The influence Mike Vallely had on me growing up.
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Mike Vallely is a polarising character in the skate community.
Either you love him or you hate him.
Perhaps that’s a bit harsh of a one line resume but it’s always true that if you ask a skater about Mike V, you will either get profound admiration or fits of laughter.
Personally, I have never met or spoken to Mike V so our relationship relies entirely on any footage, photos or interviews I have seen or read about him.
With a career in skateboarding that spans approximately 35 years, there’s plenty of information to investigate.
So, let’s start at the beginning. When Mike V and I first crossed paths.
Mike V had just turned professional for Powell Peralta and featured about ¾ of the way through their 4th video Public Domain. It was 1988 and Public Domain was the first skate video I ever saw. I was a clean slate for skate culture and very impressionable. First impressions are important.
Note that skate videos during this period were nearly always an hour long with a lot of action and entertainment to take in. So if I’m not chatting about the SB Boys, Frankie Hill, Jeff Bradley and Brandon Chapman, blame that on Daniel Gesmer gliding on the roller rink and Lance Mountain wrestling the skateboarding bulldog.
Public Domain hit a home run out the gate with Stacy Peralta bombing down hills with what looked like dinner plates taped to his hands for makeshift brakes and then the Incredible Rubber Boys – “Steve Saiz, Eric Sanderson, Rrrrrr-ay Barbee and Chet Thomas!” blasting through the streets. Those two scenes will forever be etched into my memory banks.
It would take another half an hour before a teenager with a shaved head, turquoise t-shirt and Elephant skateboard graphic would smirk at the camera and say “Oh, you wanna go skating?” then rush out the door with the camera man chasing behind him.
Keep in mind that I had no notion of what raw and innovative street skating was.
Even if I could appreciate Mike V caveman boardsliding a handrail out of his house – which is every child’s dream manoeuvre I guess – I had very little appreciation for the no complies he was blasting over parking blocks.
My first impressions of Mike V were:
“Why has he got two different coloured shoes on?”
Airwalks were pretty recognisable back in the day because of their garish colourways and epic designs. Researching for this article I had to do some googling to find out that Mike V’s shoes were an Airwalk Jelly Mambo in Orange and a Prototype Bruiser in Turquoise that matched his t-shirt.
Airwalk was the shit back in the late Eighties and early Nineties.
I loved their wild shoe designs so much, I would design my own variations and ended up submitting them to the company to manufacture. After several months of anticipation, I got a letter back saying ‘Thanks! But we can’t use your designs because of copyright issues.”
I was about 12 years old at the time and had no idea what copyrights were. Today, I think my patented sand pocket cushioning might have been too avant garde even for Airwalk. At least they stuffed the envelope with loads of sick Running man logo stickers. I was stoked!
Back to Mike V.
Besides the two tone shoes, Mike skated really fast. His skating was also spontaneous. I felt bad for the camera man who had to dodge pedestrians and run into busy streets to try and keep up with him.
The general aesthetic of Mike V’s part is of energy and spontaneity.
But to the kid in me, it just looked rushed and messy. Even as a complete skateboarding novice, I could tell Mike V was clutching at straws with his weird fastplant-footaplant-no comply imposibles and shuvits that escaped his feet and had him barely getting them back to his board.
I did recognise the half cab flip as something totally amazing though.
So much so that the bailed fakie flip afterwards got a pass.
Mike V skates New Jersey, New York and Washington DC all in the same day by the looks of things which having travelled to the East Coast myself many years later is possible but exhausting. I think it’s safe to say, these parts were filmed over the course of a weekend and the skaters were told to wear the same outfit at every spot.
I had no idea what the Brooklyn Banks were but they reminded me of the one real skate spot I knew, Southbank in London, so that was cool.
The riverside spot Mike V skates always seemed like an odd choice of spot considering the surfaces above the steps were covered in grass. Even today, I’d be hard pushed to consider that a good spot. But there’s the tight banks and the stage to launch off so I guess Mike V had his reasons.
Finally, there’s the chase through the graveyard with the trippy dream like oscillated after effects. It’s quirky, not cool. Cool would have been Mike V running through the graveyard at night.
At least that’s what prepubescent me thought – and middle aged me still thinks today.
This first encounter with Mike V was a thumbs down for me. I didn’t like it. The whole part seemed out of place with the slicker polished look and feel of the rest of the video. There was also the weird Smithsonian Institute segment that cut the action in half. I get the history lesson aspect of it but kids want to see action and not artefacts.
So yeah, Mike V could be summarised by a 12 year old me as a skinhead who likes the colour turquoise, runs around a lot and doesn’t land all of his tricks.
Little did I know Mike V was a veritable street skating savant that would influence the culture indefinitely.
