MARKO "HAKKI" HARMAALA'S INTERVIEW ABOUT ALCOHOLISM AND SKATEBOARDING
Thinking about Hakki and his past makes me inevitably think about the movie “Rocky IV” and the scene in which Ivan Drago beats the hell out of Rocky round after round. The massacre goes on for so long, it is absolutely clear that no one could possibly survive from it. Rocky is totally defenseless and the pain and suffering just keeps getting worse – punch after punch.
But the story has a happy ending as Rocky gets his miraculous one last boost and smashes down the Russian opponent. Of course, this is just a perfect example of what Hollywood is all about, but still it feels like a good comparison to what Hakki has gone through. Even though Marko Harmaala has fought against a totally different kind of beast. It is far from Ivan Drago or physical violence. It is much more clever and devilish, and it will never let go.
Hakki’s fight has been against alcohol. The booze. It is what has made this legendary Finnish skateboarding champion struggle for almost all his life. He was sober until the age of seventeen, but after that, he started to drink as if it was something fun even though he says it was already a symptom of other problems from the very first time. Drinking was a huge problem to him, but it easily took fifteen years of heavy drinking and self-destruction before he finally understood the power of his competitor and the fact that there were only two options left: He would drink himself to death at the age of 32 unless he didn’t stop for good. The mental asylums, medicines, detoxifications and support groups were all tested.
“Nothing worked until the will for change came from myself and I admitted the facts. Alcohol is like a gentleman in a ring; it leaves you alone as soon as you give up. But that means you have to make a full inventory of your life without any compromises or explanations – being totally honest. You have to re-build your life, piece by piece, and never stop taking care of it again. Being an alcoholic is something you are for the rest of your life. You can’t beat it alone. This is the lesson that saved my life.”
Now he has been sober for six years. Despite all the blank points, there are also good memories and happy times in his past. The great career in skateboarding was too short because of his sickness – but that doesn’t seem to bother him. Nowadays, he skates more and better than ever. He is as excited as a little kid and he keeps asking a lot from himself as he has always done.
Lucky for us, CTRL is still the place for this kind of talent and style as Hakki is willing to come back to our team now that he is on a skateboard again. He is, after all, one of the first team members from that legendary Control skateboards. And it looks like he still has a lot to give: I keep getting e-mails every other day where he suggests some ideas of what we should do next or what he should do next. He’s always been hard on himself when it comes to things he is involved in. And being sober is definitely the best thing that has happen to him. Now he is working at a local indoor skate park and going to school to get a degree so that he can start working as a youth leader. A perfect job for him with that kind of background.
Last night we went skating together. It was just like old times – except there was less anger or stress involved. Now this calm man is sitting at the kitchen table with a smile on his face and a deep look in his eyes. The kids are out in the yard with their mother and we are supposed to talk about the life of Marko Harmaala. I’ve told him I’m gonna be straight and ask about the hard times, but it looks like he is making this very easy for me. He’s already talking:
"The strongest visions I have from the past are those from the time I was 7-years old. My mother used to have this amazing ability to find only more and more lunatic men to bring to our house and to be my stepfather. This one was one of those wife-beater types… I remember waking up at nights to see my mom being beaten up so badly I thought she would die, and I couldn’t do anything but stay still and wait… or waking up with a shotgun pointing straight to my face so that I had to run in to the dark and cold winter night alone… I would say these kinds of experiences made me feel very unsafe.
After we got out of this hell, and we moved to Kiuruvesi. That started the second period of my life when my mother started to drink very heavily… she would disappear for days and I didn’t know if she would ever come back. When I was 12, she drank so desperately that she finally tried to kill herself. I still remember telling her that if she would have managed to do so, I would have done the same thing to myself immediately. I also remember one time when I went out at night to wait outside of this restaurant to see if I could get her to come home. When she came out, she just walked away and left me alone there.
I often had to stay at my aunt’s place to get my schoolwork done, and she became a kind of second mother to me. Unfortunately, things went so that my aunt committed suicide when I was 15… These are just some examples to get you to understand my background and the reasons behind my drinking problem. It was all about not feeling safe and the fear of being left alone.
