Always Rene: An Interview with Rene Rinnekanags

In this modern era of snowboarding the word “talent” is thrown around too easily. When it is possible to literally learn every trick ever imagined by jumping into foam pits or airbags, while every binding click and goggle fix is broadcast on social media, it’s fairly easy to be oversaturated with a constant stream of snow- board tricks that are continually more and more complex. Every once in a while, however, a rider comes along who destroys the notion that “talent” is defined by rotation and reminds us just how fun and beautiful snowboarding really is. Rene Rinnekangas is that rider. Over the past few seasons, he has exploded into our collective consciousness with a masterfully creative approach to riding that mixes precision trickery with an old-school attitude that harkens back to the days when being a professional snowboarder meant that you could, and did, ride everything well. At only 22 years old, Rene is one of the most down-to-earth people in the snowboard world, constantly smiling and bringing his positive vibes to everywhere he sets foot, be it contest stop or street spot. This past year, he set out to film his own project, a 15-minute video called Sugared that the young Finn collaborated on with longtime friends, Anton “Jarssi” Kiiski and Tatu Toivanen. As one of the riders shaping what snowboarding looks like, not only right now, but as it evolves, Rene’s humble demeanor and outsized talents continue to be his compass as he writes his own refrain through his personal combination of mind-boggling tricks and individual style. – Tyler Davis

How’s everything going?
Pretty good, thank you! I’m in Italy with the Finnish team and it’s been pretty hectic, snowboarding from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., then it takes like an hour to get down. And then you got a lot of things to do when you get back home, but it’s all good!

I’ve been checking out your hometown on Google Maps and the place looks wonderful, tons of lakes.
Love it! It’s called Iisalmi, a pretty small town in the middle of Finland. In general, there are not big mountains. My local place is only like 44-meters high and you can ride at night. It’s so dark, so it’s better to snowboard under the lights.

Do you think your ability to ride everything comes from growing up at a small resort?
I think for me, it was such a small place to go snowboarding that you got so many laps a day and that helped a lot. There are no big jumps compared to Europe or the best places in the US, like Colorado and Mammoth. You need to be a little creative when there are not crazy good set ups, so whenever you go someplace else you’re like, “Oh my god, that’s so nice. It’s perfect!” So, it for sure helped. In snowboarding, there’s no way that it can be done wrong or done right, so you could ride something small on the flat-ground, a picnic table, or whatever, have the best session going and learn so many things. That’s the coolest thing about it.

[There’s a knock at the door.]

Ha. The anti-doping thing just came to the apartment.

Ha! Do you want me to call you back?
I’ll ask them if I can finish this first. Ha, what timing. I’ll call you back in two minutes

[Rene hangs up to talk to the anti-doping guys at the condo. A few minutes pass and he calls back.]

I assume since the Olympics are coming up, the drug testing is all part of the process for qualification?
When you travel with the team, it’s all part of the game. This is pretty funny—the guy is sitting next to me right now to make sure I’m not going anywhere.

I guess we’ll just continue then. When you were younger, how did you manage traveling for contests with school? Did you go to a sports high school where they were cool with you being gone so often?
Yeah, actually I was already doing quite a lot of contests, since I was on the junior national team. But I think it was probably the biggest boost for my snowboarding when I got there because I realized what type of snowboarder I wanted to be. For the first two years in high school, I was snowboarding quite a lot in the woods, trying to get better at actual snowboarding, just turning my board and getting the edge control way better. So, I rode a lot in the woods and it helped me a lot. During high school I learned so many new tricks and learned so much about my own snowboarding, so I think those years were some of the most important for my snowboarding.

You’ve been a longtime member of the Finnish National Team. European National Teams seem to have a different vibe than here in the US, so I’m curious as to what that experience is like for you?
Finland is a pretty small country, so all the snowboarders know each other and if you’re interested in doing contests and you are doing well in them, then it’s way easier when you’re part of the national team. I think it’s nice; they support us so well! Mad respect for the Finnish National Team.

Frontside Millerflip. Turku, Finland. p: Tatu Toivanen

Obviously, your country has produced plenty and plenty of very impactful snowboarders. Are there some guys you really look up to?
Yeah, for sure. Of course, when I was younger I was watching Eero Ettala and Heikki Sorsa a lot. I think these days, my hero is Sami Luhtanen. If you know him, he’s on Instagram, @dr.luti. He’s probably one of the sickest street riders that I know. He’s amazing. When I see him riding at Ruka, he’s just one of the best snowboarders, in my opinion.

