Niilo Nikkanen Interview
Niilo is well known in Finland and I’m sure some of you’ve heard about him too. He doesn’t live in Helsinki, which is the capital and the epicentre of skateboarding in Finland. For a long time it was said that if you want to ‘make it’ in the game you have to move there. The Internet and especially social media changed that and it doesn’t really matter anymore where you lay your hat as long as you’re in this new worldwide playing field. And I think it’s great because without the Internet who knows if you’d be reading an article about a skater who lives in a city called Kouvola. Yeah… Google it!
Interview by Samu Karvonen
Photography by Justus Hirvi
Hey Niilo, where are you at?
Niilo Nikkanen: Having a coffee in a place called Betony, in the centre of Kouvola.
What have you been up to lately? I heard you twisted your ankle?
Unfortunately yes, a few days ago in the indoor park. I kicked the board away but ended up half stepping on it perfectly the wrong way.
Is it bad?
Not too crazy, but it’s the same ankle I broke a year ago in Bangkok.
Yeah I remember this. How was it to deal with it in a foreign country like Thailand?
Eventually in the hospital it all worked out pretty smoothly with Bryan (Callaghan) helping me out. The crazier part was to get to the hotel from the spot that was about an hour away. We took some random motorcycle ride to the train station while bumping my ankle here and there on the way. I waited in the hotel for a few days to see how bad it was, but after I realised I still couldn’t put any weight on it I had to go give it a check.
And what about this time? Did you go show the ankle to a doctor?
Nah, it’s not that bad. Just chilling with it for a while.
Safe. Weren’t you just somewhere in the south?
A few weeks ago I was in Sicily with Farid (Ulrich), Kilian (Zehnder), Biemer the German photographer and Denny (Pham) but his heel was bruised so he couldn’t really skate that much.
Sounds a lot like a Nike trip?
Well basically it was LiveLifeSkate / Bryan’s trip. He put it all together and got Nike to pay for it all.
Dope! He’s kinda like a freelance manager and filmer for you guys.
Exactly. He made it work super good. The tour clip is supposed to come out soonish if I’m right.
Nice. Any other trips coming soon?
We’re supposed to go to Alicante and Valencia with a few of my friends actually around this time, but maybe it’ll be in the end of the month then.
Will your ankle be back in shape by then?
I think it’ll be good in a week or so.
How old are you?
OK. That explains the recovery time. Won’t be the same in five years believe me. I’ve always wondered how come you still live in Kouvola? You’re a well known sponsored skater but still you live 150km from Helsinki, where everything goes down. What’s keeping you there?
Well we got a good indoor park here so winters are no problem. I got bunch of friends still skating who I started with, and I hardly ever stay here for the whole winter anyway. I’m always trying to travel to see the sun like every other Finnish person. And in the summer it’s not that hard to come visit Helsinki and stay at my friends’ places.
True that. And the Indoor park you have is pretty massive compared to the city’s size and the amount of skaters.
How did that come up?
Well Roope Tonteri, a Finnish snowboarder who grew up here won the World Championship in 2013 and somehow used his position to help us to get a proper indoor park. Of course the city people were pretty proud to have
a local world champ so they ended up paying for the park I guess. It was supposed to be called the Tonteri Arena
or something, hahaha.
Way to go! That’s how you do it.
Yeah it’s really good. It’s mostly tranny though since Roope designed it, but there is still something for everyone.
Does it ever get crowded in there?
It’s not too crazy. There is a different time for BMX riders and scooters so we all get our own sessions there. It’s a part of this big ball game arena so the business is not fully reliant on the skatepark users, which is a good thing.
Is there still the same course as in the beginning? Have you thought of renewing it one day?
There have been some talks about taking a piece of the floorball area next to the park and build one of these ski jump into a foam pit type of obstacles in it but I don’t really know if it will happen. Would be pretty sick if we could get that whole area and put more flat obstacles in there. Even if I wouldn’t live here it would be great to have an indoor park like that in Finland.
I’m backing that up. It’s so big and good already that even some of us capital people are ready
to make day trips there. On to a whole different matter: Do you still live with your parents?
No, I now got my own little studio in the centre.
It’s probably a lot cheaper than in Helsinki?
Definitely! In here it’s actually possible to save money for the travels.
So basically what you save from not living in Helsinki you use to travel south in the winter?
Yeah, you could put it like that.
So where do you get your money then?
I was working at a surveying office, measuring lands and different areas for the city.
So you’re the dude standing with an orange stick while the other scopes you with that weird binocular?
Hahaha yeah, exactly that and sometimes it’s just sitting on a computer filling the maps with the data we gather for upcoming construction sites like playgrounds for example.
Interesting. How come you got into that? Did you go to school for it?
Not really, I graduated from business school studying data processing, which the only advantage to this job is few bits of software we use. My father’s girlfriend pointed this job out saying it could suit me. She knew some people from the office so it was easier to get an internship position from there. I never even thought about that line of business but eventually decided to give it a try. I worked there this spring, took of few months off in the summer and now I could go back there.
So it suits your travels and skating schedule?
Kinda. They are ready to give me an indenture position but I got to think twice if that’s really what I want to be doing next. Some sort of design studies could be interesting as an option, but we’ll see about that later.
Well at least you got a place to return to if all else fails.
