Joel Juuso in Aste Skateboards’ ‘Seasons’
Words by Samu Karvonen.
Pilluralli aka ‘Pussy-Rally’ is one way to use free time on the weekends in Finland. It’s basically pointless driving slowly along the streets and pumping techno from a sound system more valuable than the car itself while your friends are sippin’ beers in the back seat with the occasional ciggie stop and meet ups at parking lots and gas stations. This is mostly a smaller town phenomenon in Finland… Towns like Tornio, where Joel Juuso is from.
Tornio is located at the end of the Bothnian Bay right next to the Swedish border. It’s known for being the pit stop to get your snus when heading to Lapland for winter holidays (selling snus is illegal in Finland but not in Sweden). It’s not very well known in the Finnish skate scene, but according to Joel it has pretty good skate conditions considering the size of the city.
‘My Tornio days as a skater were definitely positive even though skaters were still being picked on a lot’ Joel told me. ‘It was a dwindling trend in Helsinki already by that time but I guess all these changes come years later to Lapland. It was mostly just pointless shouting or other last century idiocy from other kids doing the ‘pilluralli’. But nothing physical or fucked up like running from Nazis or stuff I’ve heard happened in other parts of Finland in the ‘90s. I was fortunate because I was pretty good and respected in hockey. So in a way I was accepted amongst the jocks just as I was with the skaters. My father was a hockey fan and my brother, cousins and basically everyone played hockey so I also started playing hockey when I was really small. Around the same time I also got my first board. I really don’t remember when I got it but I do remember losing it for the first time and finding it randomly in a ditch close by, ha ha. Still a mystery how it got there… It had a dragon graphic I’ll never forget; some market complete probably. I skated in the summers and played hockey in the winter since there were no indoor parks for hundreds of kilometres. Besides hockey the only other thing to do in winters was snowboarding or ‘pilluralli’. Sure I had my laps on the rally scene but not for long. I had much better things to do with my afternoons’.
Joel played hockey for over ten years. He described himself as a power forward player – the big one who made room for the goal makers. He loved checking others and told me how he and his friends used to crash into one another just for fun. Not in a violent way, he just liked the impact and the power of it. Joel also played soccer and did gymnastics when he was young and watching him now I think all these sports made his skating what it is today. He has a humongous pop, which I’d trace from pumping those legs on ice for a decade. He’s also very agile and he’s not afraid to fall or take a beating when it comes to that. He’s a true power forward on a skateboard as well.
Joel’s hockey career was pushed aside when the first indoor park opened in Tornio when he was around 16 years old. There was now something more interesting to do in winters. He messaged his coach telling him he wanted to put his time and effort into skating from that point on and he remembers vividly the coach’s reply: I clearly have to think twice who to put as a captain of the team next time. His teammates didn’t really approve of Joel’s choice. He remembers his hockey friends always kept asking whether skating or hockey was his number one choice. As a captain of the team he felt he needed to show a good example and say ‘hockey’ even though he loved skating more. ‘Putting a kid in front of that kind of pressure was pretty harsh and unfair. I hated it because I felt I either had to lie or go around the question somehow to keep everyone happy’.
A few years after deserting his team and putting his time into skating Joel broke his ankle pretty severely just a day before the summer vacation. ‘Two weeks in the hospital without moving because of the surgery wounds wasn’t really easy for me’, said Joel. ‘That summer continued on pretty dramatically as my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. We basically just drove with taxis back and forth to our own treatments in the hospital. I gained a lot of weight that summer thanks to the wheelchair and my deep-frying cooking skills. Mom wasn’t really in her best shape in looking after both of us. It sucked but we both survived with some physical and mental scars’.
As soon as he could, he started following his buddies with a video camera: ‘Filming and editing was a good meantime hobby and a way to stay around my friends. We filmed a video every year and fortunately I already had a part filmed from the spring before the accident. I guess it somehow helped me cope over that summer’.
The next few years went by in a trade school, which Joel eventually got a degree for being an electrician. ‘Just skating and doing nothing wasn’t an option I thought my parents would have approved of. Trade school was the easiest choice to have as much time for skating as possible’.