You’re a natural all-around rider, but do you have a favorite terrain to ride?
It’s really hard to say because I’ve been snowboarding since I was so young; I started riding when I was around 10 years old. My older brother, Rikko, asked me, “Do you want to try it out and film with us?” and I said, “Of course!” Ever since, street riding and contest riding have been part of my snowboarding, so it’s pretty hard to say what’s the main thing for me. It’s hard when you grew up riding everything to pick just one favorite part of snowboarding. It’s pretty crazy though, these days I feel that people are focusing on one thing. If you want to ride contests, then you ride park and use most of your time for it. But for me, If I can mix it all together, that’s the best. Filming in the streets helps me in contests. I like trying to find my own lines in contests. I think it comes from the snowboarding I like to do the most, riding all kinds of things, you know?

Snowboarding often focuses too much on the imitation of others in favor of our own riding, but you don’t follow that. How do you think your uniquely creative perspective came to be
Thank you so much. I’m trying to look at snowboarding out of the box. I’m a big fan of other boardsports, like surfing and skateboarding. I try to take inspiration from those other sports; I think those other sports bring more ideas to snowboarding. I remember doing contests at first and I didn’t have the biggest tricks, like triple corks and stuff like that, so I thought, What can I do just to get noticed? So, I tried to find my own lines in the slope course, and actually, it worked pretty well! People were stoked about what I rode, and so were the judges. It was amazing and I decided that I should never stop doing something different. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to do my own stuff. I think it works pretty well, so I don’t see why I would change that.

How about your style. Where do you think that comes from?
I think that my style might come a bit from snowboarding movies. I’m a big fan of old snowboarding and back in high school I found the sickest snowboarding by watching videos. I like older movies. Subjekt: Haakonsen is my favorite snowboard movie.

I grew up on that movie. I played that tape until it didn’t work anymore. It’s great to hear the younger generation talking about older films like Subjekt.
Those guys were doing all kinds of stuff, you know? Like they were doing contests and filming video parts—that’s snowboarding to me, so I’ve been trying to do the same thing.

Word on the street is that you’re in love with Coca-Cola.
Ha, that’s correct. I’m a big fan of it. I don’t drink alcohol that much, so I’ve been drinking Coca-Cola and I think it tastes really good. I was in Europe somewhere and the Monster team manager, Austin Hodges, was ordering me Coca-Colas I drank like six one night, straight in a row. The next morning I told everyone, “Oh, I couldn’t sleep,” and the other guys were like, ”Yeah, you drank six Coca-Colas in a row last night.” I was like “Oh no, that’s not the reason that I couldn’t sleep, ha.”

Frontside wallride to crippler. Finland. p: Tatu Toivanen

So, we have talk about your first Dew Tour appearance. You show up, pretty much an unknown, and not only do you win, but you take down some heavy hitters in the process. What was that like for you?
I still can’t believe what went down that day. At first, when Matt Stillman, the Rome team manager called me and said, “Hey, do you want to be part of the Rome team challenge in the Dew Tour?” I was like, Shit, I’ve never even seen Matt Stillman before and now he’s asking me to ride in the team challenge? I said, “For sure!” I was stressing so much about riding halfpipe. I mean I ride halfpipe, but I don’t know how to do double corks or anything like that. I was looking at the list and there were so many good riders, and I just thought, What the hell am I going to do? But really, I was just so happy about being out there, seeing all those pro snowboarders pretty much for the first time. It meant so much, and still means so much to me, in part because everybody was supporting each other. Also, I think it helped me find my own lines. I don’t think so much about the result because to me, it’s more about just showing people that type of contest. I think there should be more contests like that.

Modified pipe should stay?
I think that it’s good for snowboarding. In one run there are so many different things to do, transitions, rails, a hip—it’s amazing.

