The Mike V Show: Episode 2
February 5th, 2015

On this episode of The Mike V Show, I am once again joined by author, philosopher and friend Daniele Bolelli. We discuss my decision to now wear a helmet whenever I skate, how people in skateboarding may react to this, how I can no longer justify NOT wearing a helmet, how I hate when my heroes go soft, how some of the new generation of bowl and ramp skaters no longer wear any pads, how street skating never correlated with athletics of any kind, how I don’t see myself as an athlete, how I sidestepped the question of helmets and skateboarding for years, how if my kids skated they would be wearing helmets, questioning one’s self, how one of Bolelli’s students hit his head skateboarding and got a concussion, turning a blind eye to head injuries, the evolution of sport and protective equipment, peer pressure, true toughness versus just playing it safe, how my best and most important work is right now, defiance in skateboarding, possible ignorant opposition to my choice, proving one’s self, Bolelli is always right, how this is a personal choice, being nonjudgmental, Jacques Plante, the evolution of hockey equipment, living in your reality, pondering and valuing one’s health, helmets can potentially save lives, excuses for not wearing a helmet, how street skating was revolutionary, how there is no parallel to street skating, how the messenger is a big deal, subscribing versus creating, how there is no “the way”, how I feel empowered and excited about wearing a helmet, looking for the background role, living in a fog, unfulfilling work, what’s next?, writing the script, how I still have work to do in the arena, bringing something new to the conversation, the business side of wearing a helmet, the importance of support from a helmet sponsor, how some helmet companies don’t get it, how most of my worst injuries happened in unexpected moments, it’s not worth it, the universe is speaking to me, working with Triple 8 Helmets, the east coast connection, how many chances do you get?, listen to the voice inside you, the Graham Hancock example, closing the gap between intellectual knowledge and action, why not take precautions?, the glory is the act of riding, not living in the past, let’s go forward… Enjoy!

Listen on iTunes here!

Listen on Stitcher here!

Beyond Influence
January 27th, 2015

Beyond Influence: Rodney Smith, Tom Groholski, And Jim Murphy

By: Kyle DuVall

In skateboarding, as in life, influence is cheap, but inspiration is priceless. Moves can be copied from magazines, styles can be imitated, but influence that cuts deeper, influence that goes straight to the soul, is something else.

When Mike Vallely started skating in 1984, influences were a little harder to stumble upon, but even in Edison, New Jersey, influences like the 1984 “Street-Sequence” issue of Thrasher magazine found it’s way into his hands. Seeing that landmark issue of Thrasher ignited a powerful spark in Vallely, but the inspiration needed to stoke that spark into a blaze that would change skateboarding forever couldn’t be shipped in from California. It had to come from closer to home.

Mike Vallely, Edison, NJ, 1985. Photo: Don Bruno.

Mike Vallely, Edison, NJ, 1985. Photo: Don Bruno.

3 legendary east coast skaters: Rodney Smith, Tom Groholski, and Jim Murphy, all played a part in stoking that fire. Each impacted Vallely in a distinct way, but each contribution was equally vital. Their influence extends through 3 decades of skating and right up to the present day. It extends beyond tricks and style, and into the intangibles of Vallely’s personality, and world view.

Influence. It’s precious and priceless. But it can also begin with the simplest of things. In the case of Rodney Smith, Vallely’s first skateboarding mentor, lifelong inspiration started with nothing more than a friendly greeting from behind the counter of a skate shop

“In 1984 a new skate shop had opened up in this big mall near me,” Vallely recalls. “It was actually a combination skate shop/bikini shop, and It sounds funny now, but at the time going into this big mall and into a skate shop was very intimidating. I remember being so nervous walking into that shop with my friends but as soon as we stepped in there was the guy behind the counter greeting us in such a friendly way, just asking ‘hey guys, what’s up’, just being cool and welcoming. Welcoming us into skateboarding. That was a big deal. That guy turned out to be Rodney Smith.”

Smith, best known now as co-founder of Shut Skateboards and Zoo York Skateboards, was already a fixture of east coast skateboarding when Vallely met him. For Vallely, Smith’s combination of encouragement, wisdom, and foresight would make him a mentor in the truest sense of that oft-overused word.

“Rodney Smith, was the first person I could tell felt the same way about skateboarding that I did. I determined pretty early on that pro skating was the greatest opportunity, the greatest conduit I could have in terms of getting other people to discover the type of energy and pure love and passion that I felt for skateboarding. Rodney recognized my passion early on and realized it wasn’t at a pedestrian level. It was deeper.”

