chrome ball interview #56: cairo foster

chops sits down with cairoglyphics for conversation.

Alright Cairo, I’ve been a fan of yours now for a long time now but as stupid as this sounds, I never knew that wasn't actually your first name.  I guess I just thought it was some amazing coincidence with you having lived in Egypt and all. So how did “Cairo” come about and what made you decide to just roll with it?

It came from when I moved from my Dad’s house in Egypt to my Mom’s in Jacksonville, Florida when I was 16.  I started hanging out some skaters down there and they were the guys who came up with it. Pretty much everybody that I skated with after that called me Cairo. It just stuck so I went with it.

I remember my Mom answering the phone and telling my friends they had dialed the wrong number because they were always asking for Cairo. That was always amusing. “Nobody lives here by that name.”

I know your Dad was in the military. What influence do you think you’re constantly moving around as a kid has had on your skating and your view of skateboarding? I imagine it being one of the only constants for you, right?

Yeah, my dad was in the Air Force so for as long as I can remember, we moved around. Constantly going to different schools, sometimes twice within the same year.

Before we moved to Egypt, I remember going to the mall with my Dad when I was 13 and asking him for a skateboard. Essentially once we got to Egypt, it was just us. He was always working so I just started hanging with my skateboard friends all of the time. They became my new family.

When I ended up moving back to the States with my Mom, it was the same thing. We hadn’t lived together for ages so it took some getting used to… it seemed like that was always my answer: I’ll just go skating. She always thought that I was out drinking and doing drugs because I was always out. No, just skating.

Was Supernaut your first sponsor?

Kind of. When I lived in Florida, this guy Jeff Davis used to give us boards. He had gone to Savannah-College Park School of Design and created this super small board company called Wrecked. He’d sell us boards for relatively cheap until my friend Jabir bugged him to the point where he started giving them to me for free just to avoid the hassle.

Jeff actually took me on a cross-country trip when I was 17 or 18 with him and Bear Hughes. I came out west and ended up meeting up with Brian Childers, who was actually from Jacksonville. I met Justin Strubing on that trip, too. That was the first time I ever saw anybody really destroy a handrail in-person. Justin was doing smith grind and 50-50 combos… I was blown away. I remember thinking to myself, “Man, people out in California really do rip. They’re gnarly out here.”

Good times. But yeah, after Wrecked came Supernaut… which would be the first one that most people would know.

How’d you hook up with those guys? Sponsor-me tape?

Supernaut came about after I finally moved out to San Francisco. I befriended Satva Leung who was filming for Thrasher at the time. We did a video part for the “Raw” video.

I remember that one.

Yeah, Supernaut was Paul Sharpe, Mike Ballard and Ted Newsome’s company. Satva knew Paul through the old Tum Yeto days so when the video came out, Paul reached out to Satva for my number.

I remember him coming up to SF with Mike Ballard to check me out. My roommate Dan greeted him out on our porch with, “Hey Paul, nice to meet you. Can you ollie this?” Paul had just gotten out of the car and here’s Dan pointing to this huge railing by our driveway on this hillside, totally putting the dude on the spot. Paul was so bummed but he did it… he basically had to at that point. But we just kicked it that day and that’s how I got on Supernaut.

Supernaut was always such an enigmatic company. Were they through anybody or just their own thing?

It was Ballard basically just doing it on his own back then but he later got it distributed through Giant.

It’s funny because for the people that don’t know, those that grew up outside of the industry like I did, they’re always surprised by how everything actually goes down. I remember going to a tradeshow and finding out that our Supernaut boards were sold at a higher price than all the other boards being distributed through Giant. Just because Giant owned those companies while we were only distributed by them. It makes sense but I thought that was so crazy. I really took it personal… like, why are they doing that to us!?! I was so innocent back then.

Eventually Supernaut left Giant for this guy Henry who had made boards for Profile and a few other Bay Area companies back in the day.  They went through him well after I had left.

Supernaut really seemed to back you hard at the time. Were the opportunities with a bigger company like Mad Circle just too promising to pass up?

I was on Supernaut for a really long time. I felt like I had done as much as I could to promote the brand and some stuff came up where I felt that we weren’t all on the same page. It got to the point where I had to ask myself if I stayed with this company, was it going to grow with me? Should I try to branch out and be part of a different skate company that I can grow into?

Not to say that I outgrew Supernaut, it just felt like we were at a standstill. Things came up that I couldn’t totally back so I had to go. I was bummed because they had done so much for me but I think they understood. It wasn’t necessarily all on them either. Taking the company over to Henry brought another cook into the kitchen that wasn’t really working for me.

