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  • 10/25

    By Kyle DuVall
    Illustrations by Greg Higgins

    Clouds Tate

    The first thing Gerry “Skatemaster Tate” Hurtado does when I start our phone interview is put a disclaimer on his famous stage name.

    “I never got that name by being some master of skating,” he says humbly. “I tried to do some inverts once, and after banging my shins on the coping I decided Potatoes weren’t supposed to go upside down, so with the name I was honoring my favorite DJ, Grandmaster Flash. The Punk rock dudes had called me Potato Head for years, that got shortened to Tate, so, when I did the first Skatemaster Tate song for Thrasher’s Skate Rock, I looked at my turntables and was like: hmmmm Grandmaster Flash….how about Skatemaster Tate. That’s how it happened.”

    In all the ways that really matter, though, Gerry Hurtado was a true skate master. Not a master like the skilled hero in a Kung Fu movie, but like the white eyebrow monk bowing in the background, or maybe he was skateboarding’s own laughing Buddha on a 48-inch longboard. Either way, when it comes to soul, there was no greater master of skating than Gerry Hurtado.

    Flashback to 1988. I’m 14 and I’ve just got my first real set-up: A Sims Kevin Staab with Bullet 66’s and Indy trucks. I want the world to know I’m a skater even when I’m not on my board. That means I need some skate clothes. The nearest skate shop is a two-hour drive away and in a city my parents never have any reason to go to. There’s tons of Ocean Pacific Gear and Gotcha togs at the local mall, but I want something legit, something only a skateboarder would know about. One day I walk into Chess King and spot a whole wall of Jimmy’Z swag. Jimmy’Z is something new in my world, but I know they sponsor some of my favorite skaters. Sadly, most of the designs in the store fall into the generic, jock friendly, pseudo surfer vibe I was already familiar with. Then I see a white tee with a rasta colored logo on the front and the silhouette of a stout skater doing a nose wheelie on an extremely long skateboard on the back. I recognize that skater from Thrasher Magazine: It’s Skatemaster Tate.

    Skatemaster Tate is not a pro, he’s never had a hot video part or a mega-selling signature shoe, but in ‘88, even before he’s on TV every week as host of Nickelodeon’s Skate TV, he’s one of the most famous skateboarders in the world. I’ve never heard a single one of his songs, but I know who he is.Tate is frequently seen in Thrasher doing his thing. He’s a fixture of the Venice Beach scene, where guys like Scott Oster, Eric Dressen, and so many others are laying the foundations of modern street skating. He’s also one of Hosoi’s tightest bros, and his music is a staple of Thrasher’s influential “skate rock” compilation albums.

    Only skaters would know who Taters was. To me, that corny Jimmy’Z rag is a legit “skate shirt”. I beg mom and pops for $15 bucks and score the tee. People will have to know I’m a skater now.

    Barge forward to 2015 and I am talking with Tate to discuss Sk8-TV, the short-lived but long-remembered Nickelodeon television show he co-hosted in 1990. Sk8-TV was mandatory viewing for a whole generation of skaters, and Tate was a huge part of it. It’s a great interview, but so much water has flowed under Tate’s bridge that going off on tangents is a constant. At one point, I mention that he was on my first article of skate clothing. He remembers the shirt I’m talking about.

    “That was on a 38” or my 40” board, in the Jefferson Bowl,” he says. “In the original pic they made the graphic from, Eric Dressen is sitting in the background looking at me and smiling. That’s what got me stoked on it. That bowl was so fun. I carved it all over, and then Dressen just ripped it.”

    I don’t know it while we’re talking, but, in less than a year, Tate will be gone, taken by Cancer at age 56.


    It is hard to imagine the modern skate media embracing a figure like Tate. Think about it: In 1988, A big, chubby guy on a 4-foot long skateboard who doesn’t ollie and doesn’t have a pro board is a skate icon and a fixture in Thrasher Magazine. He’s got clothing endorsements and sponsors, and, sure, he’s a musician and DJ, and he’s producing music for Powell Peralta’s videos, but, in 1990, when he gets tapped to host the first weekly skateboarding TV program, it is not because he’s some pro hotshot or pretty face, it is because he’s in love with skating.

    Could that happen today?

    The inclusion of Tate in the pages of Thrasher in the 80’s communicated to Middle American kids like me that skateboarding wasn’t just an athletic activity, it wasn’t just an art, it was a culture, a culture that produced its own music, its own fashion…and its own kind of celebrities. In skateboarding there was a place not just for the Hawks, and Hosois, and Gators. There was place for Tate. A place for all of us.

    Even Tate’s board probably wouldn’t pass the test in 2016. In the 80’s, a dude doing his own thing on a longboard wasn’t a kook, he was a guy having fun and connecting to the soul of skating, a soul that was getting lost even though the culture was still in its youth.

    That just wouldn’t fly with the precious and pissy wheelbase police that regiment the culture today.

    I have to ask Taters about his famous ride.


    “One afternoon Steve Olson wanted to go to Tijuana and get some zebra skin upholstery for his Studebaker Presidential,” explains Tate. “On the way down we stopped at Del Mar Skate Park. Dan Sturt was there riding this really long longboard… he let me cruise around on it in the freestyle area, and I was carving and doing little nose wheelies, and I was like ‘Wow, I love this! Who makes this?’ and he was like: ‘it’s an Uncle Wiggley Snowboard second, a reject.’ Sturt had put wheels and trucks on it. I rode it in the freestyle area for an hour and I loved it and Sturt said: ‘Hey, you want it?’ I said “What? Yeah!” That was the mid 80s and I never rode anything else if I could help it.”

    The Lone Ranger had Silver, Batman had the Batmobile, Tate had that longboard. That deck, a 4’ 9” behemoth, would become Tate’s trademark.

    “When I grew up skating, the first stuff we did was bombing hills. In ‘75, ‘76 there was only a handful of tricks, and two of them were frontside and backside carves.” Tate explains. “I liked the stability of long boards. You know, it is like the difference between the Cadillac El Dorado and a Volkswagen. A Volkswagen is fast and maneuverable, but an El Dorado will go fast too.”

    But 4’ 9”? That’s extreme even by longboard standards.

    “The guy who inspired me, Ed Economy, he had a thing in Skateboarder magazine in ‘76 where he had five foot and even six foot boards. I saw that and I thought, I’ve got to have a looong ride.”

    That extra long set up wasn’t an ironic affectation either. Tate skated that thing because it was what he wanted to skate, and he could make that extra hefty plank sing.

    “With a 4-foot long board you can walk on it, walk to the nose, walk back, I could do g-turns on that board believe it or not, walk back to the tail, do a little manual…I just loved it.”

    While filming Sk8-TV, Tate dropped into the deep end at the Pink Motel pool on that board. He even caught a slasher on the coping. “I remember when I was doing that, there was some assistant director for Sk8-TV yelling at me to film something, and I was just feeling it I was like: ‘fuck no! I gotta make it! I wasn’t usually like that, but you know how it is when you are about to do something. So I slammed a couple times and I got up and slashed the coping and I come down all stoked into the shallow end and all I can remember is Lance Mountain looking at me and saying in that funny Lance voice: ‘ooooh grindy…..’”

    “That 4’ 9” was my every day board up until the middle of the 90’s” Tate recalls. “I had a smaller board for ditches, like a 38”, I had rails on the 38”. I used to do frontside rock and roll slides in the shallow at the dog bowl on it, I had to lay my hands down on it, but I could slide a few blocks. I rode a 36” inch board and wrote a thing for Thrasher where I said I was cruising on my yardstick, and a little later Paul Schmitt called me and said hey, I’m coming out with a 36” board and I’m calling it the yardstick.”


    I have three phone conversation with Tate. He’s incredibly generous in every one. Exploring the landscape of Tate’s memories is like taking a guided tour through a Willy Wonka chocolate factory of everything awesome about skateboarding.

    Tate knows I am big into curb skating, so he drops an anecdote about none other than The Godfather himself, John Lucero.

    “It was ‘80 or ‘81 and I had an interview at Whittier Skatepark (Skate City). Before I walked in I see these two kids in the parking lot. It was John Lucero and Richard Armino. They happened to be doing slappies on the curb. I asked ‘What are you guys doing? Why aren’t you skating the park?’ Lucero said: ‘oh, we’ve been kicked out for life’.”

    Always down to help his fellow skaters, Tate went into the interview with a new agenda.

    “So, I go in there during my job interview and I got kind of cocky. I had had some first place park teams I had managed and I was managing NHS teams… Indy, and Santa Cruz teams, so I had a little juice. So I went into the interview with the owner with my chest sticking out, and I told him: ‘This is cool, but if you’d like me to work here I need those two little kids skating out front here to be on the park team. They need to be able to skate the park.’ The owner just flips and says ‘No way! They’ll never skate here again because they are always here and they are always causing trouble.’ So I looked at him and said: ‘I’m sorry. If you can’t do that then I can’t work here.’ He looked at me for a couple seconds and then he said ‘OK’ and totally caved in. I got up, went out and let them in.”

