I came out to Japan in search of the highly praised "Japow.” Little did I know I would leave with a profound new love for the art form of snowboarding itself. Like most snowboarders, I’ve wanted to travel to Japan for many years. With each season that passed, all I would hear about was how incredible the riding was, how there is nothing like it in the world. I was not going to let another year go by without experiencing it for myself.
When I got the call from @eatriderad co-founder Rip "Rip Zinger" Tanaka, he could have said it was a mediocre year and I would have jumped at the chance. But he didn’t. He said Niseko was as good as it gets and to jump on the next flight. The stage was set: the ride I had been after my entire snowboarding career was in my sights.
Our main focus would be snowboarding, but we also wanted to do a trip with the @eatriderad frame of mind. Eat right to ride rad. This philosophy is centered around eating a nutritionally dense diet while shredding as long and as hard as we can. The mission is to encourage heartfelt mindfulness into our everyday lives. We want to eat right for the planet and our bodies. We want to nourish ourselves so we can continue to ride hard. We want to share our experiences to inspire others to find their own path to a wholesome way of life.
With that in mind, I packed my bag full of chia seeds, coconut oil, and snow gear and hopped on a plane bound for Hokkaido. Within two hours of landing on Japanese soil, I was in the backcountry, snowshoeing up a steep pitch of cold, crystallized, sparkling snow with a board attached to my back. This experience all felt so surreal: I watched the sun rise by the beach in California and watched the sun set over the mountains of Hokkaido.
I’ve never missed a season in the mountains, and spent the last 20 years searching for the best conditions around the world. Even after moving to sunny California, I chased after the hardest charging snowboarders while immersing myself in the lifestyle. I developed an aggressive style of my own, ripping fast into deep powerful turns, slashing powder and fiending for the next wind lip. There were years where I competed in halfpipe, slopestyle, and boardercross, and actually did quite well at the USSA Nationals.
Despite all of this experience and motivation, I wasn’t progressing anymore. I wasn’t fulfilled any longer, and always left the slopes wanting more from myself and from the sport. I guess change can come when you least expect it.
After a few amazing rides, Rip asked me why I had such sharp turns. He said he had seen me surf and couldn’t understand why that flowing style didn’t connect with me while on the snow. I had no idea, why was I in such a hurry? Why was I looking for the biggest powder sprays? He made me realize I needed to slow down, allow time and space to truly embody the stillness, forge a harmonious bond between myself, the board, and the snow.
Looking back on the tracks I left behind, I realized I needed to find symmetry and balance in my wake, I needed to refine the path I took, pay more attention to signature I left in the snow. This was the moment: my introduction to snow surfing.
Snow surfing is a state of consciousness. I had to strip down the act of riding the mountain to the most essential, elemental basics. Think more in terms of meditation than snowboarding. The path I pursued, the turns I made, they are only half of this sport. The preparation for the turn, the pressure and precision and effort that carve that path are just as important.
In Niseko, they live by the “earn your turns” mentality, and it is truly a way of life. Quality over quantity every time. Early the next morning, fueled by veggies and miso soup, we hiked Mt. Yotei. This is the baby brother to Mt. Fuji that lies further south. As tired as I was, my body began craving the sweat and burn. Honestly, half of my battle was trying to keep pace with the seasoned hikers with a smile on my face. We were three hours into a grueling hike and I felt delightfully nauseous, knowing I had exerted myself completely. I could hear my Mom’s cheer in the back of my head “cruise till you puke! cruise till you puke!” I guess I’ve been training for moments like these my whole life. The reward is so great when the effort is grand.
The board I was riding was a huge factor in shifting my style. The hand-crafted design of the Gentemstick Rocketfish is the preferred board of the true snow surfer. The unusual design has a big spoon nose that allows you to glide through the deepest powder, while the short swallowtail generates easy, flawless, flowing turns. I was lucky enough to ride one of these boards and spend a day hiking and riding with Taro Tamai, the creator himself.
