Wend rider Kazu Kokubo opens up to ESPN about recognition in the industry, international awareness, and his new Snowboard vid “Stonp or Die” available now on iTunes.
What was the initial inspiration for starting Stonp, and how has it evolved since the first film, “‘S’ Trippers & Powder Junkies?”
Kazu Kokubo: The idea behind Stonp was and is to give Japanese snowboarders some of the same opportunities that I was lucky to have — to travel and get more exposure internationally.
There are more than a dozen Japanese riders featured in “Stonp or Die,” and many of those names will be new to most people who follow snowboarding. What are some of the barriers that have kept these riders from establishing bigger reputations outside of Japan?
Most Japanese riders are sponsored by local distributors, not the actual snowboard companies. Distributors mostly focus only on what happens in Japan, not internationally. Most times the real company doesn’t even know the Japanese athletes that ride for them.
Ayumu Hirano won the Burton High Fives event in August in New Zealand, with Ryo Aono in second and Kohei Kudo in fourth. Do you see that podium takeover as a sign of things to come as the 2012-13 season gets underway and as the 2014 Olympics get closer?
Yeah, I think we will keep making podiums and top five like New Zealand. Keep watching Ayumu Hirano, not just this year but for his whole career.
You’re just 24 years old, but you’ve already found yourself mentoring this next generation of younger Japanese riders and even putting some of your own money and resources on the line to help them out. What sense of responsibility do you feel to these riders?
You can’t always take and not give back. It is everyone’s responsibility to give back to the sport that has given them so much.
Although we’ve started to see more and more Japanese riders in halfpipe competition, there’s very little pipe riding in “Stonp or Die.” Why was it important to you and director Kiyomasa Kawasaki to show a bigger picture of the Japanese scene?
Japanese snowboarding is so much more than pipe riding. Everyone knows our pipe riding; we also have some of the best jibbers and big-mountain riders in the world and we want people to see that Japanese snowboarding is more than halfpipe.
After watching “Stonp or Die,” I’m sold: I’d love to go ride in Japan. What advice would you give to snowboarders from other countries interested in checking out what the Japanese snowboarding scene is all about?
Don’t come to Japan; it is too crowded and our mountains are too dangerous! (Laughs) Real advice? Go to Japan one time and you will never want to ride anywhere else. I wanted to film more in Hokkaido, but my schedule was too crazy with other movies and contests.
What’s next for you and the Stonp crew, and what are you most looking forward to this winter?
Filming for our third movie. I’m just looking forward to having fun. No stress, no pressure.