[Portrait: Teemu Heljo]
[The free stream's now closed, but you can now buy Ender on iTunes. Do it. It's epic.]
Throughout the course of his long and fruitful career, Eero Ettala has cemented his position as undoubtedly one of the most progressive riders in the history of the game – both on and off the board. With skills and style honed on the hot-lap Nirvana of Talma, he exploded onto the scene as a young rookie with an improbable ability to effortlessly marry big spins with solid style at a time when this was still a rarity, and a rail game that seemed to get more intense every time he pumped out of the drop-in.
Over his 15 years of riding professionally snowboarding has evolved constantly, but Eero’s always rolled with the punches and come out on top. From huge park hits to backcountry stomps to nocturnal urban assaults, he’s consistently pushed the boat out. It’s not just his riding, either: strapped or unstrapped he always looked ahead of the curve and was one of the first riders to embrace the new online world with regular content delivered via his blog, ettala.com, embracing winch tow-ins to turn the urban environment into his own private funpark, and being instrumental in charging into producing high-quality free internet videos, like Euro Gap 3 and the Cooking with Gas series. He’s also been one of the most focussed, determined riders in the game; as Mike ‘Mack Dawg’ McEntire calls it: “He’s a one-upper."
'Dedicated' is another adjective that concisely sums up Eero's persona: whether it's relentlessly perfecting tricks or style, taking beatings to get the shot or having to battle back from any of the number of serious injuries he's succumbed to over the years, he'd put his head down and endure pain and frustration for the sake of being the best snowboarder he could be. And for a long old while that meant being at the, if not on the, peak of the narrow apex reserved for the coveted 'most versatile rider on the planet' distinction.
15 years is a long time to grind out ever-more impressive video parts, though. In autumn 2014 I met with Eero in Munich and, over a wurst and a spezi, he explained that he’d decided the 14/15 season would be his last filming all-in on a part. A year later, with the movie premiering across the planet, we caught up with him again to find out why, where he’s at, the intricacies of filming movie parts, and what we can expect when Ender streams free here on onboardmag.com for 24-hours on 1 November 2015 from 21.00 CET.
You’ve had a long and successful career. Why are you deciding to end it all now then?
I’m not quitting snowboarding and I’m not quitting filming, it’s just going to be my final video part. I’ve filmed video parts for big productions since 2002, which is 13 years, and it sort of repeats itself - it’s always the same. As soon as the snow falls you’re just struggling to get shots, you kind of just want to fill up that four-minute video segment. To me gets a little bit boring after a while.
Did it start to become very mechanical?
Yeah, the season’s so short that kind of try to plan everything ahead. I’ve been to Japan 10 times and I always keep going back to the same place because I know the spots already, and I know if the weather changes I’m like ‘Ok we can still his this spot’. You always need to play everything sort of safe to be able to produce 25 shots that you can use for a video part, and I want to drift away from that; I want to be able to explore more and do projects that have more thought behind them. I don’t want to travel around the world trying to find snow so I can get one trick more for my video part, I just want to have a cool project that I can get my mind into, get it done, and then move onto something else.
I want to be able to explore more and do projects that have more thought behind them. I don’t want to travel around the world trying to find snow so I can get one trick more for my video part.
Something along the lines of what Grilo is doing seems a lot more of an interesting way, especially when you get a bit older and you want to pick and chose what you do with your time, rather than just ticking boxes.
Exactly. The thing is, I’ve been running my own program since 2009… Mack Dawg was done in 2008 and I started filming for Tracking Eero in 09, so for six years I’ve been kind of running my own program and producing my own things, doing Cooking with Gas, Tracking Eero, Eurogap 3 and now this movie. It’s been pretty hectic too, so hopefully next season I’ll be actually able to ride for myself and… I want to be available. Let’s say Grilo wants me to go to fuckin’ Siberia. I want to be able to go. In the past I couldn’t because I was too caught up in trying to get four minutes of footage for my video part. I would always have to say no, because I was too worried I wouldn’t get enough footage.