    The rest is history. Literally. And Tate had a hand in it.

    “Grosso was a little grom in those days…” Tate recalls. “Hagop Najarian was there, those guys, Lucero, Neil (Blender) and Lance (Mountain). That was their little crew. Not bad, huh.”

    It occurs to me that, had Taters had that interview a few days earlier, the history of street skating, and my favorite trick, might have turned out quite differently.

    But this was just typical stuff for Tate.

    “I used to manage Big O, and I kind of had my own thing going,” Tate recollects. “I had the keys, and I’d keep Big O open until 3 in the morning. I was stoked meeting all these great skaters in the mags. Some of my friends were beginning to become those skaters, At the park Cara Beth Burnside would show up and be ripping it, Steve Olson, Duane (Peters) would be giving me trouble…I did that at Big O until one of the owner’s friends was driving by one night and noticed lights were on a 3 in the morning. He went to the owner and told him something was wrong with his lights because they were on a 3 a.m., then I had to stop.”

    The park era wasn’t just an exciting time for Tate, it was a lucrative one. “When parks came up it was like gravy on the biscuit. I started managing teams, that was a check, I was managing parks, that was another check…writing for Thrasher…I was getting four or five checks a month.”

    Of course, anyone familiar with the narrative of skateboarding knows what happened next. The park scene collapsed, skateboarding imploded. For Tate, who had as big of a financial and personal stake in that park scene as anyone, the fall could have been devastating. Surprisingly, there’s seems to be no angst or regret for Tate when he thinks about how that era ended.

    “To have a park, I was stoked, but when they closed… you have to understand there was just a bunch of guys for whom it just didn’t matter. We were going to skate no matter what. When the parks were gone, we just went back to what we knew. I started going back to a ditch, the Euclid U, I used to go there at 7 in the morning before high school…then on the way to Hosoi’s there was another ditch… there was another one across the street from this church. The parks closing, it didn’t worry me. We’d go to Grand Canyon for speed or Country Hill road at night. It was: go get buzzed and bomb hills. We had the Venice pavilion, we had Jefferson Bowl, we had Bronson Canyon. On Sunday nights we’d go to this parking garage in L.A., from 11 to 3 am and bomb the parking structure. There would be 30 or 40 guys: Oster, Hosoi, Dressen, Martinez, Block, we started doing that in the mid 80’s.”

    An insider in the era of epic parks, Tate soon found himself front and center for the evolutionary leaps that created modern street skating,

    “First I heard that term was was when Thrasher started.” Says Tate. “Ever since we started, we skated the streets, but it was a totally different ball game, we wouldn’t say: ‘let’s go street skating’. We’d say, ‘Hey, let’s go skate these banks, or let’s go skate this ditch.’”

    Like many veteran skaters, Tate is amused by the branding that eventually resulted in the term ‘street skating’. “You gotta always go to the roots. Freestyle started in the streets, nose wheelies, g turns… back in ‘75 guys were doing those going full speed down hill in Box Canyon… We never called it ‘street skating’. From there it eventually got to the judos and methods and Japans off jump ramps, is that not street skating anymore? Is what they do now street skating or is it plaza skating? It goes back to the imagination and individuality of each skater.”


    Whatever they called it, Tate bore witness to some of the heaviest stuff to go down in that seminal era. While Tate was deep into the Venice scene, I was a kid in Indiana, only seeing it through tiny, static windows in the pages of Thrasher magazine. Soon I’m lost in his reminisces.

    “Hosoi, all those guys…I was best friends with some of the greatest skateboarders in the world,” Tate continues. “They would put the ramps up on the walls down by the beach, and I remember Hosoi and Oster were grinding the top of this wall, the vertical off the ramp was between 3 and 6 feet. Then there was Tim Jackson was doing crazy wallride chicks, Block was doing crazy wallride tricks…you had the big ramp to the low ramp over the walls in the Venice pavilion, where you had things like that picture of Oster, Aaron Murray, and Hosoi launching over it at the same time…I was there when they shot that, I think that Venice scene is where modern street skating started…that’s where the kids started pushing it. I got pics of Christian doing little hand rails on his hammerhead in like 85 and 86…to me, that’s amazing.”

    Tate’s presence in all that insanity was not a privilege granted to him because he was some top pro. It was a privilege earned by his dedication to skating, and his innate and contagious stoke

    “I was a longboarder in a shortboard world, but they didn’t care and I didn’t care. I was there, still making the rounds…meeting up with skaters.”

    The Skatemaster starts keeps going farther back. At one point we start talking about the emergence of the ollie.

    “I got pics of Steve Olson doing a no-handed pipe transfer at some place no one ever heard of in 1975…you know, going over a gap from pipe to pipe. He didn’t exactly ollie, he didn’t slap the tail, but he was intending to get air…I still think we’ve got give that one to Gelfand, but that was a no handed air in 1975.”

    Like many of my best interviews, after a while Tate and I are just talking like two old skate bros with time to kill. In the back of my mind, the writer in me is coming to realize that Tate is a sort of skeleton key to unlock the entire history of skateboarding. He’s seen so much more than what went down on the set of some cult TV show, so much more than the years spent at the pavilion and as a part of Hosoi’s entourage. It’s all there in Gerry Hurtado’s brain, a body of lore extensive enough to fill a wing of the Smithsonian.

    “I was at some amazing skate sessions that will never be duplicated. I took pictures sometimes, but sometimes I just hung out,” Tate reminisces. “It took me a while to learn that I should always carry a camera…but I’ve been blessed…it’s been a part of my life. Skateboarding is what it’s about.”

    Its also clear, at that moment, that Tate doesn’t feel like the ride is over.

    “I’m still one of skateboarding’s biggest fans,” he says, “Now I’m like a kid again, I meet these guys like, Ryan Decenzo, Elijah Berle, I met Curren Caples….these kids are amazing and they blow me away. Meeting them is like it was in 1976 with Jay Adams and Shogo Kubo…when I met those guys we all had so much in common…I’m going out in a few hours to meet some other kids today. I love skateboarding, I love humanity and I’m here to give whatever I can give.”

    On the phone, I’m thinking that Tate has indeed given me a lot in our 3 phone conversations. I’ve got over 3 hours of recordings. Only about a quarter of it is about my Skate TV assignment. I’m so bowled over by his legacy and his joyful enthusiasm about sharing what he loves, I start full on pleading with him.

    “Man, you’ve got to find somebody to get this all down!” I say. “I’m sure you know guys. There is a book in you. Hell, there’s probably several. It would be awesome to have that.”

    Tate still stays humble. He tells me maybe someday it will happen. He’s certainly thought about it. I find myself wishing I could drop everything and hop a plane to Southern California. Still, I know Tate has so many friends, one of them is probably better prepared and connected to put the whole story of Skatemaster Tate down on paper than I am. We get back to talking about skating. I know that Tate has had some health issues, that he has to walk with a cane, but he still rolls.


    “I take it easy but I’ll never stop skateboarding,” Tate asserts “As long as I can grow old I’ll be on my skateboard for life.”

    Eventually, I say my goodbyes and thank him. I don’t know how soon the Skate TV article will happen because my editor wants to put me in contact with the shows producer/director/all around mastermind, Stacy Peralta, (it still hasn’t happened), but I’m stoked beyond belief.

    For the next two hours my phone is blowing up with texts from Tate. He sends me dozens of epic photos from the park days and the pavilion years. One shows Tate bombing a hill, crouched and headlong into the wind, Steve Olson hot on his heels. “The only picture ever of me in front of Steve Olson”, the caption reads, with a ‘cry laughing’ emoticon.

    A few months later, Tate is gone. The outpouring of love and support from the skate community is enormous. For a few days everyone is talking about Tate again.

    Still, even in the face of all that acknowledgment, the bulk of Tate’s recollections, perspectives, and knowledge have died with him.

    The book will never get written. The stories will no longer be told.

    We lost a priceless body of knowledge with Tate’s passage. We can’t blame that entirely on the cancer that took his life either. We also have our own apathy to blame. Tate was there for years, a million stories in his head, all up for the asking. But, sadly, very few of us asked.

    Skateboarding can’t afford to let that happen again. We have no excuses.

    Kyle DuVall has been writing about skateboarding almost as long as he has been skateboarding.

  • Revisiting And Reconciling A Definitive Video

    By: Kyle DuVall

    Of all of his video parts, it is Mike Vallely’s segment in Public Domain that has followed him closest over the decades. The Public Domain segment has become more than a string of tricks on tape, more than a time capsule of 1988. Its impact has transcended generations of skaters.

