Tokyo is like no other place on earth. It's like taking a trip to the future, a very clean, polite future, that never stops. As part of a trip last week with the Flux Bindings crew, I had the opportunity to not only see the future of urban madness, but also catch a glimpse of what I'd like to think is the future of snowboarding's popularity.
Last weekend, the Japanese snowboard elite, along with international uber-shreds including Terje Haakonsen, Nicolas Muller, Shaun White, Travis Rice, Kevin Pearce, and Torstein Horgmo descended on Tokyo to battle it out for a $165,000 purse in the 9th annual Nissan X-Trail Jam in the city's baseball stadium, the Tokyo Dome.
The X-Trail Jam is the Super Bowl of snowboard contests. A packed arena, 45,000 screaming fans that ponied up around $60 bucks to be there, unbelievable stokeage and competition, and even a crowd rattling half time spectacle.
After practice rounds on Friday, the stage was set for Saturday's quarter pipe contest. The event started with a wild card round of Japanese riders throwing down on the best of two runs. These locals had the world's eye on their hometown stage and went for broke! Standouts included Takumi Suzuki, Keijiro Kasahara, and Keito Kumazaki, and the top four moved on to the main event.
The lights were dimmed, fireworks exploded and the first of three jam sessions began, weeding out the field as ever higher and hairier tricks were pulled from the crew's seemingly endless bag. While everybody was killing it, the finals came down to Fins Peetu Piiroinen, and defending straight air champ Risto Matilla, and Americans Chas Guldemond and Shaun White.
The crowd was on its feet cheering as the bar was raised, and I didn't envy the judges making the calls, but with a judging line up that was nearly as impressive as the rider list (Bryan Iguchi, Jamie Lynn, Ingemar Backman, Michi Albin and Dani Kiwi Meier) tallying the numbers, it was pretty safe to say they knew what was up.
White had originally not planned on attending the event due to X Games Dubai, but after that contest got bumped back and Andreas Wiig decided to pull out of the X-Trail due to an injury, White hopped a last minute flight to Tokyo and took to the air to collect a check for two million yen, a brand new car, and the defending champion name tag from Travis Rice, who was on hand to fire up the crowd, but opted out of riding at the last minute due to a sore back. White made it all look easy with a switch BS Rodeo, mute McTwist, BS Alley-Oop Rodeo 7 and a smooth FS 10.
Joining White on the champagne soaked podium were Piiroinen in third, who also took home the highest air title and 800,000 yen with a dome scratching 6.6 meter monster, and Chas Guldemond in 2nd, who sealed the deal with super steezed backside rodeo fives and a gargantuan BS 7.
If companies like Nokia and Honda happened to catch a glimpse of the exposure they can get from a show like this, I don't think we'd be seeing the bell tolling for contests like Air&Style and the Session, but then Tokyo offers something that most other settings don't, a huge population center, millions of rabid fans, and an amazing venue.
Stay tuned for coverage of the main event – Sunday's straight jump contest.
Words and Photos Mike Lewis / TW Business