Looking back do you wish you’d broken away from following that formula a little earlier?
Well, I’m happy. To be honest I’ve wanted to make my own movie for the past three years, so I’m kinda happy that things went as they have. More time went by, the more history I have, the more injuries I have had so I’ve got more stories to tell. But at the same time I feel, for making Cooking with Gas for example, I think two seasons would have been enough. We made three, I wasn’t 100% satisfied with the third one, so I think it was time to move on anyways. It was that phase, when you’re looking at stuff like I was filming with Mack Dawg and Standard, then we did the Tracking Eero TV show, then filmed stuff for the internet, and now I feel that the whole internet thing is just overloaded with footage. It’s hard to produce anything that people actually care about for more than 24 hours. Now I wanted to take a step further and make a full video instead, which I felt was the right timing anyway.
Can we just briefly cover some of your background for those who don’t know? Where you grew up, where you first started snowboarding…
I grew up in Espoo, Finland, which is 10-15 minutes outside of downtown Helsinki. It’s a big city too, but it’s more of a suburb of Helsinki almost. That’s where I was born and I lived there till I was 20 when I moved out to Helsinki to live by myself.
We made seasons of Cooking with Gas. I wasn’t 100% satisfied with the third one, so I think it was time to move on anyways.
Do they have a ski resort at Espoo?
Well not in Espoo, but if you drive a little bit further there’s Vihti which is like 30 minutes away. That’s where I actually ended up meeting all the Trulli Clan guys, like Iikka [Backstrom], Eero Niemelä, Lauri Heiskari, Jussi Tarvainen, all those guys. So we made a little crew on the hill and would just always ride together, maybe six- to seven days a week.
How did those guys influence your riding when you were a grom?
I think everyone influenced each other. Two guys, Eero Niemelä and Heikki Sorsa, those were the big dogs at the time, even though they were pretty much the same age – well, Heikki’s two years older – but I think their riding level was a little bit higher than everyone else’s. At the same time because we were all riding in the same group we were all learning the same tricks at the same time. If someone would learn a trick everyone else would learn it the same day. But you could tell that some of the guys had more talent and some of them just worked a bit harder to make it to the same level. I think if I’d started riding in Talma maybe the resort would have been better for snowboarding but in the end it was more about the crew I was riding with instead of the resort and how good it was.
As you’ve been doing it for over a decade, can you explain just how hard it is to film a part you’re proud of? I mean, out of all the parts you’ve filmed how many would you say ‘Yep, I’m fucking stoked on that’?
There are definitely a few that I’m not super stoked on. I’m stoked on the White Balance part – it has a lot of park footage but I think still it was my first part in a big American production and I’m happy with it. The Follow Me Around part, maybe the Eurogap 3 part and the first Cooking with Gas season. I think maybe those four out of 13 parts that I’m semi-satisfied with. I mean I’m happy with all of them, but if I had to pick the parts that I’m stoked on, that if I would have to show one of the parts to someone that hasn’t seen me snowboarding before, those would be the ones that I would probably pick.
But when it does work out how much is down to the rider’s talents, hard work, how much the weather, how much just luck?
I think almost the biggest part is of course trying to stay healthy. If you’re riding at a pro level it’s more about the creativity and being able to visualise the things that you want to have in your video part, and want to achieve. When I go into a season I already have this little text written out of the tricks that I want to do. And then I try to think about the spots where it would be possible to do them on to make the footage as banger as possible basically. Of course for me it always easier to plan all the urban stuff ahead and for the backcountry and park I’m just hoping I’m going to get sometime. But I think it’s more about visualising and almost defining yourself: like how would you want other people, other riders, to see you? I need to be stoked on the trick too, but I end up thinking ‘why would I do a switch backside 50-50 on this because I think no one would care because there’s so many other people who can do this 10 times better’, even though it would be a hard trick for me I’d rather do something that’s easier for me but still people would be super stoked on. But actually this season, I knew it was going to be my last part, I thought I’ve never had a switch backside 50-50 before so I’ll film one of these. I was actually going to the hill trying to learn new tricks so I would be proud of myself that I’d actually be bringing something new to the table. I wasn’t trying to step up the rail guys, but I was trying to step up myself. Trying to get something new out of myself.