    “Just the other day, a young skater told me he had been talking about what street skating was all about at the local skatepark,” comments Vallely, “and someone there told him: ‘you just need to watch Mike Vallely’s part in Public Domain’. He told me he went and watched it and that it was eye opening, that it had a real impact on his skating.”

    Public Domain has been a part of Vallely’s everyday reality for almost 30 years. “Ever since Public Domain came out, almost every single day someone has talked to me about it,” says Vallely, but when the video premiered in 1988, the reaction to the now legendary clip was far from enthusiastic.

    “At the premiere, every time a new segment would come up, the crowd would just go crazy” Vallely recalls. “When my name came up on the screen, it got the loudest cheer, the loudest bursts of anticipation of the whole night, but once my part started, no one cheered. There was no highlight moment. It gave nobody the opportunity to jump out of their seats or exclaim anything. When the part was over, I ran out into the street and I nearly started crying.”

    Vallely’s initial perception of that video part would end up widening a rift between himself and Powell Peralta co founder/video director Stacy Peralta. The end result of that rift would echo across Vallely’s entire career as a pro skater, shaping the way skateboarders and the industry perceived him ever after. It took time for Vallely to realize and reconcile what Stacy Peralta was doing in Public Domain. Now, Vallely sees Public Domain as the purest expression of his skating ever captured on video.

    “Stacy Peralta has always gotten the short end of the stick from me in my speaking on my past and it is completely unfair,” says Vallely. “(In Public Domain) Stacy Peralta knew me better than I knew myself. He understood my skating better than I understood it. He captured my essence. The skating that is in Public Domain is my skating today, it is a representation of how I’ve always skated. No video part after Public Domain was really necessary.”

    But, that night at at the premiere, an 18 year old Mike Vallely couldn’t see what was crystal clear to Peralta: that Vallely’s worth as a skater was much greater than his impressive bag of tricks.

    “I felt like he didn’t capture my trick skating,” says Vallely. “He just had me moving, moving, moving,” explains Vallely. “It was almost edited as we filmed it and so little of that footage is pre-meditated, so much of it is just ‘go Mike go’.”

    The other Public Domain parts, such as the famous “Rubber Boys” street sequence with Ray Barbee, Steve Saiz, and Chet Thomas (who pulls an ollie impossible down a drop, 2 years before Ed Templeton would make the freestyle trick a street staple), were edited in a standard trick/cut/trick format that emphasized technical maneuvers. Vallely’s segment, however, was more flowing and much more lyrical, with long takes and the camera following him (or trying to follow him) as he moved.

    “I had pioneered a lot of those tricks seen in some of the other parts. I had that technical approach to my skating as well,” explains Vallely. “I felt like my trick skating was not documented. In light of some of the excitement about Chet and Ray’s part, I felt kind of like: I got ripped off.”

    In retrospect, Vallely sees something very different. “At the time we were filming the part, I was hoping, after all those moments we were filming we could go back and I could go: ‘now I can try this single trick, and this single trick’ and when Stacy said ‘no, man we got it!’ I thought to myself: ‘No way! We don’t have it!’ But we did. We had it. A few more technical maneuvers, would they really have stood the test of time? Would they really have mattered?”


    Vallely wasn’t the only one who failed to see what was really being portrayed in that clip. The immediate feedback from his professional peers was just as negative.

    “After the whole premiere was over, Natas Kaupas came outside and said: ‘oh man, that sucks, you must be bummed…’ The initial reaction of myself and everyone at the premiere was that this was a great letdown. This was not the video part that anyone expected. Most of my friends thought it was horrible. They skated with me and they knew what my abilities were and how much I was on the cutting edge of technical skateboarding. They put stock in that and when they saw the video they felt like that wasn’t captured.”

    In hindsight, it’s ironic. Vallely’s legacy, from showing up in Speed Freaks riding a squared-off, double tailed deck, to his winning entry in the 2015 X-Games “Real Street” contest, seems built on defying everyone else’s expectations. As such, his view of Public Domain has radically changed over the years.

    “There was no holy shit moment, in Public Domain, but isn’t that sort of true of my entire skate career? My career, like the Public Domain part, is this moving thing. There is no one moment. In 1988, I was looking towards the future as I saw it, but I was really lucky to have Stacy Peralta standing in my way. I didn’t realize it, but I wasn’t really a part of that fleeting future of skateboarding and Stacy knew it. That wasn’t me. What Stacy captured in Public Domain was timeless. Some skaters have a career that is kind of like a highlight reel. Sure, I could have a highlight reel edited together of what I have done on a skateboard but it would never truly represent my skating. Public Domain is what represents my skating.”

    It was not just the skating in Public Domain that wound up being influential. The portrayal of Vallely himself would go on to have a huge impact. The introverted, acne-scarred kid shying away from the camera was someone very familiar, and, in spirit, very close, to most kids who chose to ride a skateboard in the 1980’s. Even if they couldn’t ride like Mike Vallely, they saw themselves when they watched his part. The young Vallely, however had just as much trouble reconciling the personal image projected in Public Domain as he did with its portrayal of his skating.

    “There is an awkwardness and a shyness about me in that part that doesn’t fit with what you think about when you think about any type of athlete or celebrity or professional skateboarder,” says Vallely. “I saw the video, I saw how awkward and off putting I looked at some moments. I had acne, and I had this sort of limp wristed style with the way I held my hands, and I wasn’t aware of it until I saw it on video. When I saw it I was devastated, I thought: ‘I look so alein. I’m making skateboarding look timid.’”

    Vallely-June '88

    But, out in the streets, among the skaters, that sort of vulnerability had a much different and much greater meaning.

    “When I started traveling around, I saw kids with shaved heads and army pants skating around emulating that style,” recalls Vallely. “My peers, pro skaters, were turned off by it, how alien and how awkward I came across, but that is who we were as skaters. A lot of pros presented themselves as pretty boys at that time. They accepted the idea of the pro skater as rock star, but it wasn’t true to the reality of a lot of us who skated,” explains Vallely. “Eventually, I realized that Public Domain helped give people a voice, a freedom to be as awkward as they were. People were thinking: ‘he’s a pro skater and he looks like that and acts like that?’ It was liberating. People have told me since the eighties: ‘you meant so much to me because I felt like a weirdo and I was watching a Bones Brigade video and there was this weirdo starring in it’. The thing is, I didn’t want to be the weirdo.”

    The way his segment was set apart in the video was Peralta doing Vallely a great honor. The fluidity and relentless movement of the camera and the way Peralta interjects footage of his own skating into Valley’s part, through Vallely visiting the Smithsonian Museum, clearly shows a respect and deep understanding for Vallely’s place in the ongoing history of skating. For Peralta, skating had started in the streets, and Vallely was part of a new wave of skaters taking them back. Seen in that context, the way Vallely’s Public Domain part is put together, and Peralta’s presence in it, not just as a director, but as an actual skater, presents Vallely as a natural heir to Peralta’s own legacy.

    “The care and love Stacy Peralta put into that video part, that he would put his own skating in with my skating, that is a great honor, but when it happened back then I was like: ‘this is messed up. Can you believe that?’ I was a kid. I was a dumb kid…” Vallely comments. “What Stacy captured in Public Domain was timeless. That’s a gift he gave me. He valued me and my skating so greatly that he would single me out, and he cut in his own skating to tell this greater story of the history of skating through my part. That is crazy he gave me that. Now I am glad he did it the way he did, and I feel the need to apologize for my reaction to that video when it came out and the kind of grudge I held for many years about it. In the end, as we stand here to today I am just so thankful, so thankful for Stacy.”

    He’s even come to terms with the infamous “run through the graveyard”.

    “I loved Stacy Peralta’s storytelling in his videos Video Show, Future Primitive, Animal Chin; I would have killed to star in any of those videos, but when it came to my skating, I had my own vision, and when he said: ‘Hey, I want you to pick up your board and run through this graveyard…’ instead of thinking: this is Stacy Peralta, this is a Bones Brigade video, I was like: hold on a second, I don’t want to do this… I held so many bad feelings about Public Domain for so long, but the end result is that Public Domain lives and it tells its own story and it is much greater than that moment. I have no problems now about running through the graveyard, I think it does add something.”


    In essence, for an 18 year old Vallely, the choice to powerslide down the road not taken in Public Domain did not seem like his own, it felt imposed by Stacy Peralta, and that was at the heart of so much anxiety, anxiety that would eventually become public. The passage of time, however, has told a different story for Public Domain. What remains is the vision of Vallely barging through an environment that combines rundown city streets, empty urban plazas, and some of the most famous monuments of our nation, into one landscape. The legacy Peralta crafted, even if it was unknown to a young Mike Vallely, was one of liberation through radical re-definition. It is a vision of a kid on a skateboard, not changing the whole world, but changing his world and the world of his fellow skaters. That vision has endured not because of some single jaw-dropping trick or line. It endures because it is about what skateboarding meant in 1988, and what riding a skateboard will always mean.

