Intro & interview by Peter Pabón – Steven Cales was an influential figure to iconic brands such as Menace, Alva, Shut, Think, ATM, 60/40, Lucky and World Industries – all the while dealing with incarcerations and parole. He brought his Brooklyn style out west, both good and bad, but has managed to change his life for the better through skateboarding. There’s a point when you realize, around 1990/91 for me, that you’re not gonna have a career as a skater, be it age or just the caliber of the talent coming up under you. Steven Cales was that wake up call, he was just so good at his age and for the length of time skating, it was obvious my prospects as a skater were unlikely. He just had “it”, natural talent, the gift, whatever you want to call “it”. Watching him grow and progress was amazing and even with all the mistakes and pitfalls he’s made and had, you still can’t help but feel proud that he’s from New York.
Fast forward to present day, I’m at Supra with Rodney Torres waiting for Steven Cales and New York has basically been covered in snow, slush and ice, for what seems a decade, which is probably the last time I have actually seen Steven face to face. Steven rolls in, hat to the side, burgundy sweat pants, matching hoodie, Supra boots and a Fifth Ave t-shirt. I threw out some questions and here’s what he had to say.
PP: Where in New York are you from?
SC: I’m from Brooklyn, New York – Sunset Park.
PP: Your first time on a board story is pretty crazy. What exactly happened?
SC: I was in Sunset Park with my brother Albert and we see this kid skating. My brother seen the look on my face and saw that I looked interested, so my brother goes up to the kid and says, “Yo, can you let my brother try it real quick?” So I tried it and fell, obviously. [My brother] seen the expression on my face and was like, “Yo, kid, just go home from here man…” The kid was like, “Yo, what about my skateboard?!” My brother was like, “Forget about that thing!” So he basically gangstered it from him for me, and it’s fucked up and messed up, but I want to thank that little kid because it kinda saved my life. So I appreciate him wherever he’s at.
PP: Who were your skateboarding influences growing up?
SC: Sean Sheffey, Keenan Milton, Keith Hufnagel, Harold Hunter, Justin Pierce, Ivan Perez, Ryan Hickey, Obed Rios; we got Rodney Torres here, basically the whole of New York, Jamal Simmons, Skate NYC Crew, Apple Juice, fucking Alex Corporan…
PP: Brian Blake…
SC: Brian Blake was DUMB GOOD! Billy Waldman, Wiley, Cosmo, Luis Rodriguez, Enzo Grosso, Mike Hernandez. Damn, there’s so many… Richie Rojas…
Rodney Torres: Chris Vidal…
PP: Ben & Billy Leung…
SC: Peter Huynh, Jeff Pang, Gino Ianucci, Chris Keefe, Jones Keefe, Paul (Leung) – Paul had dumb high ollies with the Japan grabs – everybody from ODs…remember Robo? Lamont Mcintosh, Michael Camacho, cats from Far Rockaway, Rodney Cooper, Nimbus crew, Quim Cardona, Jim Moore, Alyasha, Qulon Douglas, Bruno Musso, Frank Natielo, my boy Rick was nice, Javier Nunez – he ain’t from New York, but still got love, thats my nigga – NA (Angel), Joey Alverez, Akira (he ain’t from NYC), Peter Bici, Geo Esteves, Geo was nice!
PP: Yeah, he had backside 180 nose pivots to 360 shuvits!
SC: Loki, basically everybody I skated with in New York City, even if I didn’t mention you, influenced me.
PP: What was it like skating in the old Banks contests?
SC: It was cool, yo, getting first place all the time – just kidding. It was cool, you know, I got first place a few times, a couple times second.
PP: ESA days.
SC: Yeah, ESA was the shit. Eastern Skateboarding Association, that was dope. Thank you for that back in the day, appreciate that, helped out a lot back then, NYC.
PP: Yeah, then there was also the HiBA contest.
SC: Yeah, HiBA, Rick K, putting together the HiBA which helped us out a lot back then.
PP: There was that contest in that church parking lot…
SC: Yeah, on 66 (Brooklyn), I passed by there the other day with my cousin, drove by and slowed down and looked at it.
PP: What’s the gnarliest trick you’ve ever seen in person go down at the Banks?
SC: One of the illest things to go down at the Banks was by my boy Danny Way at the rail. He went back there – and this was when people weren’t messing with long rails – he nose slid the rail like nothing. It was just dope, coming from a vert skater – know what I’m saying? It was just dope.
