Walker. Walsh. Leines. Line. Dufficy. Malmi. Jones. Wille Yli-Luoma. The original Forum 8 team is regarded as one of (if not the) best teams ever assembled. But when trying to name all eight legendary riders, Wille’s name sometimes gets lost in the mix. Not always the most outspoken, wild, or tabloid-fodder production, his talk has been walked and ridden on the snow for almost two decades, preferring to leave the bulls—t to the rest. Lasting images, iconic covers, direction-changing videos and a hardworking legacy all came with the efforts, respected and supported to this day.
Walking around Portland, OR this summer, checking out Burnside for the day, we ended up in front of Wille Yli-Luoma’s modern café, Heart Roasters. It was 90+ degrees and sweaty as hell, but strangely, a fresh-roasted hot coffee seemed like a good idea. Plus, is was high-time we checked in with the longtime Finnish pro, and all he’s got going on at Heart.—A.H.
Hey, Wille. How’s everything at the shop?
Going well! It’s a café and roastery. I can get into a really long conversation, or a really short one …?
Naw, we don’t need that “Grande Venti” stuff. We’ll take a medium version. How’d you get involved in having a coffee roastery in general?
When I get into anything, I usually get very, very involved. I started learning about coffee, making it at home, and after a few upgrades, ended up with a two-group grisel espresso machine in my kitchen and that was pretty much taking over the entire room. All of a sudden, I had a gigantic chop grinder that I was always playing around with. I just fell in love with making coffee and the idea of the ritual. I realized that if I ever wanted to make anything besides having a fun place to hang out, I would have to roast my own coffee—because that could potentially give me a job in the future! [Laughs] I got a small roaster and started roasting in my basement. At this point, I had met a few people in the coffee industry in Portland. They were all just like, “Why do you have all of this stuff at home?” [Laughs] “Well, I’m planning to open a place.” They thought it was cool, but it was, “Yeah, we’re super stoked for when it drops, but we aren’t interested in working for you …” A few months went by, and they were asking “When are you opening your café?? We want to work for you!” [Laughs] It basically became a snowball that started rolling. Next thing I know, I’m here working all the time, trying to figure out how to run this place—it’s kind of intense!
All of a sudden, you go from snowboarding everyday to having to learn how to manage a business.
It’s kind of hectic. It’s not hard to make coffee, it’s not hard to roast coffee, and it’s not hard to make an awesome product; but it is really difficult to manage eight different people and be their parent at the same time.
Wille makes Scotty Wittlake espresso. Cultures of cool collide…
I remember reading about you bringing coffees on snowboard trips. Other people are bringing energy drinks, et cetera, and then we have you—French Press in hand.
For me, coffee’s never been for energy. I don’t like energy drinks at all. People get into wine, and that’s the way it is for me with coffee. But there were definitely people that were like fiends: “Dude! When are you going to make the coffee??” [Laughs] It’s pretty funny, I guess. It’s a huge drug. … It is a drug …
How much time do you spend at the business, versus days on the road and/or riding?
To be honest with you, I haven’t touched my snowboard since February 9th. It was my birthday, out riding with Gigi [Rüf] in Jackson Hole, and I hurt my shoulder. Before that, I went to Canada for ten days with him—that’s it. My shoulder is good now, and I’m doing a bunch of rehab and training. I do want to get back to snowboarding, but I also wanted to make sure this place is kind of stable and can run by itself while I’m gone. It’s hard to find the right people who are gonna want to stick around and work in a café environment. A barista job is not gonna be a career job. It’s more for people’s second jobs or a stepping stone to something else. Unless you’re the best barista in town, you’re not gonna make that much money. And even if you are the best barista, you’re only making coffee drinks for people … so unless you’re doing something else, like roasting it or you’re quality control that can go further, then you can’t really get paid more. It’s really hard to find the right employees that are gonna be sticking around for more than six months.
How does that translate to snowboarding? There are a lot of people out there riding, but it isn’t necessarily their full-time gig. When does it become your career?
It’s so weird to say that snowboarding is your job, because any day, you could pretty much lose it. There’s no security in snowboarding besides the contracts you write with your companies. But even those get breached all the time.
I’ve had several companies say, “Hey, guess what? We’re not gonna pay you anymore.” “But I’m under contract!” “Well, we had a talk between ourselves. We’re tight on budget, so we’re changing the team structure around. So … we’re not gonna pay you anymore.” That kind of stuff has happened to me and has also happened to my friends. You can bring these things to court, but it’s more of a nightmare than anything. If you’re an active snowboarder, you’re visible and still on top of it, you don’t usually worry—you just find another sponsor. But if you’re at a point where you’re struggling, it can be really hard. Or you just had a really bad year—or you’re hurt—and it can really put a damper on your career. If one sponsor decides to drop you, it can be like a chain reaction.
You still ride for K2. They’re still hyped about you. How important has their backing been over the last few years?
It’s very important. I’ve been with K2 for almost ten years! They’ve been a great sponsor and have backed me up for so long. They understand that I can’t keep going full throttle for the rest of my life—it doesn’t mean that I’m done snowboarding, but it’s just I kind of have to tone it down for a bit. Most people realize it, understand it, and they can be okay with it. But there are the people that are like, “Well, I want to hang onto something and do it the rest of my life.” They don’t want to let go and realize that they are getting older. At some point, you need to start paying attention to your body and your next career.
I’m still healthy, besides my shoulder, but its not really a big deal. It’s something that can be fixed. Otherwise, my joints and everything with my body is fine for my age and for snowboarding. I feel like I can go longer, if I want to. If my sponsors are still there to back me, I’m going to do it. But I also have the café and roastery for the next years. I’m just building a foundation that will eventually, [laughs] hopefully, start making money.
Who is the better entrepreneur, you or MFM?
[Laughs] Marc is definitely using the right resources as far as the snowboard industry goes, whereas I am going a completely different route. Financially, I’m sure MFM has done a greater job than me.
If Robot Food ever came back, would you jump in?
I would definitely go back and film with Robot Food. [Laughs] There’s that big brother/little brother thing going on: love for your brother, but also hate at the same time. There’s that loyalty there—I would definitely go back and do that.