Profile: Jussi Oksanen
Jussi Oksanen burst on the scene in 1999 with an incredible opening section for TB8. If you haven’t seen the film, picture this in your head: the camera follows Jussi through the park – all you can hear is the sound of his board on the snow and his heavy breathing as he sets himself up for a kicker. Looking at his feet you can see his bindings look a bit odd, and you figure out he’s coming in switch. You wouldn’t know it from the way he’s riding. Jussi carves up this huge American transition, busts a cab 900 off the lip – which is pretty much as tech as tricks got back then – and it’s like you’re riding alongside him, watching this machine rotating through the air and landing clean as a whistle. Then he charges straight into the next kicker, where he launches a massive front 5… The now legendary segment set the tone for the rest of his section. With pretty much every trick in the book nailed one way or another (‘regular’ and ‘switch’ seemed to be alien terms to this guy) across park, powder and rails, this young Finnish kid was setting new standards for freestyle snowboarding. As Travis Parker, himself no slouch in the progressive riding department, put it: “Jussi man… he completely blew our minds because he was so far ahead of us in terms of talent. He was real technical with his jumping; he could do anything switch, and everything came so easy to him that it made us try extra hard. We wanted to be as good as him!”
Since that seminal part, Jussi has gone on to become one of the biggest names in snowboarding. You need to be pretty special to get a pro model with Burton – especially if you have a name most Americans can’t pronounce – but Jussi followed fellow Scandis Terje and Johan Oloffson to that honour in 2001. After several banging seasons with Standard Films he worked with Travis and David Benedek on their new RobotFood project, where his buttered take-offs in Afterlame started a mini-trend of their own. Injury then set him back for a season or so, before he returned to prominence in the recent Mack Dawg films – now hitting mainly natural jumps in the backcountry, a long way from his roots in the icy parks of Finland.
Somewhere along this meteoric rise Jussi has married an English girl called Zoe and moved out to California. We called him there as he was putting the finishing touches to his new trick tip video, Jumping with Jussi. We wanted to know what was next for a rider who’s raised the bar several times already, but first he made us wait while he got himself a cup of tea. As we were about to find out, Jussi is getting all English these days…
Jussi: Tea’s ready, let’s do this!
WL: Ha ha! OK, so first off can you tell us where you are right now, and what you’re doing?
I’m in Southern California – we moved here in September 2005. I’ve been working pretty much flat out on this Jumping with Jussi DVD and in the meantime trying to get a few waves in.
How long have you been surfing? Are you any good?
I’ve been surfing on and off for a few years but since moving here I’m getting to surf regularly for the first time. I’m getting better, but I’m still in the rookie zone where I snake everyone and piss ‘em off!
Being such a good snowboarder it must be strange to be a rookie again? Those Cali locals can get gnarly!
It’s actually really chilled here as the waves don’t get too big – unless you go to Blacks or somewhere like that.
So this is home for you now? What about Finland?
Yep. We just wanted to find a place where we could live in one spot, as it was getting crazy hectic moving around between so many places – always having to ship your stuff from one place to another and store it all over. We bought a house here and we like it here for now. I don’t know if it’s forever, and whatever happens we’ll definitely still be spending a good amount of time in Finland in the future, and for the rest of our lives. It’s the perfect contrast to California cos it’s basic and peaceful, with a sense of space which you don’t get here.
So have you kept your old house in Finland?
Yeah, we have kept it. I was kind of tripping because building that house had been my dream for so long, then when we finally got it together we decided to move to the States! So for now we’re renting it out but our plan is to spend a couple of months in the summers there in the future.
That sounds perfect. And you’ve married one of our English girls right? Can you tell us how you met?
She used to rep for Burton in the UK and we met at one of the sales meetings in Vermont, in a bar. We were both pretty wasted and I was just trying to talk to her and make it happen but she wasn’t having it! So I figured I needed to look into this more and work out what she was about. I worked on it for a while… I came over to London on the Burton tour a few months later and kept working on it there, and finally got her to fly out to Biarritz to see me for a few days – the rest is history! I think one month my phone bill was 2000 euros, just to her!
I think we’ve all had those phone bills in the past! Would you say you’ve picked up any English habits since marrying her?
I’m drinking a cup of tea and biscuits right now – it’s bloody fantastic!
Ha ha! OK then, let’s have a little ‘How English is Jussi?’ test…
1. Have you ever tried Marmite?
We have toast and marmite everyday.
It took me a while to get into it though!
2. Do you know what HP Sauce is?
It’s brown sauce – I have it with my steaks for sho!
3. Do you like marmalade?
Hmm, I’m not sure about that one – it must be some crazy English thing…
4. How about full English breakfasts?
Yeah! I can’t wait to come to England next and have a proper breakfast. I could have that every day except that I’d turn into an American-looking beast!
