Photo: Rami Hanafi
Interview by Tuukka Tams
I’d known Antti for quite a while before I really got to know him. When I first really talked with him I noticed right away that he embodies the traits people from Lapland are famous for: he’s honest, sincere and impossible to embarrass. If something bothers Antti, he doesn’t hesitate to tell it straight. This doesn’t mean that he isn’t good company. On the contrary, being outspoken is what makes him a good pal whether you’re going riding, travelling, to a gig or just to have a beer. And of course he’s an amazing rider, but there’s much more to his snowboarding than just Cab 10s and X-Games golds.
Roots bloody roots
What kind of environment did you grow up in?
– It was nice. I’ve lived in Rovaniemi, in the same part of town, for my whole life. Growing up we just played Finnish baseball and other sports. We didn’t know anything about skating or snowboarding. All my dad’s siblings, except one of my uncles, live within a two-kilometre radius nowadays so I see my relatives a lot. That’s pretty nice but sometimes you need some privacy for a change.
Is your family name pure Lapp?
– Yep, it’s from close to Rovaniemi.
What do your relatives think of you snowboarding?
– Of course they are all stoked because they are all into sports. Every time there’s a broadcast on TV about some contest they gather to watch it somewhere. And they are interested in how much money I make. The usual stuff. Every time there’s something about me in the papers they cut it out. My grandparents didn’t have much knowledge about snowboarding – kids used to play ice-hockey or do cross-country skiing.
Were they kind of “what the hell is this”?
– A little, but my parents have always been supportive: if their boys wanted to have a hobby it didn’t matter if it was judo, chess or snowboarding because it’s always better than hanging on the street after school as a ten-year-old. And after I started to compete [their perception of it] changed. When I really got interested in it, my dad used to take me and my friends everywhere. We got a group of us together and he rented a minibus from some friend and we just rode as much as we could. I think it was when I first won the World Championships my relatives realised that I could make something out of snowboarding. It’s about the titles, you know.
Your dad has always been active with snowboarding. How much has it affected you?
– A lot, financially. And I couldn’t get anywhere by myself. They have supported me all the time. When I decided to quit school we had a huge fight because of it, but it has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. And my folks also now agree that it was a good thing after all.
What kind of a child were you, then, if they worried about you hanging on the street if you weren’t snowboarding?
There wasn’t really any risk because I wasn’t interested in such things. Though nowadays it’s a different thing [laughs]! As a child I had difficulties at school: sometimes I didn’t give a shit about it. I was quite lively, I might say, but at home I was always calm. Maybe I felt I had to play up at school, and it was stupid but back then I was just a little guy.
I think many of us have had similar feelings. So, how did snowboarding come in to your life?
– I was seven when I started slalom and nine when I tried snowboarding for the first time. Everybody rode skis and just a couple of guys snowboarded so I thought maybe I’d like to do something different. The first time was with hard boots and I sucked. After a year I got a board as a present, a Nitro Fusion 146 with a swallowtail. It was five centimetres taller than me and it had the bindings set up goofy – and I ride regular – but back then I didn’t even know what regular meant, I didn’t notice I was riding the wrong way so it didn’t do shit. By accident one time I rode a short distance regular footed and it went better, so I rode whole day with the swallowtail as a nose [laughs]!
I remember you as a little kid riding at Levi and I remember your pipe riding was like ‘sawing’, landing on the same spot from where you took off. Shortly after I heard that you were riding insanely well and I couldn’t believe it. But when I saw you again you totally killed it. Do you feel that you got way better in a blink of an eye?
– I remember periods by the boards I rode – a lot of people probably do. When I got a Ride Circe Wallace pro-model, a girls’ board, I got a little better. I rode pipe for the first time and did some serious sawing! Knees bent together and all that. I don’t know why but by the time I got a Lamar B-Line I just didn’t have any problems with tricks anymore. I rode as much as I’d done earlier but I learned way more. I think it was because I started to think about tricks and stuff more, and for me that helps the most. Sometimes I maybe think way too much…
At some point contests came along. Why did you start competing in first place?
– Maybe it was when I first saw junior competitions on TV. I thought I could also maybe do well. So I went to a contest in Pullinki, near Rovaniemi. I didn’t know how to register so my dad took care of it and he put down my whole name. Because the MC was drunk he read my name “Antti Matia-Autti” every time I dropped in and I was super pissed. And also nervous. Janne Heiskanen and Lauri Heiskari were there, and even Janne Korpi was riding in the minors. It was sweet to see how everybody was riding. I ended up fifth and was super stoked. I thought if that’s the level, I can do better. But when we went to the Finnish Championships, I was quite puzzled as the level of riding was way higher than I expected.
