"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.