Taro had a subtle way of observing and encouraging me to develop my own snow surfing style, leading me to discover graceful connections from one turn to the next. Taro even gave me small tips like loosening my boots so I could get low and feel fluid. By the end of the trip I was barely tying my boots at all. From my time with Rip, I understood the Japanese people strive to master their craft whatever it might be. So these small suggestions felt like they came from a lifetime of research. I was honored to have the knowledge passed along with generosity from Taro and the guys from Gentemstick and Powder Company.
When I’m in a new environment, I always want to do as the locals do. Each day required something a bit different. In Japan, an appreciation for the culture and everyday habits don’t go unnoticed. I’m sure I stumbled through my first onsen (natural mineral baths) experience just trying to be respectful of the obvious regulars. I’d start with a deep hot soak followed by a cold plunge, a trip to the dry sauna, and finally outside to let my body temperature slowly acclimate in a mineral bath. The onsen was not only the perfect cure for the my worn out muscles, but became a total rebirth for me. Soaking into the onsen, relaxing into the evening replenished with sushi and stories of the day’s adventures, I could feel my body and mind being reset.
The beautiful Japanese food only furthered this reawakening as we progressed from a light yellowtail sashimi to uni for dessert. Rip and I had Eatriderad in full effect. While the veggies and tea in the backcountry fueled our journey up and down the mountain, we were worn from the day’s efforts and excited for fresh ingredients in the evening. It’s exciting to learn how to eat consciously in an entirely new culture. Allowing myself to be lost in this culture and experience, I was at ease, able to observe and truly absorb the importance of this moment.
Not only did I refine my snowboarding style, I learned I have been eating sushi wrong my whole life. The true Japanese way is to use your hands and always put it in your mouth fish to tongue. This became a metaphor for my trip: why compromise the taste or the turn when simple adjustments can make a world of difference. I found myself comparing the rhythm of the onsen with the tasting of the sushi and the broad strokes of each turn down the mountain.
On my final day, just beyond the tree line, I swapped the snowshoes for the Rocketfish. Scoping out my line, yet remaining free of all expectations, I got the go ahead from Taro. Flying through the fresh, untouched snow on a beautiful Gentemstick is an amazing feeling. I found the curve of the slope though the golden aspen groves overwhelmingly playful. This was my own solo expression and I wanted it to be infinite. All of this effort for this one run. The run of this trip, this season, and the source of a renewed joy in the sport I love. To look back on the signature you’ve left with deep satisfaction and pride is truly inspiring. The exhaustion from the heavy hike, the burning muscles, and the overpowering thirst, all are quenched as you focus your gaze on the next untouched, seemingly endless gully.
Each journey we take should help accelerate growth and transitions in life. Being submerged in an entirely new environment gives me a clearer vision of who I am and what I want. The Japanese people have so much respect for their environment. They are cautious and work hard to preserve the natural state of their surroundings.
The subtleties of the Japanese culture colored every aspect of my trip. Even after returning home, the impact of this experience lingers. I strive to move with purpose, not only on the slopes, but through each day. I love how even short trips like this can have a profound impact on your life and alter something that seems so permanent, like your morning routine (I still crave those early morning cups of tea). A trip like this can help you refine your daily habits and inclinations, distill the best parts of your day, and wipe away the clutter to provide more focus and meaning. Living from a single bag, embracing new cultures and habits and perspectives, I came back to the states with a whole new motivation to snowboard. Almost like I was given the chance to start from scratch.
My hope is to make it back to Japan as soon as possible to dive deeper into these subtleties. For now, I search for new ways to chase my powder surfing dreams closer to home. As much as the board you ride and the ridge you hike matter, snow surfing is about maintaining the focus and simplicity of the experience to truly enjoy the mountains. We can bring this awareness with us everywhere we go. So get out there and enjoy the season and remember to always give a little love back to the universe.