Skateboarding loves to categorise and pigeonhole. Whole careers and the people behind them get reduced to a style of skating or even just a single trick. The guy who did the ollie. That dude who skates weird banks. The guy with the quick feet. The handrail guy, the switch flip guy, the bowlriding backside smith person. We all do this to others, yet we don’t like it one bit when we get labelled like that ourselves.
Janne Saario has had his fair share of pigeonholing done to his name. Ever since he made his first appearance on the Finnish scene in the late 90’s all the way to his recent video parts in Element, Neighbours and DVS videos, he’s been known to enjoy his manuals. But here’s the extraordinary thing: While many of the miniramp chaps and the handrail dudes spend a lot of time trying to convince us they can do other stuff, Janne has never felt the need to fight against the category that the skateboard community stuck him in. Part of the reason is that after all these years and for all the sponsorship deals, he’s still to this day skating for himself and having fun doing it. Whatever the rest of us make of his skating is secondary to him. My guess is that the other reason is that he’s so good at what he does. So why deny it, right? Meet the man behind the manual; here’s Janne.
It’s the beginning of the summer right now, do you have any plans?
I’m doing a tour with DVS now in June and then I’m off to the middle of Finland for a month. My girlfriend has a job in the Central Hospital there for July, so we’ll just be hanging out, skating with my son. Rest of the summer I’ll be filming for the new Element Europe video.
You know the town from before?
Yeah, our summer place is just around the corner from Jyväskylä. So we can head there on the weekends, have a sauna by the lake, and then spend weekdays in the centre of town.
Your girlfriend is studying to be a doctor. Didn’t you act as a guinea-pig for her recently on some surgery course?
They were practicing removing moles and I thought it would be nothing, that they’d just jerk it off somehow. We were supposed to be finishing this interview at the same time as well…so I’m there and she’s digging into my back and her professor’s telling her to keep going deeper until she could see some yellow layer of fat tissue about a centimetre in. She had to stitch it up and I couldn’t skate for ten days.
Does every student have to persuade a friend that they can operate on?
Yeah, a friend or a relative! They take turns and everyone else is watching.
Have you done any more assisting for her studies?
Not really…she’s practised some stuff with my eyes before, like flipping them around or something. And they’ve practiced stuff with needles in the college, like inserting cathedra-tubes for drips and stuff. But I didn’t take part in that. She would return home with her arms all bruised up after they’d been poking needles into each other, looking for veins. And when they couldn’t find the vain, they’d end up zigzaggin inside the arm, piercing tiny little holes all over the vein. But what can you do, you have to practice that.
Don’t they have like…patients for that?
She was going to get a drumstick or some chicken to practice the stitching on, but then she didn’t have time for it so she just went at it on my back.
How are your own studies coming along?
Pretty slowly but steady. They try to make you get out of there in five years, but that’s pretty ambitious. I think I’ve got about three or four years left, and three behind me.
You’re going to be a landscape architect. How does that differ from plain old architects?
You don’t really design houses, you design public spaces, park areas, private gardens and all kinds of outdoor spaces.
Does that include shaping natural landscapes as well as producing manmade spaces?
It does actually, you can even specialize in forestry in the end.
So usually when they design a house, would there be a landscape architect on the team?
There should be in any case, someone who knows how to get the best out of the site and how to fit the building with the landscape around it. But of course also the really good architects know how to do this too.
You’ve been involved in quite a few skatepark projects- have those been pretty much what you’ve been studying?
Pretty much yeah. Sometimes the works that are showed in the lectures of our professors are actually skatespots I’ve skated. Most of the plazas you see in skatevideos are design by landscape architects. Like the big parks in Spain. They spend quite a lot of money on landscaping in Spain. For example at beer banks they have started with building the extensive park areas, and they’re only now beginning to build the houses on it. They concentrate on public space a lot more in Spain than in here. Of course you get to sit out side enjoying the space all year around down there. In Finland, they get the house up as quickly as possible so that the people can get indoors. Then later on, they start to do a little something with the gravel that was left behind from the construction site.
Sounds like you’ll have a frustrating career as a landscape artist in Finland.
Haha! That’s why I’m designing a park in Northern Spain at the moment.
How’s that going?
Carhartt is sponsoring this skatepark in Gijon. And they wanted it specially designed, so that it wouldn’t be just one more skatepark like all the others. Now the plans are ready and the construction should start this summer.
How does a project like that come together- is the city council of Gijon involved for example?
There’s this gallerist Lucas, who’s been the middle man between Carhartt and the city council, then Jesus, the distributor of Carhartt in Spain who lives in the town has been pushing it a lot as well. But even so, the money was about to run out at one point, so they asked me to build a little model to show them what the park would really look like eventually. I spent a few nights building it, probably about 40 hours in all and I sent that to Gijon. The mayor of the city saw the model and two days later they told me that there was some more money available for the park now. Like a few dozen grand more!
Is it a pretty big challenge to design a public plaza in Spain. I mean, they’re pretty damn good at that stuff.
Yeah, they definitely have a very high standard of landscape architecture in Spain. And sure, I took this opportunity as a big honour. I also thought it would be an advantage for me to start designing the plaza from a further perspective. The place they had chosen had some ruins of an old fort that used to protect the city in Franco’s time and it’s been converted into a nice park now. I took the ruins as a reference point to start thinking of a theme for the space. And from the plane I saw this river delta near by, and there’s a pretty strong tradition in Finnish architecture of using nature and it’s perceived mystical powers as inspiration. And anyway the essence of architecture is dealing more with universal issues than the local ones I believe, so I should have as good odds as the local designers to make good architecture there.
