Real Talk: Lauri Heiskari Interview

Gap Sw BS Rodeo. Photo: Pasi Salminen

Lauri Heiskari had been a standout rider for people that had seen him ride in person from the early 2000’s but it was his 2003 opening part in Video Gangs by Defective Films that launched Lauri’s career on a skyward journey. With a unique dress sense that included mini discs hanging from his pants, fluffy beanies (that subsequently became a fashion must have) and a fun but technically strong riding style, made Lauri an instant fan favourite. Consequent stand out video parts include Promo Copy, Derelictica, That, Whiteout, Double Decade, DC Mountain Lab 1.5 and several more before Lauri and good friends Eero Ettala and Heikki Sorsa started to film for their own series “Cooking With Gas”. Now Lauri has officially hung up his professional snowboard boots and got himself a good, grown up position working for Makia as their marketing manager. There is a lot to cover in this interview, so grab yourself a hot cup of coffee, put your phone on silent and read on.

You had a long career as a pro rider, When did you officially retire from professional snowboarding?
If I remember right, I quit in the end of 2015.

Some riders quit riding pro and some have the decision made for them, how was it for you?
Quitting is a hard process I think for anyone who’s been in the game for a long time, even for those who get to quit with their own terms. It’s been such a big part of your life and change is always scary I think. My retirement could be described as gradual because I didn’t lose all my sponsors at once.
It kinda started with my DC contract (which was my main sponsor) being up and at that point DC was having a really hard time financially. They were letting people go left and right and our Bosses would change pretty much every 6 months or so. So when mine and Aaron Biittner’s contracts were up, they just decided to make some room for younger riders and save the money on that. I was still riding actively and filming and ideally I would have loved to just get a pay cut and ride for few more years, but I understood where they were coming from. I had a long career with them so I was fine with it in the end when they said they just couldn’t afford to keep the whole team around. From then on, I still had few sponsors left (Rockstar, Active, Ethika and Giro) and I was still able to ride and do some photoshoots and such for a little while, but my filming days were unfortunately over at that point.

Gap to Board. Photo: Pasi Salminen

I remember you were an influencer before the term Influencer was really used. For example those fluffy beanies you wore and the beanies with the really long tassels were worn by a lot of people after you were seen wearing them. Did you realise as the time how big of an impact you were making on other riders around the world or did that come as a surprise?
Yeah I definitely saw some beanies around which was really cool to see of course! Yet when you look at the era that I come from, it was really hard to measure your impact as a rider before the social media came to play because there wasn’t really any reliable real time data.
I remember Forum used to make some opinion polls who was your favourite rider and so on but other than that, you could only speculate a rider’s popularity based on for example how many dvd’s were sold of the movie you worked with or how many interviews you would get and so on, but that was still often based on the industry opinion and so many other factors. But yeah, I hope I made some positive impact on kids.
Maybe Japan was the best place to experience Fan culture because they got really hyped on the things they loved. The Forum team took me with them over there for a slopestyle contest and nobody knew me outside of Europe, but the fans had googled all the participants and printed out random photos from internet so they could be signed. I was so weirded out seeing these Japanese kids holding up signs with my high school portrait or something hahahha. So yea, that was definitely surprising to say the least.

Casual posing. Photo: Pasi Salminen

You did a lot with your time as a pro, from filming with Robot Food, Video Gangs and Forum to later years and the Cooking with Gas series and then DC. Is there a stand out moment for you with Snowboarding? What are you most happy with?
I really like my career as a whole for different reasons. I loved being a rookie because I got to ride so much more and see all the different resorts around the world. Once I started filming, it was cool for different reasons because you got to create cool parts with your own ideas, but the focus definitely shifts from only trying to learn new tricks to trying to create entertaining content instead. New tricks are of course a part of that too, but filming takes time away from that for sure.
If I had to pick the most exciting moments for me, it would be having my first video part and my first pro model. The Video Gangs part was special, because I wasn’t really part of the filming crew yet and I was just a rookie sleeping on Nate Bozung’s couch. I was trying to film stuff here and there but it was difficult. For instance, I wasn’t allowed to the backcountry because I didn’t know how to sled. So it was hard to get backcountry footage at all. So when the video was coming out, I was sitting in the premiere and I was hoping to have few tricks in the credits or something. Typically when you are part of the filming crew you are heavily involved with the editing process of your own part and you see all your footage all year around. So this was a really unique situation because I had really no idea if I was going to have something or not. I remember Eddie Wall being next to me at the premiere and he knew the movie was gonna open with my part and he just looked at me with the biggest smile and said welcome to the team. I can’t even describe that feeling. It’s like somebody made all my childhood dreams come through at the same time. Having a first pro model was almost as crazy. Only because all my youth, I had been looking at these cool brands in my local skate shop and trying to bum money from my dad to get a t-shirt or something. Then years later, I would go to that same store and see something with my own name on it. It felt so surreal… I think it still kinda does if I think about it.