At this point, I want to say that I do not have any anger or hard feelings against my mother. She must have tried her best, but the alcoholism made it impossible for her to do any better at that point – and it affected me also later on.
With my dad, it was the same thing except he did all this even more intensely. But what is the best thing is that all three of us are now sober, living our own separate lives and having good relationships with each other. We all know what this disease is about and what it needs to keep this good life going on.”
Hakki in the Kuopio indoor park.
"I have found my path – but if I ever think about staying alone with this problem, the bad things and the real evil character of this disease will appear very quickly, and the harmful thoughts and bad things start to happen."
What does it need to be sober then?
For me, those support groups have been the best thing. I don’t want to talk about the details of those here, but if anyone really wants to know more I’m very happy to tell.
The first years, I went there 4-5 times a week and now I go there twice a week. Nowadays, I don’t have to struggle anymore with the desire of drinking or the alcohol itself. With the tools and advice I get from those group meetings, I can now live quite normally and enjoy the good things in life. But the important thing is that the alcoholism is a disease that stays with you for the rest of your life because it is a disease of one’s mental and emotional life.
I have found my path – but if I ever think about staying alone with this problem, the bad things and the real evil character of this disease will appear very quickly, and the harmful thoughts and bad things start to happen.
And then it would be easy to start drinking again?
Well, there’s only one sip between my sobriety and the craziness of what it used to be. But now I have so many sober days behind me that the drinking is definitely not the first thing in my mind. I have other opinions and good tools in my hands for situations like this.
But alcoholism is such a self-denying sickness that it is important to heal yourself every day. Otherwise all these basic things in your life starts to become difficult and too much for you because the problem is with your emotional side. If you are not focusing, you start to think too much of yourself and start explaining and talking shit – and then you are already at the point where anything can happen.
And if so, the disappointment would be quite big?
For me, it would be the same as a death sentence. I have seen and experienced the effects of a collapse very closely. For example, when I was in this treatment called Myllyhoito in Kalliola hospital, they asked me the reason why I was there trying to quit drinking. I told it was 80% because of my son and 20% because of me. The leader of that small group told me right away that I wouldn’t be able to make it that time either. Of course, I was defending myself and thinking that I would definitely show that prick what I can do. But he was right, unfortunately. I learned from the practice that the sobriety can be reached only if you are doing it 100% for yourself.
You cannot stay sober because of your work or your family. That collapse was one of the worst things that ever happened to me. It really hurt me badly. I was already living the idea of leaving the drinking behind. I had decided that if I ever had kids, I would not let them live through that same kind of childhood I had experienced. Any normal person could have stopped then. But with this sickness, I just couldn’t and it was a totally hell.
For how long time did you manage to stay sober that time?
Almost five months. Then the drinking started again from the very first moment when the question of whether to drink or not snuck into my mind. And back then, I was not totally doing it for myself (the sobriety) so there was nothing to do for it. It just happened.
And was it like a one-time mistake only or what happened?
No, the drinking started again very badly. Even though I had the will to recover and I was going to those treatments, I just wasn’t ready for it yet. My relationship with Kaisa was in a crisis and she had packed my stuff in plastic bags to wait for me outside the house. This collapse was actually my last real drinking period and I still remember those feelings like it was yesterday. Fear, desperation, depression. It was something much more horrible than the normal lizards you get after your party nights.
That summer (2007), I drank from two days to one week a time and after each of these periods I was shaking for two days in my bed and then I just had to start again from the morning of the third day. And this is when I started to have those same feelings again that I had gone through when I was 25-years old and already knew that if I wasn’t able to stop the drinking, it would mean I was killing myself with it. I felt that the life I was living was not worth living. The drinking wasn’t only a bad thing for me; it was 100% hell. I couldn’t get any relief to my suffering and there hadn’t been any fun in it for years.
That feeling became so strong I couldn’t see any other options anymore. Finally, I was ready to give up and I was really willing to do everything I could to just get rid of that all. Then I realized I couldn’t do it by myself.
A photo from the Edge-magazine (1995)
Let's go back in time a bit. Tell us where you come from and how did you end up living in Helsinki? And was it where your skateboarding started to take a bigger role in your life with movies and sponsors and competitions involved?
