No Apologies – Arto Saari Pro Spotlight

by Mackenzie Eisenhour

Arto is a dude who holds a deep, deep love for this crazy circus we call skateboarding. He came out of virtually nowhere back in the late 90s, won a gang of contests, built a huge fan base, and has been destroying our world ever since. He’s been through some sh-t over the years and never got handed a cakewalk or a coddled baby ride. His outlook on life centers around his deep love for our pastime, constant motion across the planet Earth, and a deep-rooted belief that the ultimate redemption is your own for the taking. The following words represent his take on our world in this strange year of our Lord, 2006, along with the story of what gave him his remarkable inner strength, his Midas touch on and off his skateboard, and various opinions a little heavier than most. Read on.

Who put you in touch with Flip?
(Geoff) Rowley put me in touch with them. I met him for the first time in Lausanne, Switzerland for that contest they used to have out there, then again out in Huntington Beach at Ed Templeton’s house. This was around ’98 or ’99. I can’t remember exactly, it’s been so long. But yeah, then through Geoff I met Sasha (Steinhorst), who was the etnies team manager at the time, and from there that’s pretty much how I got on. I was skating all the Euro comps and then ended up spending three months out in the States over the winter. After that I just kept going back. Eventually the dudes at Flip were like, “Let’s do this, man.”

It seems like nobody ever leaves Flip. What sets Flip apart from other companies?
It’s a pretty tight group, for sure. Whenever we’re about to add someone, everybody on the team takes a long time talking about how we feel about whichever person we’re looking into. We’re all really close friends on and off the board, so it’s not like a company of strangers or anything. Ian (Deacon) and Jeremy (Fox) will discuss that kind of stuff with everyone before a decision is made. I know other companies take a similar approach, but in our case, sometimes I think the fact that most of us are foreigners keeps the team tight on that level, too. There haven’t really ever been too many people to quit. Lately there’s been some drama going on, but overall it’s been pretty rock solid.

What were your first impressions of the U.S. and Huntington Beach when you arrived from Finland?
My first reaction was, “F-king hell, rad. It’s the middle of the winter and it’s like complete sunshine. There’s smooth ground everywhere and a ton of spots.” I didn’t even think of anything else. I was just like, “I wanna go skate. I’ve got to go skate.” Every parking lot has red curbs ready to be slashed and you would see pros all over the place. The HB park was still just f-kin’ ruling at that point, and we’d go skate there and see Andrew (Reynolds) and all those dudes. It was like the last of the golden years, like right before it died and everybody got the f-k out of Dodge. At first I was just this starstruck kid who wanted to skate 24/7. I didn’t care about anything else.

Have those impressions changed over the years?
Yeah, once I grew up a little and started to speak the language, I started noticing different stuff around me. You might get stuck on some stupid sh-t sometimes as well, but I’m still here half the year. Still f-kin’ here more than anywhere. (Laughs) When I first came out, I was just clueless to what the industry was or even what the bloody word meant.

You are one of the few pros in skateboarding who has pretty much stuck with every sponsor you got on since day one. What makes you commit to such an extent?
I guess I got lucky and met the right people straight off the bat. Everything’s been going really good for me ever since. So yeah, I guess I was lucky. I was getting shoes from Sole Tech even before I left Finland. I know a lot of other dudes who end up jumping around a bunch, but that was just never something I was into. If I had to do it all over ain I would stick with the same people. A little of it had to do with the Euro flair as well, like etnies and Flip both being run by Europeans. I never had any reason to switch.

Has skateboarding changed through your years riding for those dudes?
Yeah, for sure. Right now skateboarding is going through a very strange period. It’s in its dirtiest season of all time, man. It’s gotten so massive and there’s so much money being splashed around that it’s turned into this gnarly high-paid sport. Sometimes I think we’re losing a bit of our soul. We sold our souls, but we can always steal them back (laughs). There needs to be a little stealing now with all these f-king wankers involved. Skateboarding’s “industry” is eventually going to eat shit-it’s going to fall off one day and then we’ll see who the f-k is left. That being said, real skateboarding is never going to go away. Not as long as the true love is still there. When the day of reckoning comes, the only god that will save you is your skateboard.

