Diamond in the Rough: A Conversation with Jossi Wells
Jossi Wells at a year end park shoot in Whistler, BC. Credit: Bryn Hughes / PBP
~ As seen in our Volume 13, January issue ~
Jossi Wells and I met up for a couple hours in a semi-luxurious hotel in London. I listened, mostly, occasionally interjecting a question or comment. Sure, 20-year-old Jossi is a freeskiing superstar. World Title, medals, sponsors, money, blondes, etc. But rather than speaking about what he’s done or how successful he is, he speaks about who he is.
How was growing up in a small town like Wanaka, New Zealand?
It’s so isolated from the industry. I always skied because I liked to ski. I was put on skis when I was 18 months old. It was never a dream of mine when I was fi ve years old to become a pro skier or anything. I just loved doing it. I was never inside playing video games. I was out wanting to do stuff. It kind of fell into place really.
How did you get your start in the pro scene?
When I was 13, Dino Bonelli invited me and my brother Byron to Italy. This resort was building a terrain park and didn’t know what to do with it, so they brought me, Byron, our coach and his wife over for three months so we could show the kids what to do in the park. After my Italian season, we were trying to decide where to go, but I didn’t want to go to Italy again and not be able to speak to anyone. We thought the States would be sweet. Tanner Hall and Pep Fujas both rode at Park city, so I was like, “Yeah, I’m into Park City.” It was good ol’ marketing. [laughs] I spent the next four seasons there.
Oakley was one of those fi rst sponsors, but you recently left them for Nike 6.0 outerwear. Why the move?
Oakley picked me up when I was 9 and I left them when I was 19, so I was with them for a decade. They were one of the biggest supporters of my career and I couldn’t be where I am without them. It was probably one of the hardest decisions of my life. The big thing was that Nike was just going to be me, TJ and Andreas. My decision was based on the fact that it would be us three instead of trying to come up behind such great skiers. Oakley is one of the big dogs. They’ve got Simon, they’ve got Tanner, they’ve got all those guys. It’s hard to get certain opportunity when they’ve already got such great riders. Unlike Oakley, I would be with Nike from the very start [of their outerwear launch] and, I mean, Nike is Nike. It’s one of the biggest sporting companies in the world. But it has such a cool family feel.
You’re currently out with a minor ankle injury. Are you going crazy yet?
I don’t know how minor it is, actually. It has sort of turned into a major one. I broke it skateboarding after the season, but originally I thought it was a real bad sprain. I came back to New Zealand and the doctor said it was broken, but by that time there was no point in putting a cast on it since it had been like six weeks. So I sat out most of the New Zealand season. Then I took a trip up to the North Island on a Winter of Wells trip. That’s when the doc said it should be good to go, but it was not ideal. So the doctor decided to operate on it about fi ve weeks ago. They took a little piece of bone out and I sat on the couch with my leg in the air for two weeks and now I’m back into the gym so I can ski in December. This is the longest I’ve ever been off my skis. In the beginning it was kind of nice to have a break, because as a lot of people know, I have had bad problems with injuries. A long break has been great for my body, but it’s getting to the point where I’m over the rest and I want to do something. Having all the boys down in my hometown was hard. Simon was staying with me and I just had to sit at home. The boys would come and tell me what went down on the hill and all the new tricks they learned and I was just like, “Oh, this is not cool.” There is always a bit of stress.
Jossi during the 2010 Jon Olsson Super Sessions. Credit: Shay Williams
Have you been thinking about your skiing future in your downtime.
For me or for skiing?
For you. Not like, “What is the future of halfpipe skiing?”
Good, I hate that question. I’m going to continue to do contests as long as I can. But contests are really stressful; our lives are an emotional rollercoaster. You win one week, you lose the next weekend, then you win, then you lose. That is pretty tough on the old body, mentally and physically. But that feeling of success outweighs the feeling of pressure. A lot of people probably don’t understand the feeling and I might get ridiculed for saying this, but when you lose a competition, the feeling is almost enough to make you never want to compete again. Then the next week you ride well. That feeling of riding that well and getting a podium is what drives us. You just remember the feeling of success and it keeps you going.
So I’m going to compete as long as my body lets me but I’ll always film. I’d defi nitely like to put out more heavy video segments. It’s super hard to compete and do video segments, but I know that I can put out a much longer and much better segment. Your personal style is different from most skiers. I’ve always kind of liked doing my own thing. I have never really cared as much what people thought. That’s kind of a bad way to put it. Of course I care what people think of me, everyone does, but I don’t let that affect the way I’m going to act or the way I’m going to dress. Growing up, when I was probably 8 or 9 until I was 14, I had a long blonde ponytail and used to get mistaken for a girl on a daily basis and get made fun of a lot. [laughs] I don’t know what possessed me to have that hair, but from the get-go, I always did my own thing. And if I liked it, then it’s good enough for me. The whole fashion thing is just kind of fun.