Mike and Rodney. 1998. Photo: Reda

Mike and Rodney. 1998. Photo: Reda

Spiritual support was not the only thing Smith would end up providing to the young Vallely. In a time when skate parks were virtually non-existent and the aesthetics of street skating were just beginning to exploit the potential of public spaces, a big part of rising to the top was simply having access to inspiring terrain. Even though Vallely’s home town was just a 40 minute train ride from the vast asphalt playground of New York City, without Rodney Smith, Vallely might have never explored it.

“The New York of today is not the New York I grew up with,” Vallely explains. “When I was a kid in the 70’s and 80‘s you didn’t just go to New York to “go” to New York. It was still a pretty gnarly place. I’d go there to see hockey games with my dad or the circus, but when you went to those things you didn’t stay after they were over.”

It was Smith who first took Vallely to skate in Manhattan, introducing him not just to terrain like the legendary, Brooklyn Banks, but to the New York skate community. “The first time I went in to New York with Rodney changed everything.” Vallely explains. “The next day I was a 100% better skater, and it wasn’t just the access to terrain, it was being around other skaters. After that, every week we were hopping on the train, sneaking on, getting into New York however we could.”

Recognizing and encouraging Vallely’s talent was one thing, but Smith was also wise enough to recognize Vallely’s gifts in the context of a future that was just barely beginning to unfold. Smith was one of skateboarding’s true visionaries, a man who not only saw Vallely’s potential, but the potential of street skating as a movement.

“Rodney came up from the bowl and skatepark culture of the 70’s, and, in some ways skateboarding, in terms of the tricks, was already passing him by, but he was still a street skater,” says Vallely. “He understood that the streets were an open playground and that’s where skating could really have freedom and find its own way. The backyard ramps helped keep skating alive, but kids like me, we weren’t going to be ramp skaters. We couldn’t just skate two days a week when we could get to a ramp and then leave the pads in the garage the rest of the time. Rodney saw that. He saw a path that didn’t exist yet.”

Rodney Smith, Edison, NJ, circa '82. Photo: Steven Willis.

Rodney Smith, Edison, NJ, circa ’82. Photo: Steven Willis.

Indeed, in 1984, the idea of any sort of professional presence for street skating was brand new, and even that small presence was centered around refugees from the skatepark culture. “There were street skaters out there, but to a lot of the guys doing it it was just something they did when they were kicked out of the skateparks. Even when it became its own thing it was still kind of joke to those guys,” Explains Vallely. “I may be the first pro skateboarder without a direct surfing or skatepark inspired influence. There was not a career path for me when I started. I wanted to be the first east coast pro street skater. Being a professional skater, period, was not even a proven career path, but that’s what I wanted to be, a pro street skater. How could anyone support that? My parents couldn’t. My teachers couldn’t. There was no coach at the recreation center who could. But Rodney Smith could. That’s why his influence on me is so huge. He understood that street skating was the future. He not only had the vision to see what was coming, but also the vision to see that, not only could I be a part of that change, but that I could symbolize it. He saw what I could bring to skateboarding and he reminded me of it over and over. And every time on that journey that I got knocked down he picked me up.”

It’s an influence that has never left, one that extends to approaching dilemmas and thinking ‘what would Rodney do?’. “That way of thinking,” Vallely says, “is so ingrained it’s not even conscious anymore. It’s just part of me. ”

Rodney Smith’s hands-on mentorship may have helped Vallely understand that his dreams were attainable, but it was the quieter, more removed influence of New Jersey legend Tom Groholski that helped Vallely take control of that dream once it started to happen.

As a top vert pro in the 80’s, Groholski wasn’t just a hero to east coast kids, he was a community resource. His backyard ramp was an epicenter for the whole east coast skate community. Unlike the private training facilities of today’s top pros, Groholski’s ramps were open to anybody, but that didn’t mean Groholski was out there cheerleading the local skate rats.

“In the early days, I don’t think I ever skated with Tom Groholski at his ramp,” Vallely explains. “Tom’s dad was always out there supporting the kids skating in his backyard but not so much Tom. Tom never went for the hype. All these new faces running around in his yard. He couldn’t be bothered. He had his ramp and he skated his ramp out of necessity, not to sell skateboards to the new generation. The fact that we rarely ever saw Tom made his skating much more meaningful to me. His absence carried weight for me.”

An internationally known pro for one of the most popular companies in the world, Vision Skateboards, Groholski’s career was as defined by his introversion as it was by his trademark lip tricks. Predictably, Vallely’s personal relationship with Groholski was quite different from his relationship with Rodney Smith.