First legit setup?
Oh god, I had some Gullwing Super Pro 3s, like the neon ones with the little plastic piece on them, hooked up on a Vision Gator and some Spitfires. I had that same setup for two or three years.

How did you and Ali Boulala get into this motorcycle trip?
I’ve had my bike license for three or four years. I had a 250 cc Vespa, so I had to get the license for that. By the way, thanks for that, Sole Tech. It’s a very nice piece of equipment, like an old 1960s Vespa. I had that for a good couple of years. Me and Geoff (Rowley) had a scooter club out in Huntington, a large scooter club that you may have seen a shirt from. Only three handmade ones are in existence on Earth-very special limited-edition stuff (laughs). We were riding those around for a while and it ended up getting a little watered down-1960s Vespas need a lot of caretaking at all times. Ali had been riding his scooter around back in the days we were filming for Really Sorry and eventually got his license sorted out in Europe to ride bigger beasts, and then I found out he got an actual motorcycle, which I thought was rad.

Was it Boulala who planted the motorcycle seed in your head then?
For sure, we were driving up to Finland from Barcelona to stay there for two weeks, and along the way we just started talking about bikes. That’s when I was just like, “F-k, I want a bike too. I’ll buy one in Germany.” It’s cheaper there and then you just import it. Anyway, Ewan (Bowman) got all mad at us eventually ’cause we were going to check out all these bikes instead of skating. I ended up not seeing anything I wanted, so I just bought a helmet. By the time we got to Finland, all we had been talking about for three days was motorcycles. If it weren’t for Ali, I don’t think I would have gotten into it like that. At that point, I was like f-king possessed. So we got to Finland and I went straight to the local Harley Davidson dealer in Helsinki, which also sold Triumphs, and that’s what I ended up getting a few days later. I drove it back to the hotel, and Ali was just like, “What? You f-king bought the bike? You f-kin’ asshole. I left my bike in Lyon.” So we went straight back to the bike store and he rented one out.

Do you ever speak Finnish with Ali?
Yeah, here and there. But only when there’re other Finnish people around who don’t speak English. It’s funny, I have Finnish friends who I end up speaking English to just because there are other English people around and then dudes like Ali who I’ll end up speaking Finnish to. Sometimes you just get confused with all these languages.

Would you care to talk about your near-death experiences?
I feel like it’s a little rinsed. I think the heart surgery bit has been in every skate mag in existence. The concussions, too. Let’s talk more about bikes (laughs).

Favorite city on Earth?
Definitely the highest-ranked city on Earth would have to be Barcelona. At the moment, that’s definitely one of my favorite places. I love Spain in general, like the Basque Country and all that, too. I want to explore more-I’ve only been to Madrid once and Malaga and all the other lesser-known places. I just like the Spanish vibe.

What would you like to tell the youth of America about George W. Bush?
What do I think about George W. Bush? I try not to think about him at all so I don’t ruin my day (laughs). It’s such a mad situation. It’s just like a big movie, isn’t it? In America, it’s like you don’t know anything about what’s going on outside your country and you’re forced to get just this one view that has been pre-packaged for you. You really have to look hard in America to get more information than the crap they feed you on TV. There’s so much stuff you get suckered into. It’s like, “Spend, spend, spend, and never mind the rest.” There’s no soul in the buildings. You go to cross the street and it’s just like the same f-king box set everywhere. I feel like I live in Melrose Place when I’m here. But my tweaked mind also likes it a little bit. You’ve got your apartment and your heated pool and your Jacuzzi in the middle. I’m living the American Dream right here. It can be dangerous for what it is, but I have to say the land in America is absolutely beautiful, and there are a lot of genuinely good people here. It’s only these few bastards manipulating the population that make it a bit sketchy. Everything is here, though-all the good and all the bad. The government is definitely sucking sh-t though.

What would you say to these people running shit if you met them?
Just chill out, mates. Look in the f-king mirror. Try to solve your problems without building the biggest bombs or the biggest guns. That sh-t isn’t going to solve anything. I know the planet is overpopulated as it is, but blowing half of us up isn’t necessarily going to help things. America is a young country. Most other countries already fought their wars and made their mistakes. I’m just waiting for them to start drilling for oil on Mars.

