Upping the Antti
Interview: Ceri Birtles
Portraits: Jani Kärppä
At 130,000 square miles in size and with a population of just over 5 million, Finland is little known or talked about in the wider world. Sandwiched between Russia and Sweden (and taking many of it’s influences from them) the country is more often than not shrouded in a veil of icy darkness, due to three quarters of it being situated within the arctic circle.
The year is 2006, Turin is hosting the Winter Olympics, and the halfpipe is making its second outing into the mainstream. This time we’re hearing names that do not role off the western tongue with the same ease as Danny, Shaun and Andy. From the dark lands of the north, the Finns have arrived – and they’re turning heads.
Now this was not just because their official team outerwear was by far the coolest (the USA pinstripes looked more at home in the hotdogging event) but also down to the emergence of a powerful, fluid youngster who was entering the finals fresh from podium finishes at the Nippon Open, the US Open and the Arctic Challenge. Not only that, but he’d had the audacity to beat Shaun White at the 2005 X Games (he is still one of only two riders ever to do so) with one of the most technical runs ever witnessed. So, while the cameras on Turin were focusing on Shaun and TV presenters the world over were explaining the whole ’Flying Tomato’ moniker, much of the smart money was on this guy. His name was, and still is, Antti Autti.
After a disappointing fifth place finish that many feel was not representative of his flawless run, the Olympics were allowed to fade into distant memory, but the Finns remained. Antti has continued his fine tradition in the big competitions, securing podiums at the BEO and the Air & Style as well as top spot in the Vans Cup and the Transworld Team Challenge for halfpipe.
Having ridden for the same hardware team for most of his career, Antti – along with fellow countryman Risto Mattila – has helped to build Flow into a worldwide brand, turning product that was once the preserve of the punter and rental market into high performance kit which ranks with the best in the world.
We caught up with Antti at his home, nicely situated in the north of Finland, a gift from the country to one of its most recognised and successful sportsmen.
Hey Antti, how’s things?
I’m doing OK. I’m trying to do some physio for my arm as I broke my collar bone about five weeks ago.
Is it getting better?
Yeah it’s getting better slowly. It’s a bit of an unusual break so it’s taking a bit longer to heal. I should be back riding in a couple of weeks, then hitting the big stuff by Christmas. I just have to take my time and get the strength back.
Where are you from?
Rovaniemi, way up in the artic circle
How old are you?
In the UK many people think Scandinavians are born with skis on their feet, is this true? When did you first get to slide down a snowy slope?
It’s kinda true, cos we have to do cross country skiing in school and in kindergarden as well, so it is a part of our lives from very early on. I’ve been skiing since I was three years old.
How old were you when you first strapped into a snowboard?
I started downhill skiing at 7 and strapped a snowboard on aged 10
Are Finnish ski resorts typically Scandinavian? Small and icy. Is this why you excel in pipe riding?
Compared to Sweden and Norway Finnish resorts are much smaller for sure. Usually, during some of the year it’s really icy. This year so far we have been getting a lot of snow so it’s looking like it’s gonna be a good one. Normally from late October to late Feb it’s really icy. I think it’s changing now because of global warming and we are getting much more snow these days.
What was your proudest moment in snowboarding?
I dunno really, when you enter a high level comp and do well, especially against high level riders, you always feel really good, but I guess the proudest thing I feel is that I have managed to make a living from snowboarding and being a professional. That I made my dream come true makes me most proud.
Last season you had some great results in some major comps. When you look forward to the coming season is your goal to improve your results or just to enjoy your riding more and progress?
I kinda try to improve both for sure, but I’m more into getting shots and editorial stuff in the mags as well, and trying to do a lot of different stuff. I guess riding comps is part of it, you see all the new tricks and what level the riding is at, but for sure I want to ride more backcountry try to improve my riding; to use my imagination and use the natural environment better and not just ride in the park.
So using your imagination keeps you more interested?
Totally, I get much more out of it. If I just ride pipe I get bored for sure. I feel like if I try to ride everything, trees etcetera, then I might be able to bring something to the contests and show that my riding looks natural – not just hucking and chucking all the time.
So riding backcountry actually helps you progress in the park?
