King Of The Road – Mike Vallely
“A lot of pro skaters make a living by shooting a few photos and videos, then sitting on their couches collecting paychecks,” waxes Mike Vallely, one of skateboarding’s most influential and enduring figures. “I was never comfortable with that. I could never justify getting paid unless I felt like I was really earning it. So I got in a van and I took to the road.”
The road has defined Mike V’s career ever since. Though he’s reached the most elite levels of skateboarding fame and status, he’s always kept it grassroots, believing that the true heart of his sport thumps in the world’s empty parking lots and local skate shops. Maybe that’s because, more than two decades ago, Vallely himself was discovered kicking around in a parking lot by none other than skateboarding kingpin and original Z-Boy Stacy Peralta.
“Pro skaters today are only about going bigger, higher, and further,” Vallely says. “To me, that’s no longer cutting-edge. The real energy and evolution of the sport is happening at the local level.”So Mike V spends more than half of his year living out of a suitcase as he circumnavigates the globe, popping up unannounced in podunk skate scenes and documenting it all for Drive, a reality show project that follows his travels and is now in its third season on Fuel TV.
When you first meet Mike Vallely, you’re not sure if he’s going to stab you or shake your hand. With his ZZ Top chin music and Jesus ‘do, not to mention a body almost completely blanketed in ink, the 38-year-old Long Beach, CA, native broadcasts an intense vibe—one somewhat at odds with his easygoing demeanor. Then again, maybe INKED just happened to catch Mike V on a good day. If you know anything about him, you know that he’s famous for using his fists to settle arguments. So famous, in fact, that he once released a “best of” compilation of his own videotaped fights (and skating injuries), titled Mike V’s Greatest Hits.
Vallely is a man at odds with himself, and it doesn’t seem to bother him. When he’s not riding plywood or hammering eardrums as the lead singer of LBC punk outfit Revolution Mother, he’s on the ice playing in amateur hockey tournaments or writing daily blog posts for the official site of the Anaheim Ducks. He has also dabbled in both poetry and professional wrestling.His attitude toward tattooing is no less contradictory. “I think it’s a very vain endeavor,” Vallely says, despite the dozen or so pieces visible on his forearms alone. “I’ve never been a big fan of tattoo shops, tattoo culture, or the tattoo industry as a whole. I just got tattooed. I put pictures on my body because I thought they were fucking cool.”
After his body was, in his words, “ruined,” he took a break from tattooing for a few years, claiming to be over the whole idea of what he called “permanent makeup.” And then one day in 2005, he changed his mind again, getting a Thrasher: Skate and Destroy logo branded on his left forearm to win points at Thrasher’s annual King of the Road scavenger hunt. “I arrived at a place in my life where I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s vain, but so what? I like it. And fuck you if you have a problem with it.”
These days, whatever free skin Vallely has left is the exclusive domain of Kat Von D, whom he met a few years ago through a mutual friend. “She knows about skateboarding and stuff, and we just really hit it off,” Vallely says. “It’s always such a great experience every time I’m tattooed by her that, at this point, I don’t feel the need to get tattooed by anybody else.” So far, Von D has stamped an anchor on one hand and a skull and crossbones on the other. She’s printed the words “Glory Bound” (the title of a Revolution Mother album) across his neck and drawn portraits of Vallely’s two daughters on his upper left arm. She’s also bestowed upon Mike V what he believes to be the greatest tattoo in human history.
“It’s Burt Reynolds from Hooper on the back of my left calf,” he says. “It pretty much trumps anything else—and not just because it’s on me. At this point, I’m so far removed from the guy who thought tattoos were stupid and vain. Once I got my fingers done it was like, ‘Who fucking cares?’ You live one time, and in my one time around I want to be carrying around Burt Reynolds on my left calf.”
It’s anybody’s guess as to how many miles Mike V has logged in his travels for Drive—he stopped counting long ago. But name it and chances are he’s thrashed it: central Jersey, D.C., New York City, Mississippi, Indiana, Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, Barbados, Cayman Islands, Finland, Russia, Tel Aviv, and so on.
“When the show first started, we literally threw darts at a map to figure out where to go,” Vallely says. “I’d have a vague idea as I was driving around, but I just went with the flow of things, changed directions sometimes and made lots of last-minute decisions. But we always got good footage. Now we get e-mails every day from people reaching out about what’s happening where they live and why it’s worth shining a light on. There are so many great stories out there. Unfortunately, we can’t tell them all.”
