At the Olympics, praise and attention is generally directed to the riders atop the podium. The top three riders almost feel expected or predetermined, primed to receive all the glory and fame. In the words of legendary fictional racecar driver, Ricky Bobby, "If you ain't first, you're last." However, this year in the Men's Halfpipe final, one rider stole the show all while landing themselves in 9th place -- Kaishu Hirano.
Instead of trying to one-up and out-spin his competitors, Kaishu did what he does best - go bigger than anyone, with three times the style. His 24'4" (7.4 meters) air, a World Record for highest air, showcased to the masses that there's so much more to snowboarding and its culture than being the best.
After a performance like this, and other stand-out finishes like 3rd at X Games Aspen, and 2nd in the Youth Olympic, it's clear that Kaishu had a spot on the team. Contest results are one thing, but his love and stylish approach to the sport showed us he's in it for a lot more than FIS points. We set up some time to meet with Kaishu, officially welcome him to the team, and learn more about him...
First of all, how did you start snowboarding?
The spark was watching the Sochi Olympics (2014). My Brother, Ayumu, was competing in halfpipe for Team Japan. I was 12 years old at the time and didn’t realize how amazing the Olympics were until then. There was a lot of excitement around the games in my hometown, and watching my brother ride with the other athletes inspired me. After that, I was a lot more interested in snowboarding.
Your older brother had been snowboarding before the Sochi Games…
Yes, he was. But I didn’t think to try snowboarding until I saw him in the games. Ayumu was always traveling overseas, it was before we had smartphones and social media so I didn’t hear from him that much. I really had no idea that he was doing so well at all the contests.
What kind of snowboarding did you do once you started riding?
At this time, I was mostly riding pipe. I’d ride almost every day at my local resort, Yokone Ski Resort. I’d go regardless of the conditions and weather. After Yokone closed for the season, I would start riding Hokkaido, they had a much longer season.
I learned to 900 in my first year of riding. That gave me a lot of confidence. I thought if I could do that, then maybe I could hold my own in a competition.
Any stand-out memories from that time?
I remember struggling to learn how to crippler. It’s not a great memory because I kept falling on the icy pipe walls. However, I progressed a lot in my first year of snowboarding. When I started, the younger kids were doing 900’s and tricks on that level.
I learned to 900 in my first year of riding. That gave me a lot of confidence. I thought if I could do that, then maybe I could hold my own in a competition. Around this time, Cab 10’s were really popular and I couldn’t do those yet. I remember trying one at Sapporo Ski resort and doing it first try. I’m not really one to land a new trick first try, so that memory really stands out. I used that as motivation to keep progressing.
Do you see a relationship between your skateboarding and snowboarding?
When I was younger, I really didn’t like skating. But in the last three year, I’ve grown to really enjoy it. Since I started skating on a daily basis, my snowboarding has definitely improved. Snowboarding involves a lot of high-powered movement, but skating is a lot more precision. I think this helps a lot.
Skating involves a lot more style and I like bringing that to my snowboarding. I think the finesse of skating has given me a lot more confidence in the pipe, it helps me be more comfortable in almost any condition.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your riding?
I started watching snowboarding videos once I got more serious about snowboarding. I would watch my brothers ride, but I was also really into Kazuhiro Kokumo, Taku Hiraoka, Shaun White and I was always excited to watch the US Open live.
I think that being different from other riders and doing things no one else has done will always be more valuable. Personally, I like to be stylish and ride like they used to.
Have you always wanted to compete in the Olympics?
I think I was a lot more passionate about the Olympics prior to riding in Beijing. However, I’ve always wanted to be on Japan’s National team, so the moment I was offered a spot on the team, I was so excited to represent Japan and ride in the games.
Can you tell us the story behind your method at the Olympics?
At the time, I was really fired up to be competing in the Olympics. The X Games were right before, so I brought a lot of that energy with me. The conditions were perfect, and all of my friends and teammates were so supportive. That got me stoked to go bigger than I usually do. People kept reminding me how special the Olympics are and how important they are, I was nervous from all of that, but in a really good way.
I wanted to do something that would stand out on such a significant stage, so I went for the biggest method. It’s a good reminder that I can continuously stand out with the high airs.
Personally, I want to participate in competitions where spins are not the only metric to win.
How do you feel about the current contest snowboarding?
Personally, I want to participate in competitions where spins are not the only metrics to win.
For example, in a contest, you should be able to go big AND have technical spins without sacrificing one for the other. I think a contest should have a rule where you don’t spin on at least one feature and the rest of the run can be difficult tricks.
I’d love to compete in a contest like the old quarter pipe contest or something that mixes pipe with slopestyle. I think this would encourage anyone who is a good rider but may not have crazy technical tricks. A contest like this would get a lot more people interested in snowboarding.
Do you spend much time free riding with Ayumu?
We started riding together a lot more recently. When I started snowboarding, Ayumu was always snowboarding outside of Japan, and when he came home, he was training to skate in the Tokyo Olympics. It was hard to find time to ride together.
In the past two years, we’ve been riding together quite a bit. After the Olympics, we both rode Copper, Mammoth and Baldface together.
What's it like competing against your brother?
I feel the most relaxed when I’m riding with him. Even at the Olympics, I could relax and ride my best because my brother was by my side. We both shared the podium at X Games Aspen, and that was a really great moment for us.
Well, Welcome To The Burton Team! What did you think of the team when you were a young rider?
I’ve always thought that Burton has the coolest riders. I rode with Mark (McMorris) and Danny (Davis) at Baldface this past spring. I’m looking forward to being on the team and brining my personal style to the group.
What are your plans for the future?
I’d like to continue competing. It’s pretty common for pipe riders to move into the backcountry, but I want to master all areas of snowboarding. I want to ride at the top level whether it’s jumps, rails, pipe or backcountry.
I just love snowboarding, so I want to do it all. The better I get at riding, the more fun it becomes, so I’d like to continue to improve in other areas of snowboarding.
Ultimately, my goal is to be a rider that I’d look up to, and the riders I looked up to were the best in the world.