This Kazu Pro Spotlight came out in our February Issue. It’s written by Colin Whyte. If you like it, pick up the issue, duh!
Kazuhiro Kokubo is that rare beast: a pro who copies none. By simply being himself, Kazu has brought excitement to snowboarding, especially the pipe, that was somehow…missing before he showed up.
The 23-year-old is best known stateside for his second halfpipe win, in a row, at the US Open in 2011. And, oh yeah, causing an absolute shit-storm by “dressing like a snowboarder” during the 2010 Winter Olympics. It’s old news now, but it knocked Kazu’s notoriety up a level in Japan. Car Danchi’s Neil Hartmann explains how it played out over there: “Japanese people on the street were laughing at the way [the media] blew it out of proportion. It was probably tough for Kazu at the time, but in the end, he did a great thing for snowboarding here. For a few weeks everybody was talking about him and snowboarding and culture—taxi drivers, noodle cooks, even my 74-year-old neighbor asked me about Kazu. Although he didn’t get a medal, everyone came away stoked on his performance and proud of him.”
It’s not just Japanese people who are “proud” of Kazu (who now lives in SoCal). His ridiculously stylish riding makes you proud to be a snowboarder. From his massive, expressive McTwists in contest situations to his balls-out spins in film parts, Kazu’s riding folds in some special dimension of joy that makes you smile when you see it: part beagle puppy, part beast.—Colin Whyte/RedCard
Were you surprised to grab opening part in Standing Sideways?
Maybe. I don’t know [laughs]. I worked really hard last season to film a good part. I knew it would be my best part and I hoped to have opener or closer, but I didn’t know until one month before the premiere. Jussi [Oksanen] and I saw our parts in New Zealand and were stoked.
What makes it your best part?
I wanted something with different spots that showed a lot of different riding. I ride everything, and I’m happy that people can see that. I hope that people will see my part and go out and ride everything. Snowboarding is more than just rails or pipes or parks or backcountry—it’s everything together. Next year’s part will be even better.
Do you notice any difference filming for a Burton movie versus Standard or 7 Samurai?
Every crew is so different. I think it [the most important thing] is to have a good crew to ride with. I had so many good riders to travel and film with this year, and we all push each other. The Stonp movie was the easiest because there was no pressure. Just longtime friends from Stonp and 7 Samurai hanging out and f—king shit up, doing what we always do: have fun.
What is the Stonp movie about?
Stonp is like Frends or 7 Samurai: just a good crew of friends who have known each other a long time. We make handmade “Stonp” pads for snowboards, but we’re more of a film company. We just released our first movie [“S” Trippers & Powder Junkies], which is a travel film with the crew. It’s not big budget with helicopters or crazy locations, just a really good-quality movie that makes you want to go out and ride, party, and f—k shit up with your friends. We already started working on next year’s film, which will be even better. Also, we’ll have new Stonp pads, and we’re collaborating with some big brands on other merchandise that will be sick!
Tell us about your first homemade board and hiking with your dad as a kid. Sounds amazing.
I was four years old when I saw snowboarding for the first time. I told my dad I wanted to snowboard instead of ski, and he was excited. In 1992, nobody made kids’ boards. My dad had a friend who worked at a shop, so he made me a board from wood. No edges or anything. He had to cut bindings and screw them on the board. I rode in ski boots [laughs]. My dad would take me to the mountains, and we would find a good slope. He would put me on his shoulders and hike with me and my board up the mountain and chase after me on the way down.
Your shred upbringing on Hokkaido sounds pretty different from, say, a “snowboard academy kid” in the US.
It’s cool that kids have a place to train and focus on snowboarding, but I hope they teach kids how to work hard and not make everything too easy. Everyone in the early ’90s worked so hard to snowboard, and now everything is so easy for kids. My parents worked hard so I could ride, and it made me appreciate snowboarding a lot more.
When you went to New Zealand with Jussi this summer, what kind of trip were you hoping for, and what were the highlights?
Like any trip [there] we expected to get a lot of shots. This year it was okay but still a lot of fun. The highlight was going on my first trip with Jussi. We had a really good time and were still able to get some pretty good shots.
Is he a rider you can learn from just by watching? You guys have a similar ability to turn a forest or wall of rocks into your own skatepark.
Riding with Jussi is fun. I really like traveling with the OG riders; I always learn so much from them. Hopefully, I will be like that someday and pass my experience to the next guys.
You seem to have a good ability to adapt—from manmade trannies to the backcountry, Japan to SoCal, celebrity status back home to the peacefulness of being in the middle of nowhere. How do you stay balanced?
I have a really good support system with my friends and sponsors and family in Japan and California. I don’t try to be this or that; I just cruise and have fun. I love riding everything. I get paid to snowboard—how much pressure can there be?
What do you miss most about Hokkaido now that you live in the US?
My family, my dogs, my garden, the best food in the world—there’s a lot I miss. But when I’m in Hokkaido, there are a lot of things I miss about the US. We [his wife and he] have found a good balance between Japan and the US, and right now it’s working very well.
Would you describe yourself as a spiritual or religious person?
I believe that there’s something greater than us, whatever it may be. I believe that we have people that protect and watch over us—past family, friends, whatever. Everything is connected. You must have a balance in everything you do. I have a measuring scale tattoo on my finger to remind me of the balance in my life: the balance between life, work, family, love, and death.
Now that you’re well known in North American circles, are there any misconceptions about you that have developed?
[Laughs] I don’t know if I’m well known in America yet. This year was really good, and I think more people know about my snowboarding now. All I can do is keep doing what I love. If that makes me popular and people like seeing it, cool. Maybe next year I’ll be on a dancing show or have my own signature gum. Then I will be well known in America [laughs].
See Kazu in Burton’s Standing Sideways, also featuring Mark Sollors, Alex Andrews, Ethan Deiss, Jeremy Jones, Terje Haakonsen, Jussi Oksanen, Mark McMorris, Danny Davis, Mikey Rencz, and more. Also catch him in his Japanese crew movie, Stonp’s “S” Trippers & Powder Junkies.