PP: There’s that French TV show clip from back in the 90’s with you and Ivan, how did that come about?
SC: That clip was set up by this dude Victor, my boy from Brooklyn, Bay Ridge. He set it up. They just showed up and made it seem like it was about me and Ivan, and they showed skating, but it ain’t like I did any tricks. They showed us just skating, but back then – they were coming from France, so they didn’t know what the hell they were filming. It’s cool, thanks Vic!
PP: Have you seen that Apple Juice – Skate NYC mini doc from back in the day? If so, what was it like watching your past resurface decades later?
SC: It was cool. Finally got that last part of the video – it was real dope seeing everybody skating and remembering. Back then I was on Alva – I was on the B team, whatever – it was cool. Man, it was so much fun seeing the people, man. I miss Harold, shit man, God bless him. Everybody killed it.
PP: Name some of the companies you rode for, and how was it skating for them?
SC: I rode for Alva, Skatewerks, Herbie, Geek Attack. I rode for Shut; I rode for Think; I rode for Menace, World Industries, ATM, 60/40, Lucky – can’t forget that, thanks Greg Carroll!
PP: Yeah, I remember that, that video that came out to intro you to the team, at Supreme, and you just got a box with your board… it was you standing in the center.
SC: Yeah, choking Bin Laden, right after 9-11, that was a dope graphic…
PP: How was that experience riding for those iconic companies and being a pro skater on those teams?
SC: Oh, I skated for Blue too… it was cool, you know. I’m sure if you guys don’t know, Jason Lee, he’s a legendary skater, but now he’s an actor and has his own company, Stereo. He was in a show, My Name is Earl – he was Earl if you guys don’t know – he’s a good brother. Him, Kareem Campbell and Chris Pastras AKA Dune put me on the team, shit, took me on tours. Kids thought I was Guy Mariano. I don’t know why, but they did. I don’t even skate like that, he’s on some other shit. Shout out to Guy too!
PP: The fact that you were on that team, I mean, you earned that spot. It wasn’t like it was on brownie points. You earned your spot. Those were the teams for that time – ATM, 60/40…
SC: 60/40, yeah forgot about that. Shout out Mark Gonzales, he turned me pro!
PP: You were on Menace, they had mad hype during that time. For you to be on those teams, it meant a lot – they didn’t pick just anyone.
SC: Yeah and I was the only AM on Blue.
PP: Yeah, for someone from New York to be on those teams, outside of Keenan and Huf, not too many people made it on teams like that back then.
SC: I think I may have been on before them, I was sponsored before them and they came out west and a lot of people looked out for them, but they definitely deserved it.
Rodney Torres: Steven Cales paved the way for a lot of the skaters in New York City and influenced a lot of the people on the West Coast with our style and how we carried ourselves.
PP: Yeah, it changed from the East LA gangster, Dickies and whatnot to wearing Polo and fronts. You definitely brought that style over, Kareem as well.
SC: The fashion and fronts, that’s a New York thing, I was wearing fronts in JHS, but they influenced us as well, with the skating and other things. Best thing is to keep it humble and keep it moving and thank God for everything.
PP: Do you have any prized possessions from those days?
SC: No, nah, I lost a lot during my incarcerations. It was pretty unstable. I was in and out. Soon as I went in, I lose everything, I come out, gain some stuff, then lost it again… because of my personal mistakes.
PP: Do you want to talk about your incarcerations? You don’t have to go into detail, though it had to do with strikes and California being a 3 strikes state…
SC: Yeah, they tried to give me 14 years at one time. I won’t get into it, let’s just say it was a violent crime, stupid shit.
PP: You were supposed to be in Kids, what happened?
SC: Yeah, as a matter of fact the day I got arrested, I was going to meet Larry Clark. He had a script for me, which was based on my name, Steven, and so I basically I got locked up. Actually it was played by my boy – well, now he’s my boy – Johny Boy [Jon Abrahams], who went off to do Meet The Parents.
PP: What would be your top 3 skate parts of all time?
