Featured Rider: Lena Salmi

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Lena is a 59 year old Finnish woman who has recently discovered the love of skating. She does slalom, she dances, she’s getting into downhill and she does it all with a smile. This AllAroundSkater is a big inspiration. Read on to learn her story.
 

Hej Lena, where are you from?
From Helsinki, the capital of Finland. But I lived in Finnish Lapland for 20 years.

When did you start skating?
Three years ago on the 1st of May – after asking on a website for somebody to teach me how to longboard.

How did you start?
My start was amazing. The 1st of May is a holiday in Finland (the night before it, people celebrate a lot and late). I wrote as early as 7.30am on the website. And in half an hour I got the first answers. I was hooked.

Why did you want to learn to longboard?
Actually I don’t know. During my years in Lapland I did all kinds of winter sports: cross-country skiing, snowboarding, telemark and alpine skiing. When I moved back to the South and Helsinki, I did not have so many opportunities to do winter sports. I just happened to pass a little shop in Helsinki where they sell skating things. There was a nice young girl who did not laugh at me but served well. The result was: I began to think think that this sport could be something special and perhaps this will replace my winter hobbies.

Had you skated at all prior to that?
Not at all. When I was young, Finland was quite a strict country, there were not so many opportunities to do something else other than the ordinary Olympic sports.

What was it like skating in Helsinki in those early days?
For my first lesson, we made an appointment in front of the castle of our President. Not a hidden place to begin. That guy had the same board which I had already ordered: Lush Bahari. My first steps made me very nervous, but the guy was so supportive. On day three of my “longboarding career” I skated to my mother’s place, about 5 km across Helsinki. It was then that me and my first board (named Ville Peltonen, after one of the most famous ice hockey players in Finland) became acquainted with each other. Actually there weren’t any hills on my way to my mother’s, but in those early days, 5km made it feel like there were a lot!
I didn’t have any shame at all about my skating on the streets. People also were very interested in my sports and from the very beginning I began to think my board is like a dog. It made people talk to me, just like dogs make it easier to approach their owners.

Is skating just something to do while you can’t play in the snow?
I need sport, It’s my life. I swim, dive, ice-hockey and parkour, which I began this spring. I like sports where I can  improve my skills, so skating can be compared with playing in the snow. Last winter, I went back to snowboarding too, after a five year break. It was quite nice on the French Alps to snowboard for a whole week and to pass younger guys.

What sorts of questions do people ask when they see you?
How I did I get an idea to do this ?
Is it difficult to do it on streets ?
What do other people say ?
Am I afraid to hurt myself ?
What is the most difficult thing in this sport ?
And: Can I also begin this sport? Then I always answer: For sure! You may borrow my board. When are you free to try?

What kind of skating do you enjoy most?
A board is always also my vehicle – so I do cruise more or less each day (when we don’t have snow). This spring I began to practice sliding. Also dancing interests me, and I have been practicing that too. Slalom as well, I just bought some 50 cones for slalom.
Ordinary skating also interests me. I have plans to go to some skate parks to learn tricks. I have already visited some skate parks, and every time there have been young guys, 10 or 11 years old – who have come to me and asked if they can show me stuff. So lovely!
At the beginning of this summer we five girls visited Lapland and its bigger hills. I didn’t ride the hills, but I got a desire to do it. The desire to go fast. We’ll travel again to Lapland, and then it’ll be my turn to try downhill.

Who are the 5 girls?
The founders of Longboardettes: Kaisa Viitanen and Roosa-Liida Koskivaara. The other members of this group are Päivi Tuovinen, Reetta Tiihonen and I. Päivi is a photographer by profession ,she also took marvelous photos there.

When did you start skating with them?
When I began, my first summer I mainly just cruised to work, to sport places and to my  friends, mosty alone. The next summer I began to think that I should learn more and went to a longboarding forum. Found some guys there who participated in sessions but didn’t want to do “aggressive” longboarding yet. Last summer in August, I went to one session organized by Longboardettes, and with them it was easier to train and just have fun.