Kiuruvesi is the place I call my home because that’s where my relatives were living, and that’s where I spent my childhood as I recall it. But I was born in Södertälje, Sweden. It was that time in the seventies when people moved from Finland to Sweden for work. We lived among Finnish people and I didn’t learn any Swedish, only the sentence “hoolsheften o ta det lungt...” ha-ha, I still don’t know how to write it correctly.
When I was 5-years old we moved from Sweden to Alajärvi and from there to Kiuruvesi and from there to Iisalmi and finally to Vantaa (Helsinki).
What is the first memory you have about skateboarding?
We bought these Turbo-II skateboards with friends from a local Maksi Makasiini shop in Kiuruvesi. We were 12-years old. And that was it.
At this point I must bring out my opinion of the importance of this hobby. I must say it really helped me a lot when I was a kid and things were really messed up at home. Without skateboarding and my addiction to it, some really sad things might have happened to me already then.
So when you moved to Vantaa, you were already skateboarding?
Yes. And there I first met a guy called Leksi with whom we went out skating. After visiting the spots at Tikkurila, I got to know people like Ufo-Toni and other boys from there. Ufo-Toni was the next-level guy at that time. Of course there were many others also but he’s the first one to come in mind. We skated at the spot called ”Terkkari” and started to do things like “Kesäkuvat”-movie and other stuff.
Those guys had already done a film called “Hyvässä seurassa kelpaa huonokin elokuva” (Even a bad movie is ok with a good company) made by Pasi Pauni. So I was looking up to them… Hessu, Karhunen and others were there. I really suggest searching that movie to understand why I’m talking about that Ufo-Toni.
Was skateboarding the thing that filled your life back then? Did you have anything else?
Yeah, it was quite much what I had back then and it gave me things I was missing during my childhood. I tried to go in to the army as it is obligatory in Finland but it didn’t work out. I had my sponsor (Skate Import) already and I was kind of serious with my skateboarding.
"Helsinki-Kuopio All Night Long" (full movie here!) From 1995. Sokeva and Sawo rippers. Vimeocredits: Projekti Päällä.
So what happened with the army thing?
Well they didn’t understand my skateboarding and my needs for holidays because of it. And as it was their opinion, I decided not to cooperate with them either in that case.
Did you quit or how did you managed to get out of it?
I was there for the whole first period and I was actually quite good in there because I wanted to do it properly and I was in a good shape. So I was one of the top guys in my group and that’s why I had to tell them all kinds of stories to make them understand why I was quitting.
**And did you get discharged from there?
I told them I would work the rest of my duty in civilian services, which is the other option to do if you do not want to join the army. But I only needed to see some doctors every once in a while and tell them my situation and that was it. I didn’t have to do anything else.
Have you finished any school? Do you have any education?
I went to comprehensive school first in Kiuruvesi up to 8th class and then finished the last class of the upper level of the comprehensive school in Korso (Ruusuvuoren ylä-aste). It was not easy to change school at that age especially coming from the area where I came and going to Vantaa. I’m not saying there was any bigger problems, just some difficulties with one gypsy guy and with teachers and of course I had problems talking in the way they did in Helsinki. I hardly managed to pass the school. They were about to put me in some extra exams but I told them I wouldn’t be around even for that. So what they did, they finally just let me go without any problems.
Of course, it bothers me nowadays that I had such a bad attitude towards school but once again it was because of the problems I had in my childhood. I had no ability for any constructive thinking; I only saw things either in black or white. When you don’t know who you really are or you don’t have any kind of identity or if the identity you have is really wrong, it makes your life hard and difficult. I couldn’t stand any authorities or people who tried to tell me how to live my life or even those who tried to understand me because I had lived my whole life on my own.
So after school it was only skateboarding?
Yeah. With my degrees there was no reason to try to get in to any school and I wouldn’t have been able to study anything anyways.
Kickflip to fakie in Malaga. Photo from the Falshback magazine, 1999
So was skateboarding the thing you wanted to do from the start?