If you’re riding at a pro level it’s more about the creativity and being able to visualise the things that you want to have in your video part, and want to achieve.
You and Heikki were pretty much the first guys to start releasing proper A-grade footage in-season when you started Cooking with Gas. What was your thinking behind that, and did you ever worry, ‘Fuck we’re blowing our best shots now’?
For sure. Well, the thing was me and Heikki were supposed to start filming for People. I was just coming back from my knee injury and had a lot of time to think about what I should do next, and I remember seeing Jake Blauvelt filming for Blauvelt’s Backcountry – he would put it on the web and I would just see him getting so much exposure. I was like, fuck, this guy’s doing something right. I think there’s a reason he’s not filming for People, he’s doing his own thing. I called Heikki up and said instead of being one out of 16 guys in the People movie we should try to do something of our own and try to get the maximum exposure. At that time too I’d been out for almost a year and a half because of my knee, I was like ‘I could use some exposure right now!’ [laughs]. So that’s where it all came through. Looking back now it was definitely a smart move, because I think we were on the top of a wave – seeing what was going to happen next and we wanted to be the first guys to do it. I think we got a lot of exposure on that, and at the same time we kept doing it for three years. I think two seasons would have been enough, because it kept repeating itself. It’s not so easy filming webisodes and that’s one of the reasons why we’d always go back to the same destinations too, because we had to make sure we would get something out every two weeks. That’s just a bit more extra pressure and a bit more extra work, but it definitely paid off for a couple of years and I’m stoked we did it.
This might be a weird question seeing as you’ve just filmed another part, albeit as part of a bigger thing, but do you think it’s even relevant these days – like an actual traditional video ‘part’ when you’re one of those 16 guys in a movie?
I don’t really think that’s relevant any more. I used to think all I wanted to do and all you needed to do was film a video part. But I think it gets to a stage when YouTube is full of video parts and kids don’t actually even care anymore. No matter how good the fucking video part is, it’s still only going to live in the internet for one day. So I think the times are definitely changing, you kind of have to think outside of the box and as much as I’d like to think I value the video parts, to myself I keep asking the same question: do people actually care if I put out another video part? And if you’re not sure it’s hard to get the motivation to give it your best. But for this movie, I knew it was going to be my last video part and I was making a movie around it, so for sure I would put my whole energy and motivation behind it. But for next season, as I said I’m not filming another one, but it would be really hard to film one more…
I think it gets to a stage when YouTube is full of video parts and kids don’t actually even care anymore. No matter how good the fucking video part is, it’s still only going to live in the internet for one day.
Let’s talk about the past winter. When you decided this would be your last season filming a part, what happened next?
The thing is you know Jaakko Ittäho, who filmed for Mack Dawg for those three years from Follow Me Around. I felt he was pretty much the mastermind behind those three movies – Follow Me Around, Picture This and Double Decade, he was mainly editing and most of the time he was filming with me 24/7. He’s a really visionary type of dude, but he used to work for Pablo Films and we had been talking about making this movie for the past year-and-a-half to two years. But suddenly Jaakko left Pablo Films to do some other work so I was left alone. I was like, ‘Alright, I mean I still want to make this movie but I don’t know with who…’ And then there was that video A Match Made in HEL, with Aarto Saari and some other guys were skating at Helsinki airport, so that thing was produced by Pablo Films too. So when that video came out I was super stoked and I called up the guy who directed and edited the film, and asked if he was into making my film if we got the budget together. He was fucking stoked, because he basically said he was pretty fed up with making tomato soup commercials [laughs]. He really wanted to get a job that he could concentrate on for a year straight, instead of doing something for two weeks and then have something else to do for the next two. Then we sat at a table, talked to Red Bull and got the budget together. And now here we are.