Lauri’s opener part from the iconic “Video Gangs”

On the flipside is there anything you wish you had done differently with snowboarding?
Not really with the snowboarding part, but I could have made few years easier for myself mentally. I think I was the happiest in my career when I was working with Eero and Heikki for cooking with gas. At this point I was already in my late twenties and I really felt like I was really content with my life and the head space I was in. I felt no pressure about who I was or what I’m supposed to achieve and so on. It was just me kinda going back in time and riding with my friends from back home and having fun. I wish I could have told my 19- year old self to relax and just enjoy riding and forget everything else. I think the people you surround yourself with can really make a huge difference how you perceive what professional snowboarding should be and how it should be done. It can vary from super competitive bad atmosphere to totally supportive circle of friends helping each other.
Also when you are younger, you might not understand when people try to manipulate you whether you are an industry person, a rider or anybody. Self-interest is always present when it comes to people working together, that is given. But there are differences how people handle it and how much they put value on working as a whole or just for yourself. When you mature, it’s easier to recognize this kind of behaviour and know how to deal with it.

fs 180 Melon whilst out filming for Cooking With Gas. Photo: Pasi Salminen

Did you feel like there was something missing when you quit riding pro or were you quick to fill that space up with other activities?
I remember when my agent called me that my contract wasn’t gonna get renewed, I felt like somebody ripped my soul out of me for a second and left a hollow shell standing. But I’m the kinda person who hates the feeling of not knowing what to do next. I had a plan that I would apply to University after snowboarding so I found an Estonian University that would offer International Business studies as a distance study program and I applied right away and got in.
So the last few years of snowboarding I was studying for a University degree while travelling.

You are a keen surfer; you ride a lot of motorbikes and now have taken up martial arts. Which of these 3 activities gives you the most satisfaction?
Those are all different activities for a different reason. Surfing for sure has always been the closest to my heart, which was also one of the reasons why I moved to states in the first place. I would always get shit from my team managers that I loved surfing more than snowboarding and they were kinda worried that I wouldn’t want to snowboard anymore because I was now living on the beach. That was bullshit anyway. They also said the same thing about having a girlfriend.
If anything, I think surfing kept me happier about my life and even more stoked on snowboarding. Same thing goes to having a girlfriend. Without one I would have probably just thought about partying all the time. People need different things to keep their shit together and I think I had a good balance on things.
Now that I have moved back home to Finland, finding time to surf is definitely harder.We only surf during the storms here and it’s always cold with icy rain in your face and choppy wind swell for waves. My wife is half Portuguese so we have place in Portugal where we go few times a year to catch some actual waves.

Lauri switching boardparks for board shorts. Photo: Mikko Harma

Riding Motorbikes is something I brought back from Cali. I brought two Harleys with me, one for me and one for my brother. Then I talked a bunch of my friends into buying bikes so we could ride together and they did. We actually have a registered motorcycle club Here in Finland (@knhofficial). We had to go present our case to become an official club to all the angels and cannonballs and so on in a big annual biker meeting a few years back.
Our wives have always laughed that we are the most ridiculous motorcycle gang there is, because half the people don’t know how to fix their own bike and we don’t really fit the stereotype. It’s not that I personally don’t want to learn how to do that, I certainly do. But I just come from a background where my dad was an accountant and my mom a hairdresser and I wasn’t really growing up to be the lumberjack type per se. I didn’t give a shit about engines or machinery in general back then. But in the end, we really love riding bikes and I guess that’s the most important thing anyway, you can call me a kook it’s all good, I know it better than anybody hahaha.
I guess I still have time to man up some day.

One part of the infamous Knhofficial club.
Photo: Emppu Nyman

Martial arts was something that my younger brothers got into while I was away living abroad. So it would just be something we did when I got home on vacations and wanted to hang out with them. So obviously I wasn’t that invested in it really like they were. But Now after quitting professional riding and not being able to surf too often, there was a big void to fill and I started spending more time in the BJJ gym that my brother owns. Now that I have been able to put more time into it, it has become very addicting and fun. I think jiu jitsu has a lot of the same qualities that snowboarding does being a sport that has a lot more to do with technique over physical attributes. Only difference is that when somebody shows you something in jiu jitsu you are able to mimic the move right away and then use it in action, but in snowboarding it can take you years to perform a trick no matter how many times somebody explains it to you.
But I definitely suggest BJJ for anybody that likes individual sports and wants to stay in shape while having fun doing it.
It has always been big in the surfing world but hopefully the snowboarding world gets a whiff of it too. Only riders that I know that have gotten hooked on it are Aaron Biittner and Kyle Clancy, but I’m sure there are a lot out there.