    Kyle DuVall has been writing about skateboarding almost as long as he has been skateboarding.

    See Also:

    Public Domain Uncut

  • By: Kyle DuVall

    Kristian Svitak didn’t have to film a new video part for Street Plant. He’s long past the point where he has anything to prove with his skating.

    “After my last part in 2011, I kind of figured: ‘I’m 36 years old. That’s it. This will probably be my last part.’” Svitak explains, “but it is kind of like being a songwriter, you put out an album and think: ‘there’s nothing left’ and, then, maybe years later, you feel that instinct to create again. I’ve been filming since I got my first video camera when I was 18. It’s a part of my skating. That instinct to create came to me again and I had all these ideas that I just wanted to get out.”

    With no marketing department or team managers issuing marching orders, Svitak’s new edit is 100% a product of personal inspiration.

    “There’s nothing groundbreaking in this part. Everything I did I did because it felt right. When I was out filming I was always coming back to the idea that I can only do what I’m feeling.”

    So don’t expect another shot in the high stakes corporate skateboard video arms race. This is a portrait of a skater whose only agenda is to create. Not that Svitak, at age 40, isn’t still willing and able to drop a few hammers.

    “I feel like this part captures how I really skate. There’s nothing in here that I wouldn’t possibly do again in my normal skating. Sometimes I just go out and jam around, but, when it feels right, I’ll still go out and attack some monster of a gap or rail. It’s still part of my skating.”

    Filming the lion’s share of the part in Svitaks’ old stomping grounds of Cleveland, Ohio was an obvious choice.

    “Downtown Cleveland is a very old friend to me. There is one spot in here that is literally one of my first skate spots,” says Svitak. “Even the stuff from California has a very strong Cleveland vibe… I didn’t want any palm trees in the background.”

    Svitak: Cleveland

    But this is not a nostalgia trip or a victory lap for a hometown hero. It’s a look at the present state of a skater who has always moved forward by keeping his roots firmly planted.

    “The only way I can feel connected and grounded to the moment is by thinking about the path I had to take to get where I am. Even now, I feel the most connected with what I’m trying to get at with my skating on a personal level when I’m in Cleveland.”

    Cleveland, San Diego… Wherever the streets may be, Svitak has been making them his own since his first push way back in the 80’s. This edit testifies that he’ll be owning them far into the future. Street Plant is proud to present this portrait of Svitak’s skating, and proud to support Kristian Svitak as he charges forward.

    Charge Forward

    Kyle DuVall has been writing about skateboarding almost as long as he has been skateboarding.

  • By: Kyle DuVall

    Evolution Of Shape

    Start with his first pro model for Powell Peralta in 1988 and follow history forward to today’s line of Street Plant decks, and it’s easy to see that Mike Vallely has a unique perspective on the last 30 years of deck shapes.

    “I started skateboarding in 1984 and, even then, skateboard design was already behind when it came to the real life application of what us kids were doing out in the streets,” Vallely explains. “In 1986 when I started skating for Powell Peralta, I drilled the nose of my Lance Mountain board back so that I could actually use it for tricks. Stacy Peralta tripped out on what I was doing trick wise and the fact that the boards he was making were too slow to adapt to what we were doing on them.”

    In ’88, when Vallely’s first pro model was released, most “street” boards were still scaled down vert shapes with flared tails and rounded or pointed noses. Vallely was hoping for something different with his debut deck: a real “street” shape. Powell Peralta, however, was not quite ready for what he had in mind.

    “When I put out my first pro model in 1988, the nose was considered big by the standards of the day. I actually wanted an even bigger nose but Powell Peralta saw it as too much of a risk in the market place.”


    It wasn’t Vallely’s perfect vision of a street deck, but the Elephant was still significantly different from the other big sellers in the Powell line. Not only was the nose longer than the norm by a couple of inches, but it was squared at the end, mimicking a shape pioneered by another street innovator, Neil Blender. The contours also gave the deck a pretty consistent width from tip to tail. There’s no deep inward curve into the rear truck area, no fishtail shape to the tail.

    With the benefit of hindsight, one can even see hints of the most influential deck Vallely ever rode in that less-than ideal Powell deck: The Elephant’s squared nose and blunt tail, its subtly curved but relatively consistent width down the rail are both prescient of what was to come; Shave off the Elephant’s money bumps and tack on more nose and you’ve got something close to the legendary World Industries Vallely Barnyard.

    Slow to react to innovations in the street, the double-tail Barnyard, however, was a board that could have never happened at Powell Peralta.

    “World Industries was smaller and nimbler and more in tune with what was happening in the streets,” recalls Vallely. “And so, working directly with Steve Rocco and Rodney Mullen, we introduced the Barnyard Board in 1989.”

    The Barnyard, which became one of the highest selling skate decks of all time, was not the first to introduce a “double tail” design, but it was the the first board a pro skater was wiling to stake his name on. It was also a slight refinement of the simple “Two tails stuck together” concept of previous “double tail” boards. More rounded tail edges, a slightly ovoid shape through the rails and a slightly shorter nose which allowed more power when popping from the front foot in switch and nollie tricks, all helped make the Barnyard a key step in the future of deck shapes.

    “I was going out on a limb design-wise by putting my name on that board” says Vallely. “There were symmetrical boards before it but this is the one that stuck, that people remember. I rode it hard and proved it to be functional but I never really thought of it as anything but another fun shape. I never imagined it would become the prototype for the industry standard popsicle.”

    Center Spread 1990. Barnyard.

    But by 1993, the revolution kickstarted by the Barnyard really had dead-ended with the standardization of deck shapes into the modern, straight-railed, symmetrically shaped “popsicle”. Alternate shapes became all but nonexistent for the next decade.

    “I continually wanted to remain open and creative with board design but very few brands were willing to gamble,” says Vallely.

    To be fair, the popsicle seemed to work quite well for everyday skaters and for Vallely. Nevertheless, by the early 2000’s, Vallely, and some of his peers at Black Label were beginning to seriously think about alternative deck shapes.

    “When I started skating for Black Label in ’98 it was an awakening for what was to come,” says Vallely.

    Label Teammate Jason Adams soon began riding the first tapered nose “punk point” boards the industry had seen in a decade. Jeff Grosso’s enduringly popular shovel nosed shape was in the mix. Old innovations were being repurposed. Vallely was taking notes, but when it came to his personal skating, it was not quite time for experimentation.

    “I was in a very high performance mode during that time and completely unable and unwilling to mess with what was and had been working for me, what I had been riding since 1995: the popsicle.”

    However, time on the road observing the broadening demographic of skating at the beginning of the 2000’s convinced Vallely that maybe the time had come for substantial experimentation.

    “When I started Vallely Skateboards in 2003 my intention was to create a line of shaped boards very similar to what I’m doing now with Street Plant,” explains Vallely, “but I hit a roadblock with my partners and my distributor, who didn’t want to gamble on such a concept. When that brand folded and I ended up riding for Element there wasn’t even a conversation to be had… It was a popsicle and you’ll like it.”

    The undercurrents that Vallely had picked up on in the early 2000’s had only grown stronger by the time he parted ways with Element. When he started skating and developing decks for Elephant Skateboards, re-issues of old shapes and “old-school” and “cruiser” boards were becoming common (and profitable) once more. When Vallely created Elephant’s flagship shape the “Street Axe”, it was about more than cashing in on a trend. The Street Axe, even with its 9.5″ width, deep curves and large flared tail was a shape that demanded to be shredded.

    “Originally, it was supposed to just be this cruisey kind of shape,” admits Vallely, “but it had this energy to it, it became something else.”

    Intentional, intuitive, or just coincidence, what Vallely and Paul Schmitt had crafted with that first Axe was definitely way more than just another cruiser. Modified from an old John Grigley shape, the Axe became Vallely’s signature stick. He rode it at the 2012 Tampa Pro contest and in several video edits for Elephant, and, although he was switching from shape to shape at the time, The Axe seemed to personify where his skating and his mindset were.

    Pure, direct, powerful: The Street Axe was the ultimate functional street machine for an alternative movement on the rise in skateboarding. It was a cruiser you could get expressive on.

    With its inward curves at the front and back truck, The Axe, even with its hefty 9.5” width, was tailor made for 8.5” trucks. This meant that it was incredibly agile for a board with a 15” wheelbase. The flared 7” tail gave The Axe the pop of a street board even while rolling wheels big enough to take on chunky pavement. The curves also made it incredibly light for a 9.5” deck.

    That 9.5” width gave The Axe stability and a lot of extra real estate you could keep your feet on when slashing out of a slappy or bringing in a sketchy wallride. The curved rails and extra large size also made it great for one of Vallely’s signature tricks: the boneless. The outward curve in front made for a very comfortable grab, and the width at the forward truck provided a solid landing spot when stomping the front foot back down. It practically begged you to bend down, grab a rail and plant your foot.

