Mike Vallely starts anew with Elephant

Brian Fick

Mike Vallely, axle stall at Woodward West in Tehachapi, Calif.

Monday we announced Mike Vallely's newest endeavor, Elephant Skateboards. This marks the third departure from Powell-Peralta in his long, storied career that goes back to the mid '80s. But it was the first time Mike ever gave the details of those splits (on his blog) and some of the shady business dealings, including the strong-armed 10-year contract as a teen. One can only wonder how many other children have been taken advantage of in this way in skateboarding's past.

I have always believed Mike V's skateboarding played a huge role in modern street skating's progression. And I'm not talking about street plants. I remember the sequence of Mike ollieing and 180ing a picnic table in his TransWorld interview over 20 years ago. Since then, every trick has been done over those tables. But at the time, that was groundbreaking. And he's kept at it right up to modern times -- when they put the fence on top of the Brooklyn Banks wall, Mike was the first and last to ollie over that thing. Whatever anyone's opinions of Mike might be, it should not come into play when engaging in a discussion about what he has and continues to contribute to skateboarding.

Recently, we caught up with Mike to discuss his new company a bit further.

ESPN.com: You cover your reasons for leaving Powell in full detail on your blog post, I Found Out For Myself. You sound as if you were used and betrayed repeatedly. Was there no way you could have stuck it out just a little longer to use them to capitalize on the exposure and success the Bones Brigade Documentary will surely garner?
Vallely: No. The real crux of it is that I had hit rock bottom. And once I had hit rock bottom I just didn't care anymore to play the game. Really, I had been falling for years. I fell out of Element, right through By The Sword and into Powell-Peralta. I was flapping my wings but there was no wind beneath me. When I hit Powell-Peralta, I really believed that I had finally arrived where I had always belonged, that it was destiny. But really, I was just falling. And when you're seeking and grasping you can convince yourself of anything. The whole thing is really on me, man. George Powell is George Powell -- no surprises there. I should have known better. I have to ask myself -- How can this happen to me over and over again? How is it that I've found myself in these situations so many times? Used and abused -- a victim. All I can say is that through the years I've been blinded by my own excitability. I guess I always try to see the best in every one, I give them the benefit of the doubt and that unfortunately has come back to bite me over and over again. As bad as I wanted this reunion with Powell-Peralta to work, to be right -- It wasn't. When I finally figured that out, I was lying on the basement floor, covered in dirt. My fall was complete. In that moment I retired from the idea that I had anything left to prove and from the idea that I had anything left to lose. That's when the idea of Elephant Skateboards came to me. It was a moment of true inspiration from a real place -- the floor of truth.

Are you still to be featured in the documentary?
Well, I was never to be featured in the documentary. I mean, the film is about McGill, Cab, Lance, Tony, Rodney and Tommy G. I interviewed for the film, that's the extent of my contribution. How much or how little of that is used in the final product is not for me to decide.

The story you tell of George Powell insisting you sign a 10-year contract as a teenager in order to get your $10,000 royalty check is cold blooded. Would you say there have been many people in skateboarding's history that have preyed on the naivete of children as their business-practice?
Business is business I guess. I never really expected to expose any of this -- It wasn't my plan or intention. But in light of everything, I felt I needed to tell my side of the story -- if only as an exercise for me to see it all in black and white. The things I wrote about seem to be attacking, accusing or blaming George but really they are ultimately about me -- my naivete, my shortcomings and my inability to properly manage my career and to protect myself. Really what it comes down to is George Powell didn't let me down, I let myself down.

Should we expect you back on Powell for a fifth time? Or is this it?
I never expected to be back with Powell a second time, let alone a third. Regardless, I think history will ultimately be kind to me and acknowledge my contributions to skateboarding. What companies I skated for is really irrelevant.

I look at you and Kris Markovich in a similar way. Both of you were instrumental in skating's progression but neither gets the credit deserved. Who has quit more brands -- you or Markovich?
Kris is a good guy who has only ever wore his heart on his sleeve and has much like me set himself up for many disappointments. The reality is that being a pro skater actually comes down to rather convoluted matters of employment. Kris' skating speaks for it self -- the rest of it is abstraction.

I know from speaking with Kris his reasons are all justified and I'm sure yours are as well, I'm just curious what perception you think kids have and should have of your career path?
Skaters value my skating and what I represent and always have represented through my skating. My sponsors have never really mattered. My loyalty has ultimately always been to myself. The collision of art and commerce has been something I have never really been able to reconcile. My career path might not be one to emulate but I've done what I done with all my heart and soul. For better or worse -- I've meant it.

Why Elephant Skateboards? Why not just pick up where you left off with By The Sword Skateboards?
It wasn't right. It sounded right, the language was right but really it was wrong. Much like every other brand I've attempted to launch, By The Sword was just another skateboard company -- it was all just more of the same. It was exactly like everything else and ultimately unrepresentative of me. I didn't see the point. Elephant Skateboards is different. It is products that actually compliment and represent what I represent. There's always been a disconnect between me and the products that have had my name on them. With Elephant that is no longer the case.

Having stopped BTS before it even started, did it change your relationship with Kristian Svitak, who was to distribute the brand?
I love Kristian, I always have and always will. He's one of my all-time favorite skaters and people. I'm sure my choices left him feeling bad -- I know they did. And though I ultimately feel bad about how things went down, the situation wasn't right. By The Sword was not my ultimate vision, it was something framed and controlled by others and I was just left to simply lending my name to the situation. It wouldn't have worked out in the sense that it wouldn't have creatively fulfilled me.

Will Elephant offer modern/popsicle shapes? Or just niche shapes? Do you think there's a large enough market for specialty decks to sustain a brand?
It's definitely a complete line. For a long time I've seen a huge gap in the market. A gap that I have always represented in my skating but that had no real representation in an actual product offering. I have now bridged that gap. That's what Elephant Skateboards is all about. It's actually the most natural thing I could have done and I guess it took me going through all I've been through to get to this place. But it's a good place to be -- doing what comes natural and feels right to me.

Will you be putting together a team for Elephant? Any names you can mention?
Yes I will definitely have a team but no names and no real plans for that at this time. I'll let that all develop organically. The most important thing out of the gate is making good products that I can stand behind.

When will boards hit skate shop walls?
Summer 2012 if not sooner.

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