Run down your days on Platinum Skateboards.
They were short-lived-one f-king epic tour across Canada from Vancouver to Montreal and Toronto. But the company was having some problems at the time, and I remember being back in Finland and scared out of my mind to call up Danny Way and tell him it wasn’t working out. I didn’t speak English that well at the time either, so that didn’t help my cause.

When you first came out you were a contest killer. Did anything consciously change that or are you still down to compete?
I had a really good run in those early days, and I liked competing. Then eventually all these video projects got in the way and it seemed like it got harder to make time for it. I filmed a TransWorld part, and at the same time, we were starting to film the Flip video, and then I filmed my Menikmati part in between that. I mean, the Flip video alone took three years of going out every day to get sh-t. That kind of changes your mind-set a little bit about entering contests. You just don’t have the time. Plus, when you do enough contests in a row, you start getting bored with it as well. My skating in them started sucking, and I just focused on the video parts.

Did your knee injury from the slam in Really Sorry change your outlook on skating in general?
It definitely made me a lot more cautious. At the same time, after all those video parts I just wanted to do something different. I didn’t feel like it meant anything to go out and film another tailslide down a fifteen-stair hubba. But yeah, the injury held me back a little bit on the stair and the rail thing. At the same time, I’ll still skate a rail here and there, but I want to try a bit of everything. Skateboarding as a whole went through this mad phase, which was kind of our fault in a way, of whoever could blast the biggest, gnarliest flips from the highest stairs possible. I went througthe moment, that’s definitely one of my favorite places. I love Spain in general, like the Basque Country and all that, too. I want to explore more-I’ve only been to Madrid once and Malaga and all the other lesser-known places. I just like the Spanish vibe.

What would you like to tell the youth of America about George W. Bush?
What do I think about George W. Bush? I try not to think about him at all so I don’t ruin my day (laughs). It’s such a mad situation. It’s just like a big movie, isn’t it? In America, it’s like you don’t know anything about what’s going on outside your country and you’re forced to get just this one view that has been pre-packaged for you. You really have to look hard in America to get more information than the crap they feed you on TV. There’s so much stuff you get suckered into. It’s like, “Spend, spend, spend, and never mind the rest.” There’s no soul in the buildings. You go to cross the street and it’s just like the same f-king box set everywhere. I feel like I live in Melrose Place when I’m here. But my tweaked mind also likes it a little bit. You’ve got your apartment and your heated pool and your Jacuzzi in the middle. I’m living the American Dream right here. It can be dangerous for what it is, but I have to say the land in America is absolutely beautiful, and there are a lot of genuinely good people here. It’s only these few bastards manipulating the population that make it a bit sketchy. Everything is here, though-all the good and all the bad. The government is definitely sucking sh-t though.

What would you say to these people running shit if you met them?
Just chill out, mates. Look in the f-king mirror. Try to solve your problems without building the biggest bombs or the biggest guns. That sh-t isn’t going to solve anything. I know the planet is overpopulated as it is, but blowing half of us up isn’t necessarily going to help things. America is a young country. Most other countries already fought their wars and made their mistakes. I’m just waiting for them to start drilling for oil on Mars.

Run down your days on Platinum Skateboards.
They were short-lived-one f-king epic tour across Canada from Vancouver to Montreal and Toronto. But the company was having some problems at the time, and I remember being back in Finland and scared out of my mind to call up Danny Way and tell him it wasn’t working out. I didn’t speak English that well at the time either, so that didn’t help my cause.

When you first came out you were a contest killer. Did anything consciously change that or are you still down to compete?
I had a really good run in those early days, and I liked competing. Then eventually all these video projects got in the way and it seemed like it got harder to make time for it. I filmed a TransWorld part, and at the same time, we were starting to film the Flip video, and then I filmed my Menikmati part in between that. I mean, the Flip video alone took three years of going out every day to get sh-t. That kind of changes your mind-set a little bit about entering contests. You just don’t have the time. Plus, when you do enough contests in a row, you start getting bored with it as well. My skating in them started sucking, and I just focused on the video parts.