We can’t talk about those early days without bringing up those notorious nollie hardflips…

(laughs) Oh yeah, I threw those out there the first time I came to SF and people were tripping out on them pretty hard… like, “What is that!?!”

Somewhere during my second stay in SF, it got to the point where I’d turn the corner down at Pier 7 and all the dudes would stop what they were doing and start yelling out, “NOLLIE HARD!!”

All the usual suspects, just dogging me. I was bummed at the time but in hindsight, it’s pretty amusing. You have to earn your respect, that’s how it is within any circle. But I remember just being like, “Damn, dude… why you gotta call me ‘nollie hard’ for, man?”

Do you think you’ll ever live that down? And why you? Lots of people were doing those back then.

It’s just that whole illusion thing. But like you said, most people did them like that back in the ‘90s. Satva, Muska… People would do nollie backside flips or switch frontside flips and it would go in-between your legs so you’re technically weren’t doing a full flip. Now everyone just dogs on them.

And I did them a lot, too. They were fun and I could do them over anything I could ollie over… which meant I could really bust them out. I’d max out on the ollie and figure I’d nollie hardflip it next.

Do you have any ill will towards that trick after all that? Was there a time where you intentionally didn’t do that trick?

I never do that trick anymore (laughs). I don’t do nollie hardflips, nollie backside flips or switch frontside flips because of all that stuff.

Its funny because I remember Zack Wallin was doing a little edit for Brick Harbor recently and we were all out skating this picnic table when Matt Eversole tried to get me to nollie hardflip it. So I just threw it out there and, of course, it makes the edit so people got super hyped on it. “Woah, Cairo’s doing them again!”

They’re kind of a novelty trick but it’s nice to throw out there every once in a while.

Starting out as this tech kid with glasses before changing into this gnarly dude known for big-ass hubbas and full-on power, you’ve had quite an evolution of style.  Did that just come from getting older? Do you think moving to San Francisco might’ve played a role in this?

I don’t really know. I’ve actually had conversations along this same line with friends over the years and they see more of this change more than I do. They always talk about how I used to do a lot of lines back in the day where I really don’t do that many now.  It’s mostly singles where I jump down stuff.

I know when I lived in Florida, we’d build boxes and get super-tech. I’m not sure if I have that kind of patience anymore to get super-tech on a trick or put lines together. The level of satisfaction is still there but I feel like the rush and the satisfaction of really pushing my body has become more appealing to me over the years.

And you’re right, living in SF definitely changed the way I skated. Jacksonville is totally flat… on multiple levels (laughs).  But San Francisco is a unique environment and you really have to learn to adapt when you come out here. Constantly bombing hills with Satva, I’d have to keep up or I’d literally be left behind.

But yeah, when this is brought up, I do start to think about how maybe I should film some lines again. On a recent trip to China, I got super-motivated to film a line. I actually got calls from old friends telling how really good it was to actually see me push again. All I could say was, “Thanks!” (laughs)

Talk a little bit about your short-but-eventful stint on Mad Circle. You basically got on the team, they turned you pro, and then the company folds… all over the course of maybe six months. That had to be rough.

Yeah, I’ve never talked to Justin Girard or Johnny Schilleriff about it but my understanding is that Justin had a 5-year distribution deal with Giant and when I got on, there were about six months left in that agreement. I’ve heard that Justin and Johnny were really butting heads and it just wasn’t working out. I had no idea about any of it at the time… which sucked, obviously. Jesse McMillan, a fucking sick skater for American Dream, Inc., did my first graphic. I was stoked on everything… the next thing, it was a wrap. 

Did your MC board even come out?

Yeah, the highlight for me was seeing Andy Stone skating my board in an East Coast article back then. You could just see my graphic in the photo. I was so fucking hyped. I couldn’t believe he was actually skating my board!

The circumstances really sucked, though. That was my second attempt at a board because I had also made a board graphic for Supernaut before leaving them, too. I told them to scrap it when I started having second thoughts about the company and then I get on Mad Circle, which I was totally down for, and the company collapses.

I was really bummed, man. Mad Circle was so awesome. They had the insane crew with SJ and all that. And then it was over.

For sure. You seemed to go underground there for a minute in the aftermath of all that. You emerged on Real but it did seem like you were without a sponsor there for a minute or so… What was going on there?

My thing was that I wanted to be around a crew of dudes that I could kick it with and the fact that I lived in Northern California definitely narrowed it down a good deal.

I was already friends with the Real dudes and was going out to shoot photos with Gabe before I got on Real. But it was a process to figure out what I wanted. I didn’t have a board sponsor for 3 or 4 months there… I was calling different companies and trying out boards, seeing how it felt. 

