Onboard Magazine

A Conversation with Jussi Oksanen – Forever Exploring

Jussi Oksanen has been crushing it for years. After establishing himself as a successful contest rider, he launched an unprecedented filming career, putting down parts in various productions by Standard Films, Robot Food, Mack Dawg, as well as those of his long-time sponsor, Burton. Jussi also found the time to win X Games medals, become a father of two, go camping, and consistently raise the bar in backcountry freestyle snowboarding. At 34, he is not even close to slowing down. Onboard sat down with him to discover the secret to his everlasting career in an ephemeral business.

Here’s our first question: Do you have an estimation how many times over your entire career you have been asked why you snowboard regular but skate and surf goofy?

Yeah, it comes up all the time. [laughs] I don’t know, it’s a strange thing because over time, talking to people, it’s actually quite a lot of snowboarders who do that… especially Finnish people. [laughs again] It’s people like Iikka, Heikki, me and Lauri… There are quite a few guys who do that so it seems pretty common.

Let’s talk about your past winter. Can you list all the snowboarding projects you were involved in?

Last winter the main thing was just filming for a Burton movie, that was pretty much it. Then I was also doing the Real Snow thing for the X Games. And I went to Baldface for Travis’ contest [the Ultra Natural] That was really cool. And then there were a couple of photo shoots, but the main thing is just the filming. It’s pretty simple: Trying to get out there and get good footage. And go try to explore and find some new things to snowboard [laughs].

In what way is the Ultra Natural different from your regular contest or a day of filming in the backcountry?

I was excited to go there but it’s not completely my type of riding. When I film I feel like I’m in control of what’s going on and I like to pick a feature and I make my assessments, go on the take-off and make sure the snow is good. With this you can’t really go on the hill that much. You kind of have to pick your line just looking at it, and I’m not really used to that. But I was excited at the same time, because it is something I’m not that familiar with. But then the only bummer was the conditions were a bit bad. It hadn’t snowed in ten days. It was challenging, but it was really cool to see Gigi and Nico who ride that stuff. They come through and still kill it. It really sets them apart. They grew up in the Alps. They ride in any conditions from top to bottom, it all changes. But I’m from Finland [laughs]. There’s jumps, it’s straight forward.. It was really cool to see these diverse riders and the way they can adapt to the snow and conditions.

It seems you felt a lot more at home filming for the X Games Real Snow. It is a little confusing, but you came in third and were awarded with a bronze medal, right?

Yes. They’ve got the voting thing, that’s kind of a bonus contest, but most people think that’s the main event. I got third last year and won the viewer’s vote, and this year I got second. I had a pretty rough year this year. I had a lot of injuries and stuff. Just getting on the podium was really cool.

I like the concept, it’s kind of cool. It gives us the opportunity to show our footage more mainstream. Especially this year, as it was part of the LA X Games. The viewing rates were pretty high, so it’s a nice bonus for our sponsors. You know, a lot of people don’t see what we really do. It’s such a limited group of people who really follow snowboarding. For us to expand and to go beyond that was cool…

When looking through your Facebook posts we noticed that you are not only extremely productive, you also manage to spend a lot of time with your family – you have a wife and two kids. How do you combine that?

My kids are almost five and seven… I have been doing this for a while. It works for me. If I’m away for more than a week I’m like ‘I got to get home!’. What I do now is I leave my truck and snowmobile in Canada and I go film, and then I just leave my truck at the airport and fly home to San Diego.

I’m getting so good at the weather forecast thing and everything else. Nowadays I’m sitting at home and a storm is coming in, and then I can see the satellite, the weather starts breaking up, and as soon as I see a window coming, I go straight back up. This year I went back and forth eleven times. It’s not easy, because you’re always rushing. You don’t get to ride as much for yourself and that’s the downside. But I love coming home and see my kids and my wife so that’s the main thing in that balance.

It definitely doesn’t show in the output…

Thank you. And what I usually do early season, from November to December, I just go snowboard. I go to Mammoth, and Colorado, and Whistler, and I just go snowboard. I don’t film, and I don’t shoot photos. And once I feel like I’m ready, I’m good on my snowboard [I start filming]… And it’s gotten to the point where it’s pretty heavy what we do. The falls are getting pretty heavy. When I go out and film I almost need a week off to recover [laughs]. So I come home and have my guys here, chiropracters and my trainer. And I can chill out with the family and get ready and healthy and go back.

