"Style is everything in skateboarding," says Steve Caballero. "It's what defines you as a skateboarder, and it's a choice. The way I skate, and the tricks I do, has always been a choice. I won't just land anything — it's well thought out, it's precise." Today, at age 52, the Skateboarding Hall of Famer is at Tony Hawk's personal ramp, trying a trick he's never done before — a Frontside Lipslide over the "bridge of death," an eight-foot-long rail that hovers at the top of the 16-foot-high ramp. Within a handful of attempts, his relentless determination and precision pay off, as he blasts over the channel victoriously. "To do something that's never been done before requires a lot of courage and calculated chances," Cab says. "Skateboarding is 90 percent mental and only 10 percent physical and talent."
On the next drop-in, Birdhouse rider Elliot Sloan sends a perfectly executed Full Cab Heelflip Indy — a gnarly combination trick that includes Cab's signature maneuver, the Caballerial — high above the coping of the ramp. Sloan seems more concerned with hitting the warehouse rafters than falling nearly 20 feet to the flat. "Skating vert and the Mega Ramp is the closest thing to flying," says skateboarding's 29-year-old aviator. "You can't get that feeling skating street, unless you're trying to jump down like 30 stairs, which I'm not." He became obsessed with big air after seeing Tony Hawk land the 900 for the first time in competition. Now teammates with Hawk, Sloan is one of only a handful of dudes on the planet who intrepidly rack up frequent flyer miles on the Mega Ramp and, with an arsenal of tricks like the Indy 900 that won him gold at this year's X Games, he dominates. When the two shredders aren't skating, Caballero and Sloan share common interests in playing music and riding motorcycles. Cab basically invented skate rock in the early Eighties with his punk band the Faction. Sloan writes and records his own death-metal tunes, even scoring his own skate videos as he did with his latest video part, "Metal and Mayhem" — which features Caballero playing bass and skating doubles with Sloan. If that weren't fucking cool enough, the two also rip around on motorcycles any chance they get, often with each other. These dudes aren't just weekend warriors: Cab is a lifelong rider who designs and races vintage bikes including his '52 Triumph Pre-Unit and a '45 Harley-Davidson Flathead, and since purchasing his Ducati Scrambler, Sloan has become a regular garage wrencher, customizing his bike for aesthetics and speed. "If you don't respect your motorcycle, it can hurt you," Cab warns. "But if you respect what you're riding and understand the capability, you can do awesome things with it."
Caballero and Sloan crossed paths on the skateboard circuit for a long time, but when Cab relocated his family several years ago from San Jose to San Diego, near where the younger skater lives, the two began hanging out on the regular and became close friends. Revolver spent a day shadowing Caballero and Sloan to witness first hand their intergenerational bond. After watching them shred on Hawk's ramp, ride through the San Marcos Mountains and blast a heavy jam session joined by drummer Sean Elg (of SoCal thrash band Nihilist) in Sloan's home studio, we got the two rock-star skaters to sit still long enough to discuss their radical lives.
CAB, YOU'VE BEEN SUCCESSFULLY COMPETING IN SKATEBOARDING FOR NEARLY FOUR DECADES. WHAT'S THE SECRET TO YOUR LONGEVITY?
STEVE CABALLERO Making the right choices, knowing when to bail and looking at skateboarding in a way that you respect it. I really do feel that skateboarding is a super dangerous activity. Depending on how far you push it — it can go wrong. I've pretty much always worn my pads. That's not only kept me safe, but also enabled me to progress and give me the confidence to try things that were unthinkable. The day I feel like I don't want to get hurt, or push myself to progress, I'll stop riding a skateboard. But until then I'm gonna roll as long as I can.
YOU HAVE AN EFFORTLESS AND ICONIC STYLE. ANYONE FAMILIAR WITH SKATEBOARDING COULD RECOGNIZE YOU JUST FROM YOUR SILHOUETTE. WHAT DEFINES A SIGNATURE SKATEBOARDER?