Tom Groholski, North Brunswick, NJ. Photo: Matt Paulo.

Tom Groholski, North Brunswick, NJ. Photo: Matt Padulo.

“Tom’s ramp was open to the public on Wednesdays and Saturdays, so after I was sponsored, I started skipping school and going to Tom’s ramp every Wednesday with my friend Kevin for probably 2 months straight before Tom even acknowledged we were there,” Vallely explains. “We were out their skating, and all of the sudden he just came out and was like ‘hey guys, what’s up. You want to go skate the Barn Ramp?’ We just couldn’t believe it. Tom Groholski was going to take us to the infamous Barn Ramp. We’d been there before but not with or as a guest of Tom.”

So, was that the beginning of a close bond? The first step in a tight relationship with Groholski playing Yoda to Vallely’s scabby Skywalker?

Not quite.

Valley laughs recollecting what happened next. “Tom had a pickup truck with a camper shell on the back. We threw our stuff in and my friend hopped in the back of the truck, and I went around the front to sit shotgun. When I opened the door Tom looked at me and said: ‘nah…both you guys ride in back’. It was like we had passed some initial sort of test for Tom, we had gotten to the point where he would take us to the Barn Ramp, but we hadn’t gotten far enough to sit in the cab of the vehicle. ”

After that, Vallely was accepted into regular skating sessions at the Barn Ramp with Groholski and some other locals, but Groholski remained a distant presence. His impact was still considerable, however. “I was in the streets most of the time,” Vallely says, “ but his presence was in my skating even when he wasn’t. On that trip to the Barn Ramp, we stopped at a convenience store, and I remember to this day that Tom bought a Dr. Pepper and some Spree candy. For years after that I had to drink Dr. Pepper and eat Spree whenever I skated.”

Tom Groholski, North Brunswick, NJ. Photo: David Paulo

Tom Groholski, North Brunswick, NJ. Photo: David Padulo

Valley certainly emulated Groholski’s lip tricks on curbs and took stylistic cues from Groholski, but it was Groholski’s attitude toward the skate industry and his apathy for the fame that came with being a pro that would wind up making the most enduring impact on Vallely.

“I don’t know that I ever fully understood Groholski’s skating until after I got to California and saw him skating in a contest. I remember seeing him up there skating so hard with all the other pros around him, and it was beautiful but at the same time it was also sad. Here was this guy putting everything he was into his skating, because skating was all he knew — The contests and everything else were not really him but he was out there trying to make it work because he had to skate. He just had to, and the contests and magazines and sponsors were how he could keep doing it.”

Groholski, for all his introversion and general apathy for the business of skateboarding would deeply impact Vallely’s own goals and perspective once he achieved fame and success. Groholski showed Vallely that he could navigate the fame and demands of professionalism without losing his roots or compromising his own nature.

“I remember once when I was with Powell Peralta, Stacy Peralta asked me if I could talk with Tom about possibly joining the team. Lip tricks were getting popular and I think Stacy wanted a “lip trick guy” for The Bones Brigade. So I went up to Tom while we were skating at the Barn Ramp and mentioned it, and Tom just laughed at me. The Bones Brigade? That was a job. Say what you will about Vision, but they let Tom be Tom and left him alone, and that’s what he wanted.”

For Vallely, the casual way Groholski shrugged off an opportunity to hook up with the legendary Bones Brigade wasn’t about ducking success, it was about defining success, and that attitude molded Vallely’s own perspective while riding for Powell Peralta.

“When Powell Peralta sponsored me in 1986 I was like the “Great White-Trash-Hope” — The kid that had the look and ability to communicate street skating to middle-America and beyond. I was what THEY were looking for — A messenger, someone they set out to manufacture and control. I had all of the characteristics to sell street skating naturally, in how I skated and in my passion and my desire to share and express it, and I had the nurturing and encouraging spirit that I learned from Rodney Smith. But I also had all of the defiance and disdain for the business that Tom Groholski had. I was both the right guy in a sense and the WRONG guy. I was going to be no one’s puppet. Not Stacy Peralta’s, not George Powell’s — No one’s.”

Anyone who has followed Vallely’s skating knows how much he has taken Groholski’s inspiration to heart, both in good times and bad, but it took Vallely 20 years before he knew if he himself had left any sort of impression on his distant inspiration.