Let’s fast forward a couple of years and it’s the early Nineties. A rough period for skateboard culture where brand cannibalism saw board shapes and wheel sizes slim down, clothes sizes explode and tricks get far too technical for their own good.
The trends of the day split the community between those who kept pace and those who hung back. I did my best to adapt to the times going from a Powell Peralta Ray Barbee tarot card deck shaped like an ironing board with 60mm Speed Wheels to a Plan B Mike Carroll Twin Peaks slick shaped like a popsicle stick with 40mm Blue Ball wheels.
If what I just said means nothing to you. This is the equivalent of a Timberland boot and an Air Max 95. A pick up truck and a sports car. Both of those things are both dope but they handle way differently.
Speaking of Plan B, the next skate video I took in and absorbed wholeheartedly was The Questionable Video – an entire light year if not multiple light years ahead of anything else set to represent cutting edge skateboarding.
Just like its older brother H-Street and cousin World Industries, Plan B would dictate the direction that skateboarding would take which was technical and gnarly.
Or Tech-Gnar for short.
So what about Mike V? Where was he when all this was going down?
From memory, he really wasn’t that present for me. In 1989 I was too busy trying to learn to ride my skateboard than watch World Industries’ Rubbish Heap.
I missed Mike V’s whole culture shifting window of influence when he rode the first double kick skateboard – a board design which still to this day I find horrible – Not half as horrible as the infamous Powell Peralta Toe-Knee-Hawk pictogram monstrosity – but still pretty unappealing with it’s cartoon graphic and symmetrical rectangle shape.
Even when he quit World to ride for New Deal a couple of years later, I hardly blinked. Mike V was doing huge ollies and mute grabs to punk music in a pair of high top Converse.
I was far more interested in seeing what death defying handrail Pat Duffy would grind next? Whether or not to cut my Airwalk’s down? And squinting at grainy video grab sequences in RAD magazine to try and understand how Alex Moul did a late pressure flip late shuvit off a bump somewhere in Oxford.
The media wasn’t streamed to us in 1992 like it is in 2022. Magazines, if you could find them, were your main source for information and during the early Nineties skateboarding was a very real underground culture. Nothing like its mainstream popularity today.
I did notice in one of my Transworld magazines that Mike V had teamed up with Ed Templeton, quitting New Deal together to launch a new brand called TV.
TV was a meeting of minds and surnames: Templeton and Vallely. TV.
Ed T and Mike V were both recognised in the talent pool of professional skateboarding and their collaboration seemed to be founded on their appreciation for street skating and veganism. This anti-meat eating stance also led them to being fitted with the short lived Zero Two skate shoes. Vegan friendly designs with velcro patches to avoid wearing out after a couple of ollie impossibles.
As bad as it sounds, the early Nineties really were an innovative and transformative time for skateboarding.
Unfortunately, Ed T and Mike V didn’t see eye to eye for very long and the TV got switched off so to speak.
Ed went on to win several skateboard world cup trophies and brainstorm the bloodsucking skateboard company Toy Machine with Todd Swank over at Tum Yeto, while Mike V headed back to Powell – having lost Peralta along the way – to continue mute grabbing funboxes and doing obscure street plants.
That last sentence should show you how Mike V was struggling to keep up with the times and his style of skating was not considered cool. I mean, Mike even skated Vert and vert had almost died by 1993.
The mid Nineties saw the dawn of an ill tempered Mike V take shape. My recollections of him pre-internet were of an aggro gnarler who travelled around the world and picked fights with just about anyone who looked at him sideways – or as rumours would have have it – anyone who dared question him and his wife jumping the queue for a sandwich at a packed skate comp.
It wasn’t very graceful and it wasn’t my cup of tea.
In 1995 skateboarding was all about switch flips and looking fresh. Me and all my white middle class mates wanted to be rappers or graffiti writers when we weren’t waxing up the ledges. It was silly but it was fun being a teenager during this time.
Mike V was like the obnoxious older brother you couldn’t relate to so my friends and I ignored him.
The only moment I stopped to think about Mike V would be when he fought with security guards at contests because they were trying to hassle the skaters on the course. The friction between skaters and security guards will never end and Mike V will always defend his brethren. 411 would later dedicate an entire video to such mindless brawls: Mike Vs Greatest Hits. I’ve got to say, it’s not Mike V or 411’s finest moment.
Whatever respect I had for Mike V would quickly disappear when news spread through the grapevine that he had assaulted Mike O’Meally, a photographer for the much respected Slap magazine, who dared laugh at his spoken word poetry reading at a Santa Cruz video premiere in Tampa.
I mean, come on!
Nobody thought poetry was cool in 1995 – except perhaps the Stereo crowd – but you get my point. Mike V was an elephant in the room or more like a bull in a china shop who couldn’t catch a break but wasn’t really trying to either.
