In 1995 skateboarding was at a crossroads, and so was Mike Vallely. Street skating was beginning to emerge from years of increasingly narrowing specialization. East Coast influences and general discontent with a style of street skating that might be better termed “spot skating”, were re-introducing free flowing diversity into the culture. Flow was back, along with wider boards, bigger wheels, and an increased mindfulness of style. The idea that getting from point a to point b could be a session in and of itself was on the rise.
For Vallely, a man for whom professional skateboarding was not just an occupation but a mission, 1995 was the year he was supposed to “retire”. Even though his skating was as passionate and creative as ever, and his efforts had re-vitalized his sponsor, Powell Skateboards, presence in the culture, the conventional “wisdom” of the industry still dictated that it was time for Vallely to fade into the background, or fade away altogether.
“In 1994-95 I was being told my pro career was over. Pro skateboarding was an expression of who I was, my identity,” says Vallely. “I always thought pro skaters were people who can communicate the bliss of skateboarding. I’ve always thought I did a good job at that, so I considered myself a pro even when a lot of people thought I was over.”
Among all the noise and turmoil, Vallely produced a video part that was more than a simple catalog of tricks. Vallely’s segment in Powell Skateboards’ “Scenic Drive” video expresses a substantive point of view. There’s a whole philosophy embedded in the edit, and, although it was never as influential as Valley’s seminal parts in videos like Speed Freaks or Public Domain, it may be the one edit that says the most about Mike Vallely himself.
“That Powell era symbolizes a time when I started really deciding how I wanted to present my skateboarding,” says Vallely. “I was claiming ownership over my own skating. Before that video part, I was still skating my own way, but it was more of an unconscious thing, I would just do it. In the Powell era I was becoming more conscious of why I was doing it.”
Vallely’s segment in the video is titled “Death Vallely”. Perhaps no more than a throwaway pun on the surface, considering the pressures on Vallely at the time, the comparison of his video part to a dried out, arid wasteland synonymous with death attains a bit of significance.
“In ’95 I had a young family and no future prospects. My peers didn’t respect me, my boss was telling me to hang it up. I was feeling depressed. It was a bleak time. The only time I felt good about skateboarding was when I was actually riding a skateboard.”
The first clips we see are of Vallely skating one of the big European contests. As the massive crowd cheers, Vallely pulls 3 tricks over the street course’s pyramid, including a huge kickflip up on to the deck from flat. These opening shots are images of a man in his element, going all out, feeding off the crowd and amplifying their energy. This is the glamorous side of the pro skate life, and Mike V appears to be thriving in it.
The footage then fades into a montage of bleak images from Vallely’s hometown of Edison, New Jersey and the surrounding areas. Dilapidated buildings and cryptic street signs are superimposed on scrolling footage of a mural that states, “you’re a stranger here.” Underneath the images you hear the ragged harmonica solo that starts Bruce Springsteen’s “Johnny 99”, the song which scores the whole segment.
Next we see Vallely pushing down a seedy urban sidewalk, characteristic intensity on his face. The surroundings seem unclear. After that montage of images, the viewer’s first instinct is to assume he is in New Jersey. Wherever it is, the scene could not be more different than the preceding one, with its cheering crowds and flashing cameras. Still, Vallely seems totally in his element, maybe even more in his element, even when he slams hard on his second trick, a huge frontside wallride on a steeply angled wall.
The scene then cuts to Vallely going hard down another strip of urban sidewalk. Although a careful viewer might notice Southern California palm trees in the background, it’s as anonymous a strip of urban concrete as the previous clip. Vallely pops some big ollies and boardslide transfers a big telephone pole on the side of the road and pushes on. The majority of locations that follow are equally mundane.
“Nothing was planned out, I didn’t have spots,” Valley says. “Most of the places are not even locations, we’d just be going down a street and I’d just say ‘park here’ let’s go skating down this street.”
There are still a few familiar locations sprinkled in the edit, but in an era of celebrity skate spots, the segment conspicuously avoids all the fantasy terrain skaters of the time might expect to see.