Yeah, you know if you just ride park and pipe, you gonna be a good rider on jumps and stuff but you don’t have the eye, and you won’t know how to ride in the trees or know how to read natural objects – and I really want to do that. I find that when I ride more in the trees and powder and then after I go ride park, I find different lines and it keeps it way more interesting.
Do massive crowds at comps make it easier or harder to perform?
When I was at the Air & Style they had the best crowd, dancing and cheering, I think they were a bit drunk! They were screaming and shouting my name and it made me want to push my riding more and more, it made me ride better. It really helped, and because they were shouting my name it was pretty fun. Normally though I don’t notice the crowd so I definitely don’t feel any pressure.
What was the Olympic experience like? Was it just like any other comp for you?
The Olympics were hectic. Everyday when we went to ride pipe we had to go through a security check, and the whole area was full of cops and army dudes. I liked it a lot as an experience for sure. I didn’t feel much more pressure when I went there, I just tried to do my thing. After I got fifth the Finnish media was pretty much tearing me apart cos I didn’t bring gold home. Hahaha! What fools. We still got bronze and they were just trying dig out bad things for press.
Do you realise the Finnish team outerwear was way cooler than the US one?!
Of course it was way cooler, we looked like four smurfs. I was stoked on that outfit. We had Dakine ‘Finnpower’ gloves as well.
You missed this year’s Air & Style through injury, what have you done?
I broke the tip of my collarbone landing in the flat of the pipe whilst filming for a new documentary and have been out since October 24th. It’s pretty much the worst injury I ever had, but the recovery has been much faster than I and the doctors thought. It’s kinda bad for your head because you start thinking bad things, but I guess it makes you miss snowboarding more and realise how much fun it is.
With injuries is there a temptation to compete or jump on a board anyway and risk further damage?
For me I try not to think about snowboarding too much. I don’t watch movies or visit any websites or anything like that, I don’t know anything about anything. I think about different stuff and just try to get back in shape. Once your injury is slightly better it sucks a bit cos you know you could go riding and you’re teasing yourself. I’m trying to get myself in shape then get back on it and ride as hard as I can, but I don’t want to go out there and get hurt again, I want to be in shape and not risk it too much.
After spreading your blood all over a pipe wall how do you overcome any fear you might have about hitting it again?
For me, at first you’re scared. But because you haven’t ridden for a while you are kind of motivated to prove you’re still a good rider and to try and get much more out of it than you did before. This stops you really feeling any fear.
Does a future of old age, painful joints and pain killers scare you? Do you take precautions to make sure this won’t happen? What are they?
I’ll try to stay away from painkillers as long as I can. I try to keep fit and exercise in the summer to make sure I can ride for as long as I can because there is nothing more fun than snowboarding… well, maybe sex! But you know, you see guys who have not taken care of themselves so good and they have to take painkillers everyday just to go riding. I don’t want to be that guy – stay healthy and it’s way more fun.
What other activities do you enjoy? Do you try to participate in other sports that will help your snowboarding?
I skateboard and jump on the trampoline, and I go to the gym a lot. I don’t like it but I just do it because I know it helps. I swim a lot because I know it’s the best way to exercise all your muscles and ligaments. I go to the gym 4 or 5 times a week but I hate it!
I read somewhere that you are a rock music kind of guy.
Yeah I love that stuff. I like all the old stuff like Neil Young and Johnny Cash, country rock as well – it’s pretty fun to sing karaoke to.
Does rock music sum you up as a person? Like hardcore, hell for leather, seat of your pants, hard drinking, crazy…
I guess you could say that. Music and parties are definitely a big part of the summer, in the winter not so much as snowboarding with a hangover is no fun.
Where are your favourite places to escape to when you just want to be with your friends shredding?
Ruka is three hours from my home, it’s my favourite resort out of all of them pretty much. They have a great park thats a lot of fun to ride with my friends.
Flow bindings tend to divide opinion between those who love them and those who think you can’t beat a regular strap-in. Do you find it makes any difference?
I think they’re way better than a regular strap-in. Of course people will think ‘he has to say because he is sponsored by Flow.’ But all my friends who were first skeptical about the product are now stoked on it and won’t even think about going back to strap-ins. Also flow bindings support my ankles way better. I just love ‘em. If you have a good set-up that supports your ankles and everything really well you get way more confidence and you don’t really think that you are likely to sprain your ankles. It’s the same with making sure you have the right board, if you go for a run in the pipe on a soft board you just can’t deal with a lot of speed and the hard ice; you really need a good stiff board for that kind of stuff.