Did your knee injury from the slam in Really Sorry change your outlook on skating in general?
It definitely made me a lot more cautious. At the same time, after all those video parts I just wanted to do something different. I didn’t feel like it meant anything to go out and film another tailslide down a fifteen-stair hubba. But yeah, the injury held me back a little bit on the stair and the rail thing. At the same time, I’ll still skate a rail here and there, but I want to try a bit of everything. Skateboarding as a whole went through this mad phase, which was kind of our fault in a way, of whoever could blast the biggest, gnarliest flips from the highest stairs possible. I went through a strange period and was just sort of like, “F-k, I want to see something creative. I’ve done all my tricks down the biggest sh-t. I want to learn Daewon’s tricks or somethin’ like that.” It just started feeling a bit forced-jump down this, jump down that.

If Flip were the Bones Brigade circa 1987, who would you be and why?
I guess I’d say Tommy Guerrero. He had the sickest style for sure. But I almost want to say a bit of each of them ’cause I have so much respect for Lance (Mountain), Tony (Hawk), and guys like that. I mean, they’re still ripping.

Where is skateboarding headed in your opinion?
In my opinion? It’s going on a bucket ride to hell (laughs). Clothing and shoes control skateboarding now. Eventually the bottom will fall out and we’ll be back sitting on the curb just like it used to be.

Are we going to the Olympics?
F-k no. I’m sure they’ll eventually do some sort of trial Olympic thing with skating, but that’s when we’ll be truly separated. That’s when we’re going to go really down south. There’s going to be this huge separation. That’s when you can say skateboarding is not a family anymore. Aren’t the X Games Olympic enough already? I guess we’ll see who wins, the true skateboarders or the Olympic competitors. Good or evil. I’d actually like to see it, because it would be so heinous. They should do some sort of triathlon thing where you have to ride the same course with your skateboard, your pogo stick, and your Rollerblades at the same time. Maybe throw in a Snakeboard for good measure.

What do the trees represent on your shoe?
They represent the Finnish crew Pub 26. It’s a bunch of homeys from Finland who have love for skateboarding.

Movie you could watch every day and never get bored with?
I get bored with everything. You need to keep changing in your life. But if I had to pick one, I’d say Sorry, Really Sorry, and the new one when it comes out. I did have a solid year of The Big Lebowski every day, though. If they made a movie out of the Jesus character in there, “Let me tell you something, Pendejos…”-I would never get tired of that.

What got you started on a skateboard?
My uncle had a board in the early 90s. The boom was still going in Finland with the big boards and the Bones Brigade, ’cause everything in Finland was like a few years late. But I remember my uncle had Thrashers from 1983 and I was reading them in 1990. I was probably about seven or eight, and one summer my uncle just left the board and I picked it up and started skating it.
A few dudes my age started skating around the same time, so it kind of went from there. We had little quarterpipes at the end of the street and would skate around our town. Then in ’93, I went to watch the Finnish championships in Helsinki with a couple of friends and their dad. That was the first time I really saw skateboarding. We snuck in and skated the course. When we caught on to the times, we started sanding our old wheels down and I shaved my Gator down to seven, 7.5-even though the wheelbase was massive-and started trying the newer tricks. We would cut the trucks down, too-like hammer off the hanger and cut the kingpin down. A board in Finland at the time was 100 dollars just for a deck, so we could never afford the new product. That was around ’94. I got a Bo Ikeda slick bottom, which I also shaved down and started doing loads of pressure flips on.

What keeps you going on a skateboard?
Skateboarding is just rad. I love it and that’s all.

Is it true you once made a bet with Ed Templeton that you’d never start smoking?
F-kin’ hell. I did. I forgot about that. It was like 300 bucks, too. The f-kin’ bastard knew better. I’m going to bet him that he’s gonna start eating meat. I might still owe him. F-k. I hope he doesn’t read this.

When is it time to stop trying a trick?
When you take that first good slam. Either that or when you can’t move anymore. Sometimes I just