These Japanese Kids Are the Future of Competitive Skating

"They’re not just good; it’s mastery. They’ve mastered skating.'
May 18, 2018, 5:52am
All photos by the author

The International Skateboarding Open recently held recently in Nanjing, China was bananas. Held in the surreal setting of a massive brand-new concrete skatepark on the fourth floor of an office building, the comp felt like a real precursor to skateboarding’s debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The debates are over: skateboarding is an Olympic sport, and the whole world is in a frenzy putting real money into training up teenage "athletes" who will hopefully bring home skateboarding gold.

The Nanjing Open included skaters from 24 countries, with some familiar names but also a bunch of new (female and male) super-skaters that the mainstream skate media hasn’t seen before. No one knew what to expect, and the level of skating was ridiculous—but a group of Japanese skaters stood out from the bunch. Combining incredible technicality with old school ramp skills, speed and power, plus the indefinable magic that elevates someone to the ranks of your favourites, all these guys had everyone freaking out. "None of those tricks were meant to happen in a row," competition announcer and former-pro skater Tim O’Connor called out at the end of yet another ridiculous run. "What is going on here?"

Though none of them ended up winning the competition (that honour was earned by an equally ridiculous genre-mixing finals run from American 21-year-old Jake Ilardi, the Japanese kids made a massive impression and made us all feel all warm and excited about the future of competitive skateboarding. We sat down with Ikeda Daisuke and Keyaki Ike (16 and 17 respectively), their friend/manager/translator/spiritual leader Yuto Kojima and O’Connor, to ask the question of the week: who are you guys?

VICE: Firstly, congratulations guys. You absolutely killed it.
Yuto Kojimon: Thank you!

So, where did you guys come from?
Yuto Kojimon: Ikeda’s from Osaka; Keyaki’s from Tokyo. I’m from Aichi; it’s in the middle of Japan. The middle of nowhere – no park, no shop, just flat ground.

And how do you guys know each other?
Well, I live in Yokohama, which is next to Tokyo. There’s a big skatepark near Tokyo and I skate there a lot. I’d always see this fool (points at Ikeda) ripping, like, ooh fuck! I’ve been skating a long time, and I’ve been checking every single skater like who’s ripping, who’s not. So I knew this kid, and Sora (Shirai, 16, their friend who also blew everyone’s mind) would be perfect for this contest.

So you’re the mastermind?
(shrugs) I’m just a skater.

What about the other young kid?
Taihou Tokura.
Tim: He’s sick.

But it was your idea to get these guys together and come over here?
Yeah, these two and then Sora. Taihou was a different group, but…
Tim O’Connor: Fuck him then.
(Laughs) I wanted to bring him too, but yeah. Taihou skates more vert and tranny stuff. Martin (Karas, International Skateboarding Open judge) called me and was like, ‘Get rippers that can skate street good enough to compete,’ and I picked these three guys.

We tried googling these guys to see if they had parts online but couldn’t find much. Where is your footage? Is it all on Instagram?
No, Ikeda is more focussed on competitions. Keyagi’s working on a part for Monster and Sora is working on a part for DC Japan.

So you’re all already sponsored?
Ikeda has a pro model from a board company called Hybrid from Japan. Keyaki is on Monster energy drink, Venture trucks, Almost skateboards, DVS shoes…

Through a distributor, or direct?
Almost is direct.

That’s good. You’ve got to negotiate some deals for them!
I hope so. That’s what I’m trying to work on.

Or make your own sick company that’s better than anyone else’s.
My goal is to connect these guys to really good companies.
Tim: That’s good. I’ve seen everything in skateboarding, and these motherfuckers are all on some next level shit. This is the future, right now.

So you made a plan to come out to China for this competition, and that worked out. So what’s the plan now?
All these kids will be ripping every single contest. Next, next, next. Keep it going (laughs).

Ikeda, you’re happy to go to every contest?
Ikeda: Yeah, yeah.

Are you guys thinking of the Olympics?
(shrugs) Yeah.
Tim: If you’re not, you’re insane.

How do you come up with these tricks? They’re crazy.
Yuto: I don’t really know how they got that good. These guys don’t really watch skate videos. I don’t know where all those tricks came from. When the DJ played the 411 song, all the skaters from my generation were like, yeah! These kids were like, wait, what’s this song?

Yeah, what’s this terrible song?
Tim: It’s like somebody telling me about Tony Alva.

Exactly. We grew up hating bonelesses and stuff, but now the new kids do those old school tricks better than anyone has ever done them.
Tim: It always used to be about what’s the newest; what’s the newest? But once it evolved, all the tricks came back and now it’s about aesthetic. What looks the best?
Yuto: They don’t know H-Street; they don’t know Santa Monica Airlines…

Are you going to show them, or are they better off not knowing?
Yuto: I might…
Tim: Ah, who cares? They’re fine. It’s evolved beyond anything we ever imagined. They’re not just good; it’s mastery. They’ve mastered skating.

Well, congratulations again and we look forward to seeing more of your ridiculous skateboarding.