Built for Battle: The Ivika Jürgenson Interview

OCCUPYING A TINY BLIP IN THE BALTICS OF NORTHEASTERN EUROPE, Estonia isn’t exactly a hotbed for snowboard talent. Despite its lost in time feel and lack of, well, everything related to riding, it’s where Ivika Jürgenson laid down her roots in snowboarding and cultivated an inexplicable drive to push her boundaries in the streets. From finding her beginnings on a literal dirt pile behind her high school, to appearances in Jess Kimura’s The Uninvited and global releases with Vans Europe, Ivika has embedded herself as a standout figure in snowboarding, both in poise and prowess. She has been dropping consistent parts over the past five-plus years, and as her omnipresent style transcends beyond her European audience, she continues to leave an aftershock in North America. Now based at the famed Finnish park at Ruka, Ivika has got a heavy crew and a spot list to be reckoned with, making her commitment to technical mastery a staple in her film projects. It seems like a natural progression for those who were bred on a minishred setup to gravitate to street riding and for Ivika, what she lacked in her youth when it came to elevation she made up for in innovation; dropping into a tiny box as a teenager was the beginning of a long dedication to street riding for her. With sponsors such as Rome, Ashbury, Vans, Eivy, and Blue Tomato in tow, Jurgenson is a tried-and-true street weapon with a self-professed obsession with the Spice Girls and an arsenal of tricks up her sleeve. – Ally Watson

Hey Ivika, where are you right now? What are you up to?
I live in Northern Finland, though I’m originally from Estonia. I’m very close to the Polar Circle, in Ruka.

Ruka Ski Resort?
Exactly! Right now, as I’m sitting here, I can see it out the window. I’m looking right at it.

That’s awesome.
Yeah, they open the first week of October. They save some snow and they open the entire park.

p: Jèrôme Tanon

You were living in the Netherlands for a bit, right?
Yep, I lived in the The Hague for five years.

How was it riding indoors there?
I think the idea is nicer than the reality. I was missing a crew. If you go there alone, it’s dark and depressing. I like snowboarding outside and people didn’t go that much or as much as I wanted to. I didn’t like riding indoors nearly as much, but I forced it because I felt like I had to snowboard.

So, you’re at Ruka full time now?
Yeah, me and my boyfriend, Tim Schiphorst, are building a house here. I really enjoy preseason snowboarding at Ruka. It’s amazing here. October is great because it’s not very cold; it’s like spring but without the sun. The sun sets way too early, around 2pm. Then as it gets closer to the New Year’s, the less sun there is. In the summer we have never-setting sun, it’s really sick. We need crazy blinds for the windows because you cannot tell if it’s day or night. We filmed in Northern Sweden in April, and at that time of year, the sun sets around 11pm. We could snowboard until so late. You can take your mornings easy and you don’t have to race the sunlight. You can wait until businesses close and set up in the evening.

Do you have a crew at Ruka?
Yeah, there are so many people here. I mean, where else can you snowboard in October? You can in the Alps, but I think it’s way nicer here because in the Alps, the glacier weather is not really predictable. Also, there are so many people that come through Ruka. Last year was my first preseason I did here. I was riding a lot with Enni Rukajärvi—she’s actually my neighbor. It’s funny, her apartment is the closest you can get to the park, and I’m right next door.

You can ride all the way to your door?
Yeah, we can jib our little veranda. You can do the last feature in the park and ride to the door and jump on the veranda. Sometimes in the morning, I just go out for one lap and come back if it’s too icy. Actually, the house we are building is like a five-minute drive and I’m already like, “Omg, I’m going to live so far away.”

You’ll have to start packing a backpack with water and stuff, ha. How did you start boarding in Estonia?
It was really tough. We always went to a teeny tiny resort to go skiing with my dad. It was two hours away, and I can’t even explain the hills, they are so tiny.

p: Jèrôme Tanon

Like an East Coast resort in the US?
No, I’ve been to Sugarbush in Vermont and that’s massive. Let’s say you take the park slope at Sugarbush and cut it in half, that’s about the longest slope. We always went there a couple times a year to ski. One day, my dad was like, “Why don’t we rent snowboards?” It was me, my dad, and my sister, and it was really fun. We never rented skis again. We would just go and try to learn and figure out how to snowboard. There weren’t that many snowboarders. Everything was behind in Estonia in that way; it was a little different. From there, I changed schools in ninth grade, and I had already done two seasons riding a couple times a year. I could manage to get down the mountain comfortably. So, when I changed schools, there was this…dirt pile, ha, that was super teeny tiny. We had a small box and the guys would go snowboarding. My way of blending in and making friends was to go try, too. I didn’t know how to ride park or a box, so this guy was like, “You just go and when the box comes, you just jump into the boardslide position and then you jump off.” I tried it, slipped out, hit my head on the box, probably got a concussion. I think then I got a helmet. But everyone hitting the box just looked really cool and there was something that drew me to it. I kept trying to do a boardslide, and I never even knew how to 50-50.

