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.
One of the nice things about talking with you is that you’ve been part of a lot of different important events in snowboarding. For example, being a part of the original Forum 8. Do you see a lot of the ideas surrounding being a pro have changed since you first came in?
I think we’ve gone through a growing stage. It was almost … easy, when I was younger? Other things I had to work for really hard. There are times when everyone was making a lot of money from snowboarding. The economy was better, the industry was different, and some of the riders had high expectations. People could just say, “I don’t want to go to this event.” Or, “I only want to stay at this hotel.” Somehow, we got away with it for a long time. We didn’t realize how spoiled we were or how crazy those demands were. I look back at it now—specifically, starting your own business—and realize, Wow! What a spoiled little brat I was! It’s kind of embarrassing to look back and think about it, but at the same time, it would be more embarrassing if I didn’t.
Self-realization is a powerful event.
Yeah, it is. But I was never mean or anything. I was just kind of spoiled from so many sponsors and then, well, you just start becoming a brat. You have more demands and think you’re somehow the shit and at some point think you can get away with it—and then you start pushing it and try to get away with other things. I mean … You can be really good and the best snowboarder in the world, but if you’re constantly an asshole, it will catch up with you.
It’s true. They can only sell you being an a—hole for so long.
Yeah, exactly. Even if it’s not to the kids or the industry, there’s just some point that its gonna come across that you’re just not an easy person to deal with as far as working. You become transparent.
Who are you most excited about now? Maybe some of the younger kids that you think are doing it the right way?
There’s not much room for negative energy or a negative attitude anymore. People are getting weeded out. I think that the people left in the industry right now are the ones that deserve to be there. I respect guys like Gigi [Rüf] and Nicolas [Müller] a lot.
For example: I email you, and within 15 minutes you call, saying, “Yeah! Let’s do this!” — And we’ve never met before. That’s pretty amazing. Says a lot.
The fact is, we’re getting paid to do this. And I’m happy to talk to you, of course! [Laughs] But it’s also kind of my job. There are people who blow up, become famous, and they can get away with not replying or not doing anything for so long. Everyone needs to start appreciating that this is a pretty cool thing we have. Why wouldn’t we just respond? It’s not that big of a deal to answer these questions. Why wouldn’t I?
[Laughs] Well, thanks for not making me talk through your agent …
[Laughs] No, no. I’ve never really worked with agents. I’ve tried talking to them, but I was never a big fan—I’m glad I never went through all of that. The kids that I talk to that do have agents, they seem to love it. But I’m not interested in all the levels things have to go through before the rider hears.
Do you see your early career as the “golden age” of snowboarding, in a sense?
I do feel that I got to live the golden years of snowboarding, but maybe Noah [Salasnek] and Jamie Lynn and all of those guys think that they lived the golden years of snowboarding, too? Either way, I really do feel that I was lucky. I came in at a good time: the industry was great, there was enough money, and we could travel and go pretty much anywhere we wanted to. Our budgets weren’t so tight. It was fun—I have nothing to complain about. I can see the whole industry constantly shifting. There’s the contest side of it, or having too many outside companies come into the industry—having bigger companies come in and try and get some of the money. And then we need this TV exposure so we cant afford to have this guy film this video so we can only keep one or two of our best video guys … et cetera. To have seen the whole thing from the beginning, where anyone could get sponsored, to getting a little bit tighter and tighter … I would not want to be a kid right now, trying to be a pro snowboarder.
It’s got to the point where it’s so contest-focused and media-based that it lost a bit of the magic. That’s how I feel about it.
You wonder if the kids ever look back and ask, “What happened to my childhood?” Some are like ten years old, you know what I mean?
Yeah … It’s a lot more serious these days, the whole industry! [Laughs] In the beginning, it was more about people having a good time—not so much of a sport. It’s become a bit too “sporty” these days.
It has, but the appreciators are still out there. Personally, I’ll admit to being a kid that would still much rather see you float a frontside three than a 12-year old do a double cork 1260.
I guess that’s why I still have a job! Thanks! [Laughs] Thanks to all of you guys out there. It is what it is. I just hope that most of the people in the industry right now are trying to lead in the right direction, because it could go in a really bad direction, too.
What do you think your top five video parts were?
Oh, man … I don’t even know what to say … Okay. Volcom’s “Escramble”, Mack Dawg’s “Decade”, both Robot Food movie, and maybe the People movie. “Nice Try”, for sure.
You always seem to have pretty quirky music for your parts. What’s your process was for choosing is all?
You think it’s quirky, huh?! [Laughs] You say “quirky”, but most people say “the best” music …
[Laughs] No, it’s a good things to me! My favorite part song ever was when Todd Richards rode to “Big Country”.
It should put you in the mood to snowboard. The only thing that sucks is when a song gets put in for a video part, you never want to hear that song again! That song is pretty much wrecked for me.
Back in the day, who were the guys you were most hyped to ride with, or the one that got you super hyped as a kid?
Noah Salasnek had a sketchy, aggressive style. I liked something about it, it was almost ninja-like. I wnjoy watching Nate Cole do anything. Jamie Lynn, obviously. I do think that Terje did some of the most amazing snowboarding ever. And Peter Line was the trick man. Who else? I really liked Devun Walsh’s style, and he’s still out there.
If he just keeps doing no-grab back 180’s down 80 foot cliffs in Whistler, he’s gonna have a job for the rest of his life.
[Laughs] Yeah, he has it set. He knows what he’s doing. Stay in Whistler, ride backcountry, and play golf in Vancouver. Got it all figured out.
It sounds like you do, too, Wille. You got your life, your family, your passion, and your business. Pretty solid combination.
You know, you’re right! I’m not complaining at all. I’m very happy right now, actually.
If you had one thing to tell kids that are coming up right now, what advice would you give them from your experiences?
If you get the chance to be paid and travel, enjoy it and appreciate it. Don’t ever forget why you started snowboarding. You can get lost and start chasing the money at some point. No matter who you are, you can lose focus. Stay true to snowboarding, do it because you love it, and don’t worry so much about your sponsors.
And there’s the whole idea of the internet connections and people being about to put their face out there. The whole self-promotion thing is crazy. I’m not quite ready for that.
You don’t have a Facebook Fanpage yet, Wille?
[Laughs] No, I don’t have Facebook or MySpace or any of that. It feels like losing a bit of your privacy.
So it’s not that important to have the entire world know that you’re making a sandwhich right now?
Exactly. Or where I’m at. Or if I’m gonna go skate with my friends tomorrow. Maybe I’m different, but it scares me.
Website for Heart Roasters?
www.HeartRoasters.com! I’m in the process of making an online store right now.
That’s okay. Those 17 days of snowboarding just get in the way, right?
I haven’t had any free time to take pictures of products! [Laughs] I’m doing this interview! I gotta go!