“The reason I was not at the L.A. Courthouse was because everyone was clamoring for the L.A. Courthouse,” Vallely explains. “It was at that time when you’d get in a car, hear all the noise, see a pic in the mag and then everyone wants to emulate that idea ‘Hey we gotta go to this spot and get this trick…’”
There are a few shots of Vallely sessioning an indoor vert ramp, and one looping line at Seattle’s Seaskate Skatepark, but even the clips in prominent locations show a skater out of step with the mainstream of skateboarding: His line through a Camarillo school campus avoids familiar rails, stairs and benches. When Vallely approaches a trashcan tipped on its side for ollies, he just rolls on through it. As characteristic a moment as one could find in the edit.
Johnny Oliver’s videography helps give the skating a solitary, spontaneous feel. The camera either has the filmer struggling to follow Vallely flying down the sidewalks, schoolyards and back alleys, or alternately, shooting him from a distance, as if the skating is something happened upon by a bystander. This, combined with editing that utilizes quick fades instead of hard cuts between shots gives the part a feeling of an ever-forward drive. It’s a slice of Vallely’s skating, not a cherry picked, pre-planned “highlight reel” of Vallely’s repertoire. It’s raw and spontaneous, while always stylish. Vallely doesn’t seem to be sessioning, he’s skating. Skating hard.
“Around this time I got a call from Stacy Peralta,” Vallely recollects. “He wanted to interview me for some segment he was doing for MTV. While I was talking to him I started getting kind of philosophical about skating and I think it kind of gave him pause. He asked me: ‘Mike, do skaters still drive to a spot, get out of the car walk up the stairs, put their board down do a trick down the stairs, then walk up back the stairs and do another trick?’ I said, ‘yeah, that’s pretty much what skateboarding is now.’ He thought about it for a second and said ‘Yeah, that’s NOT skateboarding.’ It rubbed him so wrong that that was the currency of the day. Once videos and mags become trick catalogs, you lose the culture and the bigger picture.”
The closest the edit comes to resembling “session” footage, is 4 or 5 tricks Vallely pulls off the embankment of a dilapidated, square swimming pool, but even then the tricks are broken up into two separate segments. Whether it was by design or a coincidence of the limitations of contemporary video cameras, the images are murky, as if, somehow, every clip was shot on a perpetually, overcast day. This, combined with the spare, often indistinguishable spots Vallely is riding, make it seem like he’s skating miles and world’s away from California’s eternal sunshine and fantasy-level skate spots. The whole part is about Vallely moving ahead, never staying in place, yet never actually trying to get anywhere. A journey that is the destination.
“I was never, have never, and will definitely never be part of any kind of ‘skate crew’,” says Vallely. “I never had the ‘high five’ mentality in my skating.”
That cryptic statement: “You’re a stranger here…” echoes through the whole segment. Pushing through barren cityscapes, floating through vacant skate spots, Vallely does seem to be a stranger, but a stranger from what? Is the “here” the sunny, skate paradise of Southern California that Oliver and Vallely have portrayed as bleak and rugged as any New Jersey industrial sprawl? Is it the larger cultural space of pro skateboarding? A place where an idealist like Vallely has always fought to maintain his identity and values?
“Honestly, It was all of it” says Vallely. “The skate industry, what the ‘competition’ was doing… From the day I got sponsored I’d never felt like I had been part of any of it. I knew that my skating was built to do the distance but all I ever heard was that it was played out. In 1995 I was supposed to be done, but I had my own ideas about that.”
Predictably, there is no small element of bleakness in the part, and it’s heightened by Vallely’s music selection, Bruce Springsteen’s “Johnny 99”. Springsteen’s connection to Vallely’s New Jersey roots is obvious, and in the post “Video Days” 1990’s, picking an obscure pop song over a Hip Hop or Punk track was nothing new. Unlike other pop tracks used in the era, Vallely’s was made without a sense of irony. The song is dark, spare and anthemic, a song about a man with his back against the wall with no options. It exists in lock step with all those muddy shots of lonely streets and empty cityscapes. Rarely has song and skating been more in sync in a video part.
“In a lot of ways,” Vallely explains, “I was projecting bleakness into the bleakness.”
But ultimately, the desperation is trumped by that ever forward drive, the repeated, even repetitive, images of Vallely charging through empty spaces and flying over everything in his way. That statement in the first moment of the edit “You’re a stranger here…” still echoes. Vallely is a stranger in the empty California streets, a stranger in an industry he has helped sustain, a stranger in the culture he’s had such an influence on. But Vallely’s skating in the edit is in defiance of those feelings. In those moments, on his skateboard, pushing, riding, attacking whatever comes under his wheels, Valley can never be a stranger. As long as he is moving forward on his board, Vallely is exactly where he’s supposed to be.
