Devun Walsh & Iikka Backstrom are Polar Opposites

Words: Sara Owen

In 1994, at 20 years of age, Devun Walsh turned pro and embarked on a prolific snowboard career. Eventually he would be recognized as one of the most talented snowboarders of all time. Fours years earlier, on the other side of the Atlantic, Iikka Backstrom was born in Espoo, Finland. At 18, he turned pro while riding with the insanely skilled Trulli Clan, which produced a number of international pros in the late 90s and early 2000s. 

Despite the age and geographical gaps between them, Devun and Iikka eventually met at the 2003 Video Gangs premiere in Helsinki, Finland. Like many good relationships, this one was founded in a dark basement bar where both guys were boozing hard. Iikka was on Day 5 of a bender and Devun was fixated on the kebab he “got out of a hole in the wall.” The pair didn’t ride together consistently until 2005 when they both filmed for Whiteout Films’ Big Blind. They solidified their friendship the following year while filming for the Forum team movie THAT and have worked together ever since.

Despite having some good offers from snowboarding’s top production companies on the table, Devun and Iikka decided that they would rather work on their own project. With DC’s backing and Anthony Vitale as their filmer, they created a new webisode series, Polar Opposites. The guys recognized the advantage of working with a bigger film crew but agreed that being able to do what they wanted to do, how they wanted to do it, was more important. They didn’t want to put out crap, nor did they want to save their A footage until the end of the year, so they decided to release five webisodes over the course of the season. 

Devun Walsh – sw bs 3 | Photo: Chris Owen

With the exception of a season-opening week in the interior of British Columbia and a “drinking trip” to France, Devun and Iikka spent the entire winter in Whistler capitalizing on one of the best snow seasons the area had seen in years. They invited other riders, like Jussi Oksanen and Jake Blauvelt, to film with them but a surprising few accepted. “If we were to do [Polar Opposites] again, which might happen, we’re not sure,” says Devun, “I think we’d get a lot more people that would be interested in coming out. Now that they’ve seen we’ve actually done something with the footage.”

Each webisode has its own feel with different music, guest riders and zones, but at their core they are similar. All of the videos combine sledding, backcountry jumps, pillow lines and pow turns. Many of the shots are bangers and some are less serious, but they all convey the same message: snowboarding is fun.

Both Devun and Iikka name the first webisode as their favorite. They admit that they hit better features and did more exciting snowboarding in later webisodes, but in their eyes the vibe of the first one was the coolest, and it was the most fun to film. Though webisode #1 was filled with pow turns, Iikka was stoked on it because, “It wasn’t our craziest shit but it’s what we do everyday,” he says. After seeing the final cut for the first time and getting feedback from viewers, they were stoked their vision for Polar Opposites had panned out.

8 questions with Devun

1. What was snowboarding like when you turned pro in the early 90s?

Snowboarding was different. It had a lot more companies, there were so many companies, like maybe 300, but all of them were small. You would go to the tradeshow and it was just jam-packed. Snowboarding-wise it was a lot simpler. It was more about style, and it was a lot more skateboard oriented. 720s were heavy maneuvers at the time.

2. How has being from B.C. influenced who you are as a snowboarder?

It snows so much where I grew up that you never have perfect parks or pipes. It would snow so much that they would just build a good park, and it would be completely covered in a day and was gone, so I would never end up riding it. When I started snowboarding there was no park, it was freeriding and you had to find your own jumps, so I missed the park curve a little bit. It turned me into more of a natural-hit kind of rider.

3. How are you and Iikka polar opposites?

We’re really similar when we’re doing our thing, but I have a really structured lifestyle. I have to be home, and I have to be there for the wife and kid. When were done snowboarding Iikka can do whatever he wants, whether it’s chuggin’, bonin’ or going to the gym, whatever he wants to do. Also, I’m at the end era of my snowboarding. Iikka’s young and just starting to build a career.