You didn’t mention Franco to the people in Gijon did you? I’m not too familiar with the Spanish history, but I could imagine that to be a touchy subject. Kind of like some foreigner coming here to design a park and talking about the legacy of Hitler and Finland in WWII as their inspiration for it.
Nah, we just spoke about the ruins and stuff, I concentrated on the romantic side of them, the way how each generation is here for such a short time, erosion of buildings, stuff like that.
Do you think it’s been skating that got you into architecture in the first place?
Yeah, I think my interest of becoming an architect has started from skating around the city and searching spots. Often you find places that would be amazing to skate but the flat is cobblestones or some detail just happens to be wrong. So I took myself a mission to infiltrate to the city planning scene and create more spots to skate. Now that I’ve been studying more, of course the range of interests in architecture has grown from that, but I still feel strongly about my roots being a skater not just an architect.
Taking care of a small kid and studying pretty much full time must have some effect on how much you get to skate and how you feel about skating?
It definitely effects the time, yeah. And in fact it effects my attitude towards it as well. You go skate and you know you’ll have your three hours or whatever and not more, and you might not have had the chance to skate the day before, so you definitely want to make the most of it. And you remember the good old times, when you could be on the streets 24-7 and the only thing you had to worry about was landing your kickflips. Or I shouldn’t say good old times, because in fact I really like the way my life is right now. I feel more important cause I have a family to take care of. I don’t think that the aim of my life is to be free of all the responsibilities and just be chilling and entertained all the time. Occasional stress is just a sign that you have valuable things in life to maintain.
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You mentioned the other day that you often skate in the evening with a small group of friends and that you never really have a camera on those sessions. Given that you’re a pro with deadlines for videoparts etc, I would’ve thought you’d have to get stuff pretty much every time you step on your board.
Nah…I definitely get my best ideas for tricks by just skating around and not worrying about any of that, just skating for myself. I’m not too bothered about training my switchflips so that they pop over five boards for example. I just go skate with my friends to satisfy that internal urge that compels us to ride a board.
That’s how you get the ideas, what about their execution?
Well, that’s what we’ve been doing here for the past…I don’t know how long now! (haha) That’s a different story, definitely, and it can be a bit harsh. For that, I like to just arrange the photographer or filmer to be there at a certain time and then take care of the trick at hand. Plus if you know that the other guy has a busy life as well, you don’t really want to make them follow you around for days in case you happen to come up with something you want to skate that day.
How’s the Element video coming along, have you got a lot of footage for that?
Maybe half of it, plus I think my part might be completely in slow motion, so it’ll appear longer with less footage (haha)!
In other words, you’re cheating.
True. But really, we’re just trying to seize some magic of skateboarding with this new technology. And the quantity never compensates the quality anyway.
And the video is done only with HD? That must have some effect in the filming process, I don’t imagine there’s one of those cameras in every household yet.
I only know one HD camera in Helsinki that belongs to a friend but he has other duties in June. We might get stuff in August. You pretty much need to be ready with your tricks when the filmer shows up (haha)!
Is Yves Marchon, the filmer, coming to Finland this summer?
He said he would, yeah. And there might be one more Element tour as well before deadline, with maybe everyone coming along. It’s a pretty big team, so that should be fun, it’s pretty rare that we’d all be somewhere at the same time.
I have to ask you a couple of questions about manuals. I somehow have a feeling that they’ve been on the rise again for a good few years now. What do you think?
I don’t really keep up with the skate media too much, I must admit. So I’m a bit out of it as to what’s pop and what’s not. But a lot of my friends that I skate with like doing manuals, so I don’t know if that’s an indication of anything. I saw quite a lot of manuals in the Lakai video. So maybe that’s a good indicator.
Do manuals evolve just as any other area of skating, getting harder and harder, and what makes one manual trick harder than the next one?
Of course they do. At the same time if you think of the manuals that people were doing in Trilogy for example, you’ve got Creager with switch 360 flip fakie manuals and everything already there. I think at some point the wheels got a bit bigger and people were more into cruising nosemanuals onto high blocks and that sort of thing.
The gnarly chapter in the history of manuals?
Kind of, I suppose. But now it’s obviously back to being super tech again. And of course there’s always been the few guys out there that keep the standard high and keep pushing the limits of what’s possible, Daewon is the obvious one to mention here.
But you don’t really check the latest videos for what’s new?
Not so much, no. And because I don’t, I might have an idea for a combo and I’ll be like sick, I haven’t seen this done anywhere before, but in fact I’m just cheating myself since I haven’t really even checked any videos lately (haha)!
Hey what’s the rules with manuals—if for example you could do a lipslide on a handrail how ever many times you want, just as long as you keep finding new rails, could you do the same manual combos on different manual pads again and again?
Nah, I think if I personally have done a combo on a pretty basic manual pad, then it’s done and I won’t film it again. But there are always so many different kinds of manual spots, like there might be steps at the end of it, or it’s inclining upwards or downwards…if it’s a special manual pad, then everything is allowed again. Same as curbs. If it’s some basic ledge, you can’t just always film your one special trick on every ledge you find. Besides actually the whole idea of a manual pad is pretty abstract. I’ve often thought of just flat ground as a manual pad. You just do a flip on flat and land into nosemanual and all of a sudden you’re on this huge, endless manual pad, until you maybe do another fliptrick out of it and you’re on flatland again.
Janne Saario rides for Element Skateboards, DVS Shoes and Von Zipper eyewear.