    The Street Axe soon accumulated a cult following and it became evident to Vallely that the Axes out on the street were being used for much more than coffee cruising and beer runs. When it was time for The Axe to evolve, Vallely took his cue not only from his own experiences with The Axe, but from the video clips and photos The Axe’s devotees shared with him via social media.

    “The changes to the Street Axe are inspired by the direction skaters were taking it in the street,” explains Vallely. “It’s a response to what I was seeing.”

    One of the biggest changes is in the new Axe’s nose. An inch and a half longer than the original Axe, the new Axe’s nose is big enough to slap into a stable nose slide or twist into a crooked grind. More real estate beyond the front bolts also makes for more comfortable nose manuals, not to mention more forward sliding room for popping and tweaking ollies.

    The wheelbase has dropped as well, a full half inch, from 15” on the original to 14.5”.

    Street Axe 2015.

    “I have always adapted my skating to what I’m riding, and respond to the board whatever it is,” explains Vallely. “But, for me, personally, I felt that a 15” wheelbase was a bit limiting, and making The Axe more maneuverable fits in with where people were taking it.”

    As nice as it felt to have that extra room when coming out of a sketchy wall ride or bringing in a boneless, the full 9.5” width of The Axe might have been just a little too much of a good thing. The new Axe’s 9” width still gives plenty of landing room and stability, but makes the board a little more agile for expressive skating and even more open to flipping. At 9” the inward curving shape at the trucks still makes it compatible with 8.5” hangers. The wide, solid 7” fish tail of the original Axe is tightened up as well, but just a little. The new Axe’s tail is an eighth of an inch shorter and a bit narrower, but still maintains the squared, shape of the original. This means the pop is powerful, and a tiny bit more vertical, but just as stable and dependable when you drive your foot down.

    The new Axe also boasts a different concave with a deeper and more rounded front foot area for more comfortable foot placement and a bit more catch on the side for flicking a kick flip.

    Photo: Mark Nisbet.

    Photo: Mark Nisbet.

    For the new Street Axe “Engineered For The Streets” is not just a slogan. Trimmed of the previous version’s affectations and made more functional, the Street Axe is now leaner, meaner, and more focused; A board that merges expression, inspiration and innovation. It’s the “Barnyard” of shaped decks: a radical shift inspired by where skateboarding is going and where it has been.

    Where are you going to take the new Street Axe?

    Kyle DuVall has been writing about skateboarding almost as long as he has been skateboarding.

  • By: Kyle DuVall

    Although the Woolly Mammoth graphic that adorned Mike Vallely’s first New Deal pro model in 1991 started out as an homage to his past and a joke about his future, over the years it has come to represent much more.

    New Deal Mammoth. 1991.
    New Deal Mammoth. 1991.

    New Deal Mammoth. 1991.

    “New Deal was very apprehensive about signing me. They only signed me because I was such good friends with Ed Templeton,” Vallely explains. “The thinking at the time was: ‘this is the New Deal. You’re the old deal, but they wanted Ed to be happy so I guess they thought: to make Ed happy, we’ll put this dinosaur on the team. So Andy Howell’s idea for the graphic was like this: ‘Dude, you’re extinct, and this is probably your last pro model, we should poke some fun at you…’”

    New Deal Ad. September, 1991.

    New Deal Ad. September, 1991.

    For a skater who was always intensely involved in advocating his own graphic ideas, it might seem odd that Vallely would accede to the concept. Then again, the sentiment portrayed was not completely out of line with Vallely’s own feelings in ’91.

    “I was sort of given the Mammoth graphic, but at the same time there was no rejection on my part. Inside I knew better about my skating, but, in another way, I couldn’t really argue with anybody. At the time skating really was changing. The idea for the board didn’t come from me, which was rare at the time, but when I saw it I embraced it.”

    If extinction was the intended theme, Vallely’s skating during his short stint at the Deal combined with the image that actually wound up on the board, ultimately put the graphic in quite a different context. Sure, the mammoth was an extinct creature, but in it’s world, a world of saber-toothed cats and cave bears, the mammoth was the ultimate survivor. With its scroungy fur, imposing tusks and swinging trunk, artist Greg Higgins rendering of the mammoth conveys strength, not surrender. It’s half-lidded eyes are focused directly to the front. It looks ready to charge ahead, not lay down and die.

    Vallely’s segment in New Deal’s “1281” video would definitively turn the tables on that graphic’s original theme. Positioned at the end of the video as a sort of swan song for an outmoded 80’s hero, Vallely’s powerhouse edit didn’t come off as a retirement party, but as a statement on a new era, an era of old and new, technical and aggressive all coming together under New Deal’s sun.

    “Every era I was involved in, every video I was involved in, I continued to press and plead my case and try to prove every time that a broader style was going to have a place,” says Vallely. “As much as people would write me off on paper, when the videos came out it would always be ‘oh shit!’ I think the 1281 part turned out to be a pretty damn good part. It was distinctly different from everything that was happening at that time, and I think that’s what made it work.”

    The skating Vallely was actually doing might have been better represented in the Mammoth’s top graphic, a design which combined a native american symbol Vallely interpreted as meaning “burning forward” with the New Deal sun logo.

    Burning ahead or not, Vallely’s tenure at the Deal was doomed to be brief. The 1281 segment was his only video part, the Mammoth the only board from his time at New Deal that anyone remembers. Still, both the skating and the deck had real significance.

    “1281 may be the real departure point for me,” says Vallely, “The point where I went from being on the front lines of the cutting edge to just pushing my own skating without it being bookended by the times”.

    After ’91 professional skateboarding was increasingly being funneled into a very distinct direction, a direction with clear stylistic benchmarks for “legitimacy”. Progression only “counted” if it was progression down one particular path. How high you could ollie didn’t matter if you couldn’t flip off both ends of your board as well. By ’91, for many skaters, doing what came naturally, especially what came naturally for Mike Vallely, was either a statement of dissent or signifier of obsolescence.

    “It’s not that I wasn’t progressing. My skating was just going in its own direction,” Vallely recalls. “I’ve never been “anti” anybody’s skating. I really vibed off of what people like Armando Barajas and Ed Templeton were doing and I always sampled what was interesting to me at the time. I did get into some nollie flips, flipping in and out of tricks, but I’ve always found my way back to my own skating. Some of that stuff stuck, but most of it didn’t.”

    Ollie on a Mammoth Prototype Shape. From the pages of Transworld Skateboarding Magazine. 1991.

    Ollie on a Mammoth Prototype Shape. From the pages of Transworld Skateboarding Magazine. 1991.

    If Vallely was taking an alternate path, the board he took it on was both a callback to 80’s concepts and a glimpse of things to come. The Mammoth graphic was one that would have looked equally at home spray painted on a subway car or inked on the pages of a comic book. Greg Higgins art, with its cartoon and graffiti influences was undeniably at peace with the graphic concepts Andy Howell was pioneering at New Deal, but with its connection to Vallely’s past history of board graphics, it didn’t seem forced, like many of the street-art inspired graphics imposed on other veteran pros at the time. Even though it was Howell’s concept, Higgins’ execution made It look like something Vallely might have come up with himself.

    “It’s real telling how people react to it today,” says Vallely. “It’s a real meaningful graphic to people who were skating at the time. I get great feedback on it, that and the shape is a real great shape.”

    At a hefty 9.5” wide, with a blunt shovel contour in the nose, the Mammoth embodied aspects of the 80’s boards that skaters like Vallely used to pioneer street skating, while still embracing contemporary functionality. The generous length of that shovel nose made it ideal for slapping into noseslides and popping off nollie tricks, and it’s round-edged tail was pure early 90‘s. The board is wide in the front pocket, but its taper to a skinner tail and rear truck area was a precursor to the contours of the “popsicle” and “football” designs on the horizon.

    Street Plant Mammoth.

    “That shape is real telling of how I was still engaged with what was happening with board shapes at that time,” says Vallely. “I could have continued to skate that ’91 shape for the rest of my career. That is the shape I ride right now.”

    Past, present. Today, yesterday. It all came together in the Mammoth back in ’91 when old and new were fighting it out for dominance on the streets. Now, in 2015, with old school and new school embracing each other in a big ol’ bro hug of bonelesses and no-complies, the Street Plant Brand Mammoth may be more relevant than ever. Either way, one thing is certain: extinction is not on the agenda.

    Kyle DuVall has been writing about skateboarding almost as long as he has been skateboarding.

  • By: Kyle DuVall

    Ask Mike Vallely why he wears a helmet when he skates and you’ll get an obvious answer: He wears it to protect to his head. But to skaters conditioned by a culture of branded “defiance”, that simple answer never seems to be enough. The act of protecting one’s own skull from potentially life-threatening injuries has too often become something that requires convoluted explanations and apologies. Putting on the helmet before going skating… Any kind of skating, was a step that, even Vallely, a man with nothing to prove to anyone, had to grapple with.

