Mike V. drove through a crappy static cell-phone area and couldn’t hear my first question clearly. “When did it all start?” he repeated, clearly confused. Was I asking him about his new company, Vallely Skateboards, his pro career, or his whole skating life? I called back and we got a clearer connection. Mike told me his new company started in 1986 when he became arguably the largest overnight success in skateboarding’s history. “That?s when I started as a brand name in skating,” he says. He went from being an alienated unknown teen in New Jersey to being on the cover of Thrasher and sponsored by the most popular skateboard company at the time.
Vallely’s gone in more directions as a pro skater than most of his peers. He’s ridden for a huge corporate company, jumped ship to a tiny upstart company, started his own company with his best friend, gone back to a huge company as it was reshaping itself, ridden for a company he was comfortable with, and left only to start his own company. This time though, he’s taking all of his experiences and using them in a way that hasn’t been done before by a prominent pro.
“You don’t have to do it the traditional way,” he says about why he’s taking this approach to his new company. “I’m definitely about distinguishing myself, and this is a way to do that.” Vallely Skateboards has been out for a few months, with nine shapes being shipped all around the world, but there is no team. This isn’t due to Vallely not being able to get his shit together, like a lot of pros who jump into businesses without knowing what a black hole it can be–this is all by design. Mike wants to establish the brand first, not pile on a team of superstar skaters who could dilute the power of the Vallely name.
This may be the proper way to react to today’s market. I recently skated with a friend who has an eleven-year-old son. He was commenting on how his kid goes into a shop to buy a board knowing what brand he wants, and then he scans the company’s selection for a shape and graphic he likes. The pros? names don’t tug him in any direction, but the image of the company does.
But–and this is a huge but–we all know there are a handful of pros who sell boards because of their name, and Mike is one of them. He’s always tried to present himself as outside the pack of regular pro skaters and worked hard to market himself as his own skater, not a by-product of a company. Now he’s mixing the power of his name with the fact that this new generation identifies more often with brands than pro skaters. Who can blame them with the hundreds and hundreds of watered-down pros out there?
How do shops feel about carrying a new company, branded after a big-name pro, but without any pro models? Isn’t that weird? “It wasn’t a problem,” Vallely says. “Honestly, my name is strong enough in the market to sell them. I already have spaces in shops. I think the skateboard world has seen me grow up, and it makes sense (to them).”
He plans on having a team down the line, but he doesn?t want his skate roster to be full of mini-Mikes. “The only thing the brand borrows from me is that it’s about individuality,” he says. “I don’t want them (his team) to copy me. I want individuals, people who’ll stand strong.” This doesn’t mean he wants “individuals” who will be under him and his name. “The brand is the brand. The team isn’t the brand, they’re a part of the greater whole.” He?s taking a page from his first board company, Powell Peralta, on how to present his skaters. “I’m looking to develop superstars like the Bones Brigade. They were individual stars.”
He’s also skating outside of the box by starting his team–earlier than he wanted to–with a vert skater. “I didn’t want to put Jesse (Fritsch) on right away, but his contract was up with Zoo York and I didn’t want to leave him hanging.” According to Vallely, Fritsch has no problem with waiting for a model once the master plan was explained. “He’s not a dumb kid,” Mike says.
Valllely is already talking to other skaters he wants for the team, explaining his process and why he isn’t packing his sardine tin tight right out of the gate. “I want different styles on the team, a little bit of everything.”
He’s using his individuality philosophy on board models, too. Vallely Skateboards will eventually make old-school decks, longboards, and a variety of modern shapes. His last sponsor, Black Label, taught him a few things about unconventional teams. “This is a graduation from Black Label,” he says. “But I didn’t leave Black Label on bad terms–Lucero encouraged me. This is just a natural evolution in my life in skateboarding.”