When Hyperlite called and asked if I wanted to compete at Japan's most prestigious competition, the J Round, I didn't hesitate to respond. Japan is a place I've always wanted to go, but thought I would never get the opportunity.
I flew into the Tokyo airport on Thursday, July 29th and met up with Greg Dick and Juni Ueda, the head of Hyperlite distribution in Japan. I noticed immediately that Tokyo is a different looking city. It looks as though someone drew up plans for a futuristic city to be used in the next Star Wars movie, but the architects in Tokyo got ahold of the plans instead and put them to immediate use. The city looks like it's from a sci-fi movie. All the buildings and bridges look at least 20 years ahead of our time.
Juni took Greg and I on a little tour of the city. We went to one of the famous temples. In the foreyard there was a small stone enclosure with incense smoking. Everyone was fanning the smoke over their own heads. The act of doing so is meant to make them smarter. I could use that. On the inside of the temple there are intricate Japanese designs covering the walls and ceiling, along with a basin to throw money in. The custom is to throw money in as you say a prayer. We all partook in the tradition and tossed in five yen while tossing up a prayer. It was rad to be able to learn about Japanese religion.
That evening we went out to the Odaiba River in order to do a demo. Riding on the Oidaba river in Tokyo was insane. There was not a single other watercraft on the lake and the backdrop was amazing. It was awesome to see the people there so stoked on wakeboarding. I think their favorite trick was the S-bend because when I landed that both boatfuls of people cheered. Riding in Japan in front of all the wakeboarding fans was an incredible experience. It reminded me that at the end of the day wakeboarding is still about having fun and doing tricks that I like doing, regardless of what's considered cool in the industry.
The J Round was held right in the heart of the city, next to a giant bridge and overlooking the Tokyo sky line. I didn't have to compete until Sunday, so I scoped out the competition. I was extremely surprised with the riding of the Japanese. They did much harder tricks than I expected to see, but what caught my attention was the amount of style with which each of them rode. They look like ninjas when they ride, popping high and looking fluid. Every time they land, it looks like they get set effortlessly on the water. I don't know how they do it.
On Sunday I competed for the first time. I was super jet lagged and the wake behind the competition boat was much smaller than anything I ride behind in Orlando. Needless to say, I didn't have the best ride. Because of the salt water, the rail was sticky and I fell on the first hit. I did a couple hard tricks on my first pass, but fell on my first trick in my 2nd pass, a Moby Dick. This is a trick I have never fallen on in contest. It seemed as though the wake was non-existent where I went for it. I got up and barely squeezed in a tantrum to blind. On the way in I got one more good hit on the rail. Luckily, they used the DRIVE format. That hit put me in first place in rails which helped get me through to finals. That round wasn't good for my confidence, to say the least.
After the first round, I asked Juni if there was anything I should be doing to help out. "No," he said. "Just win." Great, nothing like added pressure from a sponsor. The old saying from Talladega Nights popped into my head, "If you ain't first, you're last." I tried to get rid of the thought immediately and focus on getting my head in the game.
Shota Tezuka was the top seed in finals. I wanted to stick my run and take advantage of the DRIVE format while putting the pressure on him. At the same time though, I just had the worst ride I had since I competed in the Boys division. I wasn't exactly feeling hot. It would seem as though having all of my expenses paid for this contest would take the pressure off of me because I don't have anything on the line. This is not the case. I felt immensely more pressure because of the fact that Hyperlite flew me out here so that I could win, and that's what everyone expected.
This time I told the Jet Ski driver to make sure the rail was wet. Straight off the dock I hit a back lip 270 off of the flat bar. I was so stoked not to fall on my first hit. From then on it was just me and the water. I stood checked off trick for trick in my first pass and saved the back mobe for my last. I was cutting in while thinking to myself, "Come on, you got this. Easiest trick you do." I stuck it clean and that put a smile on my face. I saved my seven for the end of my second pass.
I knew the wake was small, but, luckily, it was a little bigger in the finals than in the previous round. Cutting towards the wake in between rollers, I gritted my teeth and hoped for the best. It all came down to this moment. I spun two full rotations and landed clean. I put my hand up in the air in excitement and I could hear the crowd cheering. I felt like I hit every category well, so I launched a big indy glide off the double up in hopes that it would help me win the straight air category as well. I whipped full speed back into the shore with a smile on my face and a huge burden lifted off my back. There's no feeling quite as rewarding as the feeling of having a stand up run in a contest.
Straight off the dock Shota fell on his first rail hit. I didn't want Shota to ride bad by any means, but at the same time I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I figured at that stage I had the contest in the bag. I couldn't have been more wrong. Shota answered me nearly trick for trick, doing a seven in his run and a five where I only did a three. That meant he beat me in spins. He had two stand up passes. We were almost neck and neck in the tech category (the tech category is what flips you do), so that one could go either way. But, I had him in rails and straight airs so far. As he cut into the double up I wondered what trick he would throw. Shota went for a heel side seven. He hit every bit of the double up. I assumed that he would fall when he landed, just like most people do when they go that big, but he stuck it. The crowd went crazy. We both stood up our runs, but I thought for sure I was done for.
Behind the podium I waited for them to call my name for 2nd place, but instead they called Shota's. It turns out, since Shota was already first in spins, the double up didn't help him all that much. I ended up winning three categories and he won two. I was ecstatic when they called my name up for first place. There was so much riding on me winning this contest, it was exactly what I needed. My sponsors looked on proudly from the crowd and I felt incredible for finishing the task I had come there to do. I will always remember that day and that feeling of standing on top of the podium with a sense of accomplishment and a fire ignited to get that feeling again.
There is a saying in Japan: "If a nail sticks out, hammer back in place." It refers to conformity and unity, meaning if that no one individual should stand out too much. Japan is a country that is based on community. Its about giving to the group and putting yourself second. America, on the other hand, is based on individualism. After spending a week in Tokyo, I began to understand this thought process. Everything flows as one unit in Japan. All the people are happy to work together and they put the work of the community above their individual needs. In turn, they have a prospering economy and extremely high efficiency for day to day life. I think Western society would benefit greatly to learn from the Eastern countries and apply some of these principles into our own lives.