“In 2002, when people were really just beginning to rediscover and pay respect to older skaters, I got invited to this ‘Old School Skate Jam’ event at the Simi Valley Skate Lab. I didn’t intend to skate at the event, but I went and the one guy I was really hoping to see was Tom Groholski,” Vallely explains. “When I got there Tom was one of the first people to walk up to me. He came up and actually asked me to sign an autograph for him. I couldn’t believe it. Groholski wanted MY autograph. This was back when I started signing my name with the lightning bolt, but I was too self conscious to put that on an autograph for Tom Groholski’ but Tom was like: ‘Where’s the lightning bolt, you got to put the lightning bolt on there…’ I was so stoked that after that I had to skate. It was such a validation to realize after all those years this guy who was so reserved with praise and with his words respected what I had done, respected my contribution. I’ll never forget that.”

Tom Groholski, Cedar Crest, VA. Photo: Grant Brittain

Tom Groholski, Cedar Crest, VA. Photo: Grant Brittain

Groholski’s actions and attitude gave Vallely an example of an un-compromised path and the importance of roots, but another legend would help keep Vallely’s feet planted on the ground as he walked that path. Jim Murphy gave miles of inspiration by never giving Vallely an inch. Pro models, Thrasher spreads: these were all weight on the scale, but Murphy showed Vallely, sometimes harshly, that the greatest measure of respect has to be earned the hard way.

“The first time I met Jim Murphy, he was extremely nice, very welcoming,” Vallely remembers. “Rodney Smith introduced me to him. Jim was going to college at the time, and I remember just being really impressed by how smart he was, and by the fact that, even though he was riding for Zorlac and could have been out in California and been a part of that scene, he chose to stay in New Jersey and get an education.”

Murphy’s skills as a skater, even when he was removed from the pools and vertical terrain he was most proficient on, were no less impressive to Vallely that night.

“That first night we went to the New Brunswick spot with the stage and the embankment that I skated in Public Domain, Jim was actually the guy who showed me that spot. He skated the bank like it was a quarter pipe, doing all his vert maneuvers on the embankment, and he just ripped — Laybacks, footplants. I remember he did a blunt on the bank and my friends and I couldn’t believe it. He absolutely killed that thing. He was the best skater in the session. He was a great skater all around. Maybe he didn’t have the ollie power, but his ability to adapt, he just ripped.”

Jim Murphy, Edgewater Park, VA. Photo: Jason Oliva

Jim Murphy, Edgewater Park, VA. Photo: Jason Oliva

Murphy eventually went pro for the storied Alva team, and as Vallely rapidly rose into the professional ranks, Murphy’s relationship with Vallely changed.

“I don’t think it is right to say Jim became ‘standoffish’ exactly,” Vallely recollects. “It was more like: ‘OK kid, you’re a hotshot, but you’ve got to pay your dues. We’re not going to bow down to you because Stacy Peralta gave you the nod. I remember this one time when we were skating the Barn Ramp, Jim went up and did a huge Finger-Flip Lein To Tail, and his tail smacked the coping so hard and just made the loudest, gnarliest, sound and I was so stoked that I just screamed as loud as I could, I couldn’t help it. Next thing I know, Jim rolls up on the deck and gets in my face and tells me: ‘Hey kid, you ever do that again you’re out of here. We don’t do that here. It’s disrespectful.”

Jim Murphy, Barn Ramp. Photo: Ben Cornish

Jim Murphy, Barn Ramp. Photo: Ben Cornish

A skater who has always stressed openness and acceptance, even in his early days, it seems strange that Vallely would have put up with such treatment without pushing back in some way, but for Vallely, the context made all the difference.

“Part of it was just what Rodney Smith had ingrained in me about respecting professionals and veteran skaters,” Vallely explains. “Jim made things tougher and that kind of stuff, the hazing in a sense, rubbed me the wrong way on one level, but I totally respected and appreciated it on another. No doubt, Murphy and people in his position were extremely threatened not just by me but by what I represented, but the tough love was coming from a good place outside of that threat. They saw value in me and saw that I was going to go somewhere. The tough love was actually the proper sort of attention to help me develop. If you really disregard somebody you’re not going to waste the energy to even be harsh with them, you are just going to be oblivious. I registered with Jim or else he wouldn’t have bothered. It kept me grounded. Beyond that, guys like Jim really did have something to protect. They saw themselves as caretakers of a scene that was changing, they were preserving something in a time when so many new faces, new faces who had not been through the sorts of dead times they had been, were coming into skateboarding. They had every right to be protective”

Murphy provided a great deal of seasoning for the raw street kid from New Jersey, but that wasn’t the only way Murphy inspired Vallely.

