Photos: Martti Kuoppa, Stephane Bar, and Marcio Massayuki Abe.
When I was thinking who to begin the 2015 Flatmattersonline award winning interviews with, the answer was pretty simple in my mind. Martti Kuoppa took home four of the possible ten categories, why not start with the man that dominated the awards? As anyone who follows FM will know, I like to dig beneath the surface, and the process of how riders get to the top is always intriguing to me. Let’s jump right into the awards interviews with Martti!
Firstly, congratulations on a great 2015 Martti! It is fair to say that you took the flatland world by storm this year, and certainly the Flatmattersonline awards, winning four categories. How do you feel about winning four categories in the awards?
Thank you! I´m really happy to see that there are many riders around the world who are behind my back and still supporting me after going out of the scene and coming back to it. I don´t take any of this for granted, so I am deeply grateful for all the people who voted me.
Flatark was a huge focal point for the year, I’m interested in the process from when you decided to go and enter, having not rode for how long in a contest? Can you break down how you approached first what tricks you wanted to do and your practise/training regime?
I wanted to bring something new and stem technique was something I definitely wanted to involve in my run. Then, I also wanted to include some of my classic moves such as steamroller to kickflip to crackpacker. But, I started planning my run just 6 months prior to the event and I knew that there are guys who are already pulling their tricks every time.
I made a strategy for getting consistent which was quite different than earlier during my contest days and around mid point of that 6 months I started to realize that I could actually ride well at FlatArk, then I started to sharpen my strategy and just 2 weeks before FlatArk I started to approach 90%-95% consistency with all the tricks I wanted to do. It´s no secret that I just worked with set of tricks that could fit in 2 minutes and 30 seconds and only those tricks.
But going back to your original question. I will explain this in a nutshell so it won´t be to long of a read:
I decided all the tricks I wanted to get consistent with. Then I practiced each one of them with dedicated time, let´s say 20 – 25 minutes each trick and I counted how many times I could pull it out of 20. So, it was really easy to measure my progression all the time. In the beginning I could do something like 1/50 tries, then soon it was 2/50 times and so on. Until few months passed I started to pull my tricks 10-15/20 tries and just 2 weeks before I started to hit 19/20 and 20/20 most of the time.
And I had all the time very high mental focus on my body/bike connection. I did my math 🙂
The UK Flat Champs acted as a good warm up for the event?
Uk Flat Champs was an interesting one because I felt that I was not completely ready to ride at a competition yet and I was just in need of 2 – 3 days of break from riding. (yes, I never ride 7 days a week, I always take 2 days off to let the muscle memory rest and improve).
So I had just had a really heavy week of riding with 2 – 3 sessions a day and I was exhausted and needed that break. Then I received a call from Matti Hemmings and you that I should try to make it to UK champs next weekend. I felt tempted and I booked my flight next morning and left to Birmingham later on that day. So, it ended up going good. but it did not go how I wanted to go to my first comp with rested body/mind. Basically before FlatArk I made sure that my mind/muscles aren´t tired, so I rode very little during that 2 weeks. I rode just 10 – 15 minute sessions several times a day. So what I was doing was that I made sure I don´t over stress myself, but still keep my muscle memory triggered. It was amazing to see how much that last 2 weeks effected on fine tuning of my consistency level. However, at UK Champs it was great to see that I could keep my nerves together even I did not compete for many years.
Multiple stemlashes in Helsinki, Finland. Photo: Stephane Bar.
Many might not be aware that you practise “Zen” too, and it was noticeable in the stressful moments of the Flatark contest that you were the calmest rider in the arena?
You know the physical condition is just one aspect to peak performance, then there is the mental aspect to it too. When you go into a pressure cooker environment like FlatArk and you have everything on line there (no job, no sponsors, no money) if mind does not function properly there is no way to win. And the trick is, more you want to win, more you want that money, less you pull your tricks. My zen practice definitely puts things in perspective and helped me to just enjoy the present moment with my bike on the stage and was grateful to be back on the stage too. Closer to the very final battle I made, more I felt that I succeeded already and money, fame and all those things are not important. Just the enjoyment of the performance and challenging myself and connecting to the spectators was much more important than thinking about “I want to win”.
One of my observations last year was that flatland and contest riding changed, there has been a shift on methods of contest riding? Before you could say yes I will 5 combos and that’s it. You adopted a different approach, going for one hit stem tricks, most of which have got the “Must Watch” category on the site. What was your vision like for selecting what tricks you wanted to do?
My main motivation was to bring something new to the contest. At the moment when I made my mind about going to FlatArk I had 0% consistency with my riding. I had not been working with consistency since about 8 – 10 years and I still felt like it´s not for me and I was considering myself more of a video rider. And I knew already that I´m much older than I used to be when I was competing a lot, but on the other hand I also knew that I´m more wiser these days, so it´s much more about strategy of training than anything else.
I guess the reason why I won was that I brought something new to the current competition scene and that was a completely new style of riding.
Also, knowing that I have been riding a lot during last 25 years it will take me about 5 months to get back in shape, if I have a good strategy for riding.
And obviously the body needs to be “around there” and if there is a big beer belly, that makes it way harder I think. So, I didn´t need to loose any weight and I had been working out so I was still strong enough to handle my bike.
It speaks volumes of you and your work ethic that you won the award “Most progressive Rider” yet you didn’t put out an edit all year? Was that a conscious effort to just focus on contests in 2015?