When did you start getting more into park riding?
I first learned how to do a couple turns down the hill, then I only snowboarded at the little hill behind the school. I rode there all while I was in school and did a couple trips to real snowparks with some lifts, but it was difficult being young. You can’t just go to the Alps or something, you can only go to shitty resorts nearby. When I first went to the US to ride Bear Mountain, I was like, “Omg, what is this place?” It was so different from home, where it’s so flat you can’t really build jumps. I never really had the opportunity to jump because it’s too flat.

p: Tim Schiphorst

I think a lot of people that grow up riding really small resorts are drawn to riding rails because there’s usually so much more access to rail lines.
Exactly. I think my passion for riding street came from that. Early on if it snowed, we would try to hit up some rails in the city. It was always natural to me to ride street spots.

I mean, if you’re already riding behind the school, it makes sense.
It was basically a street spot, ha.

When did you start filming?
I tried to start many times. I wanted to film when I was sixteen, but being a girl from Estonia with no one else, you have no crew, no one to do stuff with. I tried to film with some Finnish girls, and then I went to Quebec because I knew a girl from there and she didn’t have anyone else to film with either. Then I met the Postland Theory crew and Tim. He filmed me when he had time and I went on some trips with Postland and got into it.

How was your season last year?
It was really cool. It was the first season in probably three years that I wasn’t injured, so I felt like I could finally ride without feeling pain. That was really great, and me and Tim were working on a Vans project, Vitamin, that is out this fall. So, we were filming most of the time in Finland, in Helsinki mostly. We did two trips to the US, as well. It had been a long time since I was in The States, so it was really cool to see everybody again. When I started snowboarding, I would always watch the Sunday in the Park videos, and I was like, “I have to go to Bear Mountain!” So, I had been there and made quite a lot of friends in the US.

p: Jèrôme Tanon

Did you ever do full seasons in the US?
I did a three-month season because that’s the time you’re allowed to stay as a European visitor. So, I went to school and did my semester, and then went to Bear for two months and Mammoth for one month. The kind of park snowboarding I like to do is when you can wear a long-sleeve and it’s nice and warm and sunny. It’s quite different here, because it gets to negative 30 Celsius, which is really cold. I don’t do that well when it is that cold. It’s fine when you’re filming street, but not when you’re just riding in the park. I have really bad blood circulation, so after ten minutes, I can’t feel anything in my fingers and my feet.

Does that affect you when you’re filming?
No, because when I’m filming, I take a million tries, so I keep walking up and down and I’m always really warm. When someone else is riding, we all shovel and that helps if I start to get really cold. I’m always like, “I can fix your landing!” I always shovel and keep myself busy.

You said you were dealing with some injuries, what were those?
Well, Honey was a two-year project because I broke my elbow and had surgery. It was pretty uncomfortable because before that, I never had any fear when hitting spots. Catching my edge on a frontboard on a kink rail messed me up a bit. After Honey, I dislocated my shoulder. It was a freak accident. I didn’t see it coming. You cannot control those falls, it just happens. I had to take one- and-a-half months off, then COVID started. I was in Norway and filmed My First Post Here. Right when we couldn’t film anymore and had to start quarantine, I went to hit a spot and broke my ankle, but I didn’t know I broke it. I went to the doctor, but since it was COVID, they said it was just a sprain and didn’t do an x-ray. We had to quarantine anyway, so I thought it was fine. A few months later when we got back to Holland, it still hurt a lot and I couldn’t see a doctor, so it was a huge mess. It took me four months to find out my ankle was broken. They put a cast on and it was horrible. When I found out I had broken my ankle, I already had shoulder surgery scheduled, so I couldn’t walk and I couldn’t use my arm. I felt paralyzed, like I couldn’t use half of my body. It was a really tough time. I had crazy depression and a lot of stuff going on.

p: Tim Schiphorst

It can be so hard to see the end of an injury, especially with projects on the go and goals coming up.
I really didn’t know if it would be healed for the winter. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself; it was really, really tough. I was seeing a physiotherapist and he told me it wouldn’t be good for the winter and I wouldn’t be riding. I was in a pretty bad depression. I changed physiotherapists and the new one was way more motivating; he said we could do it. I started making progress and by January, I was back on my board.

It’s wild how one person’s approach can change your whole recovery. Do you train a lot in the off season for injury prevention?
I used to. I couldn’t train when I was trying to recover from the injuries. Before that, I was going to the gym a lot—I was actually a trainer in the summers. It’s something I really love, the high intensity training. This past summer I was feeling good. I could start going to the gym again. I don’t have time for it during the season, because we are always traveling and filming.

So, this last season when you were filming for Vitamin, it was mostly with a similar crew to Oasen. Is that your main crew that you ride with?
Yep, Tim is the filmer, and I’m mostly with Kas Lemmens. We have been filming for years, the three of us.

Have you pretty much always filmed with Tim?
For the most part, yes.