“I skated with Jim at the Barn Ramp mostly, but there was another epic session out at Magic Skatepark, which was this 1970’s style asphalt snake run in Pennsylvania. It was just one of those all day skate into the dusk sessions, and just being around Jim that day was a true privilege. Being around people who live and breathe skateboarding, guys like that, you just bask in it, bask in just being in their presence. Jim Murphy couldn’t Ollie? Who cares. He fucking ripped. It was a privilege just skating with him. I always felt I got better just being around him.”

Jim Murphy. Photo Grant Brittain.

Jim Murphy. Photo Grant Brittain.

Jim Murphy, Tom Groholski, Rodney Smith: without their presence, Vallely’s legacy in skating would probably look quite different. There’s no doubt his bag of tricks would.

“Look at my skating, my trick selection, my approach and you’ll see it.” Vallely asserts. “I pay homage to the people that mattered to me every time I step on the board.” That holds true for Valley even when paying homage doesn’t line up with what’s ‘acceptable’ to the mainstream. “Back in 2005, I did the Thrasher ‘King Of The Road’ contest as part of the Element team. At the beginning of the contest (Thrasher Editor) Jake Phelps came up to me, looked me in the eye and said “Mike, man, you can’t do layback airs, you shouldn’t be doing that trick, it’s lame, that trick is banned Bro…’. I just laughed. Tom Groholski does layback airs, Jim Murphy does layback airs and I do layback airs. I always keep certain tricks in my skating. I do these tricks with love and respect to my heroes whether they are ‘cool’ or not. The umpires of cool don’t have a say in how I skate, they never have and they never will.”

Mike,  Layback Air at The Barn Ramp, 1985. Photo: Mike Spotte.

Mike, Layback Air at The Barn Ramp, 1985. Photo: Mike Spotte.

“Rodney Smith, Tom Groholski, Jim Murphy — All of these guys are still involved in skateboarding. They still skate. These guys were not part-timers. These guys were never going to quit. They were going to adapt and always find a way to skate. That is what you understood they were all about when you were with them. They were heavyweights, they were the real deal. You can be influenced by people, you can try to copy what they do, but heroes, guys like them they didn’t just influence me. They inspired me.”

Inspiration. Close. Personal. Real. For Vallely It’s worth more than a million magazine pages. Worth more than can be measured in video files and board sales. Influence fades. Inspiration lasts forever.

Kyle DuVall had been writing about skateboarding almost as long as he has been skateboarding. He blogs at Parkingblockdiaries.blogspot.com

Saints Of Low: Low Road
January 15th, 2015

Now available on iTunes and Amazon — The digital EP from Saints Of Low: Low Road. Featuring four new songs — Into The East, Cold War, Low Road and Until The End. This band had a quick start and stop but the songs felt so good to us that it was important to us to record them. I was finally able to finish vocals at the end of this past year and I am glad to finally be able to share these tunes with you all… — Mike V

Low Road

LOW ROAD

There’s a beauty that shimmers
Where no light shines
Just below the tree cover
Outside of time

Into the fields and the woods
The way away from you
I’ll take the low road home
The floor of truth

There’s a color of spirit
That no one can buy
They dress up the structure
But nothing’s inside

Into the fields and the woods
The way away from you
I’ll take the low road home
The floor of truth

I won’t subscribe
I won’t attend
I’ll stand my ground
I will defend
My happiness
My peace of mind
I’ll live my life
Outside of time

Into the fields and the woods
The way away from you
I’ll take the low road home
The floor of truth

Svitak
January 14th, 2015

The first time I saw Kristian Svitak skate
I was moved by what I saw, by what I felt
Like Rodney Mullen or Tony Hawk I realized I was
in the presence of someone who HAD to skate
This wasn’t the mere exploitation of some fine tuned ability
This was something deeper

He doesn’t just do tricks
Svitak skates
Or maybe another way to say it is:
EVERYTHING that he does on his board is a trick
Like Duane Peters — No moment on his board is wasted
When Kristian pushes — It has meaning
He drops-in and kick turns with purpose
You watch him assault the streets and every inch
of asphalt and concrete is covered with intention
It makes you want to skate harder
It makes you want to put all of yourself into your skating
That’s what the best pros do
Inspire us

Svitak 89

Kristian’s love for skating shines through
And you realize in watching him
that he is still the young kid that fell in love
with skating and that would never stop
And he hasn’t and he won’t
Since day one he has faced his life and his skating
head on with a shit eating grin
and a defiant middlefinger
Just the way it should be done
Svitak is the real deal

I’m truly honored to have one of my all-time favorite skaters Kristian Svitak be the first rider on the Street Plant Team.