Why did you all go up to Lapland?
Päivi is from Lapland (but lives nowadays in Helsinki) and she knew my background (my Lapland years). Päivi asked me last autumn to go Lapland to find some spots and finish our trip to Lapland at the Midnight Sun Film Festival. I was immediately in, and so it began. When I lived in Lapland I traveled a lot there, in Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian Lapland. I had ideas where we might find nice and secret spots, and we found them!
Now, Lapland is some kind of Klondyke among us longboarders here in Finland. It all began last summer, when some guys were there. During this summer there have been some 5-6 skate vans from South Finland. We’d have some kind of co-operation plans with Lapland travel, because it is well suited for longboarding. Just imagine: midnight sun, witness nature, reindeer, very special culture, the only indigenous people of Europe, called the Sámis!

Do any of the locals skate?
In Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland, there are some very eager longboarders but elsewhere not. But on our Lapland trip we got quite a few hooked on longboarding and we had a lot of fun with them. The other one, Ásllat Paltto is a young educated reindeer herder and a skillful sportler too. He was immediately “pro” on board. Another one had already gone to Estonia to longboard. The last  one, state official Kari Torikka, asked us girls to come to Lapland to instruct teachers in Lapland in longboarding.

What is it like skating with other women?
Actually, I can’t say that I only skate with women. We all skate together, but the girls have brought with them some kind of a different attitude I guess. Girls do longboarding like boys, there are no differences at all. But it is nice that in this sport we have so many girls and still it is beyond gender borders. We just skate.  In my opinion longboarding is such an equal sport.

Is there a community in your city?
Yeah. We’re a loose community in that we inform members on Facebook or on our website about coming sessions and people just gather together then. We’ll drive  together to hills near us to have sessions and also competitions. It’s some kind of a free sport without any strict rules about how to do things.

What is your role in the community?
Hah haa. My role? I have brought quite a few newcomers with me. Some of them are older like me (but not so old) and many of them  don’t have any athletic background. They have thought longboarding may be their hobby. So, perhaps I have opened the longboarding scene here in Helsinki to people who are not any hardcore athletes.

Do many people do slalom there?
It’s quite difficult to do slalom here because of the lack of suitable places. But I have begun to always have cones with me to get people interested in slalom. The main purpose is to get people to train slalom because of the turning aspect not because of the slalom. So, it is some kind of helping tool to learn more skateboarding, and a nice one. To see the joy, when some newcomer navigates the cones and learns more about turning is a great thing.

Have you been able to inspire many people to start skating?
For sure. I guess I was one of the first here in Helsinki who took longboarding as a vehicle. People saw daily ”that older lady”  longboarding to work or just around. Then tourists and also locals asked if I don’t mind if they take a photo of me. I thought that’s okay if I help other people to notice how fun it can be, also as an older person to take your place in the streets. Once a guy passed me on his bicycle, turned around and came back to me. I thought ”what have I done wrong”?. But the guy just asked me if he could take a photo. He wanted to show his mother that at last he had found a sport for her!

You sound like a local celebrity!
There have been some articles and TV news of me and my hobby. And they have begun to call me an urban legend haha (that’s a joke).  But if through this I can add different kind of faces to longboarding – older ones, this will help other people nearer my age to take the streets in their hands (and feet) and feel the city as a playground for the adults too, so why not use my position to promote something good?

Any international stuff?
The biggest newspaper in Finland – Helsingin Sanomat made a long story about me. The paper translated this story to English for their international version. And that story has spread all over the (western) world. Amazing! I found it great to see that there are a lot of comments from Latin America on the story. In North America, the comments were more about how to keep yourself fit and rocking, hah hah haa.

Have any other people of your generation reached out to you?
One, called Silver Skater from London. She already invited me to come to London. It would be nice, indeed.  Then of course quite many in Helsinki. They have sent e-mails and contacted on FB and asked if I may help them to begin longboarding.

She’s great. You’re very welcome here Lena!
When do you have next sessions ?