How much input do you get into your pro model board and outerwear?
Well, we try to be part of the whole process the whole time. We give a lot of feedback to the company on whether something works really well or if it doesn’t work well at all and needs to be changed. It’s been going really well – if you think back a couple of years the bindings we were riding were heavy and bulky, but now they’re super light. With the boards too, I think the effort we have put in has really helped. When I first started riding for Flow I wasn’t paying much attention to the development, but as time has passed and the equipment has improved I realise how important it is.
Who is your best buddy on the riding circuit?
I usually hang out with Risto (Mattila) a lot because we’re on the same team. We’ve been teammates for five years and get on really welll. When I first joined the team he used to tease me and make fun of me but we are best friends now.
What are your ambitions? And what do you think you’ll do after you quit riding?
I don’t know. I love snowboarding so much I would love to continue to be a part of it. I think I should be able to find a job in the industry, maybe coaching kids would be a really good thing for me? But I wouldn’t be one of those guys who shout a lot at the kids!
Are there any downsides to being a professional snowboarder?
Yeah, well I guess traveling. Travelling is a good and a bad thing; when you are first on the road you love it but after a few months you begin to have had enough, and by April and May you just want to stay at home and ride park with your friends.
What was the last trick you learned? And what are you trying to learn this season?
The last trick I learned was a switch barrel role in the pipe – it’s like a front flip in the pipe, it’s pretty fun. I’ve only just learnt it and haven’t done it in the big pipe yet – I think it might be a little scary but I’ll just go fast and see what happens (when my collarbone is better of course!) For the coming season I really want to learn some of that double cork stuff that Benedek is doing. I can’t wait until I can hit the jumps to learn it cos it looks so fun. I think everyone wants to learn them nowadays. [Er… Dunno about the WL readers but I’m still working on my single corks – Ed]
Do you know much about the UK scene? Did you see the dryslope section in the new Benedek movie?
I saw the movie, it’s great. That guy doing the back 9s out of that jump is crazy, I could never do that! I know Ben Kilner really well from the Billabong team, we were in NZ together. I think he is really talented, he was getting some good air with some great tricks.
Have you ever been to the UK yourself?
I’ve never been to the UK other than stopping off at the airport in London.
You didn’t miss anything. I guess most Brits have a stereotyped image of Finland. How would you describe your home country?
I love Finland. One of my favourite things about it is the seasons are all so different; the summer is so bright and sunny and then the winter comes and it’s dark and snowy. As the seasons change it is really noticeable. The people are really cool too they are really supportive, but I suppose we do have a jealousy thing where we always seem to be jealous of other people.
That sounds like the British loving the underdog but always knocking the successful.
Yeah I guess it is a bit. We are also really shy people and we are hard drinkers – but not as hard as the Russians.
Which riders most inspire you at the moment?
I think I would have to go with Nicolas Müller and Travis Rice. I also like Wolle Nyvelt cos he does all that crazy stuff in the trees and the backcountry. They bring freestyle to the backcountry really well, they don’t even build kickers and are still doing the same moves that others can only do in the park. That’s the future of snowboarding.
Have you seen Wolle in this season’s Absinthe movie, when he’s riding that surfboard thing?
Yeah I have, it’s amazing! I think Optimistic? is the best movie this year for sure.
OK, last question. Would you rather ride a perfect pipe on a sunny day (just you and a buddy) or enjoy a fresh powder day?
It’s got to be the fresh.
Full name: Antti-Matias Antero Autti
Date of Birth: 15/3/1985
Board: Flow Team 157
Boots: Flow One
Bindings: Flow NXT AT
Stance Width: 57,5 cm
Angles: +20 Front, -5 back
Other Sponsors: Giro , Dakine , Rockstar EnergyDrink ,GSM Suomi
Major Contest Results:
TTR – ranked 2nd 2007
X-games Halfpipe – Gold 2005
Air & Style – 3rd, 2006
Nissan X-trail QP – 2nd, 2006
Toyota Big Air – 3rd, 2007