Head-Butting the Wall

Head-Butting the Wall

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Create Your Best Future

Head-Butting the Wall

Every action we take, everything we do, is either a victory or defeat in the struggle to become what we want to be.

~Anne Byrhhe

I grew up in a small town in New Jersey where I felt bored and trapped. My family life was all about, “Mom works, Dad works and kids are expected to go to school.” My parents didn’t have the money to buy me stuff I got interested in, and we didn’t have any time to spend together except during meals. That didn’t cost anything or take up any extra time.

I was angry and frustrated most of the time — it seemed that no matter what I did or said, I felt like I was head-butting the wall and getting nowhere. No one could get through — not my parents, my teachers or my guidance counselor. No one could help me.

Then I started high school, and a lot of the people I knew began using drugs and alcohol. Because I wasn’t interested in that, I found myself on the outside of my peer group. I was totally alone and I hated the world.

I started roaming the streets looking for trouble. I fought older, tougher guys around town and gained a reputation for being crazy. I’d take any dare. If someone said to me, “Smash your head on this rock for five bucks!” I would.

I was well on my way to prison or the morgue when I stumbled on punk rock music. The whole idea of a punk lifestyle sounded cool. So, I spiked my hair and took on a whole new identity until, one day, some real punkers came up to me in the hall at school.

“Hey, man, are you punk?”

“Yeah, yeah, man, I’m punk,” I fumbled.

“Oh, yeah? What bands do you like?”

I didn’t know any bands — none.

“Who do you listen to?” I didn’t know one band from the other. Then my eyes landed on their band-logo T-shirts.

“Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, The Misfits…” I thought I had them fooled. But I was pretty much busted.

“Stop looking at our shirts. You don’t really know any punk bands, do you?”

Totally busted. Where do I go with this? I thought to myself. Before I could come up with a strategy, one of them dared me to come home with them to his house. We went down into his basement and they shaved my spikes off. Then they said I was really punk. The next thing I knew, I was meeting up with them after school and hanging out.

Some of my new friends would occasionally get a hold of a skateboarding magazine, and they’d show me pictures of some decks. When I saw the boards, I connected. I became obsessed. I wanted to get my hands on a board and more of those magazines. One kid, the younger brother of one of my friends, had a stash. I cruised over to his house and knocked on the door.

“Hey, man, can I take a look at some of your skateboard magazines?” I asked.

This guy was hardcore. He wasn’t about to let me touch his prized possessions, but he let me stand on his back porch and look at them through his screen door as he turned the pages, one by one. That’s when I saw an article about street skating and a photo of a guy jumping off a car.

“I can do that! I can totally do that,” I tried to convince him. He looked at me, doubting every word, but he got his board out and challenged me right then and there. I took the dare, grabbed the board and got up on his grandpa’s car. Slam! I hit the ground. I got back up. I went through the same thing over and over — biting dust every time. Then finally… I landed it!

He screamed, “You did it! You’re a skateboarder!”

I was hooked, rushing on adrenaline. I wanted to experience it again and again.

I began to follow a group of guys in my neighborhood that had boards. I’d beg them to let me skate. They treated me like dirt, but because they had boards, I took it.

I had to figure out how I could get my own board. I finally conned my mom into giving me money for a board by promising her that it would be my one and only Christmas present. I ordered a board and when it arrived, I was totally stoked. Then my mom made me hand it over. Her words, “Sorry. You can’t have it until Christmas, Mike,” were torture.

Weeks later, Christmas came and finally I got my board. I skated every spare second I could. I went from skating a few minutes a day to hours a day. I’d skate to and from school, after school, after dinner and after homework. When I started trying to skate the half pipe, I’d get nothing but grief about my style. I was doing everything I could just to gain the speed needed to get up the other side of the ramp. I’d flap my arms to get momentum. “Look at the chicken-man,” guys would taunt. I didn’t care — whatever it took, I’d try it. I lived and breathed skateboarding. It was my sanctuary and my salvation; it was my “thing.”

I easily navigated the traps and pitfalls of high school and adolescence by just getting on my board and riding. But it wasn’t just the physical act of skateboarding that made an immediate and lasting impact on me; it was the entire subculture of doing your own thing. Instead of following the crowd, I had discovered my individuality. My small town that once felt full of dead-end streets suddenly opened up. I found a wide-open country of possibilities. At fourteen, that’s some vital stuff.

I truly believe everyone needs to find something to help them discover their identity and give them a sense of purpose, meaning and direction. For me… it just happened to be skateboarding. Skateboarding saved my life. It gave me the ability to express myself, connect to a passion and offer something unique back to the world. Now, as a professional, I travel the world, skateboarding and sharing my life story.

I’m still head-butting the wall, the difference is that now I’m fighting to keep the sport of skateboarding open to everyone and anyone — regardless of how good they are, what they look like or where they live. I want everyone to know that if they just believe in themselves and have a passion for the sport, anything is possible.

~Mike Vallely

Editor’s note: To find out more, log on to www.mikevallely.com.

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