The Free Man: Jossi Wells Interview
Ahead of the release of his new film – The Free Man – Joe caught up with Kiwi Olympic freestyle skier Jossi Wells whilst he was at X-Games Norway to talk about his experiences on set with The Flying Frenchies (a french base jumping and high lining crew) and how the experiences have affected his sport.
In the film, Jossi removes himself from his comfort zone by experiencing an entirely new sport – highlining. He partners with the Flying Frenchies in this breathtaking documentary examining the power of self-determination over fear.
Joe Troman: Hey Jossi, how’s it looking up there in Norway?
Jossi Wells: Yeah, conditions are kind of crazy. Not used to this northern snow, it’s pretty icy! The course is looking all good and so is the big air jump so it should be a good week.
JT: Obviously we are here to talk about your new film The Free Man, first off how did the project come about?
JW: I was approached by the production company in NZ and the director Toa Fraser about two years ago. I wasn’t actually told very much about the film in the beginning but it sounded like it was a cool opportunity, and the more I learnt about it, the more I figured it was going to be the kind of thing I would be into – and next thing I know I’m in South France hanging off a high wire thousands of metres above the ground! [laughs]
JT: What were your thoughts and feelings heading into the project, were you apprehensive? Nervous?
JW: No not really once I had committed to the project. It’s like anything I do – once I’ve committed to it I’m all in. I knew that I was there to be pushed outside my boundaries, so I was prepared for that. I just took it as it came. It’s funny, even as I was flying into France I didn’t really know what I would be doing. I knew that Toa was going to get me way outside my comfort zone but I didn’t know what it was going to be.
It was a very intense time, I’m a guy that will push myself outside my comfort zone, but it has to be very calculated. So for me to go there and get on a high line with only a few hours practice on the valley floor having never high lined before or even slack lined before – that was something that was really really far outside of my comfort zone. Had I known I would be high lining in before the project, I would have spent months learning how to slack line before I went there so I had my best shot at walking all the way across. After a few hours practice we headed up, it was quite daunting and quite unusual for me to be in such a vulnerable position – it was very character building.
JT: You had a major injury not so long ago and physically you seem to be back to 100%, but how did the project affect your mental recovery?
JW: [During my recovery] I went through quite a lot of mental steps and you reflect on everything. What I do is dangerous, I’m very aware of the dangers of it, but when it does go wrong and you reach a point so close to everything changing for you, you really reflect on why you do it and if it is all really worth it. Coming out of the other side of that I am willing to take that risk because it’s something that I love so much and I feel so alive when I am doing it. I can’t imagine living a life scared of what could possibly happen just because of what I’m doing. So when I do ski it’s very calculated, sometimes it does go wrong and so I have to be very very calculated about what I’m doing.
It’s a big mental game so to go and put myself so outside of what I was used to in my normal environment, that was just another mental step to go through. I’ve never really been at that point before as I’ve only ever pushed myself within what I think my skillset is. To go out on that high line where my skillset is basically zero, putting it all on the line there and overcoming that mentally was crazy.
I think if it wasn’t for the Frenchies with their encouragement and their trust in me – it was such a big deal to be let into such a tight crew and for them to spend invest the time in me – it wouldn’t have happened. Part of the motivation was to make the Frenchies and the director proud and show them I was worthy of their time and not let them down after all the energy they had put into the project.
Those two things were what really helped me overcome the fear of going out there on a high line hundreds of metres up in a snowstorm.
JT: You mentioned about control and pushing yourself within your skillset. Has pushing yourself when outside your comfort zone encouraged you to push yourself now more within it?
JW: Well they’re two very different things, skiing versus high lining. The only underlying similarities between the two are the ways that you overcome that fear – the mental aspect is very similar. For me to overcome that in a new environment, I learnt a lot about myself. Being that vulnerable I learnt even more about how I deal with pressure. I’ve refined how to deal with the pressure of competition and when learning new tricks, but to be thrown completely in the deep end in a new environment and having to overcome another mental step is going to do wonders for how I deal with pressure within my sport, it’s made my mental game that much stronger. I’ve learnt more about myself and how to control my mind and fear, so I think it’s had a great affect on me personally.
JT: Is competition the only area the project has helped you progress in? You have always been one of the most forward thinking athletes at the forefront of the sport, has it helped push you in terms of trick progression too?
I mean when it comes to competition there’s not too many similarities, it’s a different kind of pressure, it’s less of a fear and more overcoming stress and getting your mind into a calm state. Which when you’re out on a high line is exactly what you have to do – get yourself into a calm mindset. So even though at a competition you’re not afraid, it’s the same thing you have to do – calm your mind and control your body right in that moment.
There’s the pressure aspect and then the fear aspect of learning a new trick. I’ve had a lot of practice learning to overcome that fear over the years skiing, but then to experience that fear on the high line, in such an intense and new environment has just made my ability to overcome that fear, shut it down, and use the positives from it to focus has helped me grow as a person and grow in strength mentally, so when I am skiing I am that much stronger.
JT: It would be difficult to chat without talking at the Olympics. How do you feel your year has gone so far, are you in a good place for it?
JW: Yeah we have had a lot of qualifying events this year and my bodies healthy, I’ve been landing runs alright, I’m feeling good on my skis. I’m getting some good FIS points, we have had some unlucky stuff with weather and finals getting cancelled and this and that so there haven’t been any crazy results at World Cup Level but the way I’m skiing I feel on track to bring in my best performance at the games.
The Free Man is available for digital download today (10th April) and out on DVD on April 24th.
What they say:
Freedom is defined as the power of self-determination attributed to the will; the quality of being independent of fate or necessity. To reach that level of liberty is a physical and mental endeavour that many will risk their life to obtain. Is life worth risking for the feeling of conquering fear and becoming free?
Olympic Freestyle skier, Jossi Wells, meets extreme sports performing artists, The Flying Frenchies, to find out what it really means to be free and what drives individuals to chase such a powerful right.
Directed by Toa Fraser, this is the story of men who push themselves to the point of no return. There is no going back when death is at your door and you realise that this is the most important moment of your life because it could be your very last.