You got inspired to do well in competitions. Was that the main reason you kept going? Or were you just so determined from the beginning?
– I’ve always been quite competitive – but not like Risto (Mattila), [laughs]! In baseball it was more about my own performance, not about our team doing well. Already back then I noticed that I was more into individual sports. But I actually got inspired in Vuokatti at the Finnish championships where I saw the best riders for the first time – Heikki Sorsa, Topi Tossavainen and Tuomo Ojala. I got a feeling that I wanted to be as good as or even better than them. Around then I bought my first snowboard mag, which was Snowboarder, and I showed the cover to my dad and I said: “One day I’ll be there, but will I get homesick?” I was so embarrassed when my dad reminded me of that, but in the end it’s quite funny when I think of it today.
Who did you look up to when you were a kid?
– From Rovaniemi, easily Mikko Malmivaara and Eski Huttu who pulled the first rodeos I’d seen. I was like: “What the hell?” The first photo I got really stoked on was Jamie Lynn jumping the road-gap in Stryn. And Blaise Rosenthal was a tough guy because there was a quite similar photo of him too [laughs]. But maybe Kevin Jones was the rider I looked up to the most. Today I look more at how a rider uses the mountain. Like Terje – he’s the best on it and it’s so stupid that people dislike his riding.
How does it feel that your idols have become your friends?
– Of course it’s cool. I was so stoked when Joni Mäkinen said to me in Talma that I land everything I try, that I ride damn well. And that was only two years ago! But because it was Mäkinen who said it I smiled for the whole day.
How does it feel to be someone that others look up to?
– At least I try to be nice for them. You can see when someone truly admires you or if he’s just looking for an autograph, you know. Those little guys who go to a contest and don’t care what they have going on the next day because they just have to stay to watch how their idols ride, those I admire. I was just like them when I was little.
There must be lot of people patting you on the back. How do you keep your feet on the ground?
– Some of those guys you talk about might be good guys, but for example in Rovaniemi some people didn’t talk to me at all earlier and now they come to me in a bar, like: “Hi Antti, keep it going, buy me a beer”. Then I just think that if I’d still ride only here, they’d look down on me. You can laugh to yourself and think: “Go ahead, have a beer and go hang yourself.”
When did you figure out that you are someone’s idol?
– I don’t know if I’ve ever figured it out. It’s more that other people say so. Maybe I saw something coming in 2004, but last season I’ve become somewhat recognised on the street. And also by those fucking jerks too, you know.
Maybe I do. Did that downside of success come as a shock to you after the WC and X-Games?
– Yeah. The media is a funny thing. When you do well, it’s like: “Let’s do this stuff and that story and we’ll flatter you”. But when you fail, they make a whole bigger deal about that.
Has it happened to you?
– Let’s say it happened to me and Risto, if we talk about the Olympics for a bit.
I for sure want to.
– What the hell, let’s talk. Everybody in Finland said that a medal was guaranteed. This is snowboarding, not some cross-country skiing! I tried to tell myself to just keep my feet on the ground, be the same guy I’ve always been and always make time to ride no matter how busy I am or what they say in the Finnish Snowboarding Association. They said that because I’ve done well at contests I have to be here and there. Which is bullshit – they just tried to get more money for their Association, which is good in itself because there’re quite broke, but they still can’t tell me what to do. So I did them a few favours because I was tired of hearing them nagging. The Association doesn’t see snowboarding the way I see it, and that pisses me off. They don’t think about what snowboarding really is. What the hell am I trying to say?
Just bring it on. How did it feel to come home after the Olympics? Was there a lot of pressure how people would react?
– In fact there wasn’t. I was just relieved it was over. That I got fifth didn’t harm me at all. After all, I was fifth in the Olympics! One magazine wrote that I and Risto betrayed Finland. I just laughed at it.
You didn’t have any interviews about how you felt after you didn’t make it?
– None. That’s the funny thing, one minute everybody’s like “you’re the best guy” and then you’re nothing. I mean those reporters who know nothing about snowboarding. That’s how it goes, you’ll be forgotten instantly. At night I cheered with Risto because it was over and we didn’t have to talk about the Olympics for a while. Not that it isn’t nice to do well, but next time I’ll understand to draw a line for reporters because after the X-Games it has been a huge shock.
Still, you seemed a little disappointed after you saw your score.
– For a while I was. I can admit I lost my speed after the alley-oop, but it was nice to hear the whole crowd booing when they showed the score. At that point it didn’t matter with the result anymore.
