Portrait of Jani “Maksy” Mäkelä

Fs Disaster on the hip of Räsälä Pool, Finland.

Words and photos by Nicolas Bouvy

The name Jani Mäkelä is a must know in our close neighbouring Finland. It might not ring a bell for the younger generation of skateboarders in Estonia. But the man definitely deserves a little reminder. Tallinn will host its 23rd Simple Session this September and exactly 20 years ago Jani won that contest. And that’s not his only Estonian connection, hell no, he did come to the capital during the same year with some big names in the business, Andrew Reynolds and Kevin Spanky. He’s not only a stylish ripper. As a humble man he’s not gonna accept much praise for his work, but there is a need to compliment his talent and contribution to more than 40 parks over the last years. He gonna make all your craziest dreams come true by modelling concrete, the other grey matter that gives us adrenaline in a gazillion but never an OD. Dedicated concrete builder for more than a decade now, as I am fortunate enough to call him my friend, a couple of years ago he made a trip to Tallinn, to help build my backyard mini-ramp in Tallinn.

In Oulu, Finland, June 2023.

I first met Jani during a VSP (Kuopio crew) tour in Sweden 2015. If he didn’t wear the beard back then, you already noticed a huge toothy smile on his face, sharing the stock around himself. As he took some days off from concrete building work over there, he joined us with Pussel for what was going to become my life-time favourite skate-trip. Four days of intense riding a backyard pool, huge bowls and DIY parks, that Jani had worked on.

Pussel and Antti Lampinen enjoying the view. Fs disaster at Precious Pool, Sweden.


Deathbox view. Precious Pool, Sweden.

Since then, we developed a great connection, as he loves skate photography, and is a geeky skate memorabilia and deck collector, just as I am. Always, he has a true story to share. He’s such a friendly person, don’t be surprised to see him share a session with the big names in the US, during his well-deserved vacation. I was so stoked when he’d go backyard pool hunting with Salba, some years ago. But no need to boast about it, just his pure joy of skate socializing.

Fs air over the deathbox, Precious Pool, Sweden.

The man breaths skateboarding, he eats skateboarding and sleeps skateboarding. Most photographers hate comments or directions from riders but we always share our views and have such great chats on photography. From him, I always lend the ear, and the different vision, no matter what is gonna help you evolve as a skate lensman.

Rainbow 50-50 at freshly fixed Skoone Bastion, Tallinn, July 2023.

Since he is an altruist and has the heart at the right place, his skating is talking for himself. And the riding he’s got up his sleeve is invariably sick at delivery. Ready to conquer his fear for a good pic knowing that if the pic is bad, it’s probably in the skills of the rider.

Jani couldn't wait for the Kenneli bowl to be finished, transfert from the mini. Tampere, Finland, 2018.

From an older generation than Arto Saari, even tho Jani did not break like him, he is in the land of a thousand lakes, a recognized and an unavoidable figure (editor's note: those lakes inspired Alvar Aalto to build the first backyard pool ever, in the 1930’s). No surprise that he is asked to judge the new generations in contests like the 2023 Finnish championships.

Blunt to disaster, during Finnish Championships, Tampere 2018.

Maksy has got many faces to share that good friends abide by, but he’d always keep his own mystery. At all times, hanging out with him, a new quality character would be brought to your light. Sometimes small things matter a lot in life and he definitely brings such inestimable treasures to yours.

Kuopio, Finland, 2023.

In ‘98, on his 4 wheels, in motion for already 15 years, he’d go with Arto Saari to a Siilinjärvi demo (town north of Kuopio). Arto came with Emerica teammates Ed Templeton and Rick McCrank. As Jani would ride real good, he got a sponsorship proposition from the European shoe distributor. He then realized that there’s more to come from skating. So he made sure to show up for as many demos and contests as he could, on his own. Just to manifest how hungry he was for more. At the same time, to show he worked hard for those free shoes he got. Same as he would clean the local skate-shop to be paid in decks. As he captured attention from Ed Templeton, he’d go for more. Then came the winter of 2000, not to stay inactive in Finland, London got to be his next destination, for around 7 months. The British capital noticed really quick the Northern fellow’s talent as he would share sessions with the Slam City Skate crew which he befriended. The guys there helped him gain more confidence in his skating and after that journey, he felt Ready for more. So after that, he went to live in Turku for 3 years, from where he would travel to any contest, all over Europe, like Copenhagen, Munster, Prague...

Smith grind the hip of Räsälä Pool, Finland, 2018.

Which leads us to his Estonian connections, in 2003 when some well established names came to Tallinn. Emerica brought Andrew Reynolds and young Spanky for an autograph session in the Surfhouse shop and a skate demo in Lilleküla. The young Spanky showed he had real fun, and as Jani remembers the two young Americans would just skate non-stop. Never complaining about the rough Estonian spots. If the guys were followed by a huge crew, photographers, videographers, and others, that surprised the locals a little. The US crew was big but for a peculiar reason - the trip was a professional excuse to go see a Hanoy Rocks concert in Helsinki. As Andy McCoy’s band (who was also a skater back in the 70’s when living in Stockholm) was huge in the underground scene in America, the guys simply wanted to go see them live. At the same time, a music video was shot in Helsinki, where the 2 young skaters participated in.

Andrew Reynolds in Lilleküla, Tallinn, 2003. Thanks to Lauri Täht for those photos !

And 2 months later, in Tartu this time, the Simple Session contest was held. The year before, a Tampere crew brought back home great memories and word was spread in Finland about the new cool Estonian contest. So Jani joined a group of around 20 Finnish riders to attend the 2003 contest. And the level was really good, the course had a big, bmx-style design and the skating worked pretty good. That year Jani made it to the top step of the podium. Being 1st didn’t matter so much for him as beating Harri Puupponen, unbeatable over the last months’ contests, it was a real surprise for Jani. The prize was 12.000 EEK (Estonian Kroons), half of which was spent at the club during the official party. Some remorse hit the head back home, so a Playstation 2 device shelled out the cash left… what a wise way to spend your prize, says still Jani, with an embarrassed ironic smile.

Another good memory he got from a Simple Session some years later was meeting Mike V.  Mike had directly recognized him from a trip they had in St Petersburg in the past, and they shared time and sessions in Tallinn together, both happy to see a familiar face.

Fakie Smith Grind over the cake, please rewind ! Lippumäki, Kuopio, Finland, 2023.
In 2021, he was invited back for the 20th anniversary, deeply honored and not forgotten after those huge names that got inscribed on the winners list after him. Spent a real nice weekend and, as a bonus, got a deck with all the winners to date from the event team.


At Home with the Simple Session anniversary deck. Kuopio, Finland.

During all his stays in Estonia, he would recall how Estonian skaters are passionate and determined even tho, it is obvious, not having much public support over the years with skate spots or parks as they do in Finland.


Fs grind the sick cobble stone coping in Rajakylä, Oulu DIY, June 2023.


Hope y’all have once a good session with the Man! We could hear from young skaters, he payed a visit to our freshly fixed Skoone Bastion DIY last July... Not only has he been building killer pools, parks, DIY projects all over Northern Europe, but he knows how to shred them in a magic style, always pushing the edge. An eye-catching rider in his late 40’s, he’s gonna push you and increase the level of the session without exception!

Transfer, in Havumäki Ranch, Muurame, Finland.

In Kenneli Bowl , Tampere Finland, 2018.

Monty grind the cake at Precious pool, Sweden.

Fs Ollie at Kenneli Vert. Tampere, Finland, 2018.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published