There is one steadfast rule for skateboarders from New Jersey: we are obligated to love Bruce Springsteen and Mike Vallely, and it is our civic duty to forever defend the merits and integrity of those men or run the risk of exile from the state if we don’t. They are our guys and nothing can undo that.

New Jersey, as it is painted and perceived by most, is toxic. Our Housewives, the muscle-bound knuckleheads that wash up on The Jersey Shore from Staten Island to pollute the airwaves, the refineries that line the side of the Turnpike—there is a good reason why the film The Toxic Avenger was set in New Jersey. Hell, I can see (and smell) the Edgeboro Landfill from my mother’s kitchen window. We know what the world says and thinks of us and to a degree, they aren’t baseless sentiments. Truth is, we eat that shit up and smile. It’s what fuels us, the consummate underdogs, to fight harder to carve out our place in this world, to laugh in the face of adversity and to champion our heroes as something more than mortal.

One could make an argument that Jersey has produced just as many, if not more, skateboard heroes than any other state in the Union. Tom Groholski. Our S.O.T.Y. Ishod Wair. Ricky Oyola. Fred Gall. Chris Pastras. Rodney Smith. Brian Wenning. Tim O’Conner. Quim and Mike Cardona. Felix Arguelles. Jef Hartsel. Choppy Omega. Bobby Puleo. Pete Eldridge. Ron Knigge. Darren Menditto. Ron Deily. Dick Rizzo. Josh Wilson. The list goes on and on and with every name that gets added to it, our rep grows bigger and our sense of pride in what our guys have contributed to the annals of skateboarding swells.

For all we have given to this thing we love, no Jersey boy has done more for skating than Mike V. Our guy was part of the Bones Brigade at the height of Powell Peralta pandemonium. Our guy changed skateboarding forever with his revolutionary video part in Public Domain. Our guy didn’t rock surf trunks or a McSqueeb. Our guy looked like most skaters in the 49 states not named California—and he loved Minor Threat. Our guy stuck out like a sore thumb on the Bones Brigade and that, in itself, was a metaphor for how every skateboarder felt when they walked into school each morning, back when skateboarding was about as popular as javelin throwing. Shit, our guy had skaters around the world talking about the Pathmark where our moms did their grocery shopping!

Perhaps most importantly, our guy got out. Our guy broke through the impenetrable, invisible, self-imposed forcefield we built around the tiny towns that trapped us all, and he somehow ollied straight out of Deiner Park in New Brunswick to Washington D.C. and then California, where our guy helped start World Industries in 1989 with Steve Rocco, Rodney Mullen and Jesse Martinez. It wasn’t long after that we took apart the last of our many Matt Hensley King Sizes and slapped together our guy’s Barnyard board, and we’ve been riding popsicles ever since.

Then something extraordinary happened: as skateboarding shrank, Mike grew in popularity. We started seeing photos of him in all the mags, skating around the world and mobbed by kids everywhere he went. That’s when it hit us. Our guy wasn’t just our guy anymore. Our guy was everybody’s guy. He belonged to the world. Like Springsteen, who had spread his relatable, hard-working, blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth message to the masses, Mike also tapped into the universal truths of all skateboarders: we are fucked, we are flawed, we are both confused and cocksure, and we simultaneously want anarchy and order, war and peace. Many of us were broken kids from broken homes, and we had absolutely no tools to navigate this harsh and crazy world, and most likely, we’d burn down everything around us in an attempt to figure it out.

But we would figure it out.

Because what we do best is eat shit.

We’ll eat shit 300 times to get something right once.

It’s probably not the best way to live, but it’s the way we know.

I’d wager to guess that Mike Vallely has literally, figuratively, metaphorically and professionally eaten more shit than most on his journey to figuring it out. But it is the journey that is the sum of a man’s worth.

To quote another one of our guys:

Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption

We can say the same of Mike Vallely. Mike did it his way and skateboarding is better for it.

Chris Nieratko

Biography

Timeline

— Born in Edison, New Jersey, on June 29, 1970

— Started skating September 1984, saw Black Flag play a month later at City Gardens in Trenton, New Jersey

— Sponsored by Powell Peralta in June 1986, won the NSA National Amateur Street Style Championships in July 1986, featured on the cover of Thrasher Magazine in August 1986

— Went pro for Powell Peralta in 1987

— Iconic Elephant pro model and Public Domain video released in 1988

— Helped form World Industries with Steve Rocco, Rodney Mullen and Jesse Martinez in 1989

— Barnyard board, artist Marc McKee’s first ever skateboard graphic, released in 1989

— Won the 1st Annual Tampa Pro Street Contest in April 1995

— Formed his first band, Mike V and the Rats, with guitarist Jason Hampton in 2002

— Performed as a guest vocalist for Black Flag reunion at the Hollywood Palladium in September 2003

— Produced, Wrote and Starred in television series Drive, which aired for three seasons on FUEL TV starting in 2005

— Started the band Revolution Mother with Jason Hampton in 2005

— Formed the band Good For You with Greg Ginn in 2013

— Became Black Flag’s fifth vocalist in 2014 and performed 60 shows with the legendary punk band

— From his garage in Long Beach, California, created Street Plant Brand with his family in 2015, won the X Games Real Street Contest Fan Favorite

— Today, Street Plant has active collaborations with Jerry Garcia and Bruce Lee, the Barnyard Board is celebrating its 30th Anniversary, and Black Flag has announced tour dates around the world