Few skaters have ridden as many spots as John Cardiel. While an injury sidelined him almost 10 years ago, his footage in videos like Transworld Skateboarding’s Sight Unseen and Anti Hero’s Cash Money Vagrant tells the tale, showing him rip everything from stairs and handrails to parks and pools. Last weekend, John was in Montreal to celebrate the reopening of the concrete pipe at the Olympic Stadium, one of the longest-running skate spots in the world. We caught up with him at the Vans store where he was DJing to talk about legendary spots and the changing face of skateboarding.
What was the first well-known spot you skated, and what was the experience like for you?
Basically going to Embarcadero in San Francisco. I grew up in Half Moon Bay, CA, which was close to San Francisco. But when you actually went to Embarcadero to skate, there were people skateboarding around and it was a Mecca. It was just an amazing place where everybody was sharing skateboard energy. It was like a skatepark.
It was amazing because to know there were other skaters that were progressing on the same level, it made you want to progress that much more. Seeing somebody ollie up the stage at Embarcadero was the most amazing thing ever. I could barely get up a curb. It was unreal.
Over the next few years, Embarcadero grew into what it would become — pretty much the center of skateboarding at the time. Back then, did you think that its popularity would lead to its end?
No. It was always a bust anyway, so you had to watch out for police. You’re in the city, so you had to be on your guard. It was always constantly in your head. I never felt like it was going to be taken away or anything like that. I just felt like you had to be watching over your back at all times, as in any city situation. I don’t think that you can just skate freely anywhere.
What did that experience gave you as a skater?
It just gave me wit and a little bit of street smarts to be able to stay on your toes and make decisions.
What does a spot like that give skateboarding that a skatepark can’t?
It gives you the ability to decide what’s going on and what’s right and wrong. It’s not a governed situation, there’s nobody guarding you or protecting you, so you have to have your wits about you, and you develop a street sense. It’s almost like a sidewalk university or street-side college.
What does skateboarding lose as a result of EMB and skate spots like it no longer being around?
It loses a lot of culture. These major spots and these influences are really important to kids — gathering and finding a brotherhood and enjoying themselves. A lot gets lost when those places disappear.
Do you think new spots like that will emerge, or is that kind of skateboarding a wrap?
No. People want to find their own spots and do their own thing, and it’s just turning into maybe a DIY spot. That’s what it turns into. They’re still skate rats, and they’re just out there doing it all day, drinking sodas all day and all night, and just going hard, just like we did.
What are your top five spots of all time?
1. Quito, Ecuador: This insane park in Ecuador. That place is amazing.
2. Australia and New Zealand: All that, over there — their skateparks are amazing.
3. The California-Oregon coast: All the skateparks along there — my favorites.
4. The streets of New York City: Just rolling up 1st or down 3rd or whatever — that is just amazing.
5. San Francisco
Has anything about a famous spot you’d never skated surprised you the first time you did?
Amarillo full pipe. I had seen some old pictures of it and just kind of wondered what a beautiful, killer full pipe would be like. And when I saw it in real life and I actually skated it, I was just taken in by how beautiful it was and how killer it was. It was so wide and long, and you’d get to cruise and get so much speed. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever been to.
If you could bring any one skate spot back, to give it back to skateboarding, which would it be?
Brooklyn Banks. It was a good gathering place. It was just a good spot in New York City. Street skating, bikes, everything. I just thought it was an awesome spot.