Is that your personal outlet? Some people have music, or art, and yours is fashion?
I watched the Coco Chanel movie the other day and there was a great quote: “In order to be irreplaceable, you must be different.” And I think that every person that is at the top is somewhat different. They have something to push them past everyone else. Look at all the top pro skiers, the top athletes, all the top anything. Every one of them does something differently. It’s the way people carry themselves, you know? And style has always been important to me. Whether it’s clothing or my skiing. I’ve always been a firm believer in: it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. The way I do things and my individuality is pretty important to me.
Getting stylish during a Nike 6.0 photoshoot. Credit: Nate Abbott / PBP
People have said you’re losing your mind.
I’m crazy and losing it? Was it Simon? [laughs] I’m confident enough in myself that I can do a bunch of different stuff that I think is cool. I think a lot of people are quite closed-minded about things and if they have a certain style, they think every other style is the worst and those people are a bunch of weirdos. But I’ve been through all the phases… massive tall-tee thug life stage and the tight pant skater phase. Now I’m in a fashion stage. People maybe take things a little too seriously where in reality it’s all a bunch of fun.
You’re very religious, which isn’t the most popular thing in the ski industry.
I grew up in a Christian family. I went to church every Sunday growing up and that sort of thing. When I was 11, I made the personal decision to dedicate my life to Jesus and His teachings. It’s hard for a lot of people to understand that aren’t into it. But to me, God is so real and has done so many different things in my life that I don’t have a doubt that this is for real. I’ve experienced it first hand. That might not be the best thing people want to hear, but that’s what I’m about and I’m going to keep doing my thing.
It seems that most people are accepting.
I don’t think it affects my relationship with people; it’s strictly a personal thing. If someone else doesn’t believe it, that’s fine, I’m not going to push it on them.
How is it having your Dad around? Does it get contentious sometimes?
Not really. Last year was the fi rst year he went to most of the contests and started to play a bigger role in the management side of my career. Now I’m at an age where I’m a young adult and can do my own thing and he respects that. Dad knows that I’m going to do things at contests the way I want to do them. It’s worked in the past, so he doesn’t try to change anything. He simply comes there and makes himself available. He doesn’t try to boss me around or anything.
Tell me about your brothers.
This year Byron really stepped out on to his own and started killing it in his own right. That’s rad to see him do that because he’s got a different mindset when it comes to skiing. I’ve always been a bit ahead of him and now he’s killing it and we’re at such a close level that he can help me now. He knows me better than anyone else. When I’m being a pussy, he lets me know I’m being a pussy. We work well together. I mean, we shared a room until we were 14 years old, so when it comes to being at the top of the pipe or being at a contest, we both have that brother thing that we can say the right thing or not have to say anything at all. At European X Games, one of the fi rst contests we were in the fi nals together, Byron’s first X Games final. It was sick. I rode pretty badly, I wasn’t very happy about that, but seeing my brother ride well and kill it harder than he’s ever killed it was really rad to see.
He beat you.
Yeah, he beat me. You don’t have to print that. [laughs]
How is success different for you in New Zealand versus the States?
In the States, there are crazy fans that are pumped on the whole freeskiing thing. But in New Zealand, I’m making more of a name throughout the general public. The AFP Overall Champion stuff was all over the news there and I’ve done a number of pieces on television programs. Freeskiing is defi nitely growing in New Zealand and once halfpipe skiing gets in the Olympics, I think New Zealand will be stoked that I could possibly win a medal for them.
Are there any questions you’d like me to ask? Interviewers get it wrong a lot.
A lot of interviews are the same, eh? You might as well get all the questions that an interviewer would ask and just record all the answers on a tape and send that out.
But then we couldn’t come to London.
Exactly, then we wouldn’t be in London hanging out. It’s sweet.
I find it hard to get across what I mean sometimes. A lot of people just say, “I love skiing, I love to ski,” but it sounds so cheesy, but it’s because it’s so hard to describe the feeling that I get from skiing, while I’m actually doing it. What I love about skiing is that I’m at a level now where if I see something I want to do, I have the skill level to go and do that. That’s why it’s fun, because I can express myself and do what I want to do. Pretty cool feeling to feel that free. There is no one telling you what to do. I’ve never been a fan of coaches and such. I was a ski racer until I was 15 and I loved it, but it was the same thing over and over. Left, right, left, right, left, right. Gates showing you where you have to go. I was never a big fan of that. That’s the cool thing about freeskiing, you express yourself through your skiing. It’s an art form, you know? You can express yourself without having to say anything.
Jossi at a Poor Boyz spring shoot at Mt. Bachelor, OR.
About the author:
Shay Williams is the Managing Editor of Freeskier Magazine. He loves cheeseburgers, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Sweden. He's likely on a plane right now—first class only.