Words and Photos By Mike Emery | @emeryphoto
There are certain people that excel at just about everything they become passionate about, and skateboarding legend/artist Steve Caballero is a perfect example. Success doesn’t come without countless hours of hard work combined with passion and focus, and Cab’s love for motocross discovered at age 35 has become an integral part of his life and art. Enter Shift MX, a brand known to offer unique and stylish gear, who approached him to help create what just became their all-new Cab Lab Steve Caballero Collaboration – marking a milestone for his artistic career. We’ve spun quite a few laps with him, and trust us when we tell you that he is 100% passionate about moto. We stopped by his Southern California home earlier this week and sat down for an interview to talk about the collaboration and his love for motorcycles. Read on…
If someone would have told you 20 years ago that you were going to have a collaboration line with Shift MX, what do you think you would have said?
I would have said, “Really?” [Laughs] It's pretty surreal. The fact that I just put a lot of time into art and into motocross for that to all come together, it's cool. What you put in is what you get out, and I've pretty much picked and chosen the things that I want to be passionate about and spend a lot of time doing and obviously over the years the art has gotten better and the riding has gotten better. Meeting a lot of people in the motorcycle industry has kind of helped pave that way as far as connecting with people, and I've always had a strong relationship with Fox Racing. Just out of the blue, being friends with some of the designers, they reached out and said, 'Hey we're really doing some new things with Shift and we really love your artwork. We want to do a collab with you.' And I was like, 'Yeah, why not!'
That's not an opportunity that comes up every day.
Yeah, and I love doing art and I love moto. I was just kind of wondering what the motocross industry would think about that, you know with someone being a skateboarder having something to do with the motocross industry, but I was hoping they would look at it from the artistic side.
Of course. And you obviously have this legend status skateboarding career, and those who are familiar know that. But there may be people in moto that are like, 'who is this Cab guy?" They may find your art now just as quick as your skating if they do a Google search. You're becoming more and more known for your art every day.
Yeah, it's definitely getting a lot more hyped up in the art world and a lot of people are recognizing what I do artistically. Obviously, the skateboarding has helped me elevate myself to a platform where I can show the stuff and people are interested in it. But it seems like nowadays, especially these last couple of years, I've been traveling a lot showing my art and doing art for people. I'm just really stoked for the love I'm getting from the motocross industry, because not only am I doing something with Shift and having a line come out with them I've also been approached by Alpinestars Medical Unit and Yoshimura to do something for them that are the works too. I just finished a piece for a little company called Thrill Seekers too. Austin Prida [owner] has been hooking my son Caleb and I up with custom seats and I just wanted to pay back the favor and design him a logo for some t-shirts or something.
You seem to meet a lot of these great contacts through riding all the time. You can tell that you just love motocross, well maybe not as much as skating…
I think I love it just as much as skating. [Laughs] At this moment…yeah. And just because it's getting super fun right now.
As a fan, you're into the whole deal right? You are into both riding and watching all the races?
Yep, I love the scene and love the racing. I've loved it for years, and I got introduced to it in the early 2000's and started going to Supercross races and getting introduced to the whole industry through a good friend named Pat Schutte that used to work for Clear Channel. He used to do some celebrity crossover races that used to highlight other athletes from different sports and also musicians and give them a taste of what it felt like to ride a real Supercross track. We also did some celebrity crossover races at some National's too, so I raced at Glen Helen, Washougal, and Hangtown on those tracks that were all pretty gnarly!
Was it during the National race day program?
It was before, like on press day.
Still, gnarly to race the National track!
Yeah, it was. But yeah I'm a huge fan and follow a lot of the riders and I also got introduced to the freestyle motocross guys back in the early 2000's as well. That's what really got my attraction towards getting a bike of my own, touring the Vans Warped Tour with a couple freestyle guys. Guys like Larry Linkogle, Ronnie Faisst, and Brian Deegan.
Those guys are what I consider the closest thing to a skateboarder in the moto world. Don't you agree?
Yeah, it was really cool to see these guys elevate the sport in a different way and it kind of reminded me of a grassroots street skating version of motocross. It wasn't just the racing element, but one that was influenced artistically and also inventing moves and being creative. Because there was only so much you can do on a motorcycle when you're racing, well until James Stewart arrived. [Laughs]
He's a favorite of yours right?
Yeah, he's my all time favorite rider. I love what he brought to the sport, I love the excitement, and I love the fact that he could crash in the first turn and win a race. That doesn't happen anymore.
From him to current day riders, who catches your eye now while you're watching?
I definitely love what Eli Tomac does when he's on a charge and he's focused. I love the fact that he just turns it on halfway through the race and just pounds lap after lap and gets faster. He doesn't die down. He actually gets faster, so I love what he's doing. I'm a fan of Ken Roczen. I love the fact that he's an amazing motocross rider and athlete that was doing really well until his injuries, but to see his comeback and his passion and enthusiasm –it just really shows a lot of love and heart for motocross racing. I really believe that these guys are some of the most amazing athletes out there, because it's gnarly. Mentally it's gnarly, and it's like skating –it takes a lot of work to be at their level and they are at an extremely hazardous level to where injuries can come at any minute and I give props to these guys. Motocross is gnarly, that's the bottom line.
