Lizard King, otherwise known as Mike Plumb, is the epitome of an old-school skater. His tattoos, raggedy blonde hair and brightly coloured clothes give the impression of a man who knows exactly who he is. Mike is clearly hugely passionate. His stubborn personality has been translated effortlessly into his career as a skater, meaning he pushes himself far beyond his comfort zone in order to reach the pinnacle of his chosen art form. He’s a performer, in many ways, but also someone who has a love for their craft.
Our paths crossed with Lizard King on a hot day in Hackney at a skate park hidden by old industrial buildings and a bar made out of scaffolding. It’s hot, and the atmosphere is one of summer humidity and cigarettes. Boys, young boys, who have admired Mike and his career for as long as they can remember, have gathered at the skate park in order to skate in front of their hero. Mike is friendly, relaxed and slightly late for our interview because he was buying everyone pizza. We don’t mind at all.
For the chat, we sit at the bottom of a ramp under the glaring sun and get comfy. Photographed by Nicola Collins, Mike oozes a relaxed and comfortable presence and immediately lays back onto the wood, obviously comfy and at home there. The whole experience makes us feel 15 again and as if we’re about to try our first cigarette (don't tell Mum) before rushing home for tea.
Have you been on tour for a while?
I don’t even know. The moment you get on a trip it’s kind of a blur. I meet like, 8 million people and skate all over the place and get drunk and wake up in someone’s house or something, it’s fun. Maybe 10 days though? We’re gone for like 3 weeks in total. We’re here till Friday and then we go to Manchester, and then we fly back to California. You’re in a different place all the time, like I say Bonjour in Paris and I get here and I go oh Bonjour and they’re like fuck. You’ll go to Germany and then Paris and then London and China. Every time you’re walking you kind of get used to a place and then they take you away from it and put you somewhere else. I kind of know where I am right now, but then they’re going to take me to Manchester. I’ve been to Manchester about 4 times now though, so I kind of know my way around a little bit. Everyone’s drunk or young and dirty. I guess it’s not bad. Everyone there is like on the edge. Very wild.
How long have you been skating for?
I’ve been skating forever. When I was younger I didn’t really skate, but I had a skateboard and for the first 2 years I thought you just sat on it so I’d be a little kid and butt boarding. Then one day I saw someone standing on it and I was like “oh shit” that’s crazy. After that I started skating. I’ve probably been skating on and off for 20 years. I think it keeps you young.
Have you had any really bad injuries?
I shattered my arm one time and I have plates and screws in it. It was super scary when it happened and then they put the plates and stuff in and I had a cast and a sling for a little. I would change the bandages and it would look like the movie chain saw massacre, it was crazy, and then all of a sudden I could move my arm and it was normal.
Your tattoos, some of them look like your friends did them?
Some of them look shit haha. This whole arm my friends tattooed and then this arm is actual tattoos by real tattoo artists.
Have you got one on your head as well?
Yeah it says Shredder. It’s my dog’s name. The shoes are also called the shredder, they’re named after my dog who got hit by a car. He was like my best, bud but I tattooed his name on my head.
What a great name!
I know! I’d go to my parents neighborhood, a nice neighborhood in Utah, and people would be like 'aww what’s your dog's name?', and they’d always say ‘that’s such a bad name for a dog’. And he was a King Charles like this cute little beautiful dog! He destroyed everything, but he behaved well too.
And he got hit by a car?
Yeah. I let these kids play with him at a skate park and it was by the road and they kind of threw the ball into the road. I thought they were watching him, but they started watching me and my friend skate. I thought they were watching him and he just ran across the road, and they don’t stop you know. It kind of broke my heart for a while.
Skating is quite youthful, how has it affected youth culture?
Yeah skating is becoming a lot more mainstream now. When I went to school the skateboarders only hung out with the skate boarders. I guess it’s cool that it’s more open to different kids if like shit’s going on, and I guess there’s more open opportunities for people, but I thought it was also cool when it was just like the fuck you thing to do, you know.
Have you noticed different kinds of people trying to get into skating?
To be a skateboarder you’ve got to be a skateboarder I guess, but younger kids that wouldn’t have been into skating are skating now, which is cool.
Your clothes are brilliant. Are you into fashion?
Yeah kind of. I mean, it’s funny I’ll go through phases. If I’m in a crowd of people, it's nice to stand out. I like shopping for clothes, and wish I could make some.
Would you design clothes?
I’d design clothes yeah, but I feel like it’s all already made. I also have a kid now, a one year old daughter. She turned one two weeks before I came on this trip.
Wow! Has that changed your life a lot?
She is so cute, Monroe. (He pulls out his phone to show us a picture) This is me and her swimming. My priorities are definitely a bit different now.
Did you have other creative outlets that you don’t have time for anymore?
I used to paint a lot, but I don’t anymore. I like riding bikes and being outdoors. I’m from Utah so I grew up rock climbing, snowboarding, mountain biking, camping, riding motorcycles and doing all this shit, so now I live in California I have to skate.
Do you notice that the youth culture is different there to in LA?
I think it’s the same everywhere. You’re either fucking into it or your not. And that’s really what skating is if you’re gonna do it. You can tell if there’s the kids that randomly do it and do it cause of their friends are doing it, and the ones that are really into it. I can tell when I see a kid if he’s gonna be skating forever or maybe for a couple of months, and it’s just from watching him take one or two pushes. I’ve been skating for so long it’s kind of ridiculous. I suppose you can pick your dedication level to it or whatever, but other people are just ride or die.
Was the culture a part of why you choose to skate as a career?
I think for me, it’s like harsh and pissed off and rad, and that’s what I loved about it. Even when I was a little kid I was like a little rat. I thought I was cool or something, so I think that’s what attracted me to it. I wanted to be cool. I have two older brothers and they started skating and anything that they did I was always better than them at sports wise besides like soccer or football. I was a little dickhead, I was like haha I’m better than you.
What would you say to your younger self?
Do it all over again, fuck it. Exactly the same. Maybe drink a little less.
How do you react to failure?
It depends on what kind of failure it is. Like at school I failed and didn’t care, but if it’s something I physically can achieve or do actively and I don’t do it right then I’m super hard on myself. I think that I should be talented at all things that involve me being wild or anything like that. But that’s what drives me too. That’s why I’m so good at skating, because I can’t fail at it, I have to be good. I like anything where I push myself physically. It scares me that I have a kid and I’m gonna have to read to her. I was reading a kids book to her the other day, and then she was into it so I kept going.
How old were you when you moved away from home?
I was so hyped, it wasn’t terrifying at all. I had met this guy from California and he would come to Utah a lot and skate, and he said if you ever wanna come to California and hangout and skate then hit me up. I didn’t tell him I was coming, and hitched a ride to California, then called him at 6 in the morning and was like ‘hey whats up?’ and he was like ‘you’re lucky I’m up this early what do you want?’. I knocked on his door maybe like 30 minutes later and asked if I could stay. Now he’s one of my best friends, and he helped me become a pro skateboarder.
What advice would you give to kids?
Don’t do too many drugs, don’t drink too much. Drinking and doing drugs is bad for you. It can fuck up your life. Just have fun and don’t take it life too seriously, but take it seriously enough where you get shit done and make a difference in the world. Cause that’s what we need. We don’t need a bunch of dipshits running around.
Interview and words by India Opie Meres.