Then Joel turned 18… All Finnish men between the ages of 18 and 28 are liable for military service. Women can apply voluntarily but all men must either do military or civil service. For most 18-year-old skaters six months in the woods playing war doesn’t sound too appealing and Joel admits he went there mostly to please his father and to not have to explain to his friends or relatives why he would have chosen the civil service instead: ‘My parents split when I was a few years old. I guess the fact that I lived with my mom made me want to please my father somehow too. I wasn’t into hunting and guns like he was so whenever there was something else where I could make him a little proud of me I did – like the military service.’
Joel could have dodged the whole service because of his ankle injury (which many skaters would have done) but he went for it and describes the military service as a life changing experience for him in a good way: ‘I got into the medical troops and you could say I found my calling from the social service field. While still in the army I applied and got accepted to a Paramedics school in Helsinki. Sure I could have studied that anywhere else too, but I also really wanted to skate the capital and I needed a good excuse to move there.’
And now a little Q&A with Joel… What was your relationship to Helsinki before you moved here?
I had been to the HookUps (ex HELride competition) to skate the Finnish championships before, but that’s about it. I knew a few guys who moved here from the north so I had a crew to settle in with. I moved here in the middle of the summer and we basically continued doing the same stuff but in a different city – filming for another yearly skate video.
And the Paramedics school was just a justification for this?
At first yeah, but I ended up liking it a lot. It was interesting and for the first time I was good at school. I graduated with excellent marks, which got me into a social service college now. But the idea of moving here was mostly because I wanted to move forward and broaden my skating possibilities.
Social service college: congrats! It’s a large field of studies, is there a certain direction you’re gravitating towards in that field?
I’ve found myself interested in helping youth, disabled and substance abusers at the moment. Criminal work is also one thing I’d like to try one day – visiting prisons etc. It’s statistically very hard for a person to break out of a prison circle and it would be interesting and gratifying to help in finding solutions to integrate people successfully back into society.
Sounds heavy yet meaningful. You’ve also worked in that field before right?
Yeah, for a few years I’ve been putting in hours with visually impaired people and their relatives and I really enjoy that at the moment – especially because the work is flexible and okay with my skating and travels.
To get back on to you moving here, I can’t really remember the first time we met but it feels like suddenly you were just part of the scene here. How did your integration to Helsinki’s skate scene happen?
Onni Saltevo was probably the first guy who I kinda got in touch with here. Or actually it was Onni who got in touch with me, ha ha. I was going to this local burger joint one late night and Onni happened to be there too. For some reason he started feeding me his fries in his own jolly way. He was a bit tipsy and I think he didn’t even know who I was. He was just being the Onni he is. Later when we met again in the indoor park we kinda got to know each other a bit better.
Ha ha, indoors… That’s a good place to get familiar with all the faces because you’re stuck in the same spot with everyone for months.
Yeah, I remember getting to know more people there. I guess I was a fresh sight to many and I remember someone coming over to me asking, ‘Who the hell are you actually?’ ha ha… In a good way of course. I think it was the flip over that bank in Purple Park (the one by the water in Helsinki) that gave me a lot of recognition. It also gave me a lot of motivation to push myself a little harder from there on.
‘Making it’ these days is far from just being good at skating. I feel like there are many who could break out skill-wise but they lack on the other factors such as motivation, social skills or common knowledge of sponsoring and marketing. With social media changing the whole field I feel like we’re living in the time where a lot of potential up-n-comers are born to the gram having no culture, knowledge or interest to form a decent video part or making vids with their homies. Or at least it’s not the same for the younger skaters, as it was ‘back in the day’ – yes, because there were no phones with cameras. As the field changes so do the ladders up and even though there is proof of ‘making it’ without banging video parts from homie flicks I personally feel the most trustworthy way up is still to handle both areas – meaning filming video parts or other projects while keeping the gram fresh. And this is something I wanted to ask of Joel as he represents a generation that’s a decade younger than me.
