about this spot? Okay, how about this?”

To me, video parts are like when you think about the back catalog of your favorite bands, they’re all based in a time. Very rarely does someone’s style not reflect the changes of a constantly-evolving environment. That’s how creativity works.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s always pressure with each part. Pressure to get tricks. You’re always tallying up what you got every day. That’s what drives you. Going on a trip and having not gotten anything yet? It’s the worst!

Do you have any madness-type stresses when it comes to skating? You always look like you’re having the best time.

My son just asked me this the other day and actually, I do. If you watch, I’ll always do like a kickflip or a tre flip as I roll up to get myself hyped before trying whatever it is that I really want to try. The feeling of landing something clean on my way in, it’s a mental thing for me. It really helps. It makes me feel like I’m more ready somehow.

“Alright, that heelflip felt good. I’m on point, I’m concentrating… Okay, let’s go!”

It doesn’t matter what I’m trying. It doesn’t even need to have a flip in it, like a feeble or something. But that’s what I gotta do.

After rolling through every conceivable trend, what’s been your favorite era of skating? And with always so much attention on the Rubber Boys, what’s your personal favorite Ray Barbee video part?

It’s kinda like when you first get turned on to a band. Most people love the Beatles but everyone has a different favorite album, right? A lot of times, that person’s favorite is the first one they heard. That’s how skateboarding is for me. I have the fondest memories of those early times, when there was such a sense of wonder with it all.

As far as a personal favorite part, I can’t really say because they’re all my babies. I was sincere with all that stuff. Obviously there are tricks in each that I’m a bit more excited about, for the time, but I can’t say one part as a whole. Of course, I’d have to say that I’m most thankful for Public Domain. I’m talking to you right now because of that part. Knowing that, it’s hard not to acknowledge the Rubber Boys.

As a street pioneer, how have you gone about staying relevant as so many of your contemporaries either fell back or retired?

I’m not really sure. I just know that I still want to skate and push myself. So I just do what I can do and try to be out there. I realize that I can’t keep up with the young dudes. Physically, it’s not even possible. There will always be anomalies like Guy and Daewon, but the reality of the situation is that our bodies are deteriorating. So I want to get all that I can out of it. That’s why I’m so thankful for my sponsors supporting me and being able to use all of my other interests, like my music and photography.

But yeah, that’s really it… Just do what you can do, keep pushing yourself and make sure you want to be out there.

Special thanks to Mark Whiteley and Ray for taking the time.