They are gnarly, indeed. I've ridden with you a fair amount and watched you progress a lot on the bike and get faster, and the reality is you aren't the spring chicken Steve Caballero in your 20's anymore. Do you think your discipline from your skate career helps you keep learning and wanting to get better?
[Laughs] I think definitely it's a young mindset and skating helps keep me there. You definitely have to have a young mindset when you're skateboarding because that is dangerous as well. I think it's just seat time and practice, and I feel like when I first looked at motocross and Supercross I didn't really understand how these guys could go to each track and have it down every single weekend and know what they were doing. That's only because I was not skilled enough at riding and didn't understand the bike. But the more and more seat time I've put in and living down here in SoCal has really got me on the bike more and more, and I love my bike and my son also rides. So it's like having my son say, 'Hey Dad can we go riding this weekend?' I'm not going to say no. It's allowed me to get out on the track more, and I've learned that just like skating where the more and more you skate the board becomes a part of you. Now that I'm riding a lot, I'm starting to understand the motorcycle and how it is becoming a part of me. I'm not second-guessing things, and I'm not thinking twice. I just feel it, and one thing I learned about motocross is that when you're attacking huge jumps the faster you go the smaller the jump gets. [Laughs]
That's one way to look at it!
Speed is your friend when you're trying to go big distances. But I've learned there are definitely techniques to everything, and just learning the different parts of the track and the different ways to jump I just like the challenge. And I like the danger, or how dangerous it is, that's what's attractive to me.
And you being able to ride with your son is one of the coolest things about motocross.
It's cool, and watching my son progress and get faster and having to move up to a new bike is really cool. I'm proud of him and how far he's come, but then there is the parent side that wants him to not get too gnarly because it is so dangerous. I've paid my dues when it comes to crashing, and I've had some pretty heavy get offs on my dirt bike. I've been fortunate not to get too hurt, but I've only broken two bones in my whole life and one was due to skateboarding and the other was due to motocross.
That's crazy considering your career path. Unrelated, I just saw you were at an art show with Troy Lee, it has to be cool to meet a guy like that who's influence in the motocross art world has been huge.
Yeah, so my friend who owns this company I ride for called Fix Manufacturing, who makes a tool made for motocross, skateboarding, surfing, mountain biking, and more, and I guess he's really good friends with Troy Lee. So he curated this show down in Laguna at one of Troy Lee's shops and I was able to go there and hang out, show my art, and work on some art there while Troy was working on some helmets too. It was just really cool, and I had heard a lot about Troy and obviously he's very famous in the motocross industry and it was really cool to spend time with him and get to know him. He sat there and we talked for a while, and he was really stoked on my art and he bought one of my pieces that night, and we talked about getting together to do some riding together.
He's a pure artist, and one of the nicest guys too.
Yeah man, it was really cool to make that connection of just seeing him from afar and seeing what he's done and knowing the respect he has in the industry to now becoming friends with him, that's pretty cool.
Going back to this Shift Cab X Lab gear, talk about the design process involved.
The design process was first meeting with one of the head designers, Todd Covey. We just kind of went over some ideas of what we thought might look cool as a collaboration, and they definitely wanted that 80's skate look but at the same time they know I'm into the vintage flat tracking as well. So we thought it would be kind of cool to mix and match the elements of a more street or harder-edge look that's different from what you see out there today. And obviously the dragon is synonymous with who I am and it's been a very iconic image for me over the years with my skateboards, and also my shoes with Vans. So I didn't even have to think about what would go on the helmet, which was a nice cool dragon logo. I did a couple of sketches, and they liked them. That was cool, because I didn't really have to work to hard at it. Whatever I came up with they seemed pretty stoked on it. We pretty much used everything I came up with on the design and the helmet. Then we came up with a gear set that was unique and matched the helmet.
It's definitely unique to have the opportunity, and share your visions and passion with the motocross industry. That's special.
It's amazing, and it's pretty surreal. Like I said, I love the sport and I'd have to be honest with you if I had never picked up a skateboard I would have definitely loved to have become a pro racer. I feel like I have the heart for it, and I would train hard, and I would want to be one of the best. And I'm willing to take risks. I didn't grow up in a motocross family and I was a late bloomer –I got my first bike when I was 35 years old.
Most professionals start when they are like 4, or in James Stewart's case his dad put him on a bike right after he got home from being born [laughs] –So it's crazy and pretty rad you found the sport and started that late and have become a good rider.
Well I quit for six years too. I'd probably be a better rider if I were into it as much as I am now when I first started. I started in 2001, and I'd only go like once a month or once every two months. So I didn't put that much time and effort into it, obviously because of my skateboard career. Then I got married and started a family and had two kids, Caleb and Clover, I hung up motocross and didn't even ride for six years or even get on a bike. So it's not until the last 7 years that I've been riding more and more and making it more frequently to the track that I've been getting better in the last couple years.
You're not slowing down, that's for sure.
No, I feel like I can go faster and jump bigger! [Laughs] And my mind is there, so if my mind is there it can happen.