    “As a street skater I have always challenged myself, always questioned everything, set out to destroy barriers,” explains Vallely. “Wearing a helmet now is an evolution of those ideas.”

    Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Sierra Prescott

    Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Sierra Prescott

    Helmets have been worn by skaters since the beginning of skateboarding, so what’s the big deal? To see it clearly you have to pierce the smoke and mirrors. The real question the culture has to ask itself, the dilemma at the bottom of the helmet quandary is not “why wear a helmet?’ it’s “why don’t we wear helmets?” When you really unpack that question, a lot of the reasons seem pretty thin and some of those objections are outright contradictory to what we all think we value.

    A little history review can put it in perspective.

    Rewind back to the golden age of skateparks in the late 70‘s: at Big O, or Upland or wherever, the helmet was a non-issue. If you wanted to ride, the insurance policies and the dude at the gate said you had to strap one on. It’s just what you did.

    When the parks died, the brain bucket lived on in the backyard vert session. Photos from those days show ditching the park rules didn’t mean ditching head protection. All those legends were padded up on the plywood. The wild west of backyard pool sessions were usually helmet free affairs though, and when the the rank and file of skating poured into the streets in the late 80’s, the helmet got completely left behind.

    Part of this had to do with the fact that the safety gear that kept skaters safe when bailing on transition did little to protect skaters from the direct impacts and joint twisting injuries that were most common in street skating. With the ollie in its infancy, the low-to-the-ground nature of the basic street repertoire made the probability of banging your head pretty slim.

    As street skating evolved, however, blowing it on a rail or landing too far back barging some stairs made severe blows to the back of the head a real possibility. The “rules” that had been established, on the other hand, were solidified, and they dictated “no helmets”. Gradually an expression of freedom had become a commandment of orthodoxy.

    “I can relate to not wearing a helmet,” Vallely explains. “To skaters the helmet has come to represent authorities and pad nannies and rigid skatepark rules. When you talk about wearing helmets, skaters have a knee jerk reaction. It is in their DNA, it’s a part of who we are. Those roots run deep, but they’re also very archaic. This culture has moved forward.”

    When Vallely applied the values of total freedom and open expression to all the reasons skaters don’t sport helmets on the street, what he saw was a reversal of context.

    “There were years where I was playing a minor, sometimes even a major role, in developing that defiant part of the street skating psyche. At different times that sort of counter-culture to the counter-culture was really meaningful to me… But eventually things like that become imitation, people imitating something that came about in a real moment. It’s just putting on an outfit, and at this point that outfit doesn’t include the helmet.”

    Never a man to be ruled by the dictates of fashion, the reasons not to wear a helmet evaporated for Vallely. “What the culture values, I have never used that as a guide.”

    Bean Plant: Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Sierra Prescott

    Bean Plant: Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Sierra Prescott

    Other changes in skateboarding made the hardcore anti-helmet attitude seem even more irrelevant. “The new generation, they aren’t getting a skateboard in their teens now,” says Vallely. “They get a board when they are 4. It’s a different world. I’d rather be on the right side of history at this point in my career than being the guy that thinks: “I’m going to shred this without any helmet!’ and then getting carried away on a stretcher in a coma.”

    “I’m not a different skater. In terms of how it felt wearing a helmet, it was weird for a couple minutes, then it didn’t matter. It was a hiccup. I put on the helmet, I got used to it, and then life went on. It’s other people’s perceptions that need to be challenged. As soon as those are challenged, it becomes a non-issue.”

    Ultimately, though, the decision to helmet up was personal. “I’ve gotten feedback already that it’s making a difference to people, making a difference to parents when they talk to their kids, but the ultimate decision is for myself. Like I said, I want to be on the right side of history, not just because of my place in skateboard culture, but because of my place in my household. I didn’t need that concern of ‘I could have done something to prevent an injury’. I could no longer justify to myself not wearing a helmet.

    I had to ask myself some tough questions. I answered them, and then I put the fucking helmet on.”

    Kyle DuVall has been writing about skateboarding almost as long as he has been skateboarding.

  • By: Kyle DuVall

    Kristian Svitak’s journey in skateboarding reads like a cross section of the last 30 years of skate culture. In ’88, he was a squeebed out kid on a Per Welinder street board joining the influx of post-Bones Brigade Midwestern groms who found themselves searching for Animal Chin on whatever bits of scabby concrete they could find. In the middle of the 90’s, he was part of an underground movement in street skating that set aside high-tech for speed, aggression and style. In the 2000’s, as part of the “Label Kills” era Black Label team, he wasn’t just part of the changes in skating, he was helping to engineer them. His skating added momentum to trends that eventually resulted in the wide-open, anything goes atmosphere of today’s skate culture.

    Svitak 1989

    Now, at age 40, Svitak is part of another seismic shift in skating: the demographic shift. Svitak shows no signs of coasting on a legacy. He’s charging and filming and pushing himself however he can, finding his place in a world where veteran shredders, for the first time in the history of skating, are having more than just a behind-the-scenes impact.

    “I want to rip as hard as I can and do as many things that I’ve got in my head as I can before I physically can’t,” Svitak asserts. “There’s going to come a day when I’m going to say: ‘It would be awesome to do that, but I’m 55 years old, or I’m 60, and I can’t’.”

    Svitak: 40

    Charging and putting his skating out into the world is still very much a part of Svitak’s identity as a skater, and age has only intensified his sense of self motivation.

    “For a couple years in my mid 30’s I had this spell where I didn’t film at all, I just went out and skated for fun. That was fine with me but I found myself just thinking: ‘I’m not done’ I feel like as I’ve gotten older, I’m a better skateboarder now than when I was younger. I’ve learned so many new things, what I’ve lost a little bit is that ability to jump down big handrails, but I’ll still jump down a rail… The thing is I’m more up for skating in other areas, it’s like I feel more skilled in more things. It’s really interesting.”

    “I’ve still got sponsors. Filming is my job. I want to represent them the best I can, but I’m not filming because I force myself. It’s for me, for my skateboarding. Filming really gets the best out of me, it gets me to really push myself to progress and do things that I think about and want to happen. That’s how I’ve always thought about it even way back before I was sponsored.”

    Doing things for his own reasons has worked out pretty good for Svitak so far, even in times when “his own thing” wasn’t fashionable.

    “I was 18 years old when the early 90’s came in, and I tried really hard to keep up with the Nollie Flips and Switch Tricks. I was learning it all because it was new and exciting, but it came to a point where I just thought: I don’t feel comfortable. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the tricks, I just didn’t like doing them, they didn’t feel good. I remember around 1994 just thinking to myself: This just doesn’t feel good, I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to get sponsored, and that’s okay. I’m going to skate the way I want to skate.”

    In that era, ditching the tricks everyone else was fighting for actually put Svitak way ahead of the curve, and positioned him to have a big impact in the era to come.

    “Skating the way I wanted happened to be skating fast, Ollieing big things, going hard at handrails. I liked blending old tricks from the 80’s in with what I was doing, and lo and behold, the ironic thing about it all is that that is the kind of stuff that got me sponsored.”

    The outcast soon found himself unintentionally representing one of skating’s stylistic trends. “This was when the whole phrase of “Hesh” was being thrown around. People over the years have said: ‘Oh you’re Hesh dude!’ I’m like: ‘What the fuck is Hesh?’. I’ve never even thought of that. I’m just some skate rat. I wear flannels because I grew up in Cleveland and it was cold and I was punk rock. I wore a trucker hat because I have a huge head.”

    Svitak eventually wound up on Black Label, an ideal fit for a young skater who not only had a reverence for his skate elders, but also actively paid homage to them with his own skating.

    Label Era Frontside Feeble. Photo: Matt Mecaro.

    Label Era Frontside Feeble. Photo: Matt Mecaro.

    “I was never one of those kids who wrote off the old pros, or wrote off history,” Svitak recalls. “I remember telling people ‘I’m going to ride for Black Label! John Lucero! Jeff Grosso!’ and they’d be like: ‘What? Who?’ People can go around all day and say ‘We were always down’. Bullshit. I remember when you dudes didn’t give a shit. I always hated that in the 90’s. I remember my friend being like: Why is Label giving all these old dudes boards? I would get so defensive about it, ‘I’m here because of these guys’.”

    The ethos of the Black Label team created an atmosphere where Svitak and his teammates, Mike Vallely, and Jason Adams, could make a pretty powerful statement about the state of skateboarding in what has become known as the “Label Kills” era.

