When asked to identify the secret of his success, Cardenas was quick to credit his high school shop teacher for teaching him the welding basics, helping with the harder stuff and molding a ninth-grader into a top welder.
He said IVC instructors Fred Baerza and Mariano Martin have been instrumental in further polishing his skills.
The first year he won a competition, in his junior year at Calipatria High in 2000, Cardenas competed in the secondary class in the stick welding competition.
Stick welding is the most basic of the myriad number of welding techniques.
At state competitions the competitors are split into two classes, high-schoolers in secondary and everyone else in post-secondary. Everyone else includes competitors from trade schools, community colleges and universities.
At his second competition, Cardenas placed second behind his friend and Calipatria classmate Hector Favela.
After high school graduation last year, the two stepped up to post-secondary competition.
In post-secondary, welders must work with all four major different types of welding equipment. The competition is much harder.
Cardenas won the rubber match between the two.
On April 11, Cardenas will head to Riverside to compete in post-secondary once more. He recently won a gold medal at the regionals in Victor Valley to qualify for the trip.
He says if not for Goo, he might not be into welding at all.
When Cardenas was a freshman at Calipatria, Goo took him under his wing and helped him succeed in classes in which most of the other students were older.
Goo said Cardenas made his job as a teacher easy.
"First of all, he was a good student. He paid attention, he was conscientious in what he did. A lot of kids will come in and play around. He was quiet and paid attention," Goo said.
A lot of young students will be afraid or leery of welding because of the potential for injury. Not Cardenas.
"He got right in there, he wasn't afraid of anything," Goo said.
Cardenas showed off his smooth forearms pocked with scars.
No big deal. Chicks dig scars.
"Right," he said and smiled.
At that 2000 competition, when Cardenas lost to Favela, Goo said Cardenas showed another side of his personality besides bravery — he was humble.
"He's very humble, not one to be bragging about this and that," Goo said.
At the 2000 competition, the seniors, Cardenas and Favela, prepared at nights, helping each other beforehand.
A lot of welders might have been selfish, hoarding tricks of the trade that would have helped one defeat the other.
Cardenas shared what he knew, helping Favela to snare the win. The way Cardenas looks at it, he's just doing what his teachers did for him.
In addition to Goo, he credits Calipatria teachers Mary Love, Virginia Calsada and Martha Self for their tireless support and dedication.
"It's a small school but the instructors are first-class," he said.
Another big helping hand for Cardenas has been extended by his employers at El Centro-based Fastenal Co. He said his bosses have been great with letting him take time for college classes and competitions.
And, last but far from least, Cardenas said his parents probably deserve the most credit for helping the most. He said his strict mother, Marta, made sure he got his grades up and his father, Jose Luis Sr., supported his pursuit of a trade and his education.
After finishing at IVC, Cardenas will try to get into
Cal Poly Pomona or Cal State Los Angeles. He's studying industrial technology, looking toward a career as a big-money welder or an engineer.
According to a Michigan-based welding trade school, the average starting salaries in Cardenas' field are about $49,000 per year.
That's a lot of scratch.
"Yeah," Cardenas said and smiled.
>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or email@example.com