Issue 3 of Encounter has been out a few weeks now. And every issue is getting better and better, this might well be in terms of flatland content, the best flatland magazine out right now! Takio Kenata gets the cover shot, so rad flatland is on the cover!
Editor, Yasuyuki Takeo writes in this months editorial he did not intend a theme to run through each issue, but for this issue, “living as a professional” became the accidental theme. The situation has changed in japan, and riders as old as 30 are able to make a living off BMX.
So what’s in this issue then flatland related?
Okinawa Road trip – Yasu flew down to Okinawa to enjoy the picturesque beaches, and of course cover the lifestyle and riding of the Okinawa locals, with some great photos of two emerging names on the japanese scene, Fumiya Kanna and Takuya Higa.
The highlight of this issue is one of the best interviews I have ever read with Yohei Uchino that covers 8 pages with great photographs and layout. Yasu did an amazing story to tell Ucchie’s story coming up as a pro rider… I’ll cover this as best I can for all of you, as I found it fascinating for all of you that don’t manage to get hold of the magazine. This may read as an article in it’s own right.
Yasu writes for the intro…
“The “spaceark league” was one of the biggest local contests held in Kobe by local bike shop “Spaceark” a while back. I clearly remembered a young rider who rode fast with technical moves on the front wheel looking so confident one would even be mistaken for arrogance. He was Yohei Uchino aka Ucchie.
10 years on, Ucchie now lives as the second generation of Japanese Pros and is also considered one of the top 5 Flatland riders in the world. Encounter asked how he found his way to live as a professional and achieving to be “ing” one of the best.”
The interview begins talking about his past as a mogul skier, and swimmer. “It wasn’t fun when we played sports such as basketball or soccer as some of us were already top level in these fields. We decided to start something none of us had ever tried. I once happened to find information to a skateboarding contest but it turned out actually to be a BMX jam.”
Ucchie goes to discuss that 2 years later once he had the BMX bug, a local pro rider Aki Kotani, said to him “You are talented, You could be number 1 in the world if you get serious about riding”, this piece of advise and motivation changed Ucchie’s life, and he began to put more and more time into flatland riding.
After Ucchie graduated high school, he moved out of home. And moved in with Sharlee (the crazy KOG announcer), for a few months he observed how other Pro riders (Hiroshi Uehara, Takashi Ito, Akira Okamura and Kotaro Tanaka made their living. He eventually decided that Kotaro’s lifestyle fit his way of life and what he wanted to do the best. For a while he worked for Kotaro voluntarily for about a year, at this time Kotaro started his own brand “Nidd” and hooked Uccie and Yasushi Tanabe onto the team.
He got his real first break when Takashi Ito was unavailable to do a show, and Kotaro asked Ucchie to fill in the empty spot. Ucchie recalls “soon after, Kotaro and I were doing shows regularly together as Takashi moved out to Okinawa. We had about 300 shows a year, sometimes up to 6 shows a day for different clients during hectic times. At that moment, I had just turned Pro at KOG but didn’t have any good results. I hardly made a living, only surviving through shows.”
So your thinking, so what was his big break?
“A TV commercial for UNIQLO. I was luckily chosen from 2000 performers from various fields. I had to attend filming for both on a long term, so I finally quit my job at the swimming school when I worked since I came to Tokyo, living off BMX full time, KOG was then held in KObe for the first time in that year. I have never qualified until then, but I managed to qualify 4th and won by completing my 3 best combos in the finals. I couldn’t even pull those 3 combos often during practise. Subsequently more job offers came after.”
So at this point he was living low in his words. He began to get offered sponsorship contracts, he recalls “Good results are the fundamental requirement for support. But personality is rather more important” said the person who dealt with sponsorship contracts at Puma.
Yasu asks, “We had not seen you after the victory at KOG in 2005″.
He headed to flatground and the world championships in prague, “But I was totally knocked out”, he recalls “he was totally overwhelmed by the atmosphere. I fully recognised that victory was far even if I did my best run”.
Ucchie went back to tOkyo and contented his commitment to the international contest scene, wanting to make his mark. “the obsession with better tricks haunted me though I had already links that are supposed to be good enough in a contest. I switched to the rear wheel in 2005 but contented doing shows with only front wheel tricks. Only a few riders knew of my challenge then and some people even rumoured that “Ucchie had quit” as they barely saw me. In 2007, I moved out to near my riding spot and rode 8 hours a day when I didn’t have shows. There were no memories besides riding in 2007, I didn’t drink, just practised everyday. Actually I wondered if the effort eventually paid off after this”.
Fast forward to 2008, and the first round of the World Circuit in New Orleans, the Voodoo Jam!
“I qualified 8th but the battle tournament was the toughest ever. The first match up was with Hiroya Morisaki, who was crowned the first BMX Flatland World Circuit champion the year before. The next rider in the 2nd heat was Justin Miller, who was one of the best riders at that time and his riding can be described as a machine. The semi final was my first match up with Matthias Dandois, who was invincible then and lastly in the finals I battled the king of consistency and spinning, Matt Wilhelm…. I spent most of the prize money at the party (laughter).
Alain Massabova moved quickly and hooked up Ucchie, this was his first bike sponsor with salary. After his win at Voodoo “I could buy a car and lived a decent life”.