I was interested in other sports also. I played soccer, ice hockey and I ran, but left them all when I started skating and the good things in it started to show up in to my life. I’ve tried to tell people (both parents and decision makers) about the good things in skateboarding. About the integrity, the wholeness it gives to you and how great a thing it can be in a young person’s life when the world around is too busy and demanding. The greatness is in the fact that you can manage yourself in skateboarding. You can define your own rules and schedules and places and everything in it. No one can ask anything from you or your skateboarding. The freedom… it’s something unexplainable and remarkable and it just got me hooked from the start.
And with your background it must have been really special to get friends and to be able to build up your own life around it?
Yeah it really filled the empty spots I had in my life – such as the lack of feeling safe and other things. Also the feeling of “being part of something special”, that was really important.
Do you have any sisters or brothers?
“The anger and fear against that thing was in my mind all the time. I was saying to myself that I’m never gonna touch that shit. I knew too well what kind of things it makes people do...”
How did you end up drinking? Was it something different from what it was with other people of your age and with the people who you were drinking with?
I started quite late; I was 17-years old. The anger and fear against that thing was in my mind all the time. I was saying to myself that I’m never gonna touch that shit. I knew too well what kind of things it makes people do as I had lived through the hell myself, but still I somehow just ignored the whole thing when I did it. I even talked to my mom about it and she tried to remind me what had happened to her and to my father and to my relatives but I just didn’t listen to it at all. I just thought I could handle it myself.
I was a shy and sensitive boy having problems dealing with my own feelings. Alcohol just felt like it would give me everything I would need or what I was missing. I got hooked right away. I was an alcoholic already before I even had taken any drink. It was just waiting there for the right time. And if it wasn’t drinking, something else might have come on my way and I might have done some bad things. My thoughts and emotional life were in very bad shape. Alcohol was like medicine for all that: It cured the bad feelings and gave me an extra boost for good vibes. And in the middle I just drank for whatever reason. But it doesn’t work like that for long. It will inevitably turn against you at some point.
It turned quite soon from 1-day a week to 2-3 times a week habit. When I was 22-years old, I was already drinking weeklong periods and I had to go to the pharmacy to get vitamin-B for the shaking and cramps. I was doing my internship work at the skate shop (Union5) and somehow no one ever said anything to me about it. Maybe it wasn’t that clear yet?
You drank mostly apple cider back then. There was actually a Control skateboard graphics done out from that bottle and with your name on it. I assume you've not been that picky all the time with your drinking?
I’ve tried everything there is available and I really didn’t care what I was taking when things were really bad. But let’s not talk about that.
You were already a father and a family man, but still in that shape that you just drank whatever you could get?
Yep. It took me a year and a half after my first kid was born until I could stop. Of course the same shit had been going on for much longer time and it was Kaisa who had to see all that for so many years. I didn’t understand this until I was proceeding with my sobriety and of course it hit me very badly when I realized how much I must have hurt Kaisa. Today I am so happy that my son was still that small and that my drinking is not gonna affect to his life in any way. One of the biggest prizes of my sobriety is that there is no fighting or stressing at home. No matter what the mood or situation is.
For how long have you been together with Kaisa?
Fifteen years. For better or for worse, literally.
There was a big hype around you and your skateboarding and many things were going on and looking good for you but at the same time you just disappeared suddenly and for good. Just like that. I think you were somehow a special person in that times' skateboarding scene because it was so small and underground thing but you were getting fame from outside the basic scene also. Why did you disappear and where did you go? To Kuopio with Kaisa?
Well things had gone for worse for a long time already then. We were staying in Spain with the Control team (winter 1999) and my drinking was so bad I couldn’t skate enough while Toma and Peke were pushing so much every day. I just had my dilemma between drinking and skating and the alcohol was affecting my skating really badly.
And when we came back from there I made a couple of really bad mistakes at work and other things that have to do with driving a car… but I don’t want to talk about those anymore. Anyhow my life was really messed up at that point and that is when I met Kaisa in Kuopio where I was having some drinking trip with my friends. Meeting her made me think that it was time to move on. I truly thought that moving from one place to another would help me quit drinking but it didn’t. I was just trying to hide from my problems.
You were still skating a lot when you moved?
I tried to, but the next year just turned out to be a terrible one. I had so many problems. For example my dog fell down to an elevator shaft and died. I still don’t understand how it was possible, but I remember it like it was yesterday even it happened 13 years ago. One squeak and that was it. And then some other things happened so that my head was just really messed up.
