An Interview with Mizu Founder Jussi Oksanen
This week Mizu’s founder, Jussi Oksanen, announced that he is retiring from snowboarding at a professional level. Jussi’s epic career has spanned close to two decades and evolved from debuting as an Olympic half-pipe rider and mulitiple X- Games medalist to becoming one of the most esteemed backcountry riders of all time. With his latest video part just released -- Burton Presents: BACKCOUNTRY – showing that his skills have not slowed down one bit, Jussi shows us that age is just a number when it comes to the mountains. We decided it was high time to have a little catch up with Jussi and dig deeper in to his transition from mountains to Mizu.
MIZU: Why did you start Mizu while you were in the prime of your career? JUSSI: I was on a trip with Brad Kremer (film producer) in 2008 and we got talking about the issues of single use plastic bottles and how there weren’t any cool reusable bottles out there that we would dig using. The light bulb just went on and we were all, “Let’s do this!” We'll be the cool brand that does the reusable water bottles! We got the company set up right away and it's been an exciting road ever since. It was very challenging at times to have a company while being a pro snowboarder, but our mission to provide a solution to the single use plastic bottle problem kept us moving forward. The idea was too big to let it go, and I always dreamed of having my own company that I could work for after my snowboard career. It pretty much worked out as planned!
MIZU: A lot of people don't know that you started Mizu let alone that you are joining the company full time. How did that transpire? JUSSI: Since I partnered with Tim Pogue, our CEO, a few years back, I have stayed very involved with the business. In between every trip, I would always see Tim to get updated with the business side of things, so I have stayed involved to some level all along. Around April this year Tim asked me when I would be ready to come in full time for Mizu and that’s where the conversation started. I started sort of part time right after the season was done and from there it just sort of sucked me in. I knew I should make a longer term decision at some point soon regarding my future, so this was simply perfect timing.
MIZU: Was it something you had thought about for a while? JUSSI: This was sort of a dream scenario for me. Mizu has always meant so much for me, it’s sort of my little baby. But the last few years were so important for me in snowboarding -- I still felt like I had to prove to myself that I’ve still got it and show people that to some degree snowboarding evolves in a really positive way with age. I felt like I really got the chance to do that and I was totally fulfilled by my snowboarding career. But I had always had a dream that at around this time Mizu would have got to the point that there was a true role for me to transition to and the timing was impeccable. And now here I am, working for the company I started with awesome people and we’ve reached the point that it’s really game on. So yes, I had a pretty ideal plan in my head for some time, but I never expected it to work out quite so smoothly!
MIZU: What hat will you be wearing? JUSSI: I will be working in marketing primarily which means I will be running social media, our advocate program and photography amongst other things. I’ve also been working with product development throughout my career so I really enjoy playing a role in our product development too. We are a small company, so everyone is involved with everything to some degree which I love as it creates a great team atmosphere and it’s super fun!
MIZU: After 17 years of snowboarding for a living, what are going to be the biggest life changes for you? JUSSI: Obviously I’m not going to be jumping on a plane as soon as it’s snowing somewhere in the world, but I have been chasing the snow for 17 years now and it’s been a pretty hectic life for me. My kids are growing up (my eldest son just turned 8) so I’m really looking forward to being home and more settled. I’ve never had a routine in my life, so I’m kind of excited to have more of a ‘normal life’ -- daddy wont miss anymore soccer games! I’ve also put a few things I’d like to work on on the backburner for a long time due to my travel such as my love of photography, so now I am able to spend more time developing that and I’ve been getting some great outlets for that with Mizu. Then I guess the ‘working in an office’ thing is a bit of a change for me, haha! But fortunately the nature and spirit of our company means we are out a lot, exploring and living a Mizulife… In fact, on my 3rd day in to the job I took Kurt Wastell (who works with us) and our new advocate Skye Walker up to the Big Sur on a Mizu Mission… it wasn't a bad way to get in the groove…!
MIZU: Not one to shy away from challenges, what are the biggest ones you are facing right now? JUSSI: Before I started here at Mizu I’d never used Powerpoint or Excel in my life – so I pretty much started from scratch. Those things have been a huge learning curve but once you dive in, you kind of just figure things out.
MIZU: Your most recent movie release, Burton Presents: BACKCOUNTRY, is the perfect movie to get us in the mood for winter. It looks like you and Mikey Rencz had so much fun making it. How is it different to other movies you have made?JUSSI: Last season was so much fun! It was just me and Mikey and we had no agenda. It was just up to us where we went. After New Years we headed up to Northern B.C for a snowmobile trip, then we went to St. Moritz in Switzerland – it snowed 10 days in a row! We didn’t get that much filming done, but you can imagine how much fun the ski resorts were. We spent the rest of the season in Whistler which is our favorite place, sort of our home turf, and we had a bunch of areas mapped out that we wanted explore.
MIZU: When will we see you in the mountains next? JUSSI: I’m taking my family to Mammoth at Thanksgiving, so hopefully they will have some snow then. We are also planning some Mizu Missions too -- some back country camping missions -- which would be fun. Oh, and we are heading to Japan for a trade show so the plan is to head up to Hokkaido for a few days to ride some pow.
MIZU: What advice would you give to young professional snowboarders today? JUSSI: Enjoy the Journey; don’t take anything for granted. It’s such a rare opportunity to travel the world and snowboard, so always remember that – and try to slow down sometime and enjoy the places and people you are with. And SAVE YOUR MONEY, you will need it one day!
MIZU: Where should we expect to see Jussi 20 years from now? JUSSI: Living somewhere in the mountains with my wife and a dog. I want to have a cabin where I can access the wilderness right out the door: Live a simple life and enjoy nature…