4. In Polar Opposites #2 you realize that you turned pro when Iikka was only 4- years-old. Are you like a proud parent seeing how far he’s come?

I think I met Iikka when he needed some molding. On some of our first trips he definitely showed a sign of edginess. I think I really helped him mellow out and come to grips with the fact that not everything is going to be his way all of the time. He’s really come into himself and become a really good person. 

5. What was the highlight of filming regular webisodes instead of a video part for a major production? 

I think the best part of it is being in full control of all of your footage. We put out more stuff than usual, when normally a lot of it hits the floor and you never see it. It was cool to run a lot more snowboarding footage, even if some of it’s not that great. It’s cool to be able to release everything you get.

6. Sketchiest situation you saw Iikka in this past season? 

Iikka was trying to get these tricks into a chute, and he kept hitting these trees that were below that he needed to avoid. The first time he landed he came down and hit one arm and his glove flew off, but somehow I talked him into going up again. I said, “Dude you almost had it.” Sure enough second time down he got twisted around and hit the other arm on the same tree. So he ended up with two dead arms. It was kind of funny but kind of scary because he definitely could have broken his arm.

7. What stokes Iikka out? 

Iikka is stoked when he is pushing himself and stomping shit. He is not happy with mediocre.

8. Will you and Iikka be filming together next year?

Hopefully most of the year. I would hope we are

7 questions with Iikka

1. What was snowboarding like when you turned pro in the early 2000s?

For me it was a bit bizarre because I first rode in Europe for a little bit and was kind of a pro, you know got paid a little bit. But once I came over to the U.S., that’s when I realized, “OK this is what snowboarding is,” and that’s what I always looked up to watching the movies and what not. I was young, so it was obviously a dream for me.

2. How has being from Finland influenced who you are as a rider?

It didn’t make me better at riding powder. Well, I’m not too scared of ice and that helps my confidence for backcountry riding on the trick side of things. And all of the Finnish kids that I grew up with (Heikki Sorsa, Eero Ettala, Eero Niemela , Lauri Heiskari) all we looked up to was style, like who’s got the best style. We never looked at 900s or anything, it was always about style, it was the most important thing for us growing up.

3. In what ways has Devun been a mentor and role model to you?

In every kind of way. As a life mentor, a snowboard mentor. He’s helped build my career. He’s been a really big role model in my career.

4. How are you and Devun similar?

We’re pretty similar as human beings. We like to ride really similar terrain and jumps these days. We like a lot of similar things: boozing, skateboarding, golfing, rap music.

5. What has been the biggest challenge associated with filming regular webisodes?

Normally, when you’re filming for your video part, you’re not stressing in February. You don’t really care whether you have 2 or 3 shots. But for us, we were really stressing in February to get any kind of footage. We needed to get some kind of footage because
of course we didn’t want to look bad on film, but there wasn’t really much time to hit legit jumps when our first episode was due out. It was go-time the whole time, which was good, but it was definitely more stressful that filming a normal video part.

6. What pisses Devun off?

Just me pretty much. (Laughs). Really unproductive days. 

7. Are you happy with the way Polar Opposites turned out?

Absolutely. It came out better than expected.

There were a few mishaps along the way, most notably the pairs’ attempt to go to Greg Todds’s Memorial near Revelstoke, B.C. to film the very first feature. Just as the guys reached Rogers Pass, the road was closed, and they missed the memorial entirely. On the plus side, they made it to the after party. “Little things happen but it’s all part of the adventure,” says the ever-positive Iikka. Even considering crashes, minor injuries and losing the trailer off the back of the truck, both Devun and Iikka remember the season being filled with nothing but good times.

The title Polar Opposites, though fitting with regards to where they are at in their careers and their marital status, is mostly ironic. Devun and Iikka are like the Sedin twins of the Vancouver Canucks; you can’t really have one without the other.

This article was featured in Volume 8 Issue 2. Don't get the magazine? Subscribe now!

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