And then Hessu called me and told me that the deal with Control skateboards was over with me. I wasn’t actually surprised and maybe it was also relieving. Looking back now, I understand that decision very well. It was so clear what was coming… I just couldn’t do it anymore… That’s when I started to be unstable/self-destructive and had some treatments and stuff like that…
How old were you then?
And did you do any skating after this?
Yeah, all the time whenever I could stay a little while not drinking and my body was in shape.
You and your mom both took this medicine (Antabus) at the same time. It was a capsule that was put in to your stomach in a surgery and it was supposed to prevent you using alcohol. How did that work out? Did you stay away from drinking?
Before this, we both had been in a very bad shape for a longer time because of heavy drinking and we both wanted to make it stop.
My mom was sober for two months after the Antabus. We really believed that you just can’t drink with that capsule inside you. But then she just called me one day and she was really drunk. It was really hard for me because we were really close and we had lived such hard times together. After the phone call I started to drink also. I remember just wondering how it was possible. It made me blush and my throat felt strange and some palpitation occurred, but that’s it. I don’t recommend it to anyone. It can make your heart stop beating. Finally some parts of the capsule just popped out from my stomach through the scar and probably it was because of the poisoning reaction. A rejection?
So during you Antabus medication you were able to skate again but then it stopped once again?
Yeah. And when the drinking started again, I just left the whole idea of skateboarding behind me for a while. Maybe it was some summertime? It was a real break. Even though I didn’t want to leave it really. It was just the alcohol that took me so badly. I couldn’t skate. It was impossible.
But still it wasn't any longer than one year or something?
No. My longest break from skateboarding has been the time when my knee was injured and that is when I was sober already. Maybe it was in 2009. It was a really bad injury and it took me a year and a half to get back on a skateboard again. It was a really good practice for my nerves to wait and see if I could do it ever again. I still remember those stair-jumps and leap-practices in the forest I was doing to rehabilitate it. But it was worth it. I’m still able to skate and walk even they hurt every now and then. But this is all something I was told I couldn’t be doing anymore. I am very grateful from that.
The Control movies SISU and TEENS were already out when you moved to Kuopio. You were the Finnish champion and took 5th place in Munster world-championship contest at the same year. They nominated you as a "skater of the year" in Helsinki CITY-magazine (even it wasn't a skateboarding magazine) and many other kinds of things were going on around you? The new movie for Control was supposed to come out next year. You missed that one?
Yes. You can’t mix drinking like that with skateboarding.
How does it feel now?
I don’t want to regret things from my past because it is not changing anything. Of course I’ve thought about it and the fact that I could have had much more to give if things would’ve been different. But my attitude against skateboarding changed at that point. I forgot the reasons why I had started skateboarding and why I loved it. I started to think it from a very different angle.
One example of this is the competition the next year after I had won there. A little kid came to me and asked why I didn’t even try to do my best in my run. It hurt me so bad, the fact that I had disappointed this little kid, not the fact that I didn’t end my competition. I almost cried and I still remember what he looked like. So this is what I mean with these problems in sensitive side, the talk about emotional illness. Soon after that I was drinking my sadness away with the same shit as always.
“I walked back from there and noticed that the competition was still going on. I took away the arm sling and went back skating…”.
So you basically like going to competitions?
Yes. It’s like a love-hate kind of thing with that. And it’s always in your own head with whom you’re competing with. But yes, I like it.
Once you won with a tweaked elbow?
Yes, it tweaked out from its place earlier in the practices. It wasn’t the first time, but now it didn’t go back to its place like it normally did. They took an ambulance and drove me to hospital where I was given some morphine or stuff like that and they wrenched it back. I walked back from there and noticed that the competition was still going on. I took away the arm sling and went back skating and that’s why the elbow stayed loose for good.
And you did that classic fakie kickflip down from some ten stairs with that hand?
Yeah, or maybe it wasn’t stairs but some gap, I’m not sure if I won that year or what year it was. I’ve seen a video clip from the competition and the elbow pops out from its’ place again while I’m landing the trick.
And while we were shooting the Control Teens-movie it tweaked five times in one day. When I got home I couldn’t even lift the cheese slicer on the table.