Yeah, it’s a safe thing to have. I think the next step would be moving to Helsinki. But it is not that easy to get a place to study in there because everybody wants to be there. Then you’d probably need a job on the side to be able to study and live there… So when would I have time to skate then?
Yeah. You would need to face some serious compromising. One thing I’m personally curious about is your sponsor situation. It’s now clear that Nike seems to be helping you out at least?
Yeah, Nike is helping me to go on all these tours and I’ve got some video incentives from them.
That’s a good motivation to film. Back in the days photo incentives were the thing, but not in your case then?
I don’t really know. I guess not.
Maybe when this interview comes out. How was it to shoot your first full interview? Are you happy with the outcome?
We got few shots in the spring with Justus (‘Jude’ Hirvi) and then my friend Jack (Thompson) mentioned he could edit a little clip of my footage for Free so we went for a few more shots. First I thought the photos were going for a web article along with the video but realised later it was going to be a full interview. I’m happy with every photo we got in the end. I really like Jude’s pictures and his style of shooting. Sure there are few things I wanted to have but never landed them. And I’m still missing a portrait. Got to get Jude up here to shoot one in the blizzard I guess, hahaha.
Is it snowing in there?
Yeah. All white. Not in Helsinki?
Nope. All black. Outside hockey rinks are open though. Didn’t you play Hockey too?
Not really. Just with friends here and there. I snowboarded and skied but just for occasional fun. In school I liked playing floor ball compared to other subjects, but never on a team or anything. I never liked being in one place at a certain time doing a certain thing. I like the freedom to choose when and where.
Sounds a lot like skateboarding to me. You mentioned there will be a video part dropping with this interview?
Yeah. Jack is editing a little Desert clip of my footage.
It’s a friends small hardware brand from Barcelona.
All right. Cool.
Definitely. It’s funny that I started filming in Kouvola without knowing where it’s all going to end up and now Jack, who hasn’t filmed any of those tricks, will edit it. I’m interested to see how it’s going to look.
You have a history of filming and editing too so you probably got some sort of a vision of how you want it to look?
I have been filming and editing these ‘Dirty connection’ clips with my friends for some years so yeah I guess I could be a little strict of how things should be edited. Or maybe not strict but I mean if you’re doing something why not do it good? I think Jack will send me some previews and we’ll look into it together.
As long as you get along with the editor I think it’s all fine. Back to the sponsor issue: What’s up with Perus?
I haven’t got any boards for awhile and I’m not really sure what happened in the end to be honest, but I know the crew is still there ripping hard and Pirkka (Pollari) has been doing some edits and stuff. So yeah, that’s about it.
So where do you get your boards then?
From Ponke’s the shop and Jack just sent me a box of Desert boards. Even though they are a hardware company they did some boards too. Stoked on these.
And what about LRG? Are you still on?
Last year we did this big ‘Let the kids play’ tour but this year it has been pretty quiet. No budget apparently. It’s on but not. Can’t really say what’s up with that either. But I heard the ‘mixtape’ we’ve been filming for few years with the euro guys should come out before Christmas. There should be parts from every one of us.
So there should be three different parts coming out of you in the near future?
Hopefully yeah. Well that Sicily thing is more of a trip than a part.
I hope Nike pays attention to this ($$$)!
Hahaha. Yeah. I’m personally waiting for that LRG clip the most. We’ve saved some good clips with them from over the past few years. Would be nice to get them out since some of the footy is getting pretty old already.
I know the feeling. Two years is still OK. Though these days a lot of shit needs to be either live or viral the
Yeah it’s getting crazy. But if you got really good stuff I don’t think the footy really gets old in the end.
I guess it’s a matter of the spot for example. If it’s your local plaza you’ll probably outdo your stuff from last year, but if it’s a special spot you won’t be returning to anytime soon then the footy can hold its breath for a little longer.
Yep. A lot of that stuff is from Croatia but some we filmed in Helsinki the summer before.
So for the past few years you’ve had a couple of different projects going. Do you arrange or swap footage with different filmers or are you just happy that whoever you film with then that’s where the footage will end up?
Usually it goes to who ever filmed it. When we film with our own cameras or other non-HD cameras it ends up on some of our own edits. HD clips are usually more out of my reach and I can’t decide where they will end up.
Which one you like more HD or SD?
SD but it also depends on the spot and the filmer. I’m not too picky about it. I have some ideas of what spots looks good with what camera. Like maybe save the crustiest spots for VX or something. But sure you can film anything with any camera. Some stuff just works better with the other.
So what’s your future plans? Alicante and Valencia, what’s next?
Yeah, maybe continue to Barcelona from there. No return ticket. Stay until I run out of money and then come back to the indoor parks.
And what about the summer?
No bigger plans yet. Sticking in Finland I assume. Maybe go visit Copenhagen or something. There’s no point in spending all your money in the summer. I rather save it to get away in the winter. Taking it a day at a time. At least I have that one job waiting if nothing else pops up.
Sounds like a plan. Since it’s your first interview you get the courtesy of the good old THANKS here.
Cheers for all my friends that have been out there skating and filming with me, especially Arttu Paloniemi, Sami Eskola and Aapo Olervo. Thanks for my sponsors for the help, especially Vaughan Baker and Colin Kennedy from Nike. Thanks to LRG’s Christian Welther and the rest of the Stuttgart boys. Ponke’s the shop. Cheers to Jack for the Desert boards and the edit! Moms and Pops and Jude for showing me all the special spots and making this interview happen.