CABALLERO If you've seen me learning a trick, you've seen me bail alot—fall alot until I make it. And when I make it, the trick looks smooth because I've taken it to the level of perfecting it. That's why my skating looks the way it does. When we drop video parts, shoot photos or even post to social media, people don't see the lead-up to it — it's a lot of preparation, it's methodical. There's a realization of what it should look like and what could go wrong. There's a high thought process to it, and if you don't have it upstairs, you ain't gonna have it.
ELLIOT, THERE ARE PROBABLY ONLY A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE IN THE WORLD WHO WOULD HAVE ANY INTEREST IN DROPPING IN ON A MEGA RAMP. WHAT DROVE YOU TO EVER WANT TO DO THAT?
ELLIOT SLOAN I was still living in New York around the time that Tony Hawk landed the first 900 in a competition and X Games was blowing up and vert skating was getting popular again. That moment got me fired up on vert skating. As far as Mega Ramp, hands down, Danny Way's part in The DC Video. That was a game changer for me. It was not only amazing vert skating and Mega Ramp, but he had his video part scored to metal and I was mind-blown.
WHAT COMPELLED YOU TO LEAVE NEW YORK?
SLOAN My dad passed away when I was 16. I had to quit school and get a job — my mom started working again, too. I was pretty good at skating already, but it all slowed down because I was working all the time, just skating on the weekends. There was one month where I didn't skate at all — and that's when it hit me in a heavy way. I just started asking myself, "What am I doing?" And I just decided to say, "Fuck it," and packed up my car and moved to California. It was at a crucial time when I felt I needed to make a decision and either give up skating or go full into it. It's funny how things worked out — I don't know if I would have ever moved out here if my dad were still around. He was a diehard New Yorker who was always like, "Fuck California."
WHAT'S IT LIKE FOR YOU TO NOW BE TEAMMATES WITH TONY HAWK AND SKATING WITH SOME OF YOUR HEROES?
SLOAN It's insane. I really have to stop and take a step back sometimes and think about where I'm at and where I came from, since I'm now surrounded by all the guys I looked up to since I was 10 years old. Back around 2000, I was 12 years old and part of the Tony Hawk fan club. I got a pass to attend the Tony Hawk Gigantic Skatepark Tour and meet the skaters after the demo. Colin McKay — still one of my favorite skaters — was there. After the demo, I was too shy to go up to him, so my mom did and asked if he could give me anything. He gave me his shorts that he skated with in the demo and they were disgusting — soaking wet. It was kinda gross, but I ended up skating in them, like, every day. They were way too big for me — but they were Colin McKay's.
HOPEFULLY COLIN WAS AN UNDERWEAR GUY.
SLOAN [Laughs] Yeah, I hope so! I think he was.
CAB, YOU'VE BEEN SKATING WITH TONY HAWK YOUR ENTIRE LIFE. YOU WERE TEAMMATES AS KIDS AND YOU'RE STILL BEST PALS.
CABALLERO I watched Hawk grow up from a little grom to seeing him first getting sponsored by the Bones Brigade in 1982. I watched him grow from a little amateur to a well-seasoned pro skater to becoming one of the most incredible, most progressive skateboarders in history. What I saw in Tony was his drive and his concern for the progression of skateboarding. I'm very proud of him. He stayed humble and he loves skateboarding, and he's always giving back and help- ing skateboarding grow.
You know, we're here to inspire people and, in turn, that inspires generations. And that's our way of giving back to something that has given us so much joy and meaning in our lives. And listening to Elliot talk about the first time he saw us tour his hometown, and the fact that he now rides for Tony Hawk — we inspired him to skate and now in turn, because Elliot has become so accomplished and popular within our industry, he's inspiring a generation, and kids are now looking up to him as he looked up to Hawk and myself.
BESIDES SKATING, YOU GUYS ALSO SHARE A LOVE FOR MOTORCYCLES. WHAT DOES RIDING MOTORCYCLES ADD TO YOUR LIFE THAT YOU AREN'T GETTING FROM SKATEBOARDING?
SLOAN More than anything, it's really therapeutic. Whatever you've got going on in your life — it's nice to jump on the bike and go ride for an hour or two, get out in nature, forget about everything else, and go fast. And when you're on your bike, it forces you to be more present and in the moment. That's something I've always struggled with — my mind is always somewhere else. There are so many distractions in life, so it's good practice to remain present.
