Mike Vallely: “If I did that graphic today it’d be an eagle flying over the city”

“There’s a lot of things you’d like to sweep under the rug,” Mike Vallely laughs, regarding certain of his past career moves. “I said yes to a lot of crazy stuff but I said no to a lot more that people don’t know about.” Kind of cool in a skateboarding world that brags way more about individuality than it actually generates. We need more Blenders, Gonzes, Kirks. And Vs too. When he skates, Mike can, and will, put on a show, following the icons that adorn the walls of his Long Beach garage turned altar: Kiss, Elvis, Evil Knievel. Not to mention a more orthodox skate-nerd treasure chest, i.e. well-organised drawers of original VCJ drawings and old World ads. This guy won’t struggle too hard to dig up five of his past boards, you think. And no, he didn’t.

Powell Peralta Elephant (1988)
Art by Vernon Courtland Johnson

“That particular color was never an actual production model, Powell Peralta made these sample boards to film for Public Domain. I skated this particular board during the two days of filming, then went to Louisville, KY for a contest, and handed it to a kid when I set up a new one. The kid happened to be [writer] Sean Mortimer. I didn’t remember any of that until he told me.

Fast forward to a couple years ago, Sean came to interview me for a book and he brought that deck with him. He told me the whole story but I couldn’t believe it. I went and got the old Thrasher with an ad for my first pro-model, the photo was taken while filming for the video. I matched up the deck, looked at the scrape marks on it, it was the board. They might have done five of them in yellow, but I never held on to boards and I brought the rest of the sample boards on a European tour right after that and as I skated them I gave them to kids along the way. Having Sean give me this board back after so many years meant as much to me now as it did to him when I gave it to him in ’88.”

World Industries Barnyard (1990)
Art by Marc McKee

“Stacy Peralta and I just did not get along and I never felt like I fit the mold of the Bones Brigade skater, so I left Powell Peralta in early ’89 to help form and ride for World Industries.  My original idea for the Barnyard graphic was a folk art pro-vegetarian kind of graphic. The way I envisioned it, it wouldn’t have been a cool graphic at all…

First time I saw this one I was pissed off cause I thought it poked fun at my original idea. But Rocco and Marc McKee were so excited about this graphic that I eventually warmed up to it. No one had done anything like this before and that was the one area I was able to find common ground with Rocco: he would take a chance at trying something new, I respected that.

Interesting footnote to this story, because this deck forever changed skateboard shapes, the Smithsonian Institute wants it in their collection as a piece of skateboard history. They only have one other board in there, a Stacy Peralta board. What’s funny is that I went with Stacy to the Smithsonian when we were filming for Public Domain, and he video taped me in there looking at his board on display.” ”

World Industries Snake (1990)
Art by Marc McKee

“To me, the burning city just sort of represented the establishment, the skateboard industry as a whole. And unfortunately the snake represented me. That’s just how I felt at the time. I didn’t feel good about skating, I didn’t feel good about myself, I felt like I was crawling. I didn’t feel like I had the kind of control or the say in my career that I wanted to have, World Industries was just Powell Peralta all over again.

I didn’t realize that no company could give me what I was looking for. I guess if I did that graphic today it’d be an eagle flying over a burning city. I’m definitely a different person now. I don’t rely on anyone or anything.”

Powell TCB (1997)
Art by Jim Knight

“Between 1994 and 1997, I was skating for Powell and also the team manager and promotions and marketing director for them. I suggested to do away with pro-models cause, I mean, we didn’t have the skaters to compete with the other companies. It was me and Steve Caballero, and at that point well we’d  been “washed up” since 1989!

In 1995 though, I won the first Tampa Pro, people start caring again, then we got Danny Wainwright, Charlie Wilkins, Stacy Lowery and Jayme Fortune on the team. I thought it would be good to bring back the pro-models, I felt like we’d turned the corner as a brand.

That’s when I got the idea for the lightning bolt. It came from my love of Elvis Presley.  The Elvis I really love is the Elvis of the ’70s, I can see the correlation with my skating when it comes to doing demos and performing. That’s when he decided to go on an endless tour all over the country. And he put on a show and he made a spectacle out of his musical performance.  His symbol became a lightning bolt, the TCB, Taking Care of Business. He was all about the show and all the people he surrounded himself with were expected to carry the same passion and work ethic than he had. To me the lightning bolt represents belief in self -self empowerment.”

Black Label Fist (1998)
Art by John Lucero

“Me going to Black Label was probably the rebirth for my skate career, where I was truly making a statement: skate how you want to skate. I had survived the ’90s and my skating was free to be whatever I wanted it to be and suddenly I had a very large audience who cared.

For this graphic Lucero combined the lightning bolt and the the other thing I’ve also been known for through the years, you know, this right hand. I guess that was a part of my character that Lucero liked — that I never took shit from anyone.

When I first started skating being a skater set me apart. Growing up in a small-minded town it lead to me getting my ass kicked on a regular basis. Early on I decided to fight back but I also realized along the way  that if you don’t follow anyone else, within skateboarding or in society, well, then that is a fight too. So the fist with the lightning bolt isn’t as much about actually punching people. It represents just fighting to maintain one’s own identity in a vacuum. This is one of my favorite graphics ever. Lucero gets it.”

Chromeball-style Christmas present, from Mike V’s vault:


3 Responses to “Mike Vallely: “If I did that graphic today it’d be an eagle flying over the city””


  1. 1 Spider December 27, 2009 at 4:58 am

    Thanks for the early SMA ads, these images are difficult to take down and were so revolutionary in skate culture in the late 80’s. Appreciated

  2. 2 robert V Vaughan February 7, 2012 at 7:48 am

    mike v. is one of the most influnceal skaters in my life! he is the proctector of skateboarding.i have the greatest amount of respect for him!


  1. 1 Mike V Is Everywhere. « Mike Vallely Trackback on December 27, 2009 at 10:18 pm

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