Image credit: Newschoolers
From winning a gold medal at The X Games in Aspen last year, to his latest venture where he partners with extreme sport performing artists ‘The Flying Frenchies’ to star in ‘The Free Man’, a documentary film which looks to discover the true meaning of thrill-seeking, there’s no doubt Jossi Wells has had a good run already at the age of 26 and he’s not stopping yet. After watching Jossi walking over a canyon on a tightrope and bungee jumping in the French Alps in the Free Man which is out on DVD now – we just had to catch up with Olympic freestyle Skier Jossi Wells to find out more…
So where in the world are you today?
I’m in my hometown, Wanaka. I have actually just come home to rehab a dislocated knee cap. I was at the European X games in Norway about a month ago and it was in practice right before the final that I clipped my ski on the rails and then it all pretty much turned to custard. I have another week here and then I am off travelling again and can start skiing, so I’m really excited.
Let’s talk about The Free Man film. What was the idea behind it, what got you involved?
I was actually approached by the production company about the idea of a film, but I was kind of kicked in the gut a little bit as to what exactly we would be doing in the film. As you can see in the film it is kind of a documentary style and because of what we were going to be doing, I think they kept me a little bit in the dark with it all, so that it was all very natural and real! So I kind of just dived into it, unaware of what I will be doing exactly, but as soon as I met with the director and the producer – I discovered they were really cool guys and it was something that I knew I was just going to have to trust them on. It just seemed like a really cool opportunity. So next thing, I am hanging 100 metres off the ground on a highland!
How did you feel when you were told you were going to be walking above a canyon on a rope?
Pretty daunted. It was pretty full on but just from the chats that I had had with the producers, I knew it was going to be getting me out of my comfort zone, that’s all I knew. So I was mentally prepared for being in uncomfortable positions basically, so when I found out exactly what we were going to be doing, I had already committed myself to it. My mind set was not to dwell too long on how scary it was going to be. It was like, OK now I have a job to do, I have got to give it my best shot, so I just tried to pick it up as best as I could before we got up the mountains.
How do you get yourself mentally prepared? Not just for the rope but in general…
Hours and hours of practice. With what I do with my skiing I have kind of learnt how to really take control of the moment. You have to be very aware of what you’re doing, you can’t let the fear aspect of it take your mind off exactly what it is that you’re doing and the skills that you need to do it and what you need to make your body do at that time. That is one of the things with any kind of action sport, being very aware of what is going on around you, and aware of the danger and fear aspects of it but also being able to shut those aspects out. It’s about being in the present moment and accepting what it is you need to do at that time and when you are able to reach that state of mind; it is an amazing feeling to feel so alive, to feel so free and to feel like you are really living.
You say in the film, you don’t want to live life scared of what might happen. That is a really powerful philosophy – do you apply that to all aspects of your life?
Yeah I do, I’m here to live life. I’m not here to live a life and look back wishing I should have done certain things. I don’t want to have any regrets, I want to leave it all on the table. I am the type of person, who is not very satisfied unless I am giving it my all. I am a 100% or nothing type of guy, so whatever it is that I’m going to be doing, if I choose to do it then I am going to apply myself 100% and that travels through to every aspect of my life really. I think it’s a cool way to live, I’m enjoying it! I don’t know if it’s for everybody but you know, give it a try.
How did you become an adrenaline junkie?
See, there you go. I would not class myself as adrenaline junkie. Adrenaline is definitely part of my sport, but that’s not what really fuels me. What fuels me is, with my skiing, it’s just the hills, there is nobody telling me how to do it and I kind of just see the mountain as a blank canvas and my skiing and the way that I move on my skis is kind of like an artist, it’s where I can paint my self-expression, on the mountain. So for me the adrenaline, the fear and the excitement of being is all in the same segment, there isn’t one reason why I do it, it’s kind of all of it together, it makes me feel so alive and makes me feel free and no-one is telling me how to do it which is kind of my favourite thing. The feeling of learning a new trick and overcoming a fear, then you get that adrenaline while you are doing it – doing that trick, it’s not actually the adrenaline hit that is the good feeling – that is part of it of course, but it’s the feeling of success and the feeling of accomplishing something for yourself. It’s just like in any other aspect of life when people set goals and they accomplish it, it feels amazing and it just so happens that there is a whole host of other emotions that come when you are doing something that’s quite dangerous.
So is skiing a family thing for you?
Yes I have 3 younger brothers that all ski as well and we all do this thing together. We pretty much ski every day together.
The filming took 8 months and you had one of your best skiing years during this time – how did you fit it all in?
I was on a lot of aeroplanes! I had my events and then I had the time in between the events where I would go and shoot the film, and I just think they really hit off each other. I was having such an amazing year skiing and then I would go and shoot for the film and I would be living on the edge, doing stuff that I had never done before and I really felt like that last year with filming and competing, I was really like…I was giving life 100%, I was giving it everything I had. I think filming and being asked those questions and being asked to articulate that philosophy, that I always had but sometimes I haven’t always had the chance to really put it into words. And going through those experiences while filming, I learnt a lot about myself and it made me feel solidified about myself and about my own views and how I want to live, so it really was motivating last year to be asked those questions and to be put in those uncomfortable situations. Then when I would go back to my skiing I felt like I knew myself even better than I did before. I had realised what my goals were even more than before, I was really just kind of living 100% of everything that I could give it. It was a really amazing year and I am really thankful for the opportunity of filming for The Free Man.
It’s all very inspiring. What was the most challenging part of filming for you?
The hardest part for me was, I’m the type of person that likes to be steered when it comes to my skiing, but when it comes to pushing myself with something I haven’t done yet, I am very calculated about that. I don’t normally just throw myself in the deep end. With this film it was exactly that and so when it came to it – the high lining, for me it was quite a daunting task for me. So the hardest part for me was letting my ego go aside, all the time walking across this tight rope – in the beginning I was like OK, why would I want to try it and not walk all the way across. That is the way I think of it. When it came through the whole process of learning how to do it and going up the high line and knowing I didn’t have the skill set to walk across, suddenly it wasn’t an ego thing anymore. It was about giving it the 100% I could and to make the director and the film crew and the Flying Frenchies feel proud that they had brought me into the crew. I just wanted to make them proud and show them that I am giving it my all. Not just showing them I could walk all the way across. It wasn’t about me anymore, it was the fact that I am going to give it 100% for those guys.
So after all of this, what do you do to relax?
I just chill real hard! I don’t really chill that much, I am pretty active. In fact, I have just got into road cycling so I am going on multiple hour road cycle rides every day while I am rehabbing. When I chill I listen to a lot of music, which is a big part of my life. I have played the violin since I was like 4 years old. I am quite into photography too. But most of my time chilling, I travel so much so I am just in the hotel chilling quite a lot, just reading or watching TV shows on my computer. But if I can, I am outside doing stuff.
You travel a lot, where is your favourite place in the world?
Wanaka, New Zealand, my home. It’s the most beautiful place in the world. The reason why I enjoy it here so much is because I do travel so much, so when I do come home, I get to appreciate the beauty of this place and I don’t take it for granted. The travel that I do is special for me because it keeps my appreciation for the town that I grew up in.
The Free Man is now available to buy on DVD.