The Mike V Show: Episode #1
January 11th, 2015

On the first ever episode of The Mike V Show Podcast, I am joined by author, philosopher and friend Daniele Bolelli. We discuss his book On The Warrior’s Path, how we became friends, my “pugilistic tendencies,” being a full human being, things that don’t get caught on video, embracing the totality of what we can be as human beings, living stereotypes, imbalance, lacking variety, my greatest crime in skateboarding, the greatest gift I’ve gotten from my love of skateboarding, people that get hung up on taste, the temperature at which a human being lives, “the wild west of skateboarding,” people are going to put you in a box, the most interesting human beings are not about one thing, being known outside of skateboarding, uniforms, subscribing to an identity, messing with expectations, bringing it back to the human level, no image in podcasting, passion for life, Fistfight Volume 1: The CKY Fight, video does not tell the whole story, being physically engaged in life, self-publishing, the beauty of doing it yourself, podcasting: screw the middleman, the best word to describe “skateboarding” is skateboarding, anything that has a heartbeat and stealing Bolelli. Enjoy!

Listen on iTunes here!

Listen on Stitcher here!

Street Plant Brand
January 7th, 2015

Street Plant
Street Plant is a 100% family owned and operated business.
My daughter Emily and I manage and oversee all aspects of the company.
Our fingerprint is on every design and every single product passes through our hands on it’s way to you.

When you support Street Plant you directly support The Vallely Family.

We are not going through any middlemen
and we are not just another brand under someone else’s umbrella,
helping to sustain someone else’s overhead.

We are completely independent.

Street Plant seeks to encapsulate my entire career and creative output
from skateboards to apparel to music to publications.
What was, what is and what will be.

My days as a mercenary or partnering exclusively with other companies to deliver my products or having my creative output filtered by others is over. Street Plant represents my vision, ideas and passion unfiltered.

Thank you for your continued support on this journey…
The best is yet to come!

— Mike V

Lucy & Ben
January 6th, 2015

When I met Ben Harper I wasn’t familiar at all with his music.
I’d never heard a note. But I immediately knew that I would be.
Not only did I meet and make a friend, I discovered an artist that
I could relate to, be inspired by and spend time with…
Alone, in my headphones.

Ben and I have done miles together, figuratively and literally.
His music, his poetry, his voice — A soundtrack for my greatest joy and
my darkest sorrow. His friendship a constant presence of love and gratitude —
Laughter and bliss.
An inspiration.

w/ Ben on Catalina Island, 2012.

w/ Ben on Catalina Island, 2012.

Sharing Ben’s music and friendship has mattered to me.
In my own home, my daughter Lucy and I were taken by every note of every song.
Playing guitar and listening to Uncle Ben’s records together… And dancing.

Lucy & Ben, Santa Monica, CA , 2011.

Lucy & Ben, Santa Monica, CA , 2011.

Ben & Lucy, Dana Point, CA, 2011.

Ben & Lucy, Dana Point, CA, 2011.

The best artists inspire the best in other artists.
Ben’s music became a soundtrack in Lucy’s life as well.
And Lucy’s life is dance… That is where she is at bliss.
Of course Ben’s music would find a home there.

Diamonds On The Inside video shoot, Santa Monica, CA, 2014.

Diamonds On The Inside video shoot, Santa Monica, CA, 2014.

The artists: Ted Newsome, Lucy Vallely and Ben Harper, Santa Monica, CA, 2014.

The artists: Ted Newsome, Lucy Vallely and Ben Harper, Santa Monica, CA, 2014.

This video is an expression of family, friendship, inspiration, love and gratitude.

Thank you Uncle Ben for your friendship, your music and your inspiration in my life
and in the life of my little girl.

All love and respect!

— Mike V

January 1, 2015
January 1st, 2015

1.1.15

Helmet

The Evel Knievel Factor
December 3rd, 2014

By Kyle Duvall

In our anarchic culture, it’s fitting that one of the most important figures in the evolution of skateboarding never set foot on a skateboard. Evel Knievel made a career flying through the air on motorcycles and, in one case, a rocket sled, but he became a legend by being larger than life. Mike Vallely has spent a lot of time fighting to keep Knievel’s legacy alive, and not just with the tricks he’s done on his skateboard, or even the officially licensed Evel Knievel / Mike Vallely signature decks he’s released, but with the way he has lived his entire life.

