RedBull Sidewinders, the first DH race in JAPAN!

RedBull Sidewinders, the first DH race in JAPAN!
What is the biggest distance you ever skated down a mountain road? Which is the longest racing track you could think of? Racing 9km down with 69 hairpins; sounds insane? Must be a leg burner for sure. Is it even fun racing that far? How many runs even humanly possible in a day?! So many questions might pop up in your head. Well, it actually happened last month in Aomori, Japan! Northern part of the main island there is this scenic road "Iwaki Skyline". Absolute u"road porn" images of epic hairpins has been out there already for years and I've seen them popped up on my FB feeds every once in a while. Even though, difficult access from metropolitan area kept the road as "skate virgin" for many years. [caption id="attachment_22216" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="I've seen these images popping up on my FB feed every once in a while."][/caption] It was the end of July when I got call from Amane Kishida, the best surf skater and ditch explore in our community. He mentioned that he was working with RedBull Japan from the beginning of the year that they were interested in making the first invitational DH skateboarding race happen. However, not even it was first time for them to organize a DH related event but they have never seen actual DH skateboarder going down a mountain road. So, it was when me together with my partner Fifer and Nori Tamura, another dedicated downhill skateboarder, were invited to share our experience with them; how DH race is organized in other countries, what are necessary procedure for safety, how we invite riders... etc. This may sound odd but Nori, Fifer and I are actually the only ones who regularly attend international racing and events happen outside Japan so far. [caption id="attachment_22231" align="aligncenter" width="625" caption="Amane leading Yoshi on 2nd day's practice run. Photo by Yumvo"][/caption] So, when Amane talked to me about this, Fifer and I were super excited that finally a big company like RedBull is interested in what we do and that we were going to have first ever sanctioned race! But at the same time we were full of questions like I mentioned above, even skeptical if it was even possible or worthy to do such tough event. 9km 69 hairpins! That's sounds like an ironman challenge than actual racing! After a week of wondering, Amane, Nori, Fifer and I got together and went for our first meeting at RedBull Japan office located in Shibuya, Tokyo. The meeting went great. From the beginning we expressed our sincere opinion about racing 9km 69 hairpins, that as standard of other races in the world this sounds way too tough, too many hairpins to cover with pad or hay bales or whatever they could provide, and even maybe just tiring than fun, why not race just half of the road not the whole thing... Despite of all our honest opinion, seems like what they wanted is something different than other races, something unique, the authentic challenge which maybe no one has ever done before. Racing 9km 69 hairpins means so much for them that we said, “Ok! Let’s do this!”. [caption id="attachment_22253" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Nori going through wet corner followed by Japanese legend rider Keisuke Kogawa, on 1st day practice session. Photo by Yumvo"][/caption] We were still worried that most of the riders in our community have never raced before and hardly have experience in doing long runs. So we agreed with the organizer to do a test run to check the track condition, so Nori, Amane together with 2 more riders went to Aomori in the end of August. Unfortunately Fifer and I couldn’t join them since we were having the busiest time at our daytime job, but meanwhile we worked on the list of national and international riders who we’d like invite. It was already September, a month before the event, when we started to get in touch with riders. A month before the event! That’s a lot of rush especially when it comes to book international riders, but also for local riders! Luckily response from most of riders were fast and the spot filled up quickly. [caption id="attachment_22262" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Another legend rider Toshi Tsukamoto leading Akihiko Kon and Toshihiko Kato. Toshi is over 50 years old and always shreds harder than anyone else! Photo by Yumvo"][/caption] After a month of work storm, 4 days before the event Fifer and I were receiving first international riders, beloved friends, teammates, and a power couple Patrick Switzer and Tamara Prader. Team Landyachtz, Billy Meiners, Stephan Vaughn and Dave “Guff” Leslie joined 2 days later. Our home quickly became a hostel/skatehouse! It was until Friday October 6th when I was feeling “this is it, it’s really happening!” Riders got together at Tokyo station to take a bus which RedBull Japan provided as local transportation to the event spot. 8+ hours bus ride were ahead of us. Even some of local riders already traveled 7 hours to get Tokyo station and was hopping into another 8+ hours bus ride… Oh Aomori, why you are so far! (Shout out for our driver Mr Tsuriya! ) It was already dark when we finally arrived at a ski resort nearby the spot where we were staying. They rushed us into the dining room of the hotel where all the event staff were enjoying buffet meal after hard working day preparing the venue. It was overwhelmed for me all of the sudden, and quickly realized that everything was way bigger scale than I thought. [caption id="attachment_22339" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Isac, Billy and Mitch giving rain skate face!Photo by Yumvo"][/caption] After the heart warming meal, we had riders meeting. They informed us that the weather condition was not favorable for next few days but we were all going up to the top of the Skyline first thing next morning and figure out what we can do. After long day of traveling we finally installed ourselves at riders cabin next to the hotel. Next morning started early. Before 6:30 we have all our gear ready in the bus and having breakfast at the hotel. It was raining. Organizers informed us that the weather condition at the top was too windy to throw the runs so we stay stand by for the moment. After an hour of having chill time, again they were rushing us to get on the bus that we were doing something one way or another. Well, let’s