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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.