EK w/ Bike

“(Evel Knievel) didn’t just take on jumping motorcycles, he took on life. He was an outlaw, and when I say ‘outlaw‘ I mean he was a man who didn’t play by anybody’s rules… When he had it all he continued to be outlandish in his actions. His rise was just as great as his downfall, but even after things turned on him, he continued to live by his own rules,” explains Vallely. “A lot of why I skateboard, why I do what I do, it starts with Evel Knievel.”

Vallely traces it all the way back to his earliest days on a board. “In 1984, Edison, New Jersey might as well have been (Knievel’s hometown of) Butte Montana. I told my friend: ‘can you imagine jumping a skateboard off a ramp… I had no idea that that sort of stuff had already been happening… When I said it, what I was visualizing was Evel Knievel. I was telling my friend: ‘can you imagine taking the Evel Knievel approach to skateboarding?’”

Jump Ramp '85 Screen Shot
As impressive as all of Knievel’s feats are; jumping 13 buses on a 500 pound Harley Davidson with a 5 inch suspension, attempting to jump the Snake River Canyon in a rocket car, the totality of his impact is greater than even the sum of those gnarly parts. Unlike the “extreme” heroes of today, who usually have a big impact on a small niche of society, with the occasional viral flare up into the mainstream, Evel Knievel’s stunts were a cross-cultural phenomenon. In the days before YouTube or even cable TV, the dent he put in the collective consciousness with just a motorcycle, guts and a few dozen televised performances, is astounding.

“The Jackass mentality — These people credit him as an influence, but none of the stuff he gave birth to resonates the way he does. People do double back flips on motorcycles now and I don’t give two shits about that,” says Vallely. “I care about Evel Knievel… He birthed the extreme generation, he’s a superhero. What he did was so out there, so aggressive. Sure, there were people before and after him that jumped motorcycles, but who cares? They’re not Evel Knievel.”

A lot of that iconic impact has to do with when Knievel emerged on the American scene. It was the late 1960’s, a time when the country was deeply divided over civil rights, the Vietnam War, and a general shift in the attitudes of a new generation. “People were polarized, society felt like it was crumbling and here comes some guy wearing red white and blue and taking on all challengers and jumping his motorcycle, and, for whatever reason, that just kind of captured the nation and made everyone feel good about themselves.”

EK Caesars

Knievel made a lot of money off his stunts. He claimed that he made $20 million from his unsuccessful Snake River Canyon jump alone, but he was also constantly crafting a persona that that was equal parts old fashioned American determination, and rowdy, uncompromising individualism. Knievel was just as famous for his crashes as his successes. Talk show legend Johnny Carson once referred to him as “The only man in history to get wealthy by trying to kill himself,” but Knievel never seemed apologetic for not making a jump, and every time the world was sure he had “learned his lesson” and that he was done jumping for good (as in the aftermath of his devastating failed leap over the fountains at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas) he would always come back and do something completely insane. Calling himself “The Last Gladiator” might have been grandiose, but he backed it up. If the fans were in the seats, he would take his jump, even when he knew the state of the ramp or his bike meant he probably wasn’t going to make it. He faced down death in tire-squealing pieces of performance art. In Knievel’s jumps, the idea of acting on your words was taken to theatrical extremes. Even in the malaise of the late 70’s and the self absorption of the early 1980’s, that persona captivated adults and kids, kids like the young Vallely.

“For me the daredevil aspect is not the thing I value most about skateboarding,” Explains Vallely, “In some ways, I  don’t value it at all. I desired something deeper for myself and my skating, something more artistic, creative. So although, Evel Knievel  did influence my skating in some ways, he more so influenced my character… It was his overall message of falling down and getting up. It was the ‘never give up’ attitude that really translated to skateboarding for me.”

Although his motivations have always been internal; the need for expression, the drive to creativity; without Knievel’s influence, Vallely might have never pushed his boundaries to a place where he could fully express himself. “The Daredevil aspect did help me conquer obstacles faster than my peers. That allowed me to get deeper into formulating my own ideas about skating. His influence has enabled me to accomplish the things I have accomplished.”