CAB, WHAT'S BEEN THE BIGGEST ATTRACTION TO MOTORCYCLES FOR YOU?
CABALLERO If you look at what [motorcycles have] become since 1901, when Indian [America's first motorcycle company] first started — they are awesome pieces of machinery, works of art. To get a motorcycle and start customizing it is another extension of our cre- ativity as artists. What can we do with a motorcycle to make it more badass? Just like with skateboarding, it's endless.
ANOTHER CREATIVE OUTLET FOR BOTH OF YOU IS MAKING YOUR OWN MUSIC. CAB, YOUR SKATE-PUNK BAND, THE FACTION, REUNITED EARLIER THIS YEAR AT THE EL GATO CLASSIC. WHAT'S THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MUSIC AND SKATING FOR YOU?
CABALLERO As soon as I became a skateboarder, my musical taste completely changed. I had been listening to soul music and disco. After my first time at a skate park, I went straight to Tower Records and bought my first AC/DC, Cheap Trick and Aerosmith tapes — I loved rock & roll. And the progression in skating went from rock & roll to new wave and then straight into punk. I loved the rawness and how fast punk rock was — much like skating, it was very DIY with no rules, just harsh and gnarly.
Listening to punk rock, I felt like it might be easy to play, so I picked up a bass and started learning some songs. Within six months I was in a band and we were recording our first 45. And sure, it wasn't the greatest music, but it was our music. It was the attitude I related to and the Faction put out a record that we called "skate rock," because all the guys in the band skated. And that's where skate rock comes from.
CAB, YOU GREW UP IN METALLICA COUNTRY AND HAVE COLLABORATED WITH THEM OVER THE YEARS. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR HISTORY WITH THEM?
CABALLERO I was introduced to Metallica around 1982. It felt like metal with a punk edge to it and I instantly fell in love with their music. Not long after, I went and saw them play in Palo Alto with Armored Saint opening up the show and Cliff Burton was still in the band — touring Ride the Lightning. I'll never forget that show — it was a small club with just a few hundred people.
SLOAN Damn, dude.
CABALLERO Over the years, I've become friends with those guys through mutual relationships and through Vans — I did a collaboration signature shoe for my Half Cab, so there's a Metallica signature Half Cab shoe, which was an unbelievable dream come true.
ELLIOT, YOU WERE INTRODUCED TO METAL AT AN EARLY AGE IN NEW YORK.
SLOAN The guys that I was skating with when I was a kid were super metalheads. They were older than me and were all, "Listen to this." So I went in that direction. The first concert I went to was King Diamond and Entombed at L'Amour in Brooklyn. The show was insane, and at the end [King Diamond guitarist] Andy LaRocque threw a guitar pick out and I got it. To this day, his pick is still glued to the monitor of my studio setup. I rub it when I need to be more metal. [Laughs]
YOU'RE SUPER PASSIONATE ABOUT METAL — WHAT DOES THE MUSIC MEAN FOR YOU?
SLOAN Before I moved out here, when my dad passed away and I was going through all this shit — I just got lost in music. It helped me get through those tougher times and I think a lot of people get lost in music for similar reasons.
WHAT WAS THE SOUNDTRACK FOR YOU DURING THOSE HARD TIMES?
SLOAN Anything Lamb of God and Come Clarity by In Flames. I just remember, my dad had passed away and I had to leave school and start working. I had an hour drive every morning after waking up super early and chipping ice off my windshield and was just like, "Fuck, this sucks. I gotta get through this. I want to move to California." I would just drown myself in those songs. It's crazy now, listening to those songs — I totally remember driving back and forth, just listening to that music on full blast.
CABALLERO Music really moves the heart and moves the soul. There's something about the vibrations and the tones. It sets a mood for where you are in life. I really believe that we were created in the image of God, who is a creator. Inside, we all have this burning feeling of creating something. And music is one of the greatest outlets to express yourself. That's why it feels natural to want to move to music or create it — we were born to do that.