And those were the times when Control was doing great and people hyped about the next movie and things like that?
Yes, but my own head was going wrong already. I forgot the things why I actually had started the whole thing. Like I told earlier, things just turned so that I started to get pressure on things and being afraid of failing and other bad things went on at the same time…
Do you think that you being drunk became a kind of role in the skateboarding scene? There was these Golden Cap graphics and "drunken master" and "morphine slave" kind of things going on.
Well, the drinking itself wasn’t ever a thing I wanted to show or talk about. For me, it was just an obsession. Maybe it was others who built up that kind of stories around it. But I liked those graphics a lot. Then there were these other things I did while being drunk and they were all just things I did to get attention and acceptance.
Any cases you regret specially? You've done some crazy and destructive things during the years. For example, you hung out from the ferry that goes between Finland and Sweden in the middle of the ocean and did the same thing in an express train in full speed. And there's also some car driving you've done and all these are done while you were very drunk.
Of course they are all things that should not have happened but I can’t change them by hating myself because of them. I was just so sick then. The childhood problems just caused me the reactions I did. Afterwards I can see it very clearly. I was always the clown and the one who did whatever someone else told me to do in the groups and it was all just my way to get attention and acceptance that I didn’t experience at home.
Do you think that it is usually because of other problems that causes the heavy drinking and not the alcohol itself? Now that you are working among young people you must see people coming from very different kind of backgrounds.
I think that alcohol and all kind of intoxicant abuses are always symptoms of something else. With adults and young people as well. And quite often the problems behind there are quite similar. Sometimes I don’t know if should laugh or cry when I see how politics are reacting to this problem. Big words about the educational work ¬– which is of course very important also, but the basis to this whole thing come from people’s homes, from where you live and where you grow up.
_“A young person can be outsider at school, at home and everywhere, but still he comes skateboarding regularly. I claim this is something different from big team sports and that this is not how it goes there. And if this young person has the courage to take contact and trust me and I can somehow help him whatever the problem is, I must say I am really happy.”
But you're not preaching about this thing?
Absolutely not. I’m already privileged with my job because I can use my skateboarding background in it and I hope it will take bigger role in my future works also. Meeting these young people, encouraging them and helping them with their social skills, it is all something that I honestly want to do. And doing it while skateboarding is of course even more inspiring so I’m really motivated to this.
For two years now I’ve seen how first-timers start coming here and how they find their own thing from this and talking with their parents and hearing how important thing skateboarding can be to some people I have understood that this work is something really special. I can’t do anything but hope that I can continue this.
And the important thing is that young people can get a lot out from this. It can prevent loneliness and social exclusion. A young person can be outsider at school, at home and everywhere, but still he comes skateboarding regularly. I claim this is something different from big team sports and that this is not how it goes there. And if this young person has the courage to take contact and trust me and I can somehow help him whatever the problem is, I must say I am really happy
A boat to Sweden 1996
What about your own kids and their future, what kind of expectations do you have?
I will do my best to let them grow up in a good environment. We’ll see what the future will be. I don’t want to build up any extra safety nets or shelters for them even though I know I can’t handle all the things in the most rational way when it comes to bullying and things like that. That’s where my own craziness might show up quite fast. I just can’t accept the idea of not being able to react to those kinds of things where kids are suffering. It can’t be so.
Did you always have that craziness as part of your personality?
Yeah it’s been there all the time, and I know it’s there still. But nowadays I’m as calm as still water. But the fact is that all the negative things like anger, grudge and other shit are like poison to me and I shouldn’t be causing them to myself in any case.
Besides your raging I remember you were really intense with your skateboarding. I remember the kinky ledge in Pasila and you trying to krooked grind it all the way. For how long did it take? All day?
Haha, yeah, that’s a good one, I didn’t remember the whole thing. I’ve always thought I was lazy….
Lazy? You also went skating in the mornings before your work to practise your killer tricks and then you went back after work.
Okay, that’s true. I didn’t remember. Nowadays I’ve just thought that I was lazy because now I’m so eager to learn new tricks and to challenge myself more and more...
And to practise even more?
