It goes without saying that Mike Vallely is a strong-willed individual. In his 16-plus years as a professional skateboarder he has never hesitated to let the public know how he really feels. So when I heard that, after more than five years, he left Element skateboards and was rumored to be pursuing a pro hockey career, I had to ask him why. Unhappy with the direction of Element skateboards, he's giving his own company a third go (first he was with Transit skateboards, then Vallely skateboards). This time he's using the "By The Sword" moniker. Vallely explains, "This time around I am doing it all myself. No corporate backers. No big distributors. All me." At 40 years old, he is starting from scratch -- again.
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Through the decades, Vallely has been one of skateboarding's most consistent pros. onClick="window.open('http://www.espn.com/action/skateboarding/gallery?id=5374063','Popup','width=990,height=720,scrollbars=no,noresize'); return false;">Gallery »
ESPN.com: Tell me about Element and why you left.
Mike Vallely: Well, the reason I left Element is because I am starting my own skateboard company. I have taken a stab at it a couple of times, never really quite like this. I've never done it with my own money; there have always been [financial] backers. I've never had any true ownership of anything I've ever been involved in. It's not an extension of Element or a branch off of Black Label. It is something I am doing entirely on my own, out of my garage. It's like the D.I.Y. mentality that I've always been a beacon of, something that I've always preached. It's not like I haven't walked it like I talked it, because I always have. My sponsorship opportunities just haven't always lined up directly with where I was coming from, in more of a spiritual or philosophical way. There are just certain things I don't want to be aligned with anymore in skateboarding.
What specifically do you not want to be aligned with any longer? What are you not happy with?
With Element for example, they were always great to me. Johnny Schillereff, who was one of the founders of the brand and at one time the owner of the brand, has always been a great supporter of mine. When I got with them in 2003, it was a great marriage at the time. But as time went on, I started to realize that it was a publicly traded company. They have a board of directors who I don't interact with. I mean, I don't know them. It seemed like they didn't really care about me and they don't care about skateboarding. They care about their bottom line and if I'm not good for their bottom line they're going to take a big red marker and cross me out, which I saw happen to me in a lot of ways when they got rid of their pro model shoe company.
I know I can sound like a broken record and I know a lot of people in this industry kind of think I'm a joke. But the wheels keep turning in my world. I'm going to keep moving forward. I will not go backwards.
I have other ways of making money than just skating but a lot of the guys on the shoe team didn't and that bothered me. But what really bothered me personally was that I had a contract. I could have been skating for a different shoe company. They asked me to put all my eggs in one basket and now I'm paying the price for it. The program was cut right before Christmas and without any real warning. It just left a really bad taste in my mouth. As a skateboarder, I feel 100 percent as relevant today as I did the day I got sponsored. I don't want to be subjected to the whims of the industry, I've paid my dues. I am always feeling like I have to prove something. It's like they value what these kooks are saying on Internet message boards more than the concrete relationship they have with me. I don't care what these people think and when you say that, you sound crazy.
Before we go any further, what is the name of your new company?
By The Sword skateboards.
Now back to the Internet. Your last major part was your Battle Commander on The Berrics, which got a lot of attention online. What are your thoughts about filming parts in a week at a skatepark compared to skating the streets or at demos?
I feel like skateboarding, in general, doesn't have much of an identity right now. As far as The Berrics goes, I love it. I love skating there and what they're doing. The kids definitely love it but is it the end-all of skateboarding? I don't think so. I also don't think the X Games or the Maloof thing or [Rob] Dyrdek's new thing, the Street League is going to be the end-all either. I don't think that skateparks are the ultimate answer either but they sure are great. To me the true barometer of skateboarding is in the streets. But you know it's just changed so much over the years. It's just becoming harder and harder to actualize.
What about hockey? I heard some rumblings that you were leaving skateboarding to pursue a professional career in that arena.
That is something that I've been working on for years. It didn't really factor into me leaving any sponsors, though. My real main goal was to play one shift, or game, as a professional hockey player, any minor professional level. I'm not talking NHL here. I've come close over the years. I've had tryouts for a few teams, and it's a really hard thing to make happen because of roster spots and the rules and regulations of all the different leagues. There is this new league starting up this year on the East Coast called the Federal Hockey League. And I had made enough connections in the hockey world over the years to have arranged a meeting with one of the owners of a team in the FHL, and I'm going to be playing a game this season.
You seem like a very busy man. You have that coming up in the fall and the Glory Bound Skatepark Tour this summer. Tell me a little about the tour.
It is just a continuation of what I've always done as a pro: get out there and skate. Being on the road and going to those small communities and skating with and for the fans. I've always loved doing demos. I've always thought of them as lighting a fire under skaters.
You've always been known as a guy who can get a crowd going, that's for sure.
Yeah, I've just always valued it. It's one of the main ways I've been able to maintain a professional career over the years. Just getting out there. More so than video parts. I value demos a lot more than I value filming a part. It's real life in front of the kids.
Lastly, you are a notoriously passionate person in all aspects of your life. Some see it as a fault, some feed off of it. Is there any method to the Mike V. madness?
I realized early on that this is my calling in life (skateboarding). This is my passion. This is my bliss. I have to follow my bliss. I'm not going to listen to anyone else. No one is going to steer me off my path. That has served me well, and if people are tired of hearing me talk about it, well, I don't care. There are enough people every single day of my life who want to come up to me and shake my hand and tell me they appreciate what I'm doing. I know I can sound like a broken record and I know a lot of people in this industry kind of think I'm a joke, but the wheels keep turning in my world. I'm going to keep moving forward. I will not go backward. Mainly I just want to live an authentic and original experience.