Who did you almost go with?

Hard to remember now but I remember getting a box from Maple which I’m sure Satva made happen. I’m not sure if Dynasty was in the mix yet but I got some Maple boards. I got some Foundation boards, maybe. I remember an Arizona trip with Jamie Thomas and Erik Ellington where we talked about me potentially getting on Zero but that didn’t really work out.

That’s weird to think about. But you really started going off around this time after joining Real.  Switch kickflips down the 3rd and Army Gap and nollie nosegrinding Hubba Hideout are just a few of the highlights.  As an outsider coming in from Florida, which one of the classic SF skate spots is your all-time favorite?  And you can’t say that handrail/wall gap at that school on 19th and Irving.

Oh no… definitely not that one. (laughs)

Probably Black Rock and Brown Marble before they got skate stopped. Those spots were so perfect. That or O.G. Union Square back in the day. Those were the three best spots in San Francisco for all of eternity. Before skatestoppers were invented, those were the absolute best spots to go to.

I remember the first time I went to Brown Marble, the only thing I could think about was how the fuck did Huf ollie up there and tre flip that gap in-between the benches? So insane. Then Scott Johnston doing that 180 to switch backside 5-0 straight onto the ledge before anybody did anything like that for that Mad Circle ad. But those were the spots. Embarcadero was rad but I honestly could never get over the bricks. I can’t even imagine trying to skate there with 45mm wheels.

Union Square was the jam, though. All the Pier heads would be there super late at night, drinking 40s. Every last Friday of the month was this huge rollerblader critical mass, which was insane. So funny. But they had those green benches and that was where you’d see all the dudes. That was the perfect meeting spot to see everyone who had traveled to San Francisco to skate.

I didn’t move out to California just to come up in the skate scene, I moved to California to skate. That’s all I wanted to do and you could skate everything in San Francisco… before skatestoppers. You didn’t need a car, just cruise the hills. Skate everywhere.

Scarier hubba: Clipper or Hubba Hideout?

Well, I split my head open on Clipper once. I was backlipping it when I bailed and my board smacked me in the head. Blood went everywhere. It’s funny because shortly after that, Heath had the cover of SLAP magazine doing a backlip.

But honestly, I’d say Hubba Hideout is gnarlier. The slam factor there is so high. Clipper is 10-stairs and all but falling on Hubba really sucks. That place just hurts.

What was your process with that mega-gnar tre-flip over the Bay Blocks gap? Did you go there specifically with that trick in mind? There’s no way that gap could be any fun to skate, right?

The only thing that really sucks about that gap is the ollie up. Hanging up and slamming on that thing is just the worst. I hung up when I was trying the switch frontside flip and must’ve slid 2/3s of block on my knees. That was just brutal. I’m pretty sure I hung up on the tre flip, too… because you’re not even thinking about the ollie.

Hanging up on that gap now with all the skatestoppers on it, it’s over for you.

Speaking of slamming, we’ve all seen the photo… what the hell happened to you where you had that bruise over your entire ass?

(laughs) We were doing a Real Tour on the East Coast. I always remember that trip because I was rooming with Mark Gonzales on that one and he doesn’t sleep very much. It was rad, he brought all these crazy art books from the library on the trip and he’d wake me up in the middle of the night to show me a mask or something.

“Hey Cairo, check out this mask!”

“That’s awesome, dude. But it’s 4 in the morning.”

I think we’d been on that trip for maybe a week. We had just got to DC and were skating all night. We saw all the big spots: that silver rail that Dylan Reider frontboarded recently and the fountain that Reese Forbes kickflipped over. So cool. Then we went by the Gold Rail and I got super hyped. It was 3 in the morning by that point and I was completely exhausted but I still really wanted to skate that rail. We were in the process of pulling out cameras when I started getting into backsmiths. On my third try, I didn’t ollie high enough. I clipped my heels. I couldn’t get out of way and spazzed out, jumping all the way to the bottom of the stairs straight to my back.


Yeah, just super unlucky.

Well, how did the opportunity for Popwar arise? And how was that set up?  I was never clear if that was your company specifically or not?

Well, I rode for Real for about 4 years and throughout that time, I was talking to Jim a lot about the possibility of starting my own company through Deluxe. I basically just wanted to do a company with Kenny Reed. But for whatever reason, I guess the timing was never right. But after they started Rasa Libre and Krooked, I just figured the timing was never going to work so I talked to Jim about possibly looking elsewhere to start a company.

I was friends with Kenny Reed and he mentioned Steve Douglas and Bod Boyle at Giant as a potential option. I spoke with them and originally started it as Populis before it morphed into Popwar. It wasn’t solely my company, though. Not that I invested money in it necessarily but I was definitely a shareholder.