Yeah, but I mean back then I kind of stuck in to this certain model where I was doing the same things over and over again. It was kind of lame, doing the things I already knew I could do and not challenging myself as much I should have. There was this fear of failing that had sneaked in to my mind already.
But I did have that idea – and I still do – that it’s not enough to land a trick only once. Why not do it thirty times or a hundred times? That’s how to reach the certainty in it.
Did you land that krooked grind down the ledge
Have you ever thought that you should've gone back to do it?
Yeah, at least now that you ask it. I remember the day and how I went to get me new Indy’s from the shop and then straight to the spot and started trying it. It took me so long that the front truck was totally done after that. The axle showing after one session… Of course it would’ve been nice to land it… Maybe I can try it now in 2014… For CTRL and for the old times.
How did you end up skating in the Control team?
I had a deal with this shop called “Skate Import” and a shoe sponsor from Aarni (the guy who imports Etnies to Finland). Hessu just came to me and gave me one of those Control boards to try it and after that I just hopped in to the team. There wasn’t that much hesitating in it. I also skipped the shoe sponsor deal after the head of the shop Union5 and DC-Finland gave me a kind of deal I couldn’t say no to.
Any sponsors before these?
“Skate Import” (the shop) gave me stuff to sell when I moved to Helsinki and from there I could buy with a discount or got some stuff for free for myself. It was because of some contacts with someone from Savo. Maybe Varonen?
What's the difference between skateboarding now at the age of 38 to what it was before?
It’s all done just for me. No stress about anything except my own head. And whenever you can land a new trick at this age it’s just amazing. And it looks like it’s possible every now and then. That keeps me motivated.
What is your best video part or the one that you're most satisfied with?
I don’t think there is any “best” one because the whole term is so repulsive. But the first to come in mind is “Paranormal Activity”. In that I got some tricks I had never done before but I think the whole thing was just too long. Those were the good old days. We were filming with Peke and Toma and it was just before Control was born. Sisu is also good but I haven’t seen it for so long I can’t say what’s in it. The “Back to basics” made by Jape is also a good one even it is only from skate parks and indoor places. That’s from the time when I had been sober for couple of years already and started to get the skateboarding back again. There are some new tricks in it also.
Paranormal Activity (second edition) Videokredits: Projekti Päällä
Let's get back to this drinking problem for a while. Can you describe your drinking behavior and how did it differ from a so called normal drinking? What are the differences?
A healthy person can stop when he wants. Alcoholic can’t. A healthy person can drink 12 beers while an alcoholic starts to worry about where to get more after the sixth one.
These are just some examples from the drinking aspect but the real problem is in the emotional side that is quite hard to explain to anyone who is not an alcoholic. Even the alcoholic can’t understand it while he is drinking.
When I had my first breakdown at the age of 25 including the detoxification, hospital periods, medicals and so on, I had the first possibility to take part to a support group and I remember thinking about that I am so shy and scared that I could never talk about myself like that to others and also I thought that my situation wasn’t even that bad.
So I just lied to myself about the problem. I thought I could survive by myself even though I had just been drinking for a month in a row and been on a medical detoxification so that they could put me in a mental hospital twice because of my self-destructiveness. And after all this I still continued for seven more years running against the wall before I understood my weakness. And I think there’s no need to tell all the shit that happened during those years.
Okay, so tell us some of your favorite skaters?
Well, I like so many different kind of pushers there’s no specific name to say. But I like a lot of the Finnish scene and I’m kind of curious to know all the new things that are going on in here.
But you're not saying any names?
No, otherwise I’m going to call you back tomorrow and change them and I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night because I would be thinking about everyone who should be mentioned and worrying about who I have forgot…(laughing)
Not saying anyone?
Well if I think about the whole industry and the teams and all that I must say the Girls’ team and the skaters in it is the first to come in mind. But like I said I like also other kinds of skateboarders, like those who goes fast and jumps off the roofs and stuff like that. Fast and hard…crazy stuff (laughing). There’s so many out there I shouldn’t have said even these.
Yeah, we got some names finally.
Yeah they are there of course. And I respect those older dudes a lot because I understand the work they have to do to get some footage at that age. Being older than me and doing a full part is something I really appreciate.
