Catching up with Founder Jussi Oksanen
Two winters ago, Jussi Oksanen – Mizu’s founder – took the decision to retire from professional snowboarding after a mammoth 18-year career. It was a career that saw him through 7 X Games medals, a stint at the Olympics, multiple accolades for his backcountry video parts and 10 pro-model boards with Burton Snowboards. At the time Jussi decided he was ready to move on and dedicate his full efforts to the company he founded: Mizu.
A couple of years down the line and Jussi has thrown his creative, tenacious and productive self at helping to grow Mizu and its presence in the world of outdoor adventure, and in the process is getting closer daily to his initial goal of creating a world where like-minded people choose planet-friendly reusable drinkware over the scourge of single-use plastic bottles.
We decided to sit down with the friendly Finn to see how life has changed for him since swapping out winters of storm chasing for business life. As it goes, adventure is never very far away from Jussi, no matter what he turns his hand to.
MIZU: Let’s start with your decision to officially retire from professional snowboarding, as it’s not something riders typically do. What made you make such a definitive decision?
JUSSI: Having had such a long career, I realized there is a time for everything and that my time for spending my winters away from home and chasing snow were coming to an end. I wanted to spend more time with my family, plus it was important to me to exit the professional arena cleanly while I was still doing well rather than fade out slowly.
Also, I’d been doing what I did for so long that I was ready for a new challenge. Fortunately, Mizu had grown to the size that it was ready for me at that point.
MIZU: Chasing snow, competing and filming are all you’ve known in your adult life. Did you feel a sense of loss when you stopped?
JUSSI: No, I really didn’t! I had had such incredible experiences and been so fulfilled for such a long time, that I was genuinely ready for a bit of “normal” in my life. Also, since working at Mizu I really dove in deep and time just flew and I became immersed in that in the same way I was immersed in my snowboarding. Once you really throw your head into something, you don’t look outside of that.
MIZU: What is your role at Mizu?
JUSSI: Well, that’s an ever-changing answer! I’ve always been involved with marketing and branding and products, but in the first year I really learned so much about all aspects of the business, whether operations or accounting or logistics. That was really important as founder/ owner, because I needed to have a greater understanding of the daily running of the business before branching out to the bigger creative side of things.
Now I have settled into the role of Mission Director. What is that? Essentially it means that I am working closely with marketing, products and our advocates and spending a lot of time out in the field creating our content through photography, story-telling, and driving our Mizu mission.
MIZU: Is business life how you imagined it?
JUSSI: What I love about a small business is that you have the opportunity to create and build your brand and in many ways there are similarities to snowboarding. As a young pro snowboarder you look at older athletes you want to be like, and as a growing brand you have that same ideal – looking where you want to go and what you want to become and making that happen.
Also, my role has definitely evolved to one in which I travel and spend a lot of time in nature, because that’s part of who Mizu is. So I guess I’m not the typical office guy!
MIZU: So you don’t spend all day desk-bound then after all?! Tell us about some of the trips you have done recently in the name of work…
JUSSI: Earlier this winter I spent a few days camping in the Sierra backcountry with our new advocates professional snowboarder Kimmy Fasani and pro skier Chris Benchetler. It was rad because we just did what we loved out there, but came back with all the content for the new catalog. Tim and I also went to Japan in February to ride some powder and hook up with some locals, and I’ve got some really fun trips on the horizon for photoshoots this spring/summer.
MIZU: What is your vision for Mizu in the future?
JUSSI: Growing the business every day, because every step it grows, we move closer to our goal of significantly reducing the consumption of single-use plastic. I’m so excited about the recent launch of our foundation Protecting Where We Play which allows us to install water stations in places we all enjoy – ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.
MIZU: Where do you see your life heading in the next few years?
JUSSI: Right now I just see all the opportunities ahead of us with Mizu and www.protectingwhereweplay.org and the impact we can make. Looking much further ahead, I see myself in a little cabin in Montana with my family, two big dogs and my split board!
MIZU: If you had any advice for pro-athletes who might look to you as an example of how to exit their sport gracefully, what would it be?
JUSSI: It’s good to create an interest outside of snowboarding, just so you have another channel that you can put your energies into so whatever happens, you will still have something that will fulfill you. But some people will be happy just living in the mountains and snowboarding forever and surviving on very little, so we are all different. You just need to know what makes you happy and preparing for that ahead of time.
MIZU: Final words for today?
JUSSI: One of my biggest beliefs is that we all need to stay really connected to nature and the outdoors and although some people feel they have to wait for the “big trip” to Alaska heli-skiing etc. it’s important to remember that you can get that fix just down the road from you too if you look right. Adventures are always just round the corner if you are willing to look for it.