It was looking great until Giant Distribution got sold. I think once that ownership changed, things basically started falling about.  But we did a lot of awesome stuff there for a while. We had some really great moments and actually had the infrastructure to really supplement and back up all the ingredients.

What would you do differently if you could do Popwar over again? And would you ever try it again?

I think that in regards to Popwar, we did everything right. We just didn’t have the right infrastructure once ownership switched over. I don’t know the fine details but when the distribution was sold, I don’t think whoever bought it was told all the facts. It was a complete uphill battle from then on. Everything got basically sabotaged… which sucks because it not only affected us but also companies like Bueno, Accel and even Stereo at the time. It was just an unfortunate series of events that caused it all to fall apart.

If I were to do it again, I’d make sure that I was part of really strong distribution so that same thing wouldn’t happen again. Distribution is a huge thing. You have to get that sorted.

But in regards to starting another board company, I always think about what Gabe would tell me back in the day. I know he’d get hit up every once in a while back then to do a board company and he’d always say, “That’s like having 10 girlfriends at the same time.” 

We’re all in skateboarding for the love of it but especially as you get older, you get a lot more responsibility. You have to be able to make money and hard goods companies aren’t necessarily cash cows these days.

True. Describe how the Fully Flared experience was for you? Was it as miserable as some have made it out to be? I know you were hurt during some of the filming….

Yeah, I ended up having to get two ankle surgeries during the filming of Fully Flared. The video was slated to come out at a certain time and I had this set amount of footage for it. We had the footage party for it and then I went in to get my ankle worked on. Problem was the video ended up getting extended another year or two while I was pretty much laid up.  So I missed out on all the trips basically. I was able to go on two or three of those 2-week Motel 6 tours and that was it.

I know so much has been made of the process but I really think it came out awesome. There’s a method to the madness and Ty was so motivated. We’d be up super early, get our food and be out super late. Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes when I go on trips with other teams, I’ll be wanting to get the generator and spark it up. I got that from Ty. It’s hell while you’re doing it but now I can look back on Fully Flared and be super happy that I was in it. In my mind, that’s THE monumental video. It’s sick that I was able to go on some of those trips and contribute to the end product.

It was brutal in a sense because you’d be so tired but it’s amazing to see Ty always having the desire to keep going. Maybe that’s what was so hard for us skaters because we couldn’t envision the finished product the way he could.

Do you get tired of people asking how fucked-up you got from that 50-50 explosion in the intro?

(laughs) No, not at all. It was awesome. That’s how it is being the guinea pig. 8AM on Saturday and I’m the first guy to go.

Originally, on that first time I got blown up, I was trying to nosegrind it. The second try was just a 50-50… just so I could do it. But the thing is, I’m just not very good at having stuff blown up in my face. There’s only limited time to do all the pyrotechnics stuff on top of it costing money to rebuild everything each time. So I had two tries and that was it. I forced the second one and flailed it. At first, I was pretty hyped because I actually kinda landed it in the midst of the explosion. But then everybody else actually started landing their stuff and I suddenly became one of the guys who didn’t land their stuff. Great, this sucks. But then Lucas came up and got fucked up. I didn’t feel so bad anymore. I’m just glad he didn’t die (laughs).

MJ had the best point, though… that whoever did my hubba should’ve been regular-footed so it wouldn’t have blown up right in the person’s face looking down.

That is a really good point. So you got blown up twice that day?

Yeah, that clip is two different takes spliced together. So both times, I got fucked up. I had these welts on me from the debris. But it was awesome though…

Was it difficult leaving Lakai after being on that team from the very beginning?  

I obviously knew that it was going to be a little rough… but when I walked in and saw Scott, Kelly and Rick sitting there and I knew that I had to give them my reasons for leaving, that’s when it really, really sucked. It was really hard.

You know when you have it set in your head that you’re going to do something but when it comes down to actually doing it, you still have those reservations. That’s where I was. But you still just have to go through with it though, no matter what. For better or for worse.

When I talked to those guys and told them that I was leaving, it was a huge bummer. I was on Lakai from the get-go, and seeing Rick’s reaction… he’s one of the few dudes in skating that I look up to. He’s the best dude in the world.

Then I see Carroll two months later and he didn’t even know. Nobody had told him so I had to relive it all over again and explain to Mike Carroll why I was leaving. Carroll’s the man, too. He’s always been great to me. It was so rough.

So what is going on with Enjoi right now? I know you just Tweaked the Beef with some super good footage… what’s the next project your guys are working on? Is there gonna be another full-length or what?

