At first greeting there are few tells that would suggest Jussi Oksanen wasn’t born in the United States, but the subtleties of his Nordic roots slowly emerge over the course of a full conversation. The Finland native spent the better part of a 17-year professional snowboarding career in the US and abroad before moving to California full-time in 2005. Oksanen retired from snowboarding in 2014, but managed to rack up a decent résumé — seven podiums at the X Games, an Olympic appearance, pro model boards with Burton, a long list of video parts — before calling it quits.
Now, he’s known as the founder and “instigator” at Mizu, the water bottle brand he dreamed up in 2008, where he hopes stainless steel bottles, mugs, cups and chopsticks will curtail single-use plastic bottles and utensils. His business and his passion for the slopes are inextricably tied.
“There was one particular trip where I went up to Alaska with four guys, and at the start they put all these bottles of water in the back of the truck,” he said. “It turned out to be like 70 bottles for only three days. We don’t have plastic waste in Finland the same way as in the US. I was like, ‘Holy shit, there is so much waste.’”
Oksanen’s work at Mizu is complemented by its sister nonprofit, Protecting Where We Play, which works to fill those bottles by installing water bars where they’re needed most. By bringing accessible, plastic-free water to places like beach communities, climbing gyms and skate parks, Oksanen has come full circle back to where his project began: outside, preferably on a board. It seems that what started as one backcountry snowboarding trip has evolved into a mission to save snow-covered peaks worldwide, one bottle at a time. We chatted with him about his work with Mizu, what life as a retired pro looks like, and the future of snowboarding.
Photo: Adam Moran
Q: You retired from professional snowboarding two years ago. Now that that time has passed, you have a little bit more retrospective. How has your life changed?
A: I was pro for seventeen years, which is a long time. During the final five years I gave it all — I wanted to finish up at the top — and it was a really fun phase in my snowboarding. But by the time I was done, I was so tired of it, so cooked. I have two kids, and it was a lot of traveling, and I didn’t have any major injuries, but I could feel my body saying, “Hey, it’s time to take some time off.”
Q: How did you decide to start Mizu?
A: At the beginning it was really making Mizu something cool that could resonate with like-minded people — it wasn’t necessarily set up as a company. It was more like, “Let’s convert our group of friends to [reusable bottles].” And then it went from there.
For us to get photos and footage was the reason we were there, but the journey was the most exciting part of it.
I never had a routine of any sort in my life, so I was looking forward to that, too. Mizu was in a perfect place — it was just about ready to take off, and it was in a phase where I could come in. My business partner Tim and I decided to do a six-month trial and figure out if it was going work for him, if either of us wanted to do it full time, and if it was beneficial for the company. And I think it was like two months, and all of a sudden there were so many things, from going to photo shoots to running e-commerce, and I never looked back.
Q: Do you still get to go snowboarding?
A: Last year we did a trip to Japan, and we go to Mammoth a lot. The last few years have kind of been breathing time, but I’m pretty excited to go back. We’re doing a snow camping trip to Utah next week, and that’s kind of a kickoff, and I’m doing Mt. Baker Slalom in February, and we’ll probably try to do a couple more. But more adventure trips. To me, the most important thing about snowboarding was the adventure. For us to get photos and footage was the reason we were there, but the journey was the most exciting part of it.
Q: Where’s your favorite place to ride at the moment?
A: It all depends on the conditions. I would say one of my favorite resorts is still Mt. Baker. I love everything about it. It’s a mom-and-pop kind of place — there’s no scene, there’s no hotel, the terrain is amazing, the locals are really cool. There’s not a lot of places like that left. It’s all Park City and Vail and Aspen and Whistler.
Q: How would you describe your riding style?
A: It definitely came from skating. I started skating when I was five, and that was where I got inspiration for snowboarding. It was never about the tricks so much; it was more about simple, clean — something that feels good to you. If it doesn’t feel good to you, then why are you doing it?
Q: What’s your take on the current state of snowboarding?
A: I look at snowboarding now, and there’s great talent out there, but the direction is pretty interesting. It’s people spinning, holding their butts! Is that snowboarding now? What people do in contests is totally like gymnastics, and to me that doesn’t resonate as a snowboarder, so maybe there’s a new name for that. But because snowboarding as an industry has gone through ups and downs — and now we’re definitely in a downshift — it’s kind of been able to rebuild in a way where that whole exploring, splitboarding, do-it-for-yourself vibe is flourishing. This time is great because it’s creating an ability for these really authentic people to bring their stories alive.