see what’s up! When we got there it was still raining and windy so we were asked if we wanted to do practice runs from the half way. Everyone nodded instantly. Dry or wet, we were all itchy to get to know the course! [caption id="attachment_22271" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Aki Onodera trying out the wet condition for the first time! That smile! Photo by Yumvo"][/caption] Another big concern was that the road was only allowed to close during the morning and we had to open the traffic again before 1pm both Saturday and Sunday. Iwaki Skyline is a private scenic toll road, and the CEO of the company that manage the road was kind enough to give us the space to do the event. (Thank you Mr. Umehara!) Even though it was high season for tourist who visit there to enjoy beautiful autumn mountain so they needed the road to be open in the afternoon. Time management was crucial for all of us to make this event successful. [caption id="attachment_22283" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Another shout out for this lady shredder Yukiko "Nene" Tsuchida! She's also over 50 years old and keep shredding harder every time!Photo by Yumvo"][/caption] The bus drove us up to the top of the road where they had the base office. We could prepare our gear there and did the inscription. Weather was crazy at the top as they mentioned, super windy, cold and rainy. Around the mid way wasn’t windy. The altitude difference from the top to the bottom is almost about 800m which is enough to cause such drastic condition change. After quick rider’s meeting we got on the bus again to go down to the mid point where we would start the practice run. At this point I was observing Japanese riders faces, they were mostly excited but I sensed heavy nervous expression in it as well. Not only it was first DH event for them but also most of them didn’t have much experience of skating in the rain… If you have raced in the rain you know that it always turned out fun, but before the first drop in is quite scary. In order to ease everyone’s tension, Fifer and I improvised corner session above the start line while we were waiting. Throwing few slides we discovered that the pavement was grippy even under wet condition. That’s good to know but the mission of the day was still “surviving”! [caption id="attachment_22278" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Matt K followed by Emma Daigle. Photo by Yumvo"][/caption] We ended up having around 3 or 4 runs on the first day. The pavement was still grippy but 50% of the corner were chunky, and under rainy condition all of us ended up satisfied after 4 runs. It was nice to have all afternoon to chill back in our cabin. Back in the ski resort the organizer offered us free pass to the hotel spa (hot springs called “ONSEN” just like the Otang wheels!). While some of them were warming up freezing body in the spa, others just chilled in the cabin, explored around, bit of session at a mini ramp… At night we had BBQ with all the event staff. So much food, smiles and good vibes filled our tummy and heart. [caption id="attachment_22288" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Stephen Vaughn just chilling outside his cabin after another hard shredding day at the office!Photo by Con Akihiko"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_22297" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="This guy, Toshihiko Kato is definitely THE personality in our community. Making everyone laughing to death by visiting all the cabin with this outfit. Photo by Con Akihiko"][/caption] On Sunday morning we were again on the bus by 6:30 with all our stuff loaded, now with sandwich box in our hands as breakfast. No hotel breakfast again because it was racing day! We got runs to throw! Even everything still looked wet, sun was up and we were expecting much better weather. [caption id="attachment_22308" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Selfie with P-Swiss on the rider's bus! Photo by Patrick Switzer"][/caption] When we got to the spot, the bottom part was still wet but as the bus went up we saw that some part was already getting patchy, and closer up to the top it got more dry. Since we were short on time, at first the organizer wanted to start throwing 1st round heats already but we insisted that we needed at least few practice runs before we race. The pavement condition was too different from the day before and we didn’t even skate the first half of the course. We ended up having few practice runs at the first 10 hairpins trying out the dry condition. The view from the top section was amazing! [caption id="attachment_22309" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Too beautiful to be real... Several hairpins were visible from the top. Photo by Yumvo"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_22402" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Local people showed up to enjoy the show!Photo by Fifer"][/caption] Going up again to the startline, the time has come. It’s racing time!! Gallery of local people were excitedly waiting around the start line to see the show. A special vibe started to fill up the start line, everyone was feeling emotional to be a part of something important and big. This is definitely leaving a big step in the skateboarding scene in Japan. Wind was still strong and cold so we danced all together to keep our body warm and to be relaxed. [caption id="attachment_22407" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="First ever heat of the history of DH racing in Japan is about to drop in!!! Photo by Fifer"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_22408" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Go go go!!!!! Photo by Fifer"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_22409" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Chilling while waiting for the heat... Photo by Fifer"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_22410" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Mai Shinoda expressing her stoked to be there!! Photo by Fifer"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_22314" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Before the girls heat! We were all nervous but keeping the happy vibes at any circumstance! Photo by Yumvo"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_22415" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Con Akihiko and