5. Do you talk about the weather all the time, like a proper Englishman?
Ha ha! That one makes me laugh cos it’s so true! It’s always like, “It’s so bloody hot” or “It’s been pissing rain”! I’m not so into that – right now all I care about is what the swell and tides are doing!
Yeah, we’re always complaining about the weather…
6. Do you remember John Craven?
Who the hell is he?! My wife is really laughing in the background at that one!
She can fill you in. OK here’s another one for her…
7. Frank Bruno – sporting hero or panto clown?
Er… he’s a lisping boxing clown apparently?!
I’ll give you it.
8. Do you play football or support an English team?
I played soccer for eight years when I was a kid for KYFF – the county team. I got dropped cos I was skating too much. I was kind of backing England when they were playing recently but they weren’t doing too well so I had to raise the flag for Brazil!
Oh dear, sounds like we have a glory hunter on our hands! OK, just a couple more on the English trip…
9. Are you good at taking penalty kicks?
Better than Beckham!
Ha ha, touché!
10. Do you have bad teeth like most English people?
I only started drinking tea about two years ago so they’re not too yellow yet…
Last one. Whereabouts in England have you been, and where did you like/dislike?
I really like Cornwall – we spent some time down there surfing at Watergate Bay and around Devon. Brighton is my favourite town. I went to a wedding in Leeds once but I couldn’t quite understand the locals. London is always good fun when it’s not raining or “too bloody hot”!
Not bad Jussi. I mark you about a 7 on the ‘English’ scale!
Back to the snowboarding stuff… What are your goals in snowboarding now? From the shots I’ve seen of you recently, it seems like you’re getting more into backcountry freestyle?
Backcountry freestyle is definitely what I enjoy doing the most, and what I’ve been doing more of recently. This year was the first time I went full-on heli riding in Alaska and it was a different world. Valdez is amazing, but it’s not the easiest place to combine freestyle in the backcountry. This season I’m hoping to go to Haines in AK which has more natural features as well as big mountains. But at the same time I’m really stoked on doing contests again as well, so I’m planning on doing a few more this season as it balances your winter out.
Would you say that backcountry freestyle is the pinnacle of snowboarding? Does it get any harder than pulling tricks in Alaska?
For me snowboarding is not only one thing. I still enjoy riding the park, which is where I’ve come from, but obviously powder is the shit and it doesn’t get any better than AK. Combining freestyle with powder – especially in Valdez where the terrain is so steep and rocky, and it’s more about lines than anything else – was a reality check. I went there with the intention of doing that, but it wasn’t that straight forward given the terrain. It’s almost like a different sport up there. It’s such a big adjustment that if you really want to step it up you need to take your time and get to know your shit before you start properly going for it. We found that not only is the riding a big change, but it’s the same deal for filmers too – some shots that you thought would look banger on film end up looking like ants on a hill and don’t capture it at all.
I think this is what a lot of people say about AK – that you just can’t appreciate what these guys like Jeremy Jones are doing from watching the videos. Back when you went pro was it harder – coming from Scandinavia – to get used to riding and landing in powder?
Growing up riding icy parks it was a huge step to come into the powder, especially when your first powder days are filming with Standard Films, and riding with Tom Burt, Kevin Jones and Dave Downing! It took me a while, and I had a bit of a hard time at the start. Most of the days at the beginning I would just sit on my board and watch those guys rip, wishing I was in the park!
That part you had in TB8 made a big splash. Did you notice it at the time? Was that the moment things took off for you?
At the time I didn’t have any pressure from anyone – the only pressure I felt was what I put on myself. I really didn’t have anything to lose. I was really hungry and wanted to make it happen. I’d worked hard to get myself out of Finland through contests etc., but this was my dream and as soon as I had the chance to live it I was so stoked. I won best video part of the year from that film, and that was where a lot of it took off for me with sponsors etc. So for sure I noticed the effect.
Are you famous in Finland now? Do you get recognized?
In the snowboard scene, obviously people recognize me, but until the whole Olympic thing (with Risto and Antti going there) it hasn’t really been mainstream so I’ve managed to keep it pretty low key. A lot of people have never heard of me and that’s just fine!
Do you have good memories of the RobotFood project? A lot of people say those movies changed snowboarding. Do you agree?
It wasn’t necessarily the highlight of my career, but it was kind of like a second wave; it gave us all the chance to do what we had to do filming-wise, but also to have such a blast doing it. I think it was funny because we were all at a similar point in our careers, where we felt the need to do something that represented what snowboarding really was for us. Afterbang really came from the heart, but after that I felt like there was a real pressure to do the same thing. Did it change snowboarding? I don’t think it changed the sport but it did change the movie scene a bit, as we kind of broke the concept of how movies could be made. We proved that people enjoy seeing the fun.
