Steve Caballero has been at the epicentre of skating since he turned pro in 1980. As one of skateboarding’s pioneering competitors, Steve has witnessed many of the twists and turns along the way that have made skating what it is today. At the recent Half Cab 25th anniversary release in Berlin, SOURCE had the chance to ask some questions and hear Steve’s views on how the times, they are a changing.
How has the relevance of athletes to skateboarding brands changed in your time in the industry?
I don’t think this has changed very much in skating. People approach skating from different angles; some people just don’t think skateboarders are athletes. Some think of it as an art form, for others it’s just something fun for them to do, going down to the grocery store or just riding a board in between classes at college. You’ve got skaters out looking for pools to shoot photos or videos, just trying to be creative in the environment. They don’t care about events or being sponsored. Then you have the other guys who are competitive and sponsored. They go into the arenas and compete against each other in a highly competitive environment. When it’s competitive you have to think about how much sleep you’re getting and what your diet is. You’re up against equally competitive people. That’s when I considered myself an athlete.
In the 70s and 80s we grew up on competitions, there were no videos or photo shoots back then. To better yourself you had to compete to get on the park team and then you could skate the park for free. You competed with other park teams and tried to win trophies, so at that time my whole life revolved around competing. Then in late 80s and early 90s it all changed, skating was all about getting the best photo or video part. Skating became more about art rather than competition. The magazines moved their coverage away from competitions into trips and lifestyle stories, painting a picture with a skateboard.
Then in the (mid-late) 90s, the X Games turned it all round again and competitions regained their importance.
My friends who skate in street league are very competitive, the level of street skating is amazing and I consider them athletes. They even have their own training facilities. They aren’t playing around, they work super hard to achieve the standards they have set. But competition creates pressure and many people opt out. They just escape for the fun of doing that trick that no one else has done and record it without all the competitive pressure. It’s all so easy, now you can film a whole video part on a cell phone. Right now I consider myself an athlete as I have to train and practice and think about my diet and my health and being on top of my game, particularly as an older skater.
How has your relationship with the consumer changed over the years?
I am really involved with social media. I’m constantly posting, responding and liking what’s cool about skateboarding. What makes it different from other sports is that the fans are so much closer to the stars. We are so much more accessible to the fans. I love the interaction with the fans, I am involved constantly and these connections are really important to me. I promote the stuff I really like, even if I am not associated with it. I care for my sport and I care for the fans who care for my sport.
You’ve seen many brands come and go over the years, in your opinions, what should a new brand do to establish itself?
I haven’t really seen a new brand come in and really make a mark for a while, even though many guys are leaving from the big popular companies. I think skateboarding is at a weird place right now. It’s difficult to survive and stand out as a brand, as the market is far more complex.
In the 80s it was easy. You had five companies that owned the market, Powell, Vision, Independent, Santa Cruz and G & S and we were all selling lots of skateboards. Then in the 90s a lot of small new companies came in and changed the market. They were not really manufactures, more distributor and marketing companies with low overheads. Action sports is really fickle and if you grow too fast and the market changes, you get left with more overheads then you can afford. The survivors are the brands with low overheads, who grew steadily and not too fast. But today brands are always coming and going.
For myself I sell more reissue 80s boards, than the boards I currently ride. The demand is coming from people who used to skate in the 80s and are coming back to the sport, or are buying for their kids. There are also a lot of collectors out there.
Do you feel like the relationship between the different boardsports changing?
I can’t speak for the whole industry, just my feelings. There was a time, when I was really close to snowboarding, when I was snowboarding all the time and then I stopped. Right now I am into motocross and I like riding dirt bikes. Recently I’ve just started getting into surfing, so I’m sure you’ll see lots of stuff with me surfing in it. I see these sports as operating separately even though they seem pretty intertwined. I just don’t think consumers have not got the time to do them all. Vans is the only real cross-over brand I see out there.
Who do you most respect in the industry?
I respect the companies I ride for. I respect Powell Peralta, George has always been about quality and he’s always researching to make the best product out there. I respect Vans, as they have given a lot back across all boardsports. They are always putting on events and they listen to their riders. Both brands also care about the consumer.
And what are your views on the current retail environment?
Technology has its good points and its bad points. I can buy something right now and not ever leave my house. My purchase is delivered direct to my doorstep. In that sense it hurts the small retail business. You know I live in America, it’s the land of opportunity but not everyone has that opportunity. Just because you want to be a businessman, doesn’t mean you will succeed. You need to be smart and find a way of attracting the consumer. If there is another company that’s more attractive than yours, are they the bad guys? Or are they doing something that consumers want and that you’re not doing.
People complain about these companies coming in and taking over the market, but they are doing something that you’re not doing. They are taking over the market for a reason – you have to work out what that reason is. It’s a scary market, and I’m not sure I would want to be in business myself. You have to listen to what the consumer wants and it’s forever changing. In one day and out the next.