There’s not much common knowledge floating about when it comes to Jani Peltonen. In fact forget common, there isn’t much info at all. And what little there is can be hard to come by. Peke doesn’t sit around at local ledoms or southbanks, he doesn’t drink at manolos or sleep with the maxfishes, he doesn’t hang out at MySpace or leaf through magazines behind the counters of streetmachines and slamcities. He’s the man from the Tom Waits song, who never waves when he goes by, who’s all to himself—I think I know why. He’s hiding something from the rest of us. So who is Peltonen and what the hell is he building in there? You have the right to know.
Peke emerged on the Finnish skate map as a slightly introverted 13 year-old in the winter of 1993. In the early 90’s there was a small indoor skatepark called Sokeva in a northern suburb of Helsinki, notorious for its aggressive graffiti writers and street thugs. A group of skaters had taken over a disused building, then struck a deal with the owner after the fact and were allowed to stay. At the time, that was like getting shot up to the main artery of the Finnish skate scene. When the rest of the city was shivering in the blizzard and skating dusty car parks, the Sokeva crew were the shape of things to come. The locals there—a certain Samuli “Hessu” Heino and one Santtu Söderlund in particular—had a rep for vibing the odd visitor to the extent that there were hardly any visitors. Intimidated by the rumours, Peke was doubtful about Sokeva at first, but got invited in that winter through friends of friends and eventually became an inseparable part of the set up.
The following few years saw the rise and fall of what to this day many Helsinki skaters consider the best spot they ever had, the red marble ledges in Pasila. In hindsight, these two spots were perhaps pivotal in turning a group of friends to the longest running and best-known board brand ever to come out of Finland. Control put out its first two boards in 1996, couple of years before the ledges in Pasila were skatestopped effectively closing a chapter in the book of Finnish skateboarding. Peke’s name was on one of those boards, crude black block letters on red background. “That was su-uuch a fucking rough graphic.” Peke laughs. “I still have one of those decks.” Pasila was probably also the last popular hangout spot in Helsinki that Peke made his own. “It was that whole gang of people that skated there, many of them Sokeva locals. I mostly skated with Hakki [Harmaala] and Toma [Stankevitsch]. The three of us used to skate together so much, and in a way that spot was the centre of it for a while.”
By the time Control’s first video Sisu came out in late 96, Peke had pretty much disappeared off the mainstream radar only to be seen through his few and far between video parts and a rare photo here and there for a good ten years to come. “I don’t really have anything to say to that. I guess I’ve always been a bit like that, skating with the few people I skate with and doing my own thing. That’s the honest truth of it. It’s not like a calculated decision or anything, despite of what people might think. I like to skate with fewer people. I hate having to wait for my turn to skate, like you do on a miniramp for example, if there are more people.” There was a time, when Peke did a lot of the local comps. He even won the Finnish champs once. “I think there just was a point when I felt like that was it, I’m done with that.”
It’s also perhaps from that point on that it’s been clear that Peke’s outlook on skating is different from those around him. When Eastern Exposure 3 Underachievers, came out in 96, it had a massive impact on everything that skateboarding was about in Helsinki. In came the big wheels, rough curbs, wide boards and rusty flatbars. The impact is visible in Sisu, too. Tomi Stankevitsch has spent more time skating with Peke than anyone else right from the start since that winter in Sokeva 1993. “I remember in the spring of -96, I was setting up the biggest wheels I’ve ever had, 61mm Nicotine Oyolas in the shop [Union Five]. Peke came by and I told him he should get some. He wouldn’t have any of it. He had his 48mm Sheffeys on. I always had the feeling since I met him that he had this unique character, even as a little kid, in the way that most people wouldn’t until later in life when they reach 25 or so.”
All through the late 90’s and early 00’s Peke would spend weeks at a time alone with Toma, checking out every courtyard and corner for something new. So much so that Hakki, another team mate of theirs at the time, would often blow his fuse and declare that he’d wasted another day skating with these chumps, because they didn’t do any fucking skating, all they did was cruise around and look for stuff. This remains Peke’s modus operandi to this day. For him, that’s what skating is all about. You leave the house when you get up and you won’t return until the sun’s long gone and you’re ready to go back to bed. He rarely makes a definite plan—and at the same time he spends ages working out lines and tricks in his head so that when the right spot opens up in front of him, he’s ready for it. For most skaters his approach can be difficult to adapt to and that might be one of the reasons there aren’t many people who’ve stuck with him through the years. He never forces his views onto those around him. It’s just that he won’t see things in any other way but his own. Ironically, it’s perhaps Peke’s unwillingness to compromise that both makes his skating as unique and exceptional as it is, and at the same time isolates him from some of the opportunities that skating has to offer in terms of putting food on the table. “I’m not really the compromising type. Never have been.”
Back in early -97 Sisu had some great reviews in skatemags across Europe, and it briefly looked like Control might explode all over the European skate map and Peke along with it. “At the time, I was just a kid. All that mattered to me was that I could skate. I didn’t think any further than that. I’ve always just done how I felt like doing right then without any plan.” Ten years and four videos on, does it ever feel like that was the one moment, when things could’ve picked up, financially? “I’m sure [Aki] Kärjä and Hessu [Heino] had ideas about pushing it abroad at the time, and selling some boards to someone or whatever, but I guess it just wasn’t as easy as that. And to tell you the truth, I don’t really believe it would’ve made any difference to our videos. But I’ve never really thought about skateboarding or Control or anything in that way. When I was a kid, I’d hear people talking about the possibilities of pro careers and being all serious about it. To me, it was never about that. It’s always been about the team, first and foremost. And still is today. That and making the videos. To me, it was never about selling product. Even if I had none of that [sponsorship], I’d still be doing the same thing. The exact same thing. It’s more that being a part of the team was the channel to get the videos done, it was never the reason to film.“
It’s been a long ride for Peke. At 28, a lot of the people he grew up skating and filming with have gone their separate ways; some live in different countries; others do different things. “I’ve spent my life filming these things with Toma, he’s filmed most of my stuff and I’ve filmed most of his tricks. But he’s not really so involved in the whole thing anymore. Maybe in some way we were a bit different from the rest of the team [Control] and had our own way of doing things. I’m really stoked on everyone on the team at the moment, though. But I don’t know, I might have to start filming on my own with a camera phone or something”, Peke laughs.
When Peke walks through the snow to skate a nearby car park this winter, 15 years after the one he spent in Sokeva and the first one in years that he spends in Finland, it’s almost like he’s come full circle. Only this time the rest of the city is skating the best indoor park the town’s ever seen— warm and dust free—while Peke chooses to dodge the security in the dust and the cold. He’s just as obsessed with skating as he ever was; just as stoked to find something new, even if it’s only a painted curb or a manual pad 30ft under ground. He’s just as determined today to follow his own path.