For the life he’s chosen, Vallely has been described by some as the “apostle of skateboarding,” and watching Drive it’s easy to see why. When Mike V visits a new locale, it’s never about him, his skills, or his stardom. It’s about the kids who live there—the disaffected, marginalized young skaters of these local scenes and whatever issues they’re facing. Whether it’s trouble with the cops or complete and utter poverty, Vallely’s message is always a positive one: Don’t be hateful or bitter. Be responsible and respectful. Have fun. Try hard. Don’t ever stop skating.Apostle or not, Vallely has done more than any other skater to bring his sport to the most remote and sometimes even dangerous corners of the planet. He once built a ramp in Africa’s Valley of a Thousand Hills and introduced skateboarding to the Zulu. Just this past season, he went to jail. “I traveled to Brazil and put on a skate demo inside of a juvenile prison,” he says. “It was a pretty intense experience. Just the way the kids—well, inmates—were reacting to me and embracing my presence, it was very Johnny Cash at Folsom, on a smaller scale.”
As close to home or as far into peril as this odyssey has taken him, the entire Drive experience is bound by one universal sentiment. “Skaters are skaters,” Vallely says. “No matter where I am in the world, that’s a connection that unites people. To be able to show up anywhere in the world and feel like you have friends is a really special thing.”
Living in a Boston hotel room for two months, on the other hand, wasn’t exactly special or fun for Mike V when it happened last year. However, it did turn out to be a worthwhile endeavor. Far from his wife and two daughters at home in Long Beach—and with Drive on temporary hold—Vallely was exiled up New England way for the filming of Paul Blart: Mall Cop, which opened number one at the box office back in January. If you happened to miss The King of Queens’s security guard satire, Vallely hams it up as one of the movie’s main villains, Rudolph, who conveniently uses a skateboard as his preferred mode of travel.
“Skateboarding was written into the film,” Vallely says. “So when the filmmakers began asking around for a skateboarder who’s also a badass dude, well, guess what—they had pretty much no choice but to put me in the movie!”
Joking aside, Vallely isn’t a total noob to Hollywood. He has popped up in bit roles in some independents, had some random cameo appearances, and even did stunt work for the ’80s skate epic Gleaming the Cube, along with every other big-name skater who was on the scene at the time. But Rudolph the four-wheeled shopping center terrorist is certainly Vallely’s meatiest role to date. He was on the set from the first day of filming to the last. He clocked reams of camera time and was central to the film’s most impressive “that had to hurt” moments.
“Jumping onto a moving elevator, crashing through glass, and jumping from one rooftop to the other—those were cakewalks,” Vallely says. “The biggest challenge was having to act. I shit my pants every time I had a speaking line.” And though he was never asked to do so, Vallely promises he would have refused to take part in any stunt that involved him saddling a Segway—the vehicle Kevin James’s character is glued to throughout the pic. “Dude, I’ve never seen anyone cool on a Segway,” he says. “I may have wanted to try one, but I was afraid someone might snap a photo, and I just wouldn’t want that out there.”
Though Mike V the skater/rock star/hockey blogger isn’t looking to add “full-time actor” to his résumé quite yet, the experience on Blart has certainly piqued his interest. “I never really valued the process of making a movie,” he admits. “I always thought it was stupid—an easy paycheck. But this one was a lot of fun and it probably has to do with the cast and crew. Working with Kevin James was a true pleasure, and it was great to see how well the film did. In the end, I kind of fell in love with the process of making a movie.”
There’s no deal inked for a fourth season of Drive quite yet, so Mike V’s future as skateboarding’s crusader is in momentary limbo—not that he doesn’t have plenty of other pursuits to keep him busy. Besides, a little time at home seems to be doing him some good. Since wrapping season three, Vallely has been enjoying his longest break from travel since becoming a pro skater at age 16. He’s spending more time with his girls, and he’s on the ice a few times a week throwing checks in a couple of different hockey leagues. Other than that, it’s whatever comes his way.
“I’m scheming,” Vallely says. “Scheming sounds like such a bad word, but it’s really not. We’re all kind of scheming, you know? I’m just going to keep going, doing what I do and being who I am. Every day that passes it becomes more apparent to me that time is ticking. I’m not about wasting time. I’m about getting the most out of life as I can before I’m outlined in chalk.”