I think you got the talent and certain understanding of the ‘drill’ by being good at skating and also knowing how to represent yourself. How do you see yourself in these day’s standards?
I guess I’m chatty and easy to approach type of person as the studies and the work I do requires that. When it comes to the videos: filming has always been part of my skating and being the editor and filmer sure gives me a sight and some sort of vision of what to do in front and behind the camera. I’m ok with Instagram too but even if I’m easy with people it feels a drag for me to ask someone to film a trick of me in the middle of a good session in a skatepark for example. I feel like I’m interrupting them. And when I go to the spot I go there to kill myself for something worth ‘saving’. I wanna go to the spot and do the best thing I can. For me there is nothing better than making something I’ve been thinking, wanting and given all of myself to accomplish it. And I don’t get the same feeling out of filming stuff for the gram. Sure it’s nice to see someone liking my videos, but it’s not the same as making your yearly portfolio, which you can reminisce about later. I really like watching our old videos.
So how old are you now?
24. I was born in ‘95. The Gold year, ha ha (when Finland for the first time won the world championships in hockey).
So you kinda grew up in between the old ‘video days’ and the new Insta years giving you some of the tools and culture on both sides.
I guess so. When Insta started to bloom in skating it was still only 15-second clips. You could put a single trick in there and that’s it. It wasn’t really interesting at that time. It then grew into proper videos with background music. And I guess because I really like editing and I like to have different projects going on this is why I’m still more bound to the ‘old’ side of things if you wish to put it that way.
So what projects do you have going on right now?
With Teemu Metsäkylä we’re filming the ‘Troposphere’ homie movies. It’s actually the first time I’m not ‘the camera man’ myself and I can put all my concentration into skating. The other one is with ASTE skateboards. We don’t have a filmer so we all film each other. The dilemma with this is that not everyone knows how to film that well so the ones who do have the bigger roles as the camera operators. So for example when I go skate with three guys and I’m the only one capable of filming to certain standards, then I know I can’t concentrate fully on my skating since my mind is going to be tripping on if the other guy is filming my trick in the way that it’s even worth using… That’s the bargain with these projects and I don’t wanna be selfish but it’s sometimes hard when you would really like to get some good skating done yourself. We have thought about an intensive fisheye filming course for all our friends to tackle this problem somehow ha ha ha…
What about the Olympic project? You participated in one of Finland’s ‘chasing the spot’ Olympic trips…
Yeah I got to go to São Paulo, Brazil. It was an amazing trip, but the comp aspect of it is still a bit hard for me. I just get really nervous in them. I feel like being back in front of an elementary school class doing a book presentation that I wasn’t properly prepared for. I get butterflies in my stomach and I can’t think straight. And it’s funny because in hockey I was used to being under the eye of a big screaming crowd all the time but I guess having the team next to you makes it a lot easier. But when someone asks me if I wanna go to São Paulo for free I have to say yes. How many of us will ever get that chance? I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t turn that card even though I know I dislike the feeling I get in the competitions. And if I get the chance I’ll do it again. Maybe one day I will learn how to be more in control in that sort of environment. And I think the only way to learn is to be there.
Your motivation and the way you approach these things is something I haven’t seen in many Finnish guys in the past few years.
I think there are many other guys as motivated as I am. Many just don’t have the time because of their day jobs or something else…
But you are in school and you have a day job too! You push that extra mile that others won’t and this is what I think separates you from many. What motivates you to keep it going?
Looking at it like that I guess you have a point. I don’t really have any set goals or dreams in my mind. I’ve managed to travel, experience and see so much with skating in the last few years… I think this has given me the motivation and trust that there is still much more to be seen in this path. And since my school and the job supports me to stay in this lane it makes it even easier to keep pushing this way.
Balancing on the thin line between optimism and pessimism is something we all need to learn through practice. Failing is the best way to learn and Joel has definitely hit a few walls in his life. The more walls he gets through the stronger he’ll become and only time will tell which sort of mountains he’ll be tackling in the future.