    Kristian, Jason and Mike. 2001: Alaska. Photo: Miki Vuchovich

    Kristian, Jason and Mike. 2001: Alaska. Photo: Miki Vuchovich

    “I still get e-mails about that video, Its the one people always want to talk about. It’s had a big impact over the years. Lucero had real foresight about pushing things in the videos. Guys would be like: Don’t put that in the video…. And he’d say: ‘No, that’s cool, leave it in’. It was very important at that time, we were just coming out of the 90’s… What people saw in that “Label Kills” video is straight up what was going through my head in the 90’s.”

    Svitak’s attitude about skateboarding and life in general made it inevitable that he would branch out on his own, and when he created 1031 skateboards in 2006, he found himself, once again, ahead of skateboarding’s trend curve just by doing what came naturally.

    “I started my brand in 2006 when it was not cool to do a little brand,” Svitak recollects. “I remember when I started 1031 people asked ‘Who are you out of?’ I would say: ‘No one.’ It’s just me and my buddy doing it out of a garage. They would look at me like I was an asshole. If you were not out of Deluxe or Tum Yeto or NHS, you weren’t shit.”

    Along the way, Svitak also started Regulator Distribution and co-founded Landshark Wheels. As Landshark became more successful, and independent board brands began to flood the deck market, Svitak found himself on the wrong side of the small company gold rush.

    “There’s a million board brands right now. Board brands are like toilet paper. Now, wood shops make boards for anybody. Anybody can have a board company.”

    “Going into 2015 I just knew something had to change with 1031. It was such a life drainer… I loved it but It was taking away time from my daughter, and taking away time from Landshark, which was doing really well.”

    Watching what his friend and mentor Mike Vallely was doing with Street Plant eventually helped influence the fate of 1031.

    “The first skateboard video I ever saw was Public Domain. When the guy with the shaved head, fingerless leather gloves and with the two different colored shoes came on skating New York City and Washington DC… I didn’t even know who he was but I was like: ‘That’s who I relate to, right there’. When the Barnyard double kick came out I actually took two of those skateboard keychains they used to make and I cut them in half with a saw and then took the 2 tail ends and taped them together so I had a double kick.”

    Admiration developed into friendship once Vallely and Svitak became colleagues, and even when the business of skateboarding threw curveballs at their mutual endeavors, Svitak and Vallely have remained friends and allies.

    Kristian and Mike. Dortmund, Germany / 2000.

    Kristian and Mike. Dortmund, Germany / 2000.

    “Mike’s always had my back over the years and I’ve always had his. When Mike was talking to me about expanding Street Plant, what was literally going through my head at that moment was what a strain 1031 was becoming. I had been doing it for nine years and put everything I had in it. I cared about it dearly, but he was telling me about Street Plant and I’m telling him: ‘Mike this sounds so good’. He never asked me to stop doing 1031. He just said: ‘Do what you need to do, I just want you to be a part of Street Plant in whatever capacity makes you feel comfortable. The next day we skated and I was like: ‘You know what Mike, this is just what I needed. I need to stop 1031, this just makes so much sense to me.’ What a great reason to get back together with my friend and do something.”

    So Street Plant picked up its first rider, not with intense contract negotiations, back room deals, or piles of cash, but with a skate session between two old friends. In fact, Street Plant wasn’t even looking to recruit riders.

    “Everything with Street Plant is very organic, there is no plan to make a team, if people come along, Mike might put them on, but this all goes back to Mike and I being good friends for so many years.”

    With that sort of motivation, it hardly matters to Svitak whether Street Plant becomes ‘The Next Big Thing’, or just one more project in a string of inspiring projects he has been a part of.

    “I give credit to Mike for always trying things. Just because something doesn’t work out, that doesn’t mean shit. There’s a lot of people who just don’t try shit in their life, then they ridicule other people because they try something and it didn’t work out. It always makes me think of that Minor Threat song… You know, ‘What the fuck have you done?’

    Kristian, Emily, Paul and Mike. Photo: Rob Wallace.

    Kristian, Emily, Paul and Mike. Photo: Rob Wallace.

    “Fail, fail, fail until something works. You try things, you go for shit. It’s just like skateboarding. Go for the trick over and over until you get it and, you know what? Sometimes you don’t get it, but you tried.”

    “The companies that he started and ended, I don’t see them as failures, the things he fucking went for… As a fan and a friend of Mike’s, I feel like what Mike is doing with Street Plant is the best thing he’s ever done.”

    Kyle DuVall has been writing about skateboarding almost as long as he has been skateboarding.

  • By: Kyle DuVall

    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.

    Pushing Forward

    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.

    Pushing Forward

    “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.

    Pushing Forward

    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.

    Pushing Forward

    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.”

    Pushing Forward

    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 has been writing about skateboarding almost as long as he has been skateboarding.

  • 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 Padulo.

    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 Padulo

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

    Vallely 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 has been writing about skateboarding almost as long as he has been skateboarding.

  • The Barnyard

    By Kyle Duvall

    In 1989, World Industries released the Mike Vallely Barnyard “Double Kick” or “Double Tail” deck. It was the first professionally endorsed symmetrically shaped deck, and the first to rattle street skaters out of resigned complacency with scaled-down vert shapes. Designed by Rodney Mullen, bankrolled by Steve Rocco and ridden in a legendary video edit by Mike Vallely, the Barnyard is the universally acknowledged forerunner of the modern, elliptical “popsicle stick” shape, and one of the most important deck designs in the history of skateboarding.


    By the end of the 80’s, skateboarding was changing faster than even skaters knew it. Street skating was well into developing its own complicated vocabulary of tricks and styles and, in the parking lots of America, concepts from freestyle like shove-its, kickflips, and varial-flips were fully infiltrating the repertoire of the average skater. 180-no complies and step-off shove-its were mandatory. In the elite ranks, skaters were probing a whole new frontier of nollie variations and even basic switch skating. Despite all of this, the boards everyone was riding were still based on the curvy, square-tailed, noseless paradigm of the mid 80’s vert stick. Boards were shaped to move in one direction, and any extension to the deck that went beyond the edge of the front base plate was largely considered a waste of 7-ply maple.

    By 1989, it was obvious that skaters needed a board like the Mike Vallely Barnyard “Double Kick” model, but most were too afraid to admit it. All those flat ground varials, shove-its, and 180’s made putting a line together on a traditional board a complicated exercise in calculating what position your board would be in and when. The noses on those shaped late 80’s decks were so drastically different from the tails, skaters usually had a whole separate bag of tricks for each end of their board. Switch skating, which was just being conceived, was mostly hypothetical thanks to those stubby noses, and nollies, although pulled with some success by the likes of Andy Howell and his peers, were mostly a ground-skimming novelty. Deep down, everyone knew that a board that worked equally well going in either direction would simplify skateboarding and open up new possibilities.

    Double kick boards had been released prior to the Barnyard, most notably Vision’s “Double Vision” deck, but none were a success. Some of this was due to a lack of refinement in the designs. The first double kick shapes were basically standard concave boards with a full-length, traditionally kicked tail at both ends. A larger part of the problem was a paralyzing fear of the new, in this case the radically new. Even when the advantages of symmetrical shapes were obvious, no one seemed to be willing to be the first guy in their crew to put their foot on one, and no pro wanted to put their street cred and deck royalties on the line by slapping their name on something so radically different.

    Barnyard Kendall Park

    It took the converging talents of skating’s greatest provocateur, its most innovative intellect, and one of its most uncompromising individualists to really break the symmetrical concept to rank and file skaters. In retrospect, it seems unlikely anyone but the trio of Steve Rocco, Rodney Mullen, and Mike Vallely could have pulled it off. A product of freestyle skating, Steve Rocco was one of street skating’s earliest advocates. Although not a talent on the level of Mark Gonzales, Natas Kaupas, or Tommy Guerrero, Rocco was, nonetheless, a forerunner when it came to mutating early 80’s freestyle into modern street skating. More importantly, he was a tenacious advocate of street skating, using his company, World Industries, to satirize and provoke the vert dominated skateboard industry, which often saw street skating as nothing more than a novelty. When Rodney Mullen left Powell Peralta to ride for World Industries, the company gained a rider whose technical skills both on and off the board gave Rocco the ability to take on the establishment with weapons more powerful than name calling and satirical advertising. A gigantically influential skater with a formidable analytical mind, when it came to the future of street skating, Mullen was not so much ahead of the curve as he was the engineer of it. Seeing freestyle maneuvers, many of which he invented himself, filter into street skating, Mullen was in a unique position to both predict and shape the future. He soon realized what would ultimately serve street skaters best was a larger, more refined and rounded freestyle shape, or, as teammate Vallely described it: “a freestyle board on steroids.”


    As incredibly talented as he was, Mullen couldn’t have put the concept of the symmetrical board over on his name alone. Street skaters may have been breaking themselves off every day to make tricks Mullen had invented years before, but they still saw him solely as a freestyle skater, and pointless prejudices toward freestyle meant, ironically, many skaters saw Mullen as irrelevant to the style of skating they aspired to. In retrospect, it’s unfair and shortsighted, but the “Double Tail” design needed another standard bearer to become a success.