Is this is your secret of how to stay on top of the game for that long? Is it listening to your body and giving it rest and taking care of it?

Yeah, I think it is. And what I do now to myself compared to ten years ago… I didn’t really train, I ate whatever, and now it’s completely different. I train twice a week, I cycle, I do a lot of things to keep myself healthy. And now with the family I appreciate being a pro snowboarder more than I ever have before. It’s an amazing lifestyle. And it makes me want to work twice as hard. It’s a great job, I do what I love, and I get to spend a lot of time with my family. Getting those two things right has given me more motivation to keep going and taking care of myself. So I can enjoy my snowboarding and hopefully do it longer.

So many snowboard brands seem to be focussing on the next big thing and often they get rid of the seasoned and experienced pros. It obviously doesn’t affect you, but what are your thoughts on that?

I think it’s pretty sad. It’s such a short-minded vision. The kid who’s coming up… you never know how long he’s gonna be around. They might kill it after two seasons or whatever. The guys who have been around for a long time and keep producing and getting better and doing different stuff… that’s a pretty safe bet for a company I would think.

You know, Fredi… I think Fredi [Kalbermatten] is one of the best snowboarders in the world, and he’s having such a hard time getting sponsors. That to me doesn’t seem to be right at all. But it shows what’s big right now. I think it’s what it comes down to, that contests have a big viewing, and it’s the Olympics. And what we’re doing in the backcountry… not as many people view it. Which is sad, seeing what’s happening with the movies, that kids are not buying DVDs.

Every year it’s one movie less, and less money is going towards the movies. And now it’s on youtube, and websites, and iTunes. And I feel what we do doesn’t have the same impact that it had ten years ago. When we put a movie out people would say ‘I can’t wait till the new Mack Dawg movie or Robot Food movie [comes out]’… and now it’s kind of diluted what we do…

How do you think – with movie companies disappearing – kids are going to make a name for themselves outside the contest scene?

It’s all changing. Yes, it’s different, but I think there are a lot more opportunities now. When we were kids I had to start doing contests and I didn’t want to do contests. My dream was to film videos. But I had to learn how to ride halfpipe to get sponsors. And as soon as I got to that level with sponsors I was filming.

But now for kids, if they are smart and they are good, there are so many different outlets for them to get exposure and do videos and get them on Transworld and different sites and get noticed. I don’t think it’s any worse, it’s just different. You just have to be proactive and I wish when I was a kid I could have made videos and put them out somewhere. But there was no outlet, you know, there was nowhere to watch them.

If you want to do well in contests these days it seems you have to throw down triple corks. What do you think about this type of progression?

I think it’s insane. I watched the X Games… seeing right now doubles and triples on slopestyle… I think snowboarding is progressing, and younger kids are bringing it to the next level, and there’s still good style.

I wish there was a little bit of balance sometimes. Instead of watching a round of double-double-double-triple I wish there was some way of getting something creative in there, like something more technical but creative, like a section that you have to do something different and then do your crazy tricks. But as far as snowboarding goes I think it’s great, and I think that’s how every sport evolves. I don’t know what’s ahead of us and where it’s gonna go [laughs], but it’s amazing.

But for the backcountry it’s kind of a nice balance. Because now you have the complete madness, like crazy tricks in the park and contests. But I feel like that in the backcountry you can go more basic. Just keep it really basic and creative. I don’t want to see doubles or triples in the backcountry. That’s not what I’m looking forward to. I want guys do cool lines and natural stuff… floaty 180s and stuff like that.

You just Instagrammed an old Burton ad from 2002, and it shows you hitting a streetrail. What memories does this bring back? What has changed since?

I’ve gone through so many stages. That time was exciting for me, because I was really hungry to prove a point. Like ‘I’m good’ or whatever [laughs]. You just really going after it and try to make a name for yourself. That was really a fun time. And now it’s almost like it’s going full circle. In some ways I feel like I love what I do as much as when I started it.

There was a time when I got a little jaded and took things maybe a little too much for granted. Everything was easy and you didn’t really have to push yourself. Everything got stale and I wasn’t having as much fun. But then I had a family. And I totally got a different angle looking at things and realised how amazing it is what we do. And so I got a whole new spark for snowboarding. And now what Burton are doing – they pretty much give us complete freedom to do whatever we want in the backcountry. It’s pretty much me and Mikey Rencz just doing our thing. We can choose what we do, where we go, what we film. It’s really fun now, I’m loving the whole thing. It’s funny how things can go full circle.

