By Sean Mortimer


What was your scene like when you started skating?

Mike V: the funny thing about my scene when I was growing up was that I was one of the people who formed it. There was a group of us who picked up skating at the exact same point of time. We all built it together and found a role to play. It was very much a collaborative effort. Everyone pitched in. We consciously looked at it as a scene, thought about it as a scene. A good number of us were involved with punk rock and that was a [defined] scene so we took that same mentality to the skateboard scene. We made our own zines, formed our own teams, even back then [1984] there were guys filming, taking photographs. We wanted to make it a scene, not just something that was aimless and people doing their own thing in different places. We tied it all together and put on events. It was exciting. It was a lot of fun.

How did building that scene in New Jersey affect it?

I'm not sure. I think the same thing was happening everywhere in skateboarding. Tom Groholski was a local pro and he had a ramp in his backyard. He only lived two towns over from me. That was a big deal because people like Jim Murphy, Bernie O'Dowd, Dan Tag would show up and skate that ramp. They were heroes and legends in our community and we had access to that.

Did you guys have a spot where the core crew would always meet?

We definitely did. We had a couple. One was George and Mike Daher's house. Mike was a pro for Stereo for a while. Mike was younger than me and was probably the best skater in town. He and his brother were diehard skaters and his parents built ramps and had an open-door policy with all the skaters in the community.
And [we skated] a church parking lot with very smooth asphalt. And we had a spot called the Noside banks, which is Edison spelled backwards. That was a small asphalt bank with a curb on top. It was a great, great spot. Some of the best skating I've ever seen in my life went down there, undocumented and by guys you've never heard of. (Interview con’t after slideshow)

How did you find the banks?

Before we started skating, every now and then if we were cutting through that parking lot, we'd jump our bikes off of it. It was behind a Dunkin' Donuts and a Burger King, next to these apartments. If you saw it today, you'd say, "This is your skate spot?" But it meant everything to us. It was the meeting place and people would come and skate there from all over New Jersey. You'd hear about kids taking the train to skate the Noside banks and obviously after I was sponsored, it became an even bigger spot. People knew I skated there and there'd be intense sessions. It was great.

Are the banks still skateable?

No. The funny thing is that the apartment complex eventually had the city put a fence in there so we couldn't fly out of it anymore and it kind of ruined skating the bank as well. The parking lot was behind a vacant building for a long  time and the local skate shop leased the property and we thought, Oh man! Our skate spot is back! They ended up dozing the bank and making it a flat parking lot. That was the end of that skate shop. No one ever went there again. It wasn't run by skaters. It wasn't a core skate shop. It was a hunting and fishing store that carried skateboards. They didn't care. They didn't think it'd be that big of a deal, but it killed their business.

You ever think back and wonder how you squeezed so much fun out of a crappy spot?

I think part of it was that we didn't know better. Another part was that even if we did know better, we didn't care—we just loved to skate. We made something out of nothing—that was the spirit of it.
I remember when the "skate problem" in our community became big enough that a reporter came down to interview us, I told him, "You don't understand—we can have a major session on this one little block of cement. We can make something out of nothing." That's where our heads were at.

Are you glad in a way that there wasn't a lot of prescribed terrain, like skateparks, when you were growing up? That you had to find the places to skate yourself?

Of course. I think street skating was a revolution—physically, spiritually and mentally. It was the ultimate freedom. As glad as I am to see skateparks in all these communities and kids having a place to skate, I don't know if that would attract me today if I was a young person. The idea of challenging my environment and making something out of nothing was really where it was at. I'm glad to have grown up in the time period I did and participate in what street skating is.

How much do you think growing up away from the central California scene affected you as a skating?

I do think that was crucial. It was everything. I feel my roots in skating were so innocent and pure and so full of optimism. It was just so fun. I loved every second of it. I just loved riding my skateboard. And it was hard.  We got our asses kicked, we got harassed by the cops, we couldn't go anywhere without being hassled by somebody, being spit on in the face, punched out or arrested. It was constant war but at the same time we were being so creative and doing something that was so radical and against the grain and it felt so good. I felt totally alive.
I think not having exposure or access to the best places to skate and not having all the information helped my skating grow in it's own individual way. That and my energy and intensity when I skated led to my being discovered, getting sponsored and turning pro. I wouldn't trade growing up in New Jersey with anything. I still think back on it fondly.

More Mike! mikevallely.com
Mortimer wrote some books with Hawk, Mullen, Daewon, Olson, Vallely, Haslam, etc.

Hawk: Occupation Skateboarder

Mullen: The Mutt
Daewon, Olson, Haslam: Stalefish