Eversole has ideas to do different installations with Enjoi videos. To just focus on a couple of dudes at a time. Raemers and I are slated to be the first dudes to have footage and that’s pretty much on the horizon for the first half of the year… barring any deadlines being pushed back, which happens a lot. I’m not really satisfied with what I have right now but we go to Taiwan next week so we’ll see what happens. We’ll try to film some more. That’s the focus right now.

There’s gonna be a bunch of Tim and Henry-style videos from Enjoi coming up? That’s a super good idea.

Something like that. Focus on two dudes having full parts with everyone else throwing in a bit of footage, too. Moving through each installment with two more dudes.

I think it’s good to do something like this now. To do another full production like Bag of Suck, I’m not sure those days are done but you have to sit down and really secure a budget while knowing you’re going to go over it. Look at Pretty Sweet. That was a great video but a lot of money went into that thing. That’s a lot of trips.

Everyone wants a ton of footage to be out all the time now. That’s fine but nobody wants a bunch of little internet things and nobody wants to wait for a 5-year project either because it takes so long. Plus, a lot of that stuff gets dated because we’re all putting out so much stuff. There’s no finite number of skatespots but sometimes it feels that way. If you’re sitting on footage for 5 years, someone is probably going to come up and do your trick in the meantime… unless you’re MJ or Cory Kennedy and there’s only two of those guys.

No finite number of skatespots but unfortunately, there’s no shortage of skatestoppers these days, either. What do you think: is real street skating dying?

No, not at all. This is essentially my take on skating and what I feel like I need to do for myself, but I don’t think real street skating is dying.

I feel like I’ve been blessed to have awesome sponsors and amazing opportunities and I want to do whatever I can to support them. I think my skating has evolved to essentially just jumping down stuff. That’s what works for me… but that’s not real street skating. I’m not hopping on my skateboard and cruising around to wherever it takes me, like those Off the Grids.  That’s real street skating. I have to find a schoolyard with a hubba or something to jump over. Before Duffel was hurt, we’d basically go out and have a carcass toss.

I feel like it takes a special person to really street skate and have it translate. To have kids really love it and not be hated on because there isn’t some big-ass set of stairs involved.  Skateboarding is a vicious arena. Especially with all the anonymity of the internet, people say absolutely whatever is on their minds. I don’t think that’s really what the whole vibe of skateboarding is supposed to be. I always just used it to get away from my fucked-up family and be with my friends.  Just having fun and doing whatever you want. At its core, that’s what skating is to me.

big thanks to wyatt lee, mattevs and cairo for taking the time.

chrome ball will be back on tuesday, march 26th.

heading to tampa. bye.


Dave said...

Cairo seems like a cool ass dude. Much respect to both you and Cairo for doing this interview. Great read.

Keith said...

Crazy nollie pop. He was one of the top nolliers for a while there.

Good to hear about the short Mad Circle stint. That must have sucked. And then Popwar goes down too. Bad luck with Giant.

Anonymous said...

what's his real name?

Dan said...

Sometimes it's not the big tricks that show how good someone is. In my town when The Reason came out, everyone was talking about the switch ollie up the Bay Block to setup for a switch frontside flip. Ridiculous. Glad he mentioned it!

Anonymous said...

ollie off loading dock over fence.

David said...

Cairo's the shit, and he even got me into reading Noam Chomsky which I fully think influenced me to the point where I am now going to graduate school for political science. Thanks, Cairo!

Dave said...

@gavin - I believe his real name is Roger.

@David - holy crap, I forgot about that. He got me reading Noam, too! Which only directed me to more exploration about politics and the media (and later a political science degree) Great reminder. Definitely big ups to Cairo for that one. You never know who you might influence. At least two Daves . . . .

Mudcat Jackson said...

He got me listening to Modest Mouse.

Anonymous said...

I grew up near Jacksonville. One day my friends couldn't stop talking about this nerdy looking guy with glasses and big wheels who ripped. On a weekend trip to the city I beared witness to the four eyed phenom titty fucking the hell out of Hemming plaza. Nothing but lines. That was my first experience seeing someone that good on a skateboard in person. I won't forget that day. One of the many lines that day ended with a nollie hard over a mini wall/ledge. ;)

Anonymous said...

His Wheels of Fortune part makes me feel good when I watch it. Go Cario

Somebody said...

I like his skating but jeez didn't realise he was a Chomsky fan that's a real shame:


The Main Ingredient said...

Hey Chops, you ever think of doing a book? I'd for sure buy a hardcopy of interviews, or even just a photo/ad book. Can't imagine you'd have trouble getting the right to do some from the numerous publications/photographers