Bus Jump

Every aspect of Vallely’s body of work, from his repertoire of tricks, to his interactions with the industry, have been characterized by his need for personal fulfillment. At the same time, anyone who’s seen Vallely at a demo can attest that there are few skaters in the history of the culture who work harder to put on a show for a crowd of fans. “I’ve skated with the best skaters in the world since 1986… When it comes to the demo environment, I’ve never met anyone who, like me, sees the demo as their element,” says Vallely. “It’s where I’ve made my career… Live, in person at the skatepark or the parking lot, that is how I’ve thrived and maintained a professional career. I don’t know that pro-skateboarding was ever built on the demo, the demo was always an extension of something else: contests, videos, the mags… My story is unique. I have used the demo to build my career, not to enhance the career. That is the environment where I’ve built my name, where my character has shown.”

So what reconciles that steadfast internal drive with the unwavering determination to put on a good show, whether its for a crowd of 5 or 5000? Vallely connects it to the Evel Knievel factor, and when he talks about it, he sounds a lot like Knievel himself.

“If you can’t actualize what you are about then who are you? When it comes to a demo or performance, you go as hard as possible and put it all on the line, at the end that makes the handshakes and the dialogue more meaningful. The audience sees someone who challenged everything in front of them and had the courage to take it on. You can talk, but unless you live it, it lacks depth.”

Boneless

You don’t have to wear a red white and blue jump suit or ride a motorcycle to be inspired by the legacy of history’s greatest daredevil. Mike Vallely is living proof. Knievel’s entire life was an epic performance. There were the triumphs of fame and glory, and the tragedy of his later life, when settlements stemming from his assault on a biographer left him bankrupt and shunned, but a message of self determination and living a life un-compromised echo through the whole show. That’s what Mike Vallely has been given by the “Last Gladiator.” He’s seen his own fame rise and fall, seen business ventures live and die, and whether its switching skate companies, or making music, his personal choices have often been controversial. As Vallely continues to navigate his place in skate culture, the industry, and even film and music, Knievel’s lessons are always close by.

“What resonates the most about Evel Knievel is the message that you can fall many times in life but you’re never a failure if you keep trying to get up. That’s him in a nutshell.”

That’s not a legacy any skateboarder, or any human being for that matter, should ignore.

Evel K Interview
Kyle DuVall had been writing about skateboarding almost as long as he has been skateboarding. He blogs at Parkingblockdiaries.blogspot.com

Ryon Rommel
November 27th, 2014

Ryon Rommel was not a “Mike V” fan.
To him “Mike V” was some over-exposed dinosaur — Irrelevant.
Ryon had ambitions of being a pro skater, he was about what came next…
Not what was.

I know all of this because Ryon told me.

Ryon and Mike

When I traveled to Florida to meet Ryon in 2001, he had a secret.
The secret was that he was not really a fan of mine.
He had written to me almost as a joke…
Knowing that I was some bleeding heart pro-skater.

He was hoping he could tug on my heart strings and get some free product out of me.
He had been recently diagnosed with leukemia and he had written to many skateboard companies and pro-skaters — Sharing his story, looking for product, for support.
He knew that I had a reputation to respond and so he figured he’d clump my old-ass in with the others.

I took his letter seriously.
Of course I did.

I wrote him back.
I told him that not only was I gonna’ send him product, I was going to come visit him.

Of course I had my own selfish interests.
I headed to Jupiter, Florida with a camera crew in tow.
So in a way, we were using each other.

The first time I met Ryon, his secret was revealed.
It was written on his face.
I knew I was dealing with some punk-ass kid who didn’t really give two-shits about me.
The circus of me being there was a charade that we both agreed to play through…
That is until we got to know each other.
And we got to know each other quick.
In a matter of several small shared moments.
Moments that we were both completely present in…
Moments that shattered the charade.
And I didn’t care that he didn’t care, I still cared about him.
And he didn’t care that I was some old-school knuckle dragging neanderthal…
He liked me anyway and we became fast friends.

By the time we hit the pavement in front of his house we were old chums.
Skating for and hanging with Ryon, his brothers and friends that evening was one of the best times I’ve ever had on or off a skateboard.
It didn’t matter how I got there or why I was there — What happened in the moment was real.

I remained friends with Ryon for the rest of his life.
We shared many more moments and adventures both on camera and off.

One of my favorite times with Ryon was when I visited him and his family without any cameras around.
Ryon and I took of to the mall…
I pushed him around in his wheelchair and we shared all kinds of laughs and pizza.
Without the cameras, we weren’t taking ourselves so seriously…
We were just being kids.
Of course, I was in my thirties, but that didn’t stop me.

Ryon brought out the best in me.
I knew who I was in his presence…
And he knew he could share anything with me and he did.
Even how he wasn’t a “Mike V” fan.
We had a good laugh at that.

Ryon

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