How about the skateboarding scene nowadays in general, do you like what's going on there?
Yeah, it’s really gone crazy in many ways but I do like it. But what is the most important thing is that you can make your stuff in so many different ways and still make it good so you don’t have to imitate anyone or anything to get a great boost for yourself.
I wouldn’t go there hammering and killing myself cause I know I can break myself with smaller stuff as well…
Well, it was just a week ago when you called me about that double set you were thinking about. Having the tricks already in mind.
Ah, yeah, those doubles at Stockmann…(laughing), I have a couple of things in mind yeah but I’m not gonna force myself to it… I was just thinking it would be nice to see if I can focus on that enough for a couple of tricks… But like I said, it’s not something I have to do, is it?
And you have also set this age limit for yourself, up to 42. What's this about?
Yeah, I don’t know where I had this idea… It’s just the thing that I’m once again in a good shape and being able to skate and being excited about all these things we’ve been talking about with you also and stuff like that… it’s like I’m wondering about what I still have to offer. The biggest goal is to get a good video part done. But it’s so hard to get footage from the spots out there, it’s nothing like skating indoors. I have stuff in mind I would like to film but let’s see if it’s ever going to happen.
So is it gonna be the opening part for the next CTRL movie? Or the last part?
Haha, maybe they’re gonna put me to the ending scene rolling under the texts…
Come on, looking at the material you have from the last couple of years there's nothing to worry about.
Yeah but it’s still so different doing it outdoors than inside. But it would be a big thing for me to get that part done.
Yeah, but if it would be easy it wouldn't be fun anymore?
Great. We're waiting for the next movie.
And here comes the last question.
Do you think that positive thinking can increase positive things in your life?
Yeah, this idea of positive thinking is something I learned during my sobriety. I had some harder times after the first two years of sobriety so I went to a therapy for a year and a half. That’s where I found this big thing. The therapist told me all kinds of positive things that I already had in my life and I was saying to all of them with the same thing: “But still…”.
So I was pulling those positive things in to that negative circle I was used to live in. It was a way I had learned to use, a way to get back to that bullshit again and again. I had my hardships and among those I wanted to get back. Only by learning to understand this reaction I could see things differently. Of course, I have my bad days still, but nowadays I can react to them very quickly and get to the very basics so that I can get rid of them. Jogging, fresh air and other activity, it doesn’t have to be that big thing – just being positive and having fun.
But skateboarding is still the number one thing in your life? How about the other things in your everyday life?
My son Leevi is now at school and my work is mostly in the evening time, so there’s a big hassle to get schedules done so that I can see my kids enough. I take my free days in the middle of the week so that I can stay home with the kids. Otherwise I would be away all the time and that would be a big contradictory to my profession… If I would work there with the kids as an adult who is supposed to show a good example to them and at the same time being away from my own family all the time. In my work, I’ve seen so many cases where the parents are away too much and the kids are missing them so badly. It can be seen from them very clearly. But skating is so important to me right now that it’s almost too much.
And the last thing - to say something positive about drinking, did you have any good times back then? Did alcohol do any good things for you?
Of course there are good memories involved in there also, but it would be wrong to start bringing them up because the hell I had to go through was a way too bad thing to happen to anyone and it took so long. Also the provoking and making drinking look something fancy is a bit too old thing by now I think. But everyone can do exactly how they feel. I understand it very well. I just hope that the younger people who see and read these kinds of things would understand that it is not fun in any case when you start losing yourself to that disease. And I’m not here to teach anything to anyone or preach, because I’m a totally the wrong person to do so. Everyone makes their own decisions if possible.
Ok. Thank you for this. Now you can say whatever you like. To thank someone or not to.
Thank you Valtteri for doing this, it was a great thing.
Thank you Lamina (Pete), Switchstance (Jape), and the biggest thank you to Kaisa for everything.
P.S. Hello kids, kisses.
I have a family, I am sober, I’m going to school and getting me a profession and I can still skate. What more can I ask from my life? I AM VERY GREATFUL. THE END.
HAKKI BACK IN CTRL 2014 - VIDEO
Text and interview + new photos: Valtteri Kivelä.
Thank you Ale for old graphics and stuff.
Check out Projekti Päällä for great videos!