You were living in Southern California surfing in Summer and riding in winter, some would call that the ultimate dream. Was that life as good as it appears and how was it to move back to Helsinki?
I lived in California for a decade and the life really was a dream when it comes to surfing and snowboarding. Of course there are the typical shitty aspects of the place, terrible traffic, superficial people, Hollywood bubble living and so on…but there are just as many great things too if you care to concentrate on those instead of the bad things. But in the end of the day, I always had a plan to move back home at some point in life.
I loved growing up in Finland where you don’t have to lock your doors and the kids can bike to school by themselves. There’s no earthquakes or anything really that dangerous when it comes to nature. It’s a place where most people grow up equal mainly because of high taxing and social security programs.
The universities are free and I feel like there’s pretty equal opportunity for everybody to succeed if they want to. I think this makes it really easy to approach other people here if people feel like they are the same worth in a society.
This is really refreshing when comparing this to for instance living in California, where your wealth determines your place quite often in numerous different things. This didn’t really bother me when I was younger but towards the end of my career, I started thinking about having kids one day and I really wanted them to have a possibility to grow up in the same kind of environment where I did. My move to Finland actually happened quite a bit sooner than I originally had planned. I met this Finnish girl while filming in Finland and after meeting her I decided it was time to move back after the season. The next year we got married and now it’s been 7 years.
We are living in similar place where I grew up half an hour away from Helsinki and we got two German Shepherds and at the moment really simple happy life what I always wanted.

Marriage is bliss. Lauri with wife, Anna.

Some riders seem to really struggle to find work after riding but you seemed to slip right into a solid role with Makia. How did that come about and how have you adjusted to the job?
Like I told before, In my last years 2 of snowboarding I started the university program and from there I ended up working for an advertising agency and organizing this big snowboard winter expedition In Finland.
I did that for 2 years in a row and then there was an opening in a Helsinki based streetwear company called Makia Clothing. This company was founded in 2001 and Joni Malmi was actually one of the guys who started the company.
Joni was the guy who brought me on for Forum snowboards and I remember him talking about starting a clothing company when we were on the road together. I used to joke around that great, one day we can work together for Makia when we are done playing with snowboards.
Well it seemed like destiny when I saw that Makia had an opening for a project manager, so I applied and ended up getting it. I sit next to Joni (Brand manager) and Totti Nyberg (Creative Chief Officer) whom both have a long history in the business and are great at what they do. But yes, it feels great to work for a brand that I really believe in and with guys that I have a lot to learn from. The brand has grown from a tiny cellar-based t-shirt company to a legit company and everybody who work for it still have so much heart invested in it.

Team Makia; Lauri, Totti Nyberg and Joni Malmi. Photo: Makia

Do you still keep up to date with what is going on with snowboarding and if so what do you like and what don’t you like?
I do keep up but not the way I used to. Of course I follow all the guys from my era in social media and I browse the websites for clips and news here and there. I don’t really follow the competitions but I never did, even when I was still a pro. I’m not too into what the competition format often does to tricks and the flow of the riding. Everything gets too hectic for me in the contest runs. But I gotta say my opinion is biased, because I’m a product of an era where the industry was able to support riders who only filmed for movies, which naturally gave more freedom to professional snowboarding.Well I guess the freedom is still there and it has always been, but i feel like most of the competition formats just take some of it away and push you to snowboard a certain way if you want to win. It’s not really the riders’ fault, it just the way the money is made nowadays because of the industry. 
I’m sure most of the pros ride just the way we did when they are not competing, and even if they are not and they just wanna perform and be athletes, I don’t really wanna judge it. I feel Like a lot of the time, the older generation thinks that the generation coming up is always worse than the one before. This also works other way around, where the kids think that the older generations opinion is always outdated and irrelevant. It’s understandable why this happens, but I try to live by a principle to always give respect for the older generations for paving the way,  but also to cheer the new generation on to figure out what’s next, and let them enjoy the ride while doing it 🤙🏻

You can follow Lauri on his Instagram here.
Most photo’s by Pasi Salminen
See more from Makia here.