Masaru Miura are farmers from Akita, neighbor prefecture of Aomori. They don't have other friends to shred with usually so I was extra happy that they made it to the event and finally enjoyed skating with their own kind! Photo by Fifer"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_22333" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Nori giving pre-racing hugs to everyone!Photo by Yumvo"][/caption] This first heat was the first run for all of us to skate the whole 9km track. They first threw boy’s 1st round heat, then lady’s heat which was the final for us. We were 7 girls all in one heat. Special shout out for my partner Fifer who finally raced in ladies category! You can read her story here!! [caption id="attachment_22320" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Fifer finally got to race in women's category! Congrats!!!Photo by Yumvo"][/caption] When I finally got down to the finish line, I saw everyone was literally crawling like iguanas! Leg burning situation was real! We were asked to stay at the finish line for the semi final and final, so we were chilling there, drinking more doses of redbull. All of the sudden the guy who was doing MC at the finish line asked me and Fifer to do the MC for the final, that it was better if we do it because they didn’t know our scene as much as we do. It was first time for us to do MC and to be honest it wasn’t the best gig but we tried our best to honor Bricin “Striker” Lyons of Coast Longboarding as our MC sensei! When we saw the first few figures coming into the final straight before the finish line, the stoke of the crowd went crazy! Mitch Thompson from Australia crossed the line first, then Patrick Switzer and Billy Bones followed by Nori Tamura, then Yoshi Souma from Shizuoka, Japan came in last. Considering the track distance the final heat still came in pretty tight! [caption id="attachment_22326" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Billy Bones and Stephen Vaughn going down together, 2nd day practice run. Photo by Yumvo"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_22420" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Yoshi Souma from Shizuoka made it to the final! Yoshi's daytime job is Buddhist monk at the temple managed by his family. He's very "zen" off the board but his skating style is always on fire! Photo by Fifer"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_22331" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="The finalist! From left to right: Billy Bones, Mitch Thompson, Nori Tamura, Yoshi Souma, Patrick Switzer Photo by Yumvo"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_22332" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="3rd corner of the final! 66 corners to go! Photo by Yumvo"][/caption] After everyone jumped into the champion and congratulate all the finalist, we all went back to the start line where the gallery was waiting for the podium ceremony. It was very emotional moment for everyone. We were all proud of ourselves to survive 2 intense days. Especially for Japanese riders I’m sure that skating something which we’ve never done before and to sharing it with the pro riders from around the world will become life changing experience. After the podium we were given one more bonus run as freeride session and we were more than stoked to do it! The leg terminator 69 curves became our favorite mountain road! Even we had to stop skating at the middle point because of the time limit, it was the most fun run ever in 2 days. In the end skating with friends just for fun is the best feeling! Here below is my shout out to the key persons at RedBull Japan side who made this event happen! Thank you so much and hopefully we work together next year again! [caption id="attachment_22354" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Mr. Umehara, CEO of Iwaki Skyline on the left, Keiji Sugimoto (Red Bull Japan) on the right. This event was Keiji's idea and he convinced all his colleagues and superiors to make the event happen! Also his idea won RedBull Best Business Ideation 2017! Congrats Keiji and thank you for everything you did!"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_22355" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Mr. Hiro Yamamoto, the general director of the event, the boss man behind everything!Photo by Yumvo"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_22356" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Mar-Rock Watanabe, another big hands behind the scene. What happened to your forehead?!Photo by Yumvo"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_22357" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Seiichi Takahashi was in charge of mostly chop chopping us, riders. His job must had been the toughest one! Thank you for your patience and constant big stoke smile!Photo by Yumvo"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_22360" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Testing out the podium! I wanna be at the first place!!Photo by Yumvo"][/caption] Also don’t forget to check out the official event video! Help us spread the news, let the organizer know by sharing the official video link and article that we all want to come skate their event next year! [caption id="attachment_22344" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="1st place: Tamara Prader, 2nd place: Emma Daigle, 3rd place: Aki Onodera Photo by Yumvo"][/caption] Womens final 1st Tamara Prader @tamaraprader 2nd Emma Daigle @outsideone 3rd Aki Onodera @aki.88k 4th Fifer Figueroa @snowsynosy 5th Ayumi Oride @pitufimin 6th Yukiko Tsuchida @kuuyumoon 7th Mai Shinoda @shinomaaai [caption id="attachment_22345" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Men's podium 1st place: Mitch Thompson, 2nd place: Patrick Switzer, 3rd place: Billy Bones Photo by Yumvo"][/caption] Mens final 1st Mitch Thompson @_mitch_thompson_ 2nd Patrick Switzer @patrickswitzer 3rd Billy Bones @billy_bones 4th Nori Tamura @noriyuki_tamura 5th Yoshi Souma @sdhc_yoshi [caption id="attachment_22387" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="Thank you all the riders who responded to our invitation and manage everything to come out here! Photo by Yumvo"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_22388" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="It was one hell of event! Thank you again everyone who made this possible! Photo by Yumvo"][/caption]