Arto Saari—that kid from Finland who cemented his name in skate history with equal parts style and power 10 years ago—has a new set of priorities. Backside ollies like Christian Hosoi. Frontside ollies like Jason Jessee. Maybe even frontside inverts, he says, "right on the deathbox, like Lance Mountain does them."
He also recently announced a big move for the New Year: He's returned to Flip skateboards, saying farewell to Alien Workshop after two-and-a-half years. "Nothing against Alien, of course," he explains. "It's a great company, really strong in that everyone stands out as their own individual. Flip is more of a pack animal and that's where my roots are, back with the guys who helped me start off. We're getting the band back together and kicking out the jams for 2011."
First things first, though. Arto's baby daughter Ella is hungry. She's priority number one. The six-foot-two regular-footer scoops up his six-month-old and heads for the kitchen. As he whips up a batch of formula, his balancing act between professional and parenting priorities seems to have found a rare piece of common ground. Just steps away, right outside the kitchen door, a brand new concrete bowl beckons.
At first glance, it may seem odd that Arto, easily categorized as a street skater, would put a pool in his own backyard. But where the pigeonholing ends, the bigger picture takes shape.
It all started in Arto's hometown of Seinajoki, Finland, where childhood P.E. classes included ice hockey and cross country skiing. In the late 1980s, when Arto was almost ten, he started skating on his uncle's hand-me-down supermarket lunker. By the early '90s, pressure flips had put an end to the era of jump-ramp judo airs, but Arto's vision of what skateboarding could be truly crystallized at Finland's 1993 championship event, featuring comps in street and on a hipped miniramp. "When I saw guys doing huge frontside airs and alley-oop backside grabs over the hip, I was like, 'OK, this is what skating is,'" Arto remembers. "It was full-on after that."
You just knew Arto was going to be one of the greatest of his generation.
Five years later, he showed up at the world championships in Munster, Germany. It was there that the virtual no-name kid from Finland scorched minds with breakthrough skateboarding. Lance Mountain remembers: "Everybody was like, 'Whoa, here's that one guy with perfect, relaxed style. Everything about him was right. He was like how Grant Taylor is right now—the whole industry knows he's it."
Adds filmer Greg Hunt: "Probably everyone remembers the first time they saw him skate. Arto basically came out of nowhere and was doing stuff that nobody else was doing. It was just, Holy s**t! You just knew he was going to be one of the greatest of his generation."
After Arto's podium finish in Munster, Danny Way invited him to tour Canada with Plan B, Platinum, and the Red Dragons—Rick McCrank, Colin McKay, Paul Machnau, Moses Itkonen, et al. "That's when it really hit, when that plane ticket showed up," says Arto. "I was like, Holy s**t, Vancouver? I had a few grand in my pocket from that contest, which is a lot of money for a 16-year-old kid. I was supposed to start school but I decided to just take off to see what would happen. I was just tripping, fanning out on everyone. I looked up to these guys for seven years and now I'm supposed to go skate with them."
The next few years of video and magazine domination (and a permanent move stateside where he started clocking a lot of skate time with Ed Templeton, among others) marked Arto's meteoric ascension to the elite ranks of professional skateboarding. One peak was the transcendent video part for Flip's "Sorry" (during the filming of which he almost died twice). Thatt video part came on the heels of Arto winning the covetted Thrasher magazine Skater of the Year award in 2001.
To many of his peers, Arto's rise was a natural progression, fueled by determination. "He pretty much commits fully on everything he does," says friend and teammate Dylan Rieder. "And I feel like because of where he comes from, he really had to work his a** off. When you come out here [to the States] and you see how good the scene is, you want to skate harder and go for it.
"Straight up," Rieder adds, "Arto's one of the most powerful dudes on a skateboard, who put out one of the best video parts ever."
The fact that Arto nearly paid the highest price to perform on the level he was producing was a big factor to securing SOTY honors. But evidently, his payment plan still carried a hefty balance. Halfway through the filming of "Really Sorry" he was laid up for ten months after snapping his PCL and mangling other ligaments in his left knee. Once back on board, Arto's skating surged again in the middle of the decade as the products of his outside interests began to surface as well, including motorcycles, carpentry, and as Hunt puts it, "a deep knowledge of photography." Now he's laying the groundwork for yet another blitz of progression, both as a professional skateboarder and as a 29-year-old family man.
Arto's girlfriend Mimi gave birth to baby Ella right around the time when the concrete crew was finishing up the pool out back. Growing up in Finland, he built parking lot skateparks with his friends. But this time he wanted to step it up, to dig a hole and pour something permanent. He started talking with California Skateparks, and when his shoe sponsor Gravis decided to pitch in, the project took off.
Lance Mountain caught wind early on and together they pondered a dozen shapes and sizes, finally locking in on an eight-and-a-half-foot deep left-hand kidney with eight-foot trannies and half a foot of vert. There would be a bit of a backyard whip to it, a miniramp-style shallow end and a sidewall bonus bubble. Plus, the works: light, death box, tile, and Golden State coping.
Problem was, Arto was short on space. But not for long, says Lance. "I came back the next day and he had torn down half the garage to make more room.
"It stoked me out that he was into it," he adds. "It made sense because I never looked at him as a street guy; I always just looked at him as a guy who could skateboard."
Riding into the realm of vertical round wall, adds Lance, is a way for Arto to keep learning as a skateboarder. "It takes him, what, like two years to reach Skater of the Year? And what's next? Are you always going to be that 18-stair guy? No. You want to keep progressing all around."
And these days, it looks like part of that plan means looking to his skate forefathers for inspiration.
But those proper airs and inverts will have to wait a sec. Baby Ella looks at her dad. She wants another bottle. Arto's on it.