Thirty years of skateboarding in Finland
Early boarders learnt their tricks by imitating the picture sequences in foreign magazines
By Venla Pystynen
The Fair Centre in Helsinki was packed with boys doing tricks, pounding disco music, and Coca-Cola when the very first Finnish Skateboarding Championships were held in the venue in 1979.
Also present was 14-year-old Mikko Siukosaari, who took top honours in the freestyle competition to the accompaniment of music from the Boomtown Rats.
Now 44, the former champion showed off some of his bravura moves from thirty years ago in front of the Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum.
He has not forgotten the tricks of yore, but admits that recovery from a fall when something doesn't go quite as planned now takes several months rather than the minute required back in 1979.
Nevertheless, Siukosaari is not about to spare his slightly more fragile bones, since the museum is currently hosting an exhibition of this history of skateboarding in Finland, under the catchy heading 30sk8.
To mark this event, it is only fitting to get a few cuts and bruises, by way of memories from the good old days.
Like many other Finns, Mikko Siukosaari got his first glimpse of skateboards and skateboarding in a display put on by the Stockmann department store in 1977.
One year later, his sister, in the States as an exchange student, brought a board back for the youngster as a gift.
Since there were precious few other exponents of the sport to be found at the time, Siukosaari initially learnt tricks alone, poring over the pages of the American magazine Skateboarder.
"I looked at the picture sequences and tried to work out in my mind how each trick was supposed to be performed."
In the 1970s, skateboarding was outlawed on the streets of Helsinki and the local police were not slow to hand out fines to those who dared flout the ban.
The first hall for boarders was opened in Kasarmitori in 1979, but it was not until the mid-1980s that the discipline's popularity really took off in a big way.
For many teenagers the inspiration came from the popular movie Back To The Future, in which a young Michael J. Fox strutted his stuff on his board.
That film was also seen by 14-year-old Joni Kukkohovi, who immediately went out and bought a skateboard of his own.
The standard among adherents of the sport in Finland was not particularly high, so the youngster went off to Stockholm to learn. Kukkohovi was successful in competitions and moved to the United States during the winter months to train.
There the skateboarding culture was a full decade ahead of the backwater that was Finland. When he took part in events, with some success, Kukkohovi was shocked to discover that many of his fellow-competitors were a good deal older, and with years and years of training behind them.
"They were on a whole different plane there from anyone in Finland. In the States, skateboarding was a business and it all took place on a larger platform", recalls Kukkohovi. In Finland by comparison, it was all pretty much an "underground" affair, even into the early 1990s, with training taking place on secluded backstreets.
"There really weren't that many places in Finland where you could work out on a board, and the sport wasn't supported in any shape or form", Kukkohovi recalls the 1990s. "Local councils didn't want to put any money into the hobby."
But with the coming of the new millennium, the numbers of devotees took off again in a big way and nowadays there are skateboard parks and halls in practically every self-respecting town and village in the land.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 1.8.2009
More on this subject:
The history of skateboarding in Finland
Finnish Skateboarding Federation (mostly in Finnish)
VENLA PYSTYNEN / Helsingin Sanomat