Do you feel like it is different being in a relationship with your filmer?
It’s definitely more personal, especially with the project from this year. If Tim wasn’t filming it, it definitely wouldn’t be a project like this. For the most part, it’s really nice to have someone who knows you. When we are filming, we are working. The whole crew that we film with, we are all friends in the end.

When you say it’s a personal project, what do you mean by that?
It was a pretty difficult project for me personally. I had a lot of mental issues last winter, coming out of all the injuries and some other problems. I got PTSD from hitting spots. It was really difficult to get back to it and trust myself. I’d be like, “Alright, I’m dropping,” and my body wouldn’t move. In my head, I would think, Why am I not dropping? There’s nothing to be afraid of. I know exactly how to do this. That was really hard to overcome, and it was really hard for Tim to film me. Lots of spots—especially spots in the beginning with just Tim and I together—were so difficult. I would get almost panic attacks. I’d start crying uncontrollably and my body would be shaking. I was so mad at myself. I didn’t understand why it was happening because I have always been able to snowboard without these feelings. It was all new to me, but as the season went on, it got a lot better. It was a journey going through all of it.

When you started filming for this project, did you think it would become personal in that way or was it something that developed throughout?
It kind of developed because it started from even the past season when I had some mental blocks with some tricks. I didn’t understand why and it felt really strange. This last season it got worse in the preseason because I didn’t work on it, and I was hoping it was gone. I have been taking anti-depressants for two years ever since my foot injury when I was stuck on the couch. Getting the right medication helped, but the start of the season is the worst. You have no clips in the bag and you are starting your own project, then you also have these mental blocks. I was so confused about why this was happening to me. I love snowboarding, I have never been afraid, I have never had any fears. I was frustrated and so mad at myself, but as the season went on and I was with a good crew—the Vans Euro crew—things got better and better and I felt almost like my own self again.

Do you think that was hard for you and Tim to keep a strong working relationship while you were struggling personally with your mental health?
No, it was never hard, because every time we go film, even the two of us, we switch into a working relationship. Obviously when he sees me crying, of course any person or friend would come over and calm you down. It was definitely hard for him. First of all, you are standing in cold weather and this person is crying on the drop in, not doing anything. It was frustrating, but at the same time, he’s my boyfriend and feels sorry.

Totally, it’s a blurred line.
Yeah, it was difficult for him, but once the season kept going, things kept getting better and better—but I think you can see in the video. You can see when I land stuff, you can see I felt sincerely happy. The shots I looked back at after landing them, you can see it’s real. The emotions are real and that’s what I really liked about the shots.

How’s filming in Europe compared to North America, in your experience?
It’s really nice to film in Europe. I have only filmed in Scandinavia—mostly Finland, Northern Sweden, and Northern Norway. I have never filmed in Oslo; that would be really cool. It’s definitely different, like if I go to Quebec, it’s something special being in a new, exciting place. Filming here in Finland, it’s been five years or something, and you just know every city, you know every rail. It’s really hard to compare. I’ve been here so long. We know it so well. We know where to eat and stay. It feels like home. If I go to The States, everything is new, but I guess it’s the same for people who come here from the US. I get way more excited going to the US or Canada, but I get more work done and get better clips here because I know where to go and what to look for.

Do you have any spots you love going to back to?
Oh yeah, I have my spot list. I know what spots I haven’t ridden that I want to go back to. It’s nice to be here because I’m really close to most of the spots. If it snows and feels right, I can just go. In the US, I wouldn’t know where to go.

Do you have an ideal aesthetic in your mind for your video parts?
It definitely changes, but since I have been working with Tim so much, I trust him with everything. It sounds spoiled, but there are some things I don’t have to think about because he’s also the editor. He has this idea and vision, so oftentimes I might think of adding a lifestyle shot here or there, but he already has his vision.

Do you feel like because he’s your partner that he knows your interests and style, and that he can apply that in the editing?
Yeah, I do. Even with our whole crew, when we are finding spots, someone might say that they found a spot for me. We all know what works for one another and what everyone’s looking for, so we all help each other out.

p: Jèrôme Tanon

You have a really good mix of creative spots in everything you’ve released, mixed with more standard down rails.
I don’t look for down rails, haha. Even this year when we were filming, we did quite a lot of spots and in the end, Tim was like, “I think you should film some tricks on a down rail.” I said, “I don’t want to do that, ha.” I’m not interested. When I watch someone do something crazy on a down rail, I’m like, “Alright, cool,” but it doesn’t really do it for me.

Do you have an ideal spot?
Yeah. Well, I guess you just have to watch my new video, ha. But mostly, I like everything that is not just a down rail. I like all sorts of weird kink rails. I like to have a battle on them to see if I can get to the end. I like all sorts of wallrides, like the Japanese-style dam spots. Tim always says, “If you already did one, you can’t do five more. That’s going to make a really boring video of you just jumping into slanted walls.” Haha. I guess he helps me with that kind of stuff. If it was up to me, I would just jump into walls.

He helps bring things back to the vision.
I can get stuck on things. If it was just me, I could do an entire season jumping into walls.

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