Is it similar to what you used to think with baseball, that it didn’t matter what the result was as long as you had done your best?
– Totally! If I’m satisfied with my riding that’s all I need. But still, no one’s heard of a contest where every rider agrees with the judges. For me it’s been both ways. I remember in Stoneham some time ago when Miikka (Hast) pulled an awesome run and ended up seventh. “You didn’t have a decent straight air”, said the judges. But if you start with an alley-oop backside rodeo, you ride fucking huge and then your melon sways a little bit too much and you end up being seventh, and I pull a run where I spin like hell and my speed ceases and I win, it’s not right. At that point I thought that maybe I should’ve changed ranks with Miikka.
How do you feel about the part of your job that includes representation and parties?
– To be honest, sometimes it’s heavy. Especially when something comes up in the middle of the season. I’m lucky that I have sponsors that understand, but that’s only because they come from snowboarding. Companies that have nothing to do with snowboarding don’t understand it and you have to make it clear to them that at this time of the year I’m riding. But I must say that I like to party, no doubt about that, but sometimes you just need a break.
Generally it’s thought that professional snowboarders are modern-day rock stars. What do you think?
– If you go to Japan it’s totally true but I don’t experience it like that. Well, sometimes I spend quite a bit of money in the bar [laughs]. Or what do you mean?
You know exactly what I mean! You’ve read The Dirt and others!
– Well it isn’t exactly like that. I think it’s more like you get famous so you start to think that you’re a fucking tough guy. Many guys ride in the week and at weekends they’re totally wasted and playing some girls. I think after 2005 I got out of hand a couple of times. Then I thought, like: “Antti, you’re only a snowboarder”. I admit that at one time I thought that it was fucking great! Maybe I enjoyed it for a while, but then I realised it was stupid. But if you go to Japan you honestly feel like a rock star, but that’s only because of how they treat you.
Last words of wisdom
How do you hope your career will develop?
– I would like to get an opportunity to film and do some TTR contests and stuff like that. I would like to know how to ride every part of snowboarding. Like every weekend there’s a new winner but when you shoot a great film part it’s timeless.
If you stopped competing what would it do to your career?
– At least I would disappear from Finnish media but that wouldn’t bother me. In snowboarding everybody would just think that I wanted to do something else. But I would never want to quit competing completely because I like to go to good contests, such as the TTR ones.
So you don’t think that the rider’s value is measured only by contest results?
– No, but I think that the appreciation of contests is going to be increasing. It’s been seen how much sponsors value good contest results. I don’t think that only a good movie part will do. Well, maybe if it’s insane, but if you aren’t seen anywhere else will it be enough?
True. Snowboarding is developing all the time. Where do you think the limit is? For example, a few years ago it seemed crazy that someone could pull back-to-back tens. Do you think that back-to-back backside tens will be commonplace soon?
– Sure they’ll be, but I’m annoyed about it already. I raise my glass to the one who does it first – it’s totally insane! But I don’t like that kind of development. Look at women’s snowboarding these days! For men in the Olympics it was just about spinning and maybe it was the same for women too, but after that Torah Bright has won every pipe contest because she pulls such technical stuff: backside three to switch backside five to Cab seven. No other girl does that! What if some guy pulled a switch backside nine to Cab ten to alley-oop backside rodeo but it would be a little bit smaller than the other guys’ back-to-back tens, which are so boring. Which run would get more respect? I would like to see alley-oops, air-to-fakies and stuff like that returning so the halfpipe would be interesting again. If you look at backcountry riding, and especially Absinthe’s action, it’s quite sick when they are pulling park stuff in the backcountry. And what do the juniors think? “He pulled a switch backside seven off the cliff, only a switch backside seven”. Hey, come on, look at the spot!
Where do you think you can personally develop?
– Last year was the best year I’ve had, if you consider the riding itself. I learned to look more the terrain and to ride more creatively. That is where I’d like to develop my riding, although sometimes it’s more of that back-to-back ten stuff, but that’s at contests!
Where’s Antti in five years?
– Will I be 26 then? I’d like to be a part of snowboarding and I guess I would’ve tried to go to the Olympics. But mainly I’d like to see me riding other stuff than just contests, to be a part of some film crew where I could enjoy myself and the spots would take me personally to the next level. I’d like to know as much about snowboarding as Mäkinen. When you follow him to the backcountry you just feel like a rookie. If I only compete there’s a lot I won’t learn about snowboarding, and I don’t want that.
What about in ten years?
– Hopefully I will have a girlfriend [laughs]! And for sure I’d still like to ride, it’s so cool.