If you get too comfortable in your own crew you don’t feel you have to step up your game, but when you have these new people around you feel this urge to really do something good.
When did you start filming? Did you start in Finland?
Yeah, we started in Finland, it must have been late December. It’s kind of the way we always do it – wait till it snows in Finland and then we just start shooting. But it started snowing in Lapland, the most northern part of Finland, so we just drove all the way up and hit some handrails and stuff to get the project going. It was a cool learning experience, the two filmers I was working with were Jukka and Juri from Pablo Films and I’d never shot with either one of them before, so it was cool to get to know those guys and get on the first trips. We had Toni Kerkelä, Antti Jussila and Heikki tagging along, so we had a good crew. All the pieces came together and it was super fun –I think it was really motivating for me to to actually have new people around me, because I feel I get a new chance to show what I can do. I feel like I need to prove myself again – if you get too comfortable in your own crew you don’t feel you have to step up your game, you don’t really have to prove yourself anymore, but when you have these new people around you feel this urge to really do something good.
Where did you travel to film and who did you shoot with?
Basically who the crew is, and also how the movie is divided, is like this: a shared segment with Antti Jussila and Toni Kerkelä – I think that’s a really sick part, one of the strongest parts in the movie. Then Heikki’s going to have his own part, then there’s going to be a Japan trip section with me, Markus Kleveland and Heikki, and then a Utah section of me, Aaron Biittner and Sam Taxwood. Knut Eliasen has a couple of tricks in there too. And then there’s going to be a Sweden section – it’s mostly me, Terje and Heikki snowskating but there’s also some snowboarding involved. I think that’s going to be a pretty fun one to watch. And then the ending part of the movie is going to be my last video part. So that’s kind of the whole thing.
Will it be mixed in with a bit of documentary-style interviews charting your life? Like Higher but without you coming down a terrifying mountain at the end?
[Laughs] I haven’t seen Higher so I don’t know how to compare it, but there will be interviews with Mack Dawg, Mike Hatchett, my parents, my siblings, interviews with all the riders and my doctor, my team managers and all these people that actually helped me throughout my career or were there to support me. You saw the Oakley movie? Jukka, the same guy who edited that, directed and edited mine. So if I would have to compare the movie somehow, the Oakley movie’s telling the history of snowboarding and the Oakley team. My movie’s sort of also a bit of history of snowboarding, but focussed on the history of my career and the season leading up to this final video part. So there’s three stories on top of each other. I think it’s a really interesting mix and it has a good flow because there’s going to be documentary sections and then going into a really fast-tempo snowboarding scene and then documentary again, then snowboarding, so I think it has a good mix.
My movie’s sort of a history of snowboarding, but focussed on the history of my career and the season leading up to this final video part.
Just maybe without JP Walker crying.
Yeah, he’s not crying but there’s actually a little section of me when I’m probably three years old, when my dad’s trying to put me on a horse and I start crying [laughs].
Any other stuff around it? B footage, or just all focussed on the movie?
There’s going to be other segments made only for the internet. For sure we’ll release parts of the movie separately after those 24 hour viewings, but there will be stuff for sure. As we talked before, we can get you guys some exclusive footage to put out on Onboard.
Cool. That’s plenty. I’m sure you’ve never done this before, so do you want to give a shoutout to any friends and sponsors?
There’s too many people to thank. That’s actually one of the things I need to do for the end credits of my movie. Just thinking back to all the stuff, it’s pretty unbelievable that I’ve been able to snowboard for a living for the past 15 years. And having a great time and meeting all these amazing people, you can’t really describe the feeling. Like, fuck, when I finally retire and don’t snowboard professionally anymore… there’s some things and some memories… you can’t buy that stuff.