We won’t be have many big events till after the Olympics as all the parks are being used.
Poor you. But send my regards to Seb, I once interviewed him. We had the European Cup in athletics and he was The Name.

Seb?
Sebastian Coe.

You skiied with Lord Coe?
Nope. I was invited to have dinner with him and some British journalists but I overslept after a long working day.

Are you an ex pro athlete/pro journalist?
I used to swim at the Finnish top level and nowadays I compete in diving. By profession, I’m a sports journalist and media researcher. At the moment I’m doing my PhD about Sámi sport and work on the side as journalist on a web paper sylvi.fi. In that paper, I write about many things, including sport.

How does longboarding impact your professional life?
Nice question! I think that it has impacted it a lot. Perhaps I feel “free as a bird” because of longboarding. As a result, I’m more involved and focused when doing other things. I go to meetings with my longboard, this always, ALWAYS wakes something in the others. In a positive way. The energy is great.

You mentioned earlier that you were learning to slide and get into downhill, Do you plan to race?
I don’t know yet. I’ve won my medals already, e.g. quite many Finnish Championship medals, so I don’t have to prove anything anymore to myself. But on the other hand, I have an athlete’s soul, I like competing, not to win against others, but to learn more about myself. Always when I compete, I learn something new.

What skate competitions appeal to you?
I have not seen so many live competitions just on the internet. I like the feeling in those competition and events, what you experience at gatherings.

What do you enjoy most about skating?
The skating itself. When I skate I’m in a different world, I feel what it’s like to be free: other people wait for trams, walk busily, and don’t have time to step, slide or cruise. But I enjoy being on my board. Without being conscious of it.

What do you ride?
I have to put my answer in this way: all my boards have nick names, they are different personalities. The very first and most loved is that Lush Bahari named Ville Peltonen. Peltonen is the World Champion in ice hockey and the best player in his club. Also many other boards of mine have famous Finnish ice hockey players’ names but the two last ones are, (thank god), different. Sims Pure Juice is called Siiri because of a lovely three year old girl and my Airflow Fuse is called after Cisse, a famous Finnish rock star  My boards are of different brands but my Rayne board is nowadays called Lady Killer… I heard the name Baby Killer wrong, and I tried to order a board named ”Lady Killer” instead. What I got was a Rayne Isis.
 I have also one freebord. I like this sport too and wonder a little why so many people think freebording is difficult. We used to say that we freeborders have our own amusement park with us. My freebords name is Rolle, because it is rolling all the time.
I am just learning how set up my boards. Oh, what a world this is. Now I have learnt more about the decks and wheels. But bushings – how the hell do you know about that? The  more stiffer bushing is nearer your deck and the more soft on the road side. When you slide. So what? I don’t even know the right terms yet. But all the guys help me. All this is a totally new world for me. But this is nice too, to become a mechanic.

Can you imagine your life without longboarding?
Ok, I’ll try. Sometime in the future that day exists, but until then, I longboard because once you stop, you can’t do it any more. Longboard for your life.

Choose 3 numbers between 1-37.
1, 28, 3.

1 – What do you take with you when you go for a skate?
My helmet.

28 – What superhero would be best at skating?
Tin-tin

3 – What impact has longboarding had on your life?
Friendship on the streets and parks.

Thank you so much for your time tonight Lena, it has been a pleasure speaking to you.
Yeah, don’t ever think that you’re too old to do what you want to do!

Any thank yous?
My special thanks goes to those guys who answered some three years ago to my question about how to begin longboarding. Thank you for your nice answers. And you’re guilty for having me here now.

Links
http://www.hs.fi/english/article/Skateboarding+towards+sixty+The+city+is+a+longboarder%E2%80%99s+adventure+playground+/1329104228979

http://skateordiet.org/2012/07/13/longboardettes-roadtrip-to-lapland-part-1/

http://yle.fi/uutiset/lappi_houkuttelee_longboardaajia/6176751

http://sylvi.fi/2012/07/sylvi-testaa-lonkkukoulu/

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