Yes. I had a break last winter for about 8 months, because I felt that Flatland is just a hobby for me and nothing more. And if it is just a hobby I´m not bothered to ride when the weather is bad. So, when I decided to enter FlatArk I knew that I can just focus on one thing and that thing was to get consistent. I decided to dedicate every minute of my riding to just that thing and there was no room to focus on learning new tricks, because that takes a lot of time / energy too. One thing I learn´t and I learn´t it good is that it is better to focus on one aspect of riding instead of trying to push myself to be doing good in competitions and push it with new tricks in weekly basis. This year I will need to make that decision again. And it´s the way how I will avoid burning out. I´m just a human being at the end of the day and that´s something that puts some limitations sometimes when it comes to getting consistent and pushing it with video stuff 🙂
Beautiful photograph of MK at Flatark by Marcio Massayuki Abe.
Your final run at Flatark won the award “Contest Run of the Year”, can you take me through your mindset going into that final round with Matthias Dandois?
I told myself that now I´m going to kick his ass. LOL. Just kidding. I felt that I achieved everything already now that I´m in the final battle with one of the best competitors of the world. And I knew that he will most likely do 100% clean job. So I told myself that I got absolutely nothing to loose here and let´s just push it bit further than in the earlier rounds.
It looked very calculated saving the stem roller shove its and the 5 stemlashes for the final round? Was that a deliberate tactic?
It was a proof that trusting your gut instinct sometimes makes the difference. I wasn´t sure if I would be able to do 5 stemlashes on the wavy floor and I was not sure if the area was big enough. So, when I reaching the frame after 4th stemlash and was time to land, there was no time to think, but I truly felt like I could fit in 1 more and I decided to take a risk and went for it. And I pulled it quite close to the edge of the contest floor and the crowd got crazy at that point and I knew that I have a chance to win the whole thing. I´m a risk taker and sometimes I am willing to take big risks of jumping to unknown in order to get in touch with real me and my true motives.
Is it strange to you that at your age, you can come back and win the biggest contest of the year? I wonder if the artist in you, would prefer to be blown away and not the other way round?
I think I´m the only person who knows what I have been going through during the years when I wasn´t competing, riding or active in the scene. For example I have experienced two years of complete sobriety and very healthy lifestyle. I know for example what is the difference between having couple of beers night before the competition and what it is not having any beers for several months before the big night. That is just one of the things I know. I also know what it is not having my head together and being so nervous in the competition that hands and legs are shaking, but still need to keep it together somehow and now I know when my head is together and nervousness is not effecting on physics at all, and if it effects, it just makes everything much sharper. I know it did not come easy and I had to go through the struggle of quitting and everything that came with it to really appreciate being back on my bike and feeling connected to the scene again. So, it is not strange at all but like I said, there was some fundamental changes I have done during the years I was not active in the scene in order to achieve what I did last year. I still have this complex inside of me about artist and athlete. Sometimes they walk the same direction and sometimes not. Another complex I have about all this is that my zen practice is not really about “peak performance” but sometimes I do use it that way. HA HA HA.
On the flip side of entering the biggest contest of the year, you also attended the Level Vibes where there is no money? How did you feel that event went with the format and stuff?
Yes, it was quite a big of a contrast to be honest 🙂 But let me try to explain as good as I can. After I came back home from Battle In The Rockies, I was basically destroyed from all the jetlags from Japan and USA and those events being too close to each other. And I had my plane ticket to London already, so I knew I need to get in action one more time during the year, but I did not know how would it go with such low energy levels in general. When it was time to ride in London, I absolutely loved the floor. It was the best contest floor I have ever ridden on, so it felt really nice to be able to actually roll that Stem5 as long as I wanted to because that trick sort of demands a smooth and solid floor. So, in Japan the floor was not as good or as big so I decided to enjoy the feeling of the floor in London and also the fact that there was no prize money made it feel that people came there for positive reasons. As of the format at Level Vibes, it was a good format for sure, however, if I can be a “sheriff” for a moment, I suggest that there should be a penalty for sneaking because some people might not be into rushing in for many reasons, maybe they are shy or maybe they respect others who want to go but are struggling with the “rush” that many has about going on the floor. I think I sneaked few times because I knew that if I don´t go, then someone else is going to sneak 🙂 besides that, it was a really good format!
After such a successful year, what are your plans this year Martti?
I think I will freestyle a bit with my plans this year. After going to few comps in a very short period of time and also, getting ready for the comps 6 months very focused made me really think once again what is it in riding that makes me most happy? Is it the big prize money, is it a good performance on the stage or is it about the new tricks? So far the answers that been coming out was that I truly enjoyed to interact with the crowd with my riding. I felt that many people got very happy to see me back on the stage, so that was definitely nice. The feeling that I truly gave people something. Then, there is the fact that we are competitors and we actually compete against each other no matter how friendly we are on the back stage. That is something I don´t like too much. And then there is the aspect of creativity that means much more than any competition, any price money or any sponsor. That is the salt and sugar of riding for me and of course it´s a way of expressing myself. And I think I make few people happy here and there with my new tricks so that is I think where I´m heading next, after this long winter is over. Of course, I can´t / won´t promise any crazy tricks to be out, because the creativity process in me does not work like that. But I´m sure there is plenty of new ideas once the time is ready for that. That´s how it has worked so far so I am going to trust the process once again 🙂 🙂
I will continue also working with my Master Of Creativity contest. It´s been really nice to see how excited people are about it.
Any final words?
Creativity wins. Always. Thank you everyone out there for backing me up. That is priceless.