Even though the lightning bolt has adorned Mike Vallely’s pro-model skateboards, shoes, backpacks, and even his forearms in most recent years, the first image that the name Mike V. became associated with was something that holds deeper roots in skateboarders-and it’s one of near equal greatness in size and proportion: the African elephant. And while the elephant plays a major role in the career of Mike V., it wasn’t until recently when being interviewed for Sean Cliver’s book Disposable that Mike remembered he was nearly forced to liken his pro image to that of an annoying insect that most people prefer to stomp out with the greatest of enthusiasm: the cockroach.
“I just wasn’t digging it, man,” says Mike of the V. Courtland Johnson-penned bug that Stacy Peralta originally presented to him as his first graphic for Powell Peralta in 1987. “I couldn’t imagine my name on it ’cause it didn’t come from me. I didn’t think of it, it didn’t come from my heart, there was none of my imagination or feeling in it. And I said, ‘No, that’s not going to be my graphic.'”
This was the first time Mike spoke up against Stacy and his team managers in any way, but at the time, and especially with his elder Bones Brigade members, the precedent was that the pros have great input into his board graphics. Although Mike says, “I was supposed to be the rider they controlled.” His defiance might’ve been more openly accepted if his graphic idea meshed with what was going on among the line. But to Stacy, George Powell, and VCJ, the thought of an elephant didn’t sit well among skulls, snakes, and dragons.
After much to-do that included potentially using artwork from outside the Powell Peralta art department and even possibly unveiling a new direction graphically for the company, George and Stacy finally selected an elephant from the twenty to 30 VCJ-drawn graphics.
Mike was more than pleased (“Hey, I would’ve taken any of ’em.”) and even more so when George handed him a paycheck for ten grand, his residuals off the board’s initial sales. “I hadn’t earned any money up to that point. My dad didn’t even believe this was all real.” But before the check left George’s sight Mike would have to sign a ten-year contract with a number of ridiculous stipulations such as having to wear his sponsor’s logo shirt whenever in public as well as at every skate-related event, including trade shows where he was later reprimanded for wearing a Ramones shirt. Mike reluctantly signed the contract only later to find out that Lance Mountain and the rest of the team refused to sign similar contracts.
Although stoked to be part of the Bones Brigade and among friends like Lance, Mike found himself hanging around and skating with Steve Rocco, Mark Gonzales, and Natas Kaupas more regularly, which eventually led to his joining with Rocco as part of the early World Industries team and left the stand of his Powell Peralta elephant graphic after a mere seven months.
But not to fear, the elephant stomped along for the ride and was rendered in varying degrees for different Mike V. World pro models-one of which came out without Mike’s knowledge while he was on tour in 1989. “Rocco pulled a fast one on me,” he says of the baby elephant carnival scene graphic. “I never saw it, and it was already in production. That was my biggest riff with Rocco. At the time that was the most un-skateboard thing you could do to somebody. I was devastated.”
The baby elephant was far from the straw that broke the camel’s back, but Mike and Rocco would soon head in different directions, Mike selling off his ten-percent ownership in World to pay off the tax man. To this day he still holds the original Powell elephant as his best graphic (“That’s how a skateboard is supposed to look.”) and admits it didn’t reach its full potential due to his departure from the company. As for the baby elephant board that preceded his best-selling barnyard graphic, he actually still has one of those aroundd. But while admitting he could probably deal with a Rocco or Powell Peralta situation today, as he looks at the board he just can’t shake the happenings of days past: “To this day, I hold the board and don’t even believe it was really mine.”-Eric Stricker