Why did you move onto MDP?
I was hurt for the whole year of LAME and had a few surgeries and stuff, and felt that the whole RobotFood gang was falling apart a bit. I was also feeling a bit of pressure from my sponsors to step my game back up, so me and Wille [Luoma] decided to go with Dawger. A good friend of ours, Brad Kremer, had just started filming for them as well, so it seemed to be a good move.
It definitely seems to have paid off. Did you set out with specific goals for your latest video part? Or do you just head out filming and see what happens?
Last year my only real focus was my video part, whereas this year I had a lot of things I wanted to do – and do differently – such as AK and exploring more natural terrain. But it’s very difficult to plan. You can always try, but the winter always ends up going its own way. The snow can go a certain way or you can get hurt, so it’s usually better to just go with the flow and see where the season takes you. Plus I was working on Jumping with Jussi and hitting some more contests as well, which took up a lot of the winter.
OK, so Jumping with Jussi is gonna help kids to learn tricks. Can you remember the last trick you learned yourself?
The last trick I learned was switch backside rodeos – Andreas [Wiig] was my coach!
What tip did he give you?!
He reminded me to take off from my toe edge, as I was always going from my heels!
What advice would you give a young snowboarder these days, if they’re thinking about going pro?
First of all I think you need to realize that going pro is kind of a natural step. If you enjoy what you’re doing and don’t put too much pressure on yourself, then that’s a good start. I think doing contests is really important to get your name out there. Everyone if filming now so I don’t know if it carries the same weight as back in the days; contests seem to be more important again. Keep riding and having fun and just be on it with your stuff – it’s no longer the same sport it used to be, where it was easy to become pro by just knowing someone and hitting the bong all day long.
Is America still the mecca for any aspiring snowboarder?
The industry is definitely based here, and it’s where the whole scene and sport is driven. You can probably make some kind of living just staying in Europe, but it’s super hard to be really well known and be a full pro if you don’t try to get your name out here in the States.
Do you think the attitude of American riders is different to Europeans?
In America it seems to be more image driven, and jibbing is much bigger. Just being super ‘yo’ is a big thing over here. Europe seems to be more about the snowboarding – those details don’t really matter to the Euros as long as they’re riding the best powder and loving it.
I hope you’re right, but I see a lot of yo boys over here these days! OK, so what do you do to relax (apart from surfing)?
I love playing golf. I also love my little routines here: surfing, going to the coffee shop, working on my house and garden… Things have changed from 5 years ago!
Do you still skate?
I just bought myself a new skateboard actually. I’m going to Mt. Hood in a week for the High Cascade camp with Jeremy Jones, and we’ve got some DVS skaters coming in such as Daewon Song and Kevin Taylor, so it’s gonna be cool to check out how it goes down with those boys! Hopefully we can take them snowboarding too – that’ll be a good laugh.
Yeah, no doubt Daewon can teach you a trick or too! That guy is insane. Who’s your favourite pro skater?
When I was a kid it was Jason Lee and Guy Mariano, then later on Tom Penny, Geoff Rowley and the whole English bunch… how many cups of tea have you had so far?
Only one, but I wouldn’t mind 5 minutes to make another. Do you want a 5 min break?
That works – let me know when you’re back from your tea break!
OK, will do.
(5 minutes later)
OK, new cup of tea, ready to go!
You’re famous for skating goofy and riding a snowboard regular. I also heard a story that it’s because of the way your first board was set up – is that true?
It’s true. The rental gear at the time was pretty damn ghetto. They just drilled some bindings into some weird board-shaped thing that was almost like a monoski, and they were all set up regular so you didn’t have a lot of option! So that’s how I learnt to snowboard, even though I was a goofy skater.
Wow! I bet you don’t regret it though, it must have helped your switch tricks?
Definitely. Even as a kid growing up snowboarding, switch riding was never a problem. It was the same as skating – I actually know how to do some tricks better switch than regular.
Yeah, you always do rail tricks switch right, cos it’s like skating?
You got it!
You mentioned a few British skaters before. Do you know much about any UK snowboarders? We don’t have any mountains here so it’s kind of a small scene…
I knew the old bunch – like Chris Moran, Ed Leigh etc. And I know Danny Wheeler but I haven’t seen him for a while.
Danny’s doing good actually. He’s been riding really well recently.
Yeah, and I hear he just got married! He’s a nice guy and a good rider.
Who were your snowboarding heroes growing up?
Jeff Brushie, Ingemar Backman, Johan Olofson, Terje, and Peter Line.
There really aren’t many big resorts in Finland – why are the riders so damned good?
Basically it’s all night riding. We used to ride every day after school for about 4 hours. The slopes are like, 50 metres vertical, so one lap takes about one and a half minutes. You add that up over time and you’re hitting kickers about 100 times a day!
