We dropped by the Finnish capital to learn more about the "Match Made in HEL" project featuring Arto Saari.
For Finnish skateboarder Arto Saari, receiving an invitation from Finnair to turn Helsinki Airport into a skate park for the "Match Made in HEL" project was the definition of surreal. Saari - presumably in similar fashion to skateboarders from around the world - has always had an urge to skate in places he is not supposed to. Finnair and Helsinki Airport provided the opportunity to the 32-year-old skateboarding icon, who invited a team of seven other skaters including Curren Caples, Matt Berger, Louie Lopez and more to join him for the weekend. In many senses, one cannot help but be reminded of the early-2000s game franchise Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, in which Saari was a featured, as the "Match Made in HEL" project evokes a comparable dreamlike experience. The entire weekend in Helsinki seemed inherently like a video game; how many skateboarders would ever have the opportunity to trick on a runway tarmac?
We are privy to the full video drop, featuring some incredible footage Arto and his crew tricking across a landscape that most skateboarders would never be able to access. Moreover we caught up with Arto in Helsinki to pick his brain on the project, among other topics. Check out the video and the interview with Arto Saari below.
As skateboarding comes from a grassroots culture, how do big companies like Finnair, or even Red Bull and Monster come into play? Is it positive to see these worlds merging?
Skateboarding has always been against the establishment, against the big-time companies, but at the same time, if you team up with them, a lot of good things will happen. If you look at Denmark, they just teamed up with a big shipping company after a 10-year battle to create one of the biggest skate parks in Europe, like there are a lot of soccer fields, a lot of baseball fields, but fewer skate parks. They just realized they need more skate parks. In a way, it’s great that there are companies like Finnair and Red Bull to promote skateboarding, meaning it is more accepted, and then there are more places you can skate.
When you first heard about the "Match Made in HEL" project, were you reminded at all of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series?
I definitely worked with Activision a bit. Rodney Mullen and I visited the studio, but to tell you the truth, I’m not overly familiar with the games. Rodney and I did a demo with some street obstacles, that was pretty wild.
You were a character in Tony Hawk’s Underground.
Was I? Actually, I never got to the airport level, I never skated that. But now I’m at the airport, I would rather have the real experience. [laughs]
Any favorite moments from the weekend?
Hard to say, I’m happy everyone is in one piece. That is really important when there are this many moving parts in a project. I guess we got a little bit close to one of the planes, and one of the security guys was like “If they turned the engines on, it would have melted your face off." A lot of epic skateboarding went down, I’m really stoked we were able to skate the blast wall, that was one of the pinnacle moments of the whole project. All the skaters are stoked, they know people don’t get access to spots like this. The energy between everyone was cool, everyone is trying to get a piece of it.
How do you see the crossover between skateboarding culture and streetwear?Specifically brands like Palace or Supreme?
Of course, they are important. Those companies represent the original skateboarding culture in a way, they have a certain vibe; local crew, and certain way of doing things. They are creating their own subculture and that is what skateboarding has always been about. Yes, there is a certain commercial aspect, but skateboarding is going to roll the way it rolls. It can never be fully owned by anybody. It’s cool to see Palace creating their own vibe. Skateboarding is a very multi-level thing, and it has come to a point where there are more ways of being. There are big and small contests, just like there are big and small companies. Certain companies help create the scene. As a whole, skateboarding is very colorful and creative, that is what makes it so rad.
Any there any Finnish companies to mention in that realm?
Melodica. Originally they had a reggae vibe, they have been around for a while. You have to have something like that everywhere, to support the local scene. That is what breeds skateboarders.
What are your favourite brands to wear personally?
Volcom and New Balance. We just did a UK tour with New Balance. We went up to Scotland and visited the factory, also. New Balance is a huge company, they have their own vibe, so it’s cool that they like skateboarding, that’s why they got into it and they are going to grow the skateboarding side slowly. They have worked on projects that they think are awesome and that they are proud of. It’s a household name.
What kind of stuff were you wearing at a young age, when you were first coming into skateboarding?
I didn’t come from a lot of money, so I couldn’t really buy skate brand clothes, I just wore whatever I could get my hands on. But still, I was heavily influenced by skate brands, like Toy Machine, looking at Ed Templeton’s old part and the whole Welcome to Hell era, right after Zero started. Obviously FLIP, as well as Girl, Chocolate, Plan B. The videos made it to Finland a bit after, so I was influenced by it all. Questionable huge baggy pants, when you couldn’t even see your shoes, I was wearing those. Then that all was taken up by rave culture and hip hop. Afterwards, things slimmed down and the clothes developed more to suit skating.
What does a typical off-day look like for you?
Photography takes a lot of my time, I’ve been shooting a lot in the last few years. Family also. My daughter is four now. Any time I’m not busy I try to spend time with her. I have a pool in my backyard so whenever there are guys skating in my pool, she gets amped and she's like “Papa where is my skateboard” and she wants to ride around.
You’ve been shooting a lot on Leica recently, right?
Leica started coming into play a while ago but they are super interested in our culture. The brand hasn’t really been targeted toward young photographers and I feel like they are realizing there is a big market for them to pursue. They gave me a couple cameras to come here and shoot, and play around with. I really wanted to shoot the "Match Made in HEL" project on medium format and when I went to Photokina tradeshow in Cologne a few weeks ago I was talking to a couple of the Leica dudes there, and they hooked me up with a full kit.
Are your photos from this weekend being published anywhere specifically?
They will be published with the full "Match Made in HEL" film, and the film is coming out fast, so we’re figuring out how we are going to roll the photos out. Everything has been moving pretty fast.
What was the first camera you used?
It was a Nikon FM2 35mm. I started shooting with film, I carried that around for about year. Then I got interested in Hasselblad XPAN, then I started buying tons of cameras, I went camera crazy for a bit in the early 2000s. I bought that FM2 from my friend Skin Phillips when we were in Miami and he wrote me a cheat sheet that I carried around forever, how to shoot skateboarding in black and white - 500 shutter, overexpose the stop, blah blah, I don’t know where it is now, I wish I still had it. Before that, I messed around in 7th grade when we used school cameras and we had a little dark room where we made black-and-white prints. Skateboarding and traveling, going to all these amazing places, I’ve hit my head so many times so, I might as well shoot photos so I have something to look back on. [laughs]
Any favorite destinations?
I love Spain, I love the culture there. Spain has a great vibe to it, great culture and architecture, obviously skating is really great there too. I also love Hawaii, those are two of my favorites. Hawaii is like jungle-town paradise. You can go to Hawaii and just soak when you’re sore from skating in Spain.