Wend rider Nick Goepper takes some warm-up laps to get ready for X Games in Aspen CO. Tune in all weekend on the XGames YouTube channel & on ESPN.
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.
Wend rider Daron Rahlves of Lake Tahoe made his fourth and final Olympic appearance not as an Alpine skier, but competing in Ski cross, which made its Olympic debut in the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Although an untimely on-course collision may have cost him a medal, Rahlves has gained a definite affinity for the sport and has continued to ski cross in “retirement.” The Truckee resident has helped invigorate the sport by helping to establish the Rahlves’ Banzai Tour each winter, which culminates with the finals at Sugar Bowl ski resort in late winter.
Like many skiers and snowboarders, Rahlves was disappointed at last week’s announcement by the Winter X Games. Two of the longest-running competitions in X Games history – Snowboarder X and Skier X – will not be part of the show when the X Games returns to Aspen in January 2013.
Event organizers confirmed last week that ESPN decided to cut the events, as well as Mono Skier X, and will not build the X Course for the first time in history.
“I’m against X Games’ decision to take out the X Course for 2013. As a competition with straight up speed, skill and battles to the finish line, this is the best action in the Winter X Games,” Rahlves said. “I’m biased, of course, because that’s what I do. It might be time for a change in the build though. Shorter length, more technical, and keep the speed in it.”
Snowboarder X was one of three events that had taken place every year since the Winter X Games debuted in 1997, along with Snowboard Superpipe and Slopestyle. Skier X had been staged 15 of those 16 years, starting in 1998. Mono Skier X was added five years ago.
“These decisions are never easy, obviously,” said Tim Reed, senior director of content strategy for ESPN X Games. “We understand the ramifications these things bring. We come up with what we believe are the best events to showcase to our fans on-site and obviously the networks, too. There wasn’t one single factor that led to this decision. It just comes down to filling the schedule with how much we believe we need to make the event enjoyable to the fans and deliver on what we need from a product standpoint.”
One of the top U.S. Alpine skiers of all time who entered the Ski Hall of Fame in 2011, Rahlves had 12 World Cup victories, 28 World Cup podiums and seven U.S. National Titles.
Despite leaving the World Cup tour, he still savors the action. Ski cross is an unpredictable event that features four skiers racing down a course with huge jumps up to 100 feet through the air, and speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. The first person to the bottom wins.
“The bonus for me is the 2013 Rahlves’ Banzai Tour,” Rahlves said. “It should gain more attention now and attract athletes who want that ultimate race experience of four at a time over nature’s best natural terrain.”
For more information, visit www.rahlvesbanzai.com.
Rahlves was quick to give credit to both the Winter X games and ESPN for promoting the event.
“We all owe ESPN and the X Games a huge thank you for the progress they have made for the sport of ski cross, boarder cross and mono-X,” Rahlves said. “Unfortunately it will make the ski cross year a little less exciting without the premiere event.”
Here is the official trailer of TGR’s new film, “The Dream Factory” due out this fall. Wend Pro Daron Rahlves will be seen skiing big-mountain lines in Alaska alongside Seth Morrison, Sage Cattabriga-Alosa and Dash Longe.
WEND Team Rider & soon to be Volcano charger, Daron Rahlves is gearing for The Ring of Fire project. Rahlves’ Signature Paste wax helps him battle each and every volcano with speed, agility and finesse.