John Cardiel on the "Cardiollie" EMB 1993
Including his interview by Tobin Yelland in Big Brother 5
Words: Mackenzie Eisenhour
In the spring of 1993 Tobin Yelland and Big Brother magazine set out to interview 1992's just crowned Skater of the Year—a young Nor-Cal ripper named John Cardiel. The centerpiece of the classic Big Brother-esque four-page mock USA Today newspaper article (in addition to a backside ollie over the Sacramento triple set and John's take on snowboarding) was Tobin's shocking photo of Cardiel ollieing a wide gap on the periphery of the Embarcadero; going the other way on the same narrow run up that leads to the Gonz gap. That gap, which included landing on a short suspended island before dropping essentially straight into a wall would quickly become known as the "Cardiollie" or Cardiel Gap—cementing John amongst the greatest of greats at the holiest of holy spots. It would also later be attempted by Scott Bourne in 1998 (resulting in an ER visit) before being cleared again by Jamie Thomas in 1999. 25 years later, I checked in with John to get the full story on how it became a reality. Thanks Rick Ibaseta.
Can you break down how this happened? When did you first think of Ollieing it?
Well, Tobin and I had been hanging out a lot and he was shooting a bunch of photos for Big Brother at the time. I had just gotten Skater of the Year for Thrasher, and Big Brother hit up Tobin for an interview for their magazine. So we were trying to stack up some tricks for it. I remember talking to Rick Ibaseta before and he had mentioned to me that he had looked at the gap going the other way while they were smoking a blunt and drinking a 40. So in desperate need for photos for the interview and with Rick's blessing I decided to go check it out.
The landing is super gnar—going straight into the wall, plus the run-up is narrow and had those cracks, at least when you went towards the Gonz. How many tries did you put in? Did you take some slams?
Yeah, there was gnarly cracks—gaps even—up there and it was a bit uphill that way. But it wasn't too crazy and the gap didn't feel too big. I made it over first try and I felt comfortable doing the gap. I remember I really didn't come up short ever. I remember the first couple times I was trying to learn how to land and carve off to the right. I started putting it down and getting comfortable on it, then a whole bunch of kids started to gather around while I was trying to get it dialed. EMB was super popular at that time and was kind of a no fly zone.
“I was just on a mission at the time; I wanted to up the levels at every spot in SF.” —John Cardiel
If you look closely you can see Sean Young and Hurley in the background and also my friend Hanzy Driscoll holding the flash in the bottom left-hand corner. I didn't know Sean and Hurley yet. I think they had just driven out with their friend Jamie Thomas and were sleeping at EMB at the time. All that to say it was getting crowded and I started feeling like a spectacle and was over it. It wasn't about jumping off the island and landing on the ground that was stressful, it was just about getting the speed and landing on the board solid up top. I felt comfortable enough making the gap and rolling a bit that I would take it as a make.
I guess Scott Bourne tried in 98 and got broke off. Then Jamie Thomas did it in a Zero video in 1999. Did you see their attempts?
I had never seen Jamie Thomas' make, but I did hear about it, I think it was some years later. I did see Scott Bourne's bail on Instagram not too long ago.
Do you remember them calling this the Cardiollie or Cardiel Gap? Julien mentioned it was a big deal that you had this gap named after you and also the Cardiel ledge on California Street. Was that a big deal for you? You had a namesake gap right next to the Gonz's!
I don't remember anyone calling it the CardielOllie or Cardiel gap. I think the gap that they were speaking of was the A Street gap downtown that I did in the rain. I just remember feeling like I thought the gap at Ocean Beach was gnarlier for me than the EMB one. As far as the California Street ledge goes, I had never skated it before. BK had just taken me there to check it out and I just started skating it. I took a lot of slams on that, it sent you into an uphill landing that was craze. I got nothing but massive respect for the Gonz. I was just on a mission at the time; I wanted to up the levels at every spot in SF.
“Jamie and Scott… Now did they do it to try and put themselves on par with JC or as a compliment? Only their hearts know.” —Julien Stranger
Scott Bourne tries his luck in his 411 Profiles part (Issue 26), 1998 only to to win a trip to the ER for head trauma.
Six years after JC, Jamie Thomas successfully navigates over the gap, off the drop, and past the wall in Zero’s Misled Youth (1999).
Huge thanks to John, Tobin, BK, and Julien. All hail.