Mizu Mission - Niseko, Japan with GENTEMSTICK
If you are not familiar with our friends over at GENTEMSTICK, you need to be! They are out of Niseko, Japan, and are known as the pioneers of snowsurfing, a concept that strongly ties together both the wave and the snow as one.
We had the privilege of having these guys show us their favorite local spots and teach us a thing or two about their approach to the lost art of snowsurfing.
Tell us about Mt. Yotei and what makes this mountain special?
Mt. Yotei is the icon of Niseko. It is the Mother Mountain that was worshipped as a goddess by the indigenous Ainu people. It certainly feels as though there’s a powerful energy flowing through there when you hike through its pristine forest. Also, since Mt. Yotei is a single peak mountain in a conical shape, you can choose the face you want to ride depending on the wind direction and snow conditions of that day, and there’s literally unlimited lines you can choose from.
What is snowsurfing?
Snowboarding started out as snowsurfing when a bunch of surfers tried to surf on snow; it was originally called snowsurfing long before it ever officially became known as snowboarding. Our founder, Taro Tamai started out by riding sideways on the snow, bringing back that style of riding known as snowsurfing, and he kept that name and concept alive through the years.
Snowboarding got heavily influenced by the skateboarding culture and, as it became more popular, big investments, big contest, olympics, etc... it somehow lost its identity as snowsurfing and became snowboarding as everybody knows it today.
The way we perceive snowsurfing is a bit different than what the sport of snowboarding has become today. It's more of a way to approach the mountain as a means to best try to synchronize with the natural surroundings, rather than just the "riding" aspect. We think it's about how you read the weather, the snowfall, the wind and the terrain in order to find the best line in that day's given condition - to try to blend into the elements of earth through the means of board riding.
Just like in surfing, you have to read the swells, wind direction and strength and decide which surf break would be best in those conditions - you need to make use of the energy of the wave to be in sync with the ocean. Although we do love to go to resorts groomers and carve, snowsurfing is not just about going to a ski resort, taking a chair lift and riding down the man-managed slopes (which are pretty much the same condition any day), but it's about trying to synchronize yourself with nature's cycles and having a deeper interaction with her.
The approach to the riding side of things is also a bit different. It's about riding down a line and making use of the gravity and the natural terrain to get the most speed, energy and flow - to turn where you're supposed to turn and accelerate where you're supposed to accelerate. It's all about precision and flow in a graceful and elegant style of riding rather than the "rip-it-apart and destroy" style of riding that snowboarding has been associated with in more recent years.
It's not about conquering the mountain or riding down it as fast as possible, nor is it about jumping or spinning as much as possible. It's not about dropping off cliffs as high as possible either. It's about harmonizing with the snow, terrain and gravity and using the elements to make the riding look as effortless as it actually can be. To us, that is snowsurfing as we perceive it.
How do you see snowboarding changing and what is future for snowboarding?
Snowboarding is getting more mature. Lot of people are starting to realize there’s more to snowboarding than big jumps, acrobatic tricks and competition. It used to just be a kid’s toy turned sport, now it’s a lifestyle and you can see it turning into a way of life. We are now seeing future talents taking aspects of both snowboarding and snowsurfing, and making it into a hybrid. We’d like to see flow and grace mixed with powerful, big mountain riding.
It seems like it’s a totally different pace of life here in Niseko, Japan. Would you agree?
Niseko is a unique place. Although it is located in a rural Hokkaido area, there are people from all around Japan as well as the rest of the world who are moving there and creating a very unique multicultural community that is rarely seen in Japan. And the best thing about it is that most people come here for a shared love of snow.
How did GENTEMSTICK got created and what’s the motivation behind the brand?
Taro Tamai founded GENTEMSTICK in 1998 simply because he wanted to create boards that he wanted to ride. He’s been riding as a pro for various brands but always felt something was missing. So, the only choice he had was to start his own brand and make his ideal board. The motivation behind the brand is to put the soul of snowboarding back in the hands of snowboarders.
What are the principles behind your products?
Creating the best possible snowboards while trying to have the least impact on the environment.
What does Mizu (water) mean to you?
Water is life. It is thee most essential element we need for in life. No living creature can live without water. Aside from that, it also provides great joy to us in form of snow and waves. We surfers and snowsurfers play with water; it simply feels good to be surrounded by water all around you, whether it be powder or a barrel.
What does “Enjoy the journey. Leave nothing behind” mean to you?
Enjoy the hike as much as the ride down. Leave your skintrack and your riding line and let the next storm take care of it.