Why Mikey Rencz?

I met Mikey first time in my first Burton shoot in 2000 in Argentina. He was tiny, this little park kid. He was trying pipe and park. And then over the years, seeing him grow into the backcountry… he obviously grew up snowboarding in Whistler, that was his thing. But it really changed when we did the Standing Sideways thing for Burton. That was three years ago.

Me and Mikey ended up filming together. We just really got along. He is an amazing snowmobiler, he knows the backcountry in Whistler better than anybody. He has been out with Kale Stephens, Chris Dufficy, Devun Walsh, all these guys, for years and years. We like to ride similar things, and he’s really mellow, always has a really good attitude.

Whatever happens, it’s always positive. And it might not always be good, something might break, snowmobiles or whatever. And he’s always like: ‘Let’s do this, let’s make this happen!’ And then seeing him progress! When I first filmed with him three years ago… Mikey has always been a good snowboarder, but what he’s gone from there to what he is now, it’s like ‘holy shit!’ You know, I pushed him, and then he pushes me, so it’s like a really good balance.

You’ve said many times that the way you grew up was hitting the same icy jump in Finland hundreds of times every day. Do you sometimes realise this still helps you out there in the BC?

I think it does to some degree. It’s the consistency, when you’ve hit a jump so many times in your life for ten years, like you said, a hundred times a day, and you ride 150 days, it’s a lot of jumping. It definitely got me where I am right now. But at the same time I’m still stuck at that small hill in Finland in some way.

I wish I could be a little more open. There might be that jump or that cliff, and I have to go and look at it, I can’t really go as gnarly as Gigi or Nicolas for the natural riding. I have been riding with Nico, and he just looks at things from the bottom and he knows where to go and how fast and what to do. For me, I never grew up like that, so that’s the thing I always will be learning. It’s not in my genes [laughs]. So it’s very different and inspiring to see these guys do that. And I’m like ‘I wanna try and do that!’ It’s endless, you know? There’s always things you can get better at and improve.

You are 34 now. Do you ever think about slowing down or even retiring from being pro?

You definitely think about it: ‘What do I want to do? Do I want to do this?’ But now I feel like there’s a whole new direction that I can teake in snowboarding. If I find something that I’m happy with and I enjoy doing then I’m totally down to go snowboarding and do that. Burton are supporting me really good.

I just signed a contract with Zeal, so I have really good partnerships. I really want to go explore the backcountry and new places to ride and there’s a bunch of new zones that we haven’t been into. And I’m still hungry, and I feel like I don’t want to leave it quite yet. We’re all contract based. It’s what companies do: If they are backing me I’m happy to do it. It’s really up to them. [laughs] But they really like what I’m doing and what I have been doing for the last few years. Right now it doesn’t seem like there would be a reason to ending that.

You enjoy this exploration aspect also in your life off the mountain. You bought a campervan and you like camping, being outdoors – quite different from your regular snowboard pro and interests like fast cars and wild parties…

I grew up in a little town in Finland and my parents let me kind of loose. Pretty much all summer I was in the woods with my friends building tree-houses, and I was gone from morning till evening. I really had no schedule. We had bicycles, and we would go to different lakes, and we would go fishing, and I was gone. And that’s what I always loved. When I started snowboarding it was kind of an escape. And I think what I saw in snowboarding was an opportunity to go to places where I could never otherwise go. That’s what I always wanted to do. And like you say, fast cars, and partying… that was me in my twenties! And you really don’t know who you are! I was living in Helsinki, I had the car, I was getting drunk, and then after a while I was like: ‘You know what? I don’t want this life! I’m not happy with my myself!’ and so I was ready to move on. And that’s when I met my wife and I took the next step and started a family. Now I can live that childhood dream, the way I grew up. I can live it for myself and I can live it for my kids. They love camping, and I’m taking them to the beach, we’re camping all the time with my van, and do trips and do hiking and there is so much stuff here. And that’s my problem. Because I keep looking at things and I just want to go everywhere and explore! It’s so rewarding, being out there, by yourself. It’s a cool little escape from the routine and I think it’s really important. It’s a good balance with all the mayhem of modern life.

Thank you Jussi, and keep exploring, it does sound rewarding.

Jussi rides for Burton, Zeal, WESC and is an ambassador for Poler, Active and Mizu (which he also co-founded).