We need to apply that format to our indoor parks! They’re probably not as good as they could be…
Our parks weren’t that good either! It just became our home – even when it was shit and there was nothing to jump.
Have you seen any youngsters over in Finland recently we should be looking out for?
It seems the machine is still working – there are constantly new kids coming up. I can’t even keep up anymore, but there are fresh names coming every year and they’re all really good. Jussi Laivisto is a pretty young one – he’s just started filming with Standard – and Peetu Pirainen is doing super well too.
Did you have any other jobs before you went pro?
I went pro pretty young at 17. But before that I worked for my dad in construction here and there, helping out and getting enough money to go on snowboard trips and buy myself a little fishing boat!
What do your parents think of your career? Were they expecting you to get a normal job?
They were really supportive all the way through, but then when I got to 17 – and it came down to me leaving Finland in September and coming back in the Spring, and I’d have to quit school for snowboarding – they got worried about how it would all go. But they had enough faith that I knew what I was doing so they never stopped me.
That’s cool. What are the worst injuries you’ve had to deal with in your career so far? How did they happen?
One year I had two ankle surgeries, one on each ankle, and then as soon as I finished the rehab I herniated a disk in my back, which was a real bummer cos it was two months before the season started. That was before the Chulksmack year, so it was tough. I also broke my collar bone and had surgery, and dislocated my shoulder and had another two surgeries on my ankles. The ankles is just an impact thing – cartilage overgrowth or something. But I’m feeling pretty strong now.
Can you tell us about your worst ever stack? What happened?
It’s been more like a consistent beating over the years than one that stands out really. This year I had a pretty bad truck accident though on the way to Mammoth, which was pretty damn scary as I totally wrote the truck off and it was a close call, but no-one got hurt so that was lucky. I went head first into a snow plow on the highway – I was fed up with him going slow and tried to pass but it was super deep snow and I hit the blade which was hidden underneath! Smart huh?
That sounds well dodgy. What’s the most scared you’ve ever been on a board? Ever been stood at the top of a line thinking “what the fuck am I doing here?!” or been chased by an avalanche?
Alaska. Getting dropped off into some lines with the helicopter hovering at the top of the peak, and knowing that they could never pick you up again so the only way out is to ride some gnarly chute. Every time you drop into a big line and make that first turn, you never really know how it’s going to turn out. If things go bad you know they’re gonna go really bad.
Who do you like to ride with?
This year I rode a lot with DCP, Andreas Wiig and Josh Dirksen, which is such a cool crew to ride with. Everyone is so stoked to snowboard so we have a good time as well as ripping pretty damn hard.
What do you think is the key to good style? And who do you think has the best style?
Everyone has different styles but I really like watching Devun Walsh and riders like that – not crazy hucking, just good style rather than mad spinning.
Is style something you work on, or does it just come naturally?
It’s just something that comes naturally. I think the more you snowboard the more natural your style becomes. I think it’s important to have your own style – no one can really judge what is the right style. Just keep on doing what works for you.
Do you ride with tunes on?
I don’t really rock tunes while I’m riding, but I like it when I’m hiking or building kickers. I listen to stuff through my Motorola Audex jacket – it’s also got this cool phone feature which is pretty sweet: you plug it in and I can check how my pregnant wife is doing while I’m riding! Pretty tech ha?!
When you design a pro model are you restricted by market considerations? For instance do you need to adjust the size range to suit the Japanese market?
As far as graphics go, I can come up with whatever I want and just get together with my friend Jari who’s the artist. One year though they did pull the plug on our design, as what we came up with first was a bit weird! Size wise, I ride the 59 myself all the time, so that’s perfect, and the 54 is my jib board but it also works well for Japan, so it’s easy really.
What’s the best place you’ve ever ridden?
Alaska – 65 powder runs in 2 weeks.
You’re a lucky boy… So where will snowboarding go next? Can it keep progressing?
I think it’s going to go more creative as far as the parks are concerned, rather than just building massive booters and people flying like hornets! And it’s definitely going in the direction of more complex tricks, like David Benedek’s frontside double corked 1260. But I think that going big and having good style in the backcountry will also be big. Rails…? I dunno.
Bit of a random question this but I’ve got short sight so I’m gonna ask it… I think I saw you in glasses in one of the videos. Do you wear contact lenses for riding?
I actually got contact lenses for the first time before going to AK, but I just can’t work with them. They get really dry snowboarding and just dealing with all the crap that goes with it is a headache, so I didn’t really wear them. Just use the force man!
OK, last question… You’ve got one trick left before you die. What do you pull?
Straight line off a hundred foot cliff.
Would you grab?
I would just wiggle like a dead chicken.
That’s it Jussi, it was super fun talking to you!
Cheers mate – it was good.
Time to get your English breakfast by now surely?
Already had it!