Things didn’t improve as the late Nineties saw more wild and aggressive antics from Mike V as he single handedly fought 4 “jocks” in a carpark and started to body slam and elbow drop obstacles and scenery at international competitions. His sumersault to crush the roof of the car at London’s Generation 97 comp stands out as odd behaviour for me. Just like wrestling guard rails and tackling plant pots. I guess this was the sort of adrenaline Mike V needed to land his mosher drops and humongous airs. Mike V’s kickflip grab over a full size picnic table stood lengthwise atop a funbox is pretty mental even by today’s dangerous standards. So I have to give him props for that.
Suddenly, aggro Mike V was turning into a spectacle of pretty impressive skateboarding. However, his new found passion for bodily harm had Mike V enter the new millennium as a pro skateboarder turned brawling ice hockey player and bloodied wrestler. Not quite the skinny kid in mix and match Airwalks blasting no complies in suburban New Jersey.
By 2001 I was 22 years old, leaving university, enjoying the ex-student unemployed life of cheap pints and skating every day. I couldn’t care less for a beefcake with a bald head and an attitude problem. Mike V did however design an almost indestructible pro shoe with Etnies which was much appreciated by skint skaters like myself.
Powell wasn’t cool. Hockey wasn’t cool. Poems weren’t cool. Mike V was on a crash course with oblivion when he finally switched things up and clawed himself back into relevancy.
But it wasn’t as straightforward as getting a new sponsor and filming a new part.
Well, actually that’s exactly what Mike V did. He found himself a spot on the indelible Black Label team and filmed a part for their first ever full length video Label Kills. It was 2001 and skateboarding was not for the faint hearted. Handrails and full pipes were the choice of terrain and switchstance was the only clear skill a skater had to master if they didn’t ride either of those.
What did Mike V do? None of the above.
Mike V’s Label Kills part can be summarised by one word or action. The same action that saw him debut on video in Public Domain almost 15 years earlier.
Mike V had relocated from East coast to West coast but he still pushed back and forth through the streets like a wild man. The same rabid acceleration of a middle aged Mike V with more tattoos and more muscle shooting across the screen in a blur for a little less than two minutes.
Needless to say, Mike V had people talking about him again. And it was usually accompanied by some LOLs.
I remember watching the Black Label video with an older friend who worked at the local skateshop. He totally got the punk image the company had. He told me all about the influence skaters like Mike V, Jeff Grosso and John Lucero had on skateboarding back in the Eighties. Before my time.
Skateboarding was getting increasingly popular thanks to Tony Hawk landing the 900 and releasing his Pro Skater video game. The internet was flourishing and the economy was booming. It was a good time to be a pro skater.
Older generations resurfaced to chaperone and guard the gates of a culture that was an easy target for outsiders.
The X Games were still a reality. As were reality TV shows like the Life of Ryan – Sheckler child prodigy on a skateboard – and The Osbournes where a tired and confused Jason Dill, wrestled with the family’s youngest son on prime time TV.
Amongst all this noise, Mike V repositioned himself as a thoroughbred skateboarder whose purpose it was to spread the gospel of big airs, boneless’ – and street plants.
Mike V sessioned with bad influencer Bam Margera and joined Tony Hawk on his Boom Boom Huck Jam tours.
Can I just say that whoever greenlighted that name for branding was both a genius and a complete idiot.
Mike V even took it upon himself to drive solo across America to hold one man demos and shut down sessions with the biggest mute grab possible for the impressionable youth.
The end result of this journey was an hour-long documentary film by Mark Jeremias, and later distributed by Build Worldwide, entitled Drive.
This film of sorts struck a nerve within society and later saw it transformed into a 20 part series for Fuel TV. The pilot episode of the series was aired in 2004 and saw Mike V visit and skate alongside none other than old Bones Brigade chums, Lance Mountain and Tony Hawk and next generation star Ryan Sheckler.
The Pink Motel pool, Bob Burnquist’s backyard ramp and Sheckler’s private skatepark are skated which sounds epic on paper but there isn’t a single session in the streets which for me is a tell tale sign that Drive wasn’t aimed at the core community of skateboarders who knew where Mike V came from.
If all of this had happened back in 1988 then this article would have a completely different tone. Except back then, my first impression of Mike V and skateboarding was far more limited and much less explosive.
Drive the film, just like Drive the series, probably only got one or two quick viewings from me when they premiered but then I just dropped them – just like Mike V. None of this was cool at all.
Fast forward well into the 2000s where most of skateboarding – and my time – was spent on the internet. Progression got stuck in hyper drive. A steady flow of video footage and a healthy print media landscape kept pushing the envelope with each new release.
In amongst this next generation of kids raised in modern skateparks stood the one man who took the time to push through blood, sweat and probably not tears because he’s a tough man, to deliver demos and solid handshakes to anyone in attendance.