SC: 1. The whole Blind video “Video Days”, 2. Sean Sheffey’s Life part, 3. All the H-Street videos, shout out to Matt Hensley! Chill! I want to add more to the list… the World videos… oh, and the reason I say this is cause I know what it is to be lost and to come back from being lost – Guy Mariano, his Lakai part. He showed the fucking world how to come back from being messed up. That’s my motivation to move forward. A lot of people inspire me, but Guy Mariano definitely inspires me, cause I partied with him at those times – I know what it is to be lost. We live and we learn!
PP: When and why did you migrate to Cali?
SC: 2003, shout to Greg Carroll, to be on Lucky to film and stuff like that. I ended up getting caught up, ended up doing 36 months, and 20 days later I went back in to do 20 months in prison. So I was away and lost some time, then I got shot in the face in LA. I got shot point blank, just on some street shit – I won’t get into that, don’t want to scare the kids.
PP: How often do you come back to NY?
SC: Well, this is my first time back, due to parole – I got out of prison in 1998, but I kept fucking up and going to county and I didn’t get released from parole and probation until about a month ago.
PP: What’s your opinion on OLD New York vs NEW New York?
SC: Well, I haven’t seen much of the skating in NEW New York, but OLD New York is definitely the shit, so little kids if you don’t know about us, you better ask somebody!
But NEW New York is dope. I went to this HOV party twice, tried to skate once, but I’m not into getting hurt much, especially cause there are too many people, but its just dope to see that many skaters in New York City. That’s cool, stay skating and stay away from that street life.
PP: You talk quite a bit about the double life you lived throughout the years in the 48Blocks interview. Any advice for kids in the same situation these days?
SC: You can’t mix negative and positive together, so decide what you wanna do. But if I were you, I’d pick positive, because that shit don’t mix, and it might not catch up to you now, but it will eventually – so be easy!
PP: So tell us about Fifth Avenue Skateboards.
SC: Its Me, Jay Pryce, Chad Fernandez, Bobby Izzo, Marcos Maciel, Lavar Mcbride and Nick Savoca.
PP: Fifth Avenue… Fifth Avenue Brooklyn or Fifth Avenue Manhattan?
SC: Fifth Avenue Brooklyn comes from me – Grime ass Sunset Park shit – but the Fifth Avenue Manhattan is where we’re trying to get to, though we still gonna be us, regard, in a good way. Fifth Avenue is worldwide. There’s a Fifth Avenue everywhere – we’re just trying to get it out there.
Firsts & Lasts:
F: Sims Screamer 2
L: Steven Cales Fifth Avenue board
F: All of NYC
L: Keelan Dadd, Felix Arguelles, Josh Kalis, Marco Maciel
F: Sunset Park
Favorite skate spot in New York? I don’t have one.
Favorite NY skate photo? Ryan Hickey, High Times
Favorite NY skate photographer? Dimitry Elyashkevich
Favorite crew or person to skate with in New York? Everybody in NYC
Favorite New York based movie? Not Kids, cause I missed out. A Bronx Tale, Carlito’s Way
Favorite New York based skate vid or section? Any NYC video
Favorite place to eat in New York? Shit, haven’t eaten out really.
What did you think the first time you skated NY? Home nigga, its home. I didn’t think anything – I was too young to think, just skated.
What makes New York different than other places to skate? The snow, cause you can’t skate.
The Good of NY? Everything, except for the snow.
The Bad of NY? THE SNOW
Shout outs? Too many… Fifth Avenue, Rich Scampie, all of NYC, and anyone who has helped me in my struggles.
Final thoughts? Keep skating yo, stay positiv and know your roots, shout out Harry Jumonji! To the kids, I would say, stick to skateboarding if that’s what you do and stay in school, you gotta have a Plan B. Not everybody makes it, you have to have a Plan B. Some people get lucky and don’t need it, but it’s not guaranteed that you’re gonna be lucky. Stay in school, do your shit, stay the fuck off drugs ’cause that brings a lot of people down – a lot of the people you don’t hear about no more is because of that. Hollywood and the NYC lifestyle will take you under, the parties and all that shit. They seem cool at first, but trust me, it will take you down – criminal activity comes after that.
Shout out to people that made it out of those situations: Guy Mariano, Jim Greco, Hosoi. Not trying to say people’s business, but it’s a reality and I’m shouting out because I look up to that and them cause they helped me out whether they know it or not.
PP: Thanks again Steven, good luck in all your endeavors and thanks to Supra NYC, Chris Vidal and Rodney Torres for letting us interview Steven at the Prince St store.