The next question is possibly what we have all wondered, but no one asks “You’ve been hitting all the World Circuit contests, but not the KOG, why?”
“My ideal goal is to become the BFWC champion first before attending all KOG contests…”The value would depend on how you see it. To me the BFWC is like part of my job, where I simply aim for the best results. While the KOG is more emotional, it’s my roots of BMX. I don’t want to get bored competing at KOG. Thats why being a KOG champion is the last goal for me.”
The interview concludes with what he will do after riding and advice for younger riders. I’ve covered this interview as best I can as I truly do think its worth getting this magazine just for this interview, its gripping stuff. And made me realise how little I know about Ucchie, and it’s also a great story, that’s shows the sacrifice he made for many years to be a pro rider.
The next flatland article is all about the “Under 23″ contest, which was founded by Ucchie! There are short interviews with the top three, Yuki Ito, Taiko Kaneta, and Takuji Izumi. As well as Koh Yoshida who decided to step down as organiser this year. The layouts and text are more in-depth his issue as the magazine has grown and matured. It kind of reminded me of how Cream was back in its peak.
Under 23 contest gets 4 pages, where Ryuta Iwasaki, writes ann interviews riders about the history of the Under 23 contest. It is now in its 8th year. It began in 2004 with Yohei Uchino then 21 starting the concept to help improve the level of younger riders. Yet another example of pro rider giving back to his scene and helping the next generation come through. Theres a short interview with organiser Koh Yoshida and they discuss his decision to step down this year from organising the contest. He has some great advice/words of wisdom for younger riders toward the end of the interview “I feel that some young riders are passive. Having being part being part of organising contests since I was 18. I’ve felt that certain riders take it for granted events are being run by someone see and they do not really care about what’s going on behind the scene. Edtitors note: I couldn’t agree more!
The article ends with short interviews with the top three on the podium, Yuki Ito, Taiko Kaneta, Takuiji Izumi. This article gave me the same feeling as when I used to read the old Creams. So much good stuff within 4 pages. Great research and information into what goes into an event like this. Really informative article.
Each issue of encounter, has some kind of “Theme and answers” article, ad this issue asks the question “The moment you decided to live on BMX, with one page issue dedicated to the likes of Hironao Doko, Takashi Ito, Susumu Moroioka, Motoaki Tanaka, and Fat Tony. Takashi’s story of joint York, as York started AresBykes stood out the most for me, and his realisation as York and Takashi got better results hitting up the X trials circuit they could live a professional, very much echo’ing what Ucchie was saying earlier, less the personality statement.
Yuta Yoshida covers the G Shock Real Toughness event in Toyko, with nice photos of Dominik Nekolny, Kotaro Tanaka, Ucchie (yes Ucchie has so much coverage this issue!)….
Flip one page and its another banging interview, this time Taiko Kaneta is the subject matter. And a very interesting interviewee at that.
Yasu writes: “Can I help you? It was 2005 at the KOG in Fukushima, a skinny young boy amongst 3 kids asked during preparation of the contest. The boy with unclouded eyes worked silently, his names was Taiko Kaneta. A couple of years later, Taiko moved out to Tokyo to study Buddhism in college and began bringing out his talent at contests. taking advantage of his dynamic rear moves, he was quickly recognised as one of the top riders at the KOG.
One day, I heard a rumour that Takio had to quit riding. He is the eldest brother and is supposed to work at his parents temple after graduating from college. Once he started training, he won’t be able to ride or even communicate with the outside world for 1 or 2 years.”.
The interview naturally focusses on what Taiko will do in the future, possibly changing his path in life “It is basically heredity and the eldest brother generally takes over.” His family expect a lot of him as the eldest brother, something that has troubled him. He went to India to go and see the birth place of Buddhism, and was a wake call to him. They discuss death, dealing with the March earthquake, its pretty heartfelt stuff.
Yasi changes the subject to riding, and his last contest competing, the Under 23 contest….
“I aimed for victory as I had never won at contest. I was in good shape, but I ended up in 2nd. Everybody cheered me on the most just as in KOG, so I am totally contented with the result. I’m in the happiest moment of my BMX life.
They go to discuss KOG, and he says he can’t compete with top pros such as Viki Gomez, Ucchie, and Matthias Dandois “I don’t think about living off BMX, these pros fully dedicate their lives. Although I gave up on victory, I still try to impress people. I don’t save myself for good results. I always try new and hard tricks as I would for a video”.
They discuss this latest edit, his hometown scene in Sendai, growing up with KOG pro rider Masatoshi Karino, and finish the the interview with advice to riders from his generation “Once you progress enough to control your bike, it is still fun riding alone although theres something missing for me. You should be more active to participate in whatever opportunities are round you, jams, contests, or just riding with everybody. Looking back now that I would have to leave riding for a while, I often reminisce the time I spent with everyone like that.”.
Great words to close a fascinating interview. Which closes the flatland related content for Issue 3 of Encounter. Which really is taking off where Cream left us I feel. Japan as we all know is the heartbeat of flatland riding, this magazine reflects that, and reflects it really well and in a mature way. Looking towards the bigger picture, these riders and their scene seem to get it. And this one reason why flatland is so big there. Big respect. If you like printed magazines as much as me, you will try your best to get ahold of this, it truly is worth the effort.
Top marks, if there is such a thing.