    Enter Mike Vallely, the perfect skater to push something radical and innovative into skateboarding’s mainstream. It wasn’t just that Vallely was one of the most popular skaters in the world in 1989, but he also had a reputation as one of skateboarding’s most outspoken and intractable personalities. Vallely had left the biggest skateboard company in the world, Powell Peralta, to ride for the fledgling World Industries, and the consensus on the street was that he had left his spot in the legendary Bones Brigade solely over artistic and creative differences. In an era when skateboarding was still nurtured by the ethos of punk rock, giving the middle finger to skateboarding’s equivalent of the “in crowd” and throwing in with the kids shooting spitballs at the back of the class established Vallely as a rider who was not only extremely talented and creative, but one who would not compromise for any amount of money. In skaters’ minds, Mike V. would never put his name on some contrived gimmick board. Vallely’s street cred was impermeable, and it would take that sort of integrity to get skeptical street rats to even consider the wildly divergent design of the Barnyard double tail board.

    Barnyard Prototype Sweden

    Initially, even Vallely took some convincing. The first time he rode the prototype, he made sure no one was around to see him skating it. He didn’t want to be seen riding it, but, true to his reputation, once he rode the shape and discovered its potential, he didn’t hesitate to get behind it. Vallely wasn’t content to simply put his name on the design and ride it the same old way either. He quickly integrated the advantages of the “Double Tail” design into his own style. This was on full display in Vallely’s legendary segment in Santa Cruz Speed Wheels’ 1989 “Speed Freaks” video. For the first time, skaters saw, in full motion, what one of the greatest street skaters in the world could do with a double-tail design. Vallely integrated varial tricks, shove-its, and nose manual variations right alongside his trademark gigantic ollies and tweaked grabs. The edit not only showcased the creative potential of a double-tailed design but also showed that a blunt, linear shape did nothing to hinder a riders ability to skate with style. At first glance double-tailed boards like the barnyard, which lacked the streamlining curves of the vert-inspired shapes of the 80’s, couldn’t help but seem clunky when compared to the sinuous sticks sitting next to them on skateshop walls. The Speed Freaks part laid that idea to rest forever. Valley’s skating was not simply innovative, it was seamlessly smooth. The segment is still a classic, endlessly re-shared by veteran skaters on social media. Beyond the skating itself, the clip’s role in showcasing the Barnyard board, a board which would help determine the future of skateboard design, was enough to solidify it as one of the most important video parts of all time.

    The Barnyard became Vallely’s biggest selling board. Shops could not keep it in stock. In the wake of its success, the industry couldn’t help but re-think certain tried and true elements of board design, and the design innovations of the Barnyard deck went beyond its double-tailed shape. Unlike its predecessors like the “Double Vision” deck, the Barnyard was more than just two tail ends of a board stuck together.

    The concave profile of the Barnyard was a radical departure from the norm. Spurred by the success of H-Street Skateboards and their deeply bent “hell concave”, deck manufacturers were locked in a sort of concave arms race in 1989. Everyone was striving for the deepest pockets, waviest rockers and steepest kicktails and noses. As technical freestyle tricks began to cross over into street skating, the deep concaves that locked a skaters’ foot in place actually became an impediment. More and more, tricks required skaters to get their feet off and back on the board within a fraction of a second. Mullen was one of the first to recognize this and, inspired by freestyle decks, he designed the Barnyard with a subtler, shallow concave and a flatter and shorter tail profile. Because of this concave, the board’s “pop” was quicker and the shorter point of contact between tail and pavement meant the board was at a shallower angle in relation to the ground when the tail hit. This meant less force was needed to boost the skater into an ollie. The quicker, less powerful pop also opened up the possibility of subtler application of force when popping the tail, allowing more control for technical tricks. The shallow kick also meant that, on the other end of the board, it was easier to make contact with the ground when using the weaker, less coordinated “front” foot to pop a nollie or a switch ollie. This innovation would turn out to be crucial in advancing both nollie and switch tricks.

    The Barnyard’s eye-catching art, which was both a stylistic departure from the deck art of the time as well as a strong personal statement for Mike Vallely, would turn out to be nearly as influential as its shape. Created by Mark Mckee, the graphic, which featured a cavalcade of cartoonish farm animals frolicking free in the eponymous barn yard, was both a reference to George Orwell’s novel Animal farm, and an expression of Vallely’s strongly held belief in vegetarianism and animal rights.

    “The original concept I had for the graphic was of a folksy looking farm setting…” recalls Vallely “Like a Warren Kimble painting. The ‘Please Don’t Eat My Friends’ concept was meant to be more serious and heartfelt than a cartoon character painting it on a barn. I was not thinking ‘Animal Farm’ at all… That was how Rocco interpreted my idea, clearly, for the better. I understand that now but at the time I felt like he was making fun of my beliefs.”

    Barnyard Top

    When the Barnyard hit skate shops, deck graphics were still dominated by the refined skulls and aggro images of Powell Peralta’s boards, the magnificently detailed, and often grotesque, works of Santa Cruz’s Jim Phillips, and the new-wavey neon artsiness of Vision’s skateboards’ graphics. The juxtaposition of the humorous, even cute cartoon animals, with a more serious subtext of animal rights, was not merely distinctive, but massively influential, becoming an early example of a style of graphic that would dominate deck art for the next decade. Graphics that combined graffiti or animation inspired imagery in depictions that collided childlike themes with dark or taboo subject matter would define 90’s skate art.

    “Mark McKee brought Rocco’s idea to life and in the end it was hard for me to argue with it.” says Vallely. “I’d never seen a board like that before. The colors, the lines — It was a departure from everything that had come before. I’d argue that the graphic had a greater effect on the future of skateboarding than the shape, but that’s just me.”

    Still, the Barnyard didn’t revolutionize skateboarding overnight. Despite the massive popularity of both the deck itself and the accompanying merchandise, there was no immediate switch to double-tailed decks. In fact, even Vallely’s own follow up to the Barnyard was not a “double-tailed” design.

    “I didn’t believe that the Barnyard was the new measuring stick. To me it was just another board. No one was thinking revolution. We were just trying to design a viable option. The Barnyard was radical and I liked that, but, as versatile and functional as it was it didn’t strike me as the new standard. I didn’t think: ‘I’ll never skate another board but the Barnyard again.’ ”

    Of course, there were a few imitators in the immediate aftermath (most notably an ill-conceived and generally unpopular Tony Hawk double-tail by Powell Peralta), but the Barnyard, like many other innovations, was just a little too ahead of its time to change everything instantly. Skaters weren’t quite ready to completely abandon stylish shapes for full functionality. Others had trouble adjusting to the new shallow concave and kicktail. Popping a Barnyard with the kind of force one applied to the hellbent tails of other boards of the time usually resulted in a low, uncontrollable ollie if not a full on bail. Some skaters made the adjustment with great success. Others didn’t have the patience. Subtler influences on board design, however, were evident immediately. Deck manufacturers and skaters started paying more attention to the nose of the board. Noses got much longer and blunter. The rail lines of boards became straighter; deep curves and money bumps began to disappear in favor of straight lines or slight angular tapers. Concaves gradually became less cavernous and tails began to flatten out.

    By 1993, these mutations had culminated in the establishment of the capsule shaped, freestyle inspired, symmetrical “popsicle stick” that has dominated skateboarding for two decades. Looking at the Barnyard now, with its fat width and blunted nose and tail, the indispensable connection to the standard shape of today seems less obvious, but a closer examination shows the important concepts are all there: The symmetrical nose and tail, the parallel lines of the rails, the restrained concave… The Barnyard wasn’t the end of the line in board design, but it showed what was not only technically possible, but economically feasible in the market.

    The extent of the Barnyard’s influence is inarguable today, but not without controversy. For many, the Barnyard’s part in creating the now standard deck shape is the first rueful step in an ongoing homogenization of skateboarding. A skate culture where every board on the skate shop wall has the same shape is a less interesting one for some, no matter how well those shapes actually work. Others see the eventual dominance of the symmetrical “popsicle” as a prime contributor to the waning popularity of vertical skateboarding. No matter what side of the argument you stand on, from a purely technical standpoint, the concepts put forth in the Vallely Barnyard “Double Tail” eventually lead to the most diversely functional and popular skateboard design the culture has ever seen. The next time you put your foot down into a nose slide, pop a nollie that goes more than an inch or two off the ground, or do anything switch, pay a bit of respect to the Barnyard, the deck that helped get your board where it is today.

    Kyle DuVall has been writing about skateboarding almost as long as he has been skateboarding.

Kyle Duvall
Date Of Birth: July 17, 1974

Hometown: Terre Haute, Indiana

Current City: Durham, North Carolina

Skating Since: 1985