And then of course, Real Snow 2020, you won gold. The process to get your part filmed, finalized, and edited in such a short time seems pretty hectic. How did all that go?
Yeah, it was a pretty crazy journey. When I got the invite that I was going to film for Real Snow, I had just broken my ankle a few weeks earlier. I was like, Oh my god, I have the chance to film for Real Snow. I’m a big fan of it. What bad timing, I probably can’t do it. I was taking it pretty easy for the first month, then I got permission to go snowboarding again. It hurt so much, but the doctor said it was totally fine— fifty percent healed—and I was like, Okay, they said you can go snowboarding now, and if you break it again it means that you would have probably broken it anyway. After about a month or a little longer, I went straight into filming and it felt so bad, I couldn’t snowboard at all. The first two weeks, I think I got one clip. In the time before New Year’s, I think I got like four clips because I could only snowboard for one day and then I had to take at least three days off. In January, it started to feel better and I started hitting jumps, but I was still wondering what was wrong with my ankle. I went back home to the doctor and got an X-ray, and it wasn’t healed up. It was still broken and that’s why it was still painful. I was thinking about saying, “Sorry guys, I can’t do this right now. It’s too much for me,” but then I thought, This is the last chance for me. I’m not sure if I’m going to get an invite for Real Snow ever again. So I felt like I really wanted to do this, and wanted to do it now, so we kept filming and the last two weeks were amazing. We got pretty much all the clips—at least ten of them—in two weeks. I’m so happy about how things went down. I was happy I was able to do it with the broken ankle. And then we ended up winning, so it was a dream come true. The sickest thing was that I got to share that moment with my best friends, the filmer and the photographer, and it was insane.

And then last season, you made a movie last season with those same really good friends, right? What is the movie called?
Sugared.

How did this come about? Did you just want to do your own project because you guys were at home for the winter?
Yeah, exactly. I was thinking about what I wanted to do this season. I knew there were not that many contests happening. So, I was talking with Jarssi [Anton Kiiski] and Tatu Pekka—those two guys, I’ve been filming with for all my videos so far, since I was 10 years old or something. We were thinking, what should we do? Should we do just the normal part, or should we go for Real Snow again? Two years ago, when we won the X Games gold, I think that was almost too much. We were like, ahh. Now, it was a good time and do something else. So I decided to try to film my own small movie. At first, we had pretty big plans. We were thinking about going to Japan and filming in the US and pretty much all over the place in the world, but then, the situation was still going on with COVID, so we filmed all the street stuff in Finland. And then we went up north, in Sweden to Riksgränsen for end of the season. We were able to film backcountry stuff and spring stuff.

Sweden. p: Tatu Toivanen

You’ve been snowboarding with Jarssi and Tatu since you were 10?
Yeah, since I was really small. And the crazy thing is, Jarssi and Tatu, they are my older brother’s good friends. That’s the way I got to know them. They asked me if I wanted to try and film in the streets when I was 10 years old and we’re still filming with the same crew. That really means so much to me. They helped me when I was younger and now I can help them to film snowboarding. So, it’s amazing.

I can’t wait to see the video.
Oh, thank you. At first, I was really nervous about what people are going to think about the project. Before we showed it in Stockholm, I was so nervous, but I think people really liked it.

Is it more nerve-wracking premiering your own project or dropping in for an Olympic or X Games run?
Good question. I think the movie. I was so nervous. It really means so much to me. Probably a lot of people are going to watch it later when it comes online—I mean, I hope people are going to watch it. In a contest, there are only five judges judging your one run, or three runs, and that’s it. So it really means a lot to me, what people think about that project—of course it means a lot in the contests, too, but it’s a bit different.

Yeah. It’s your own project, so it’s personal, as opposed to competing where there are more variables that are not in your control in the same way. Like, “I tried hard. I missed this trick, ”or“ I did really well and something happened with the scoring or whatever.”
Exactly. When we’re talking about video parts or projects, you know snowboarders are going to say their opinion about your snowboarding. That means a lot to me. Of course, in the contests, what the judges think about my run and what the other riders think about my run is important to me too, but that is just a few runs instead of the whole season.

How was making Sugared? Did you film any clips on the hill that you grew up riding?
Not in the resort where I’m from because it’s 44 meters high—120 feet high—so it’s pretty small. But I filmed some street clips in my hometown. I’ve actually been filming here since I was small. This city has only 25,000 people and there are still many spots in this small area.

Riksgränsen, Sweden. p: Tatu Toivanen

You filmed some of your Real Snow there, as well, right? Between that and Sugared, there are still plenty of spots on tap?
Yeah. And that’s the crazy thing. Let’s say I’m riding my motorcycle around the city. All of the sudden, I’ll find a new spot in the same area that I’ve gone by a thousand times.