“At that time the only way I was able to ‘push forward’” Vallely recalls, “was by pushing forward on my board.”
Beyond what was going on with Vallely’s career at that moment there is a much bigger theme in play in this slice of skating. If the disposable commodity that is the skate video part can ever be said to present ideas, then this one presents a very important one.
“I wanted to talk about grabbing your board and skating everywhere. That is the main idea I’ve tried to present in my skating. I saw all these guys doing the daily meet up, sitting around, then driving around trying to find a spot to film a video clip, all the effort to document tricks at all these spots most people don’t have access to. It’s kind of elitist to me. It’s more prominent today, but it kind of rubbed me the wrong way even back in the 90’s. I saw the motivation behind it; go get a trick for the magazine or for your video part: document, document, document. Is skating becoming something you spectate now? Or is it something you participate in. My idea is that it is something you participate in.”
In a world where kids enter skateboarding with the monkey of documentation clawing at their backs, and parks create whole breeds of skater who never drop urethane outside the perimeters of the local municipally funded skate playground, these are essential ideas, ideas too often lost by virtue of their simplicity. Whether you just bought your first set up, or you’re one of the greatest skateboarders of all time, the streets, any streets, are always out there, and they’re where you belong. In school, at work, at home, even at the skatepark, you may not fit in, but out there, you’re never a stranger.
Kyle DuVall had been writing about skateboarding almost as long as he has been skateboarding.
On this episode of The Mike V Show, I am once again joined by author, philosopher and friend Daniele Bolelli. We discuss Bolelli’s book On The Warrior’s Path, “kung fu”, how I met Ben Harper, Ben Harper has “kung fu”, emotional content, presence, nature / nurture, Bruce Lee, my favorite skaters, something else — a spirit, objective versus subjective, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky versus Mark Messier, spirit of character, looking for a connection in MMA, character being homogenized out of team sports, the system of sports, hockey players can’t name all 4 Beatles, the fraternity of hockey, identity that squashes individuality, orthodox approaches exist for a reason, no sense of quirkiness or experimenting, looking for the unorthodox flair, making the unorthodox work, pushing the limits, the spirit has been bred out of things I love, why is the individual still being crushed in our society?, it boils down to identity, individual identity requires a hell of a lot of self-confidence, most identities are pre-packaged, the price to pay is your own quirkiness, resisting the process, we have a lot of work to do as a society, the word “bullying”, hard to reconcile the idea that nothing’s changed from when I was younger, more possibilities today that encourage individuality, little spaces that are open, the dreamers cracked those spaces open, looking at it through the eyes of my kids, the path of most resistance, I was built for it, the pain and torture that it takes for a young person to stay true to themselves, being dismissive of talented young people, my daughter Lucy changed the way I thought about young people and “spirit of character” when she was 10, Lucy has “kung fu”, there’s no alternative, looking at the world with fresh eyes, maybe I can learn something, Bolelli’s daughter has “kung fu”, it doesn’t make you better it makes you more, how I like Mike Tyson and Pete Rose, nothing better than Pete Rose in his element, Nietzsche, Evan Tanner, giving a helping hand to the crazy ones, “the man” wants to hammer you into that hole, the challenge is not spending your life bitter about it, par for the course, the solution to the dilemma, this is how it can be, let’s learn from Lucy, dance is the most related to skateboarding than anything else, I’m a dance dad, Lucy’s journey, dance is amazing, the Zen idea, an entire family tuned in to something greater, working with a sense of purpose, the work is not work, the DIY spirit, the business of skateboarding, I’ve never compromised my skating, clarity in business, the most important thing I could ever do as a husband and father, going on somebody else’s model of how things should be, the circle jerk of the skateboard industry, east coast street skating, other people’s filters, the day I got sponsored, Stacy Peralta’s got “kung fu”, the spirit in my skating, make it your own thing, your own individuality shining through, the first time I saw Thrasher Magazine, my first experiences on a skateboard, my “kung fu”… Enjoy!
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!
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.
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
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.
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 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?
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 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
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
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
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, 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.
“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.
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
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 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
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
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
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
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!
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!