Mike V had a new following.
His appearance at The Berrics to play SKATE against Chris Cole is one of the most interesting videos on the indoor skatepark’s exhaustive playlist.
Because Mike V said ‘No!’
No to Steve Berra’s stupid rules of no grabs or feet on the ground. Instead he did what he did best and proceeded to resurrect the street plant and fast plant to their former glory as cornerstones of skateboarding’s trick catalogue.
Finally those who found it hard to ollie or flip their boards found justification is taking the alternative route.
Chris did his best to fend off the gymnastic assault but before long he and Mike V were down to their last letters.
Finally Chris finished Mike V off with a varial flip.
Mike V gave it his best effort – perhaps the sleeveless denim jacket was weighing him down or his unkept beard was itchy – either way he lost. And Chris added another scalp to his satchel and another brick to his path towards the two Skater of the Year awards and other accolades.
Despite being defeated, Mike V was very obviously not going to go away. His high calibre antics were here to stay and I somehow started to warm to them. My own progression on a skateboard had plateaued and I knew, even if I denied it then, that I too would succumb to the simple pleasures of the no-comply and slappy.
I have never made the effort to learn a fully inverted street plant and never will.
Somehow Chris Roberts, yesterday’s manual king turned Larry King, managed. It was entertaining but I’ll pass.
Instead I find myself subscribed and happily tuned into Mike V’s vlogs documenting his day to day life in Des Moines, Iowa, taking long hikes in the snow, playing with his dogs and packaging boxes for his independent skate brand named – you guessed it – Street Plant.
In middle age, I respect Mike V and I understand now what I didn’t before. Mike V has always been different. He is a skateboarder through and through. I’ll never agree with all of his shenanigans and I still think his Public Domain part has some sketchy tricks in there, but he has always sought to innovate with his skateboard and carry the culture on his broad shoulders.
Frankly, I am impressed.
Even more so when I get reminded by rose tinted social media accounts that Mike V could huck a perfect 360 flip over a pyramid hip or kickflip 5050 a box in a contest run in 1994. Mike V and the elephant he has adopted as his spirit animal are very much in my life and the room we share together as skateboarders.
And I really don’t mind.
Even if he bumps or crashes into a few things from time to time.
I don’t think he will though. He seems more settled now. Away from the bustle of the urban jungle, an older and wiser elephant of a man left to wander the open expanses of middle America.
The following videos, music and voices were sampled in the audio version of this article in chronological order:
Powell Peralta Ripper
Powell Peralta – Public Domain / Introduction / Stacy Peralta / Incredible Rubber Boys / Mike Vallely
Sole Serfer – Top Ten Skate Shoes of the 80s
Powell Peralta – Public Domain / Mike Vallely
Santa Cruz – Speed Freaks / Mike Vallely
Powell Peralta – Public Domain / Smithsonian Institute segment
Santa Cruz – Speed Freaks / Mike Vallely / Dinosaur Junior – Freak Scene
Plan B – The Questionable Video / Introduction / Primus – Here come the bastards
Transworld Skateboarding Magazine – The History of board shapes Part 1 / Chuck Hults
New deal – 1281 / Mike Vallely / 411 – Face the flag
Skateboarder Magazine – Raiders of the Archives Ed Templeton Part 5 of 6 / Ed Templeton
Vice Media – Patrick O’Dell – Max Schaff Epicly Laterd Part 3 / Jake Phelps
RAD – Radlands Pro Comp 1999 Part 2 / Spectators
The Nine Club with Chris Roberts – Lee Smith Episode 222 / Lee Smith
411 Video magazine – Mike Vallely’s Greatest Hits / Mike Vallely
411 Video magazine – Vancouver 1999 / Mike Vallely
Ride Channel – Mike Vallely Gonz Fights Tony Alva, Big Bird and More on Free Lunch Archives (Part 3 of 4) / Mike Vallely
Black Label – Label Kills / Rollins Band – Hotter and hotter
MTV – Life of Ryan Season 3 Trailer / The Osbournes Season 1 Episode 8 No Vagrancy / Ozzy Osbourne – Jason Dill
900 Films – Tony Hawk Gigantic Skatepark Tour 2001 / Tony Hawk
Mark Jeremias – Build Worldwide – Drive starring Mike Vallely Episode 1 The professional / Mike Vallely
The Berrics – Battle at The Berrics 2 Round 1 Mike Vallely Vs Chris Cole / Mike Vallely – Steve Berra
The Nine Club Clips – Mike Vallely teaches Chris Roberts Street plants / Mike Vallely – Chris Roberts
Mike Vallely – Always not closed / Mike Vallely
Powell Peralta – Scenic Drive / Mike Valley / Bruce Springsteen – Johnny 99
Mark Choiniere – Mike Vallely – A short film / Mike Vallely