Do you look for spots on your motorcycle in the summer?
I do sometimes. During the summertime in Finland, there’s light 24/7. It’s insane. I love riding my motorcycle, going to different places to see if I can find spots. I do a lot of spot-checking, but I think I have found the coolest spots just randomly riding or driving and then, Oh, there’s a spot. I need to take a picture.

Can you talk a little about the band Katfish?
Katfish is my brother’s band, started by my brother and three friends. At one point, my brother said, “Hey, I remember that you used to play bass a little bit,” which I did when I was about 10 years old. He asked if I wanted to join up. I said, “Of course, but I suck!” So we started practicing and played a few gigs that went well, then Austin Hodges asked if we wanted to come over to play at X Games. These days it’s a bit different. Since I’m on the road so many days of the year, it’s hard to follow the guys, but whenever there’s a chance, I go and play with them. It’s an amazing thing and I always will be thankful to my brother for the opportunity.

Have you ever been to Vermont to visit the Rome office and hang with Stillman and the crew?
I have, once. Two years ago, I went there.

Have you gotten to ride there at all? Because I’ve heard that New England has a kind of similar landscape to Finland?
Yeah, it does a little bit. There are no crazy big mountains, if I’m right. The resort where we went snowboarding in Vermont, it was not crazy big. It’s pretty much the same in Finland. We have Ruka, which is the best place to go snowboarding in Finland—or Talma. I mean Talma is such a small place. Ruka is a bit bigger but still not crazy big. So yeah, a lot the same as Vermont, I think.

So, we’ve been talking for about fifty minutes. Please tell me that the drug tester is still sitting next to you?
Ha! The whole way through, he’s been sitting here. He seems really nice.

Okay, I’d like to know, why were you wearing a gold sweater all season? It looked dope.
Oh, thank you. It’s Tatu’s sweater. All my clothing that I’ve been riding in is from Tatu. I think his style is amazing, I’ve been using his clothes while I’ve been snowboarding. The sweater is from a second-hand shop. I think it’s a really old sweatshirt.

The titling of Sugared is also yellow, so I was wondering if there was some kind of theme there.
Tatu made the poster for the movie. I don’t know, maybe it comes from the sweater.

And yellow is a happy color. Finland was named the happiest place in the world last year.
I have heard that Finnish people are the happiest. Actually, just one week ago I was checking the list and I think Finland was still number one, which is kind of crazy because I feel like Finnish people are a bit shy. But yeah, it makes sense. We do not have long summers, but we have a lot of light then. During the winter it’s fully dark, so I think people are happy when they see light and can be outside so many hours a day.

I just looked it up. You guys have actually been named the happiest place to live for four consecutive years.
Oh, nice.

You’re a good ambassador for Finland. You are one of the happiest people I’ve ever seen at snowboard contests.
Oh, thank you. But a lot of people say I’m a bit different because a lot of Finnish people are a bit shy. I’m a little shy sometimes, but not like crazy.

You’re in a band, you’re a pro snowboarder, you just debuted your own movie. I understand that there are introverts that do extroverted things, but I see you always greeting everyone and being very kind. I wouldn’t say you’re shy.
Oh, thank you.

p: Mark Clavin

Also, you’re a new homeowner. How’s that been? Did you buy a place in the town you grew up in?
It feels amazing. Yeah, it’s in my hometown. I was thinking of buying an apartment in a different city, like Helsinki or one of the other cities closer to my home, but then I ended up buying an apartment in my hometown because that place means so much to me. My whole family is over there, as well as my friends, and there’s so much to do. There’s good snow during the winter, so I’ve been filming there quite a lot. I really like Iisalmi. It’s small, so whenever you get back home after traveling all over the place, it’s nice to come home and relax a little bit. I got it this summer and I’ve been renovating it and stuff.

Do you have a sauna at your house?
Yeah.

[We checked back in with Rene a few days later to see how things went with his drug test.]

How did you drug test go? All good? You going to be able to continue to snowboard competitively?
Yeah, good. I was able to compete in the World Cup, so everything went well.

No performance enhancers?
No.

Will you need performance enhancers to land eighteens and nineteens this year?
Snowboarding is pretty crazy these days, but I think I’ll just stick with the Coca-Cola, there’s a lot of sugar in it.

Originally published in issue 18.2.

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