By Atsuko Matsumoto / Japan News Staff WriterGetting strange looks from random passersby and warnings from irritated security guards were common incidents when Daisuke Ikeda cruised around on his skateboard. But skateboarding is no longer a mere hobby that takes place on the streets — it is now an official Olympic event.
“As a skateboarder, I never imagined a sport in which I often get yelled at on a street would earn a spot at the Olympics,” Ikeda said with a laugh in a recent interview with The Japan News. “It came as a pure surprise to me.”
Modestly describing himself as “tentatively one of the top three skateboarders in Japan,” the 18-year-old has already won a number of domestic and international competitions, including the street category of the FISE World Series Hiroshima 2018. He is also the winner of the 1st Japan Skateboarding Championship Competition held in April 2017.
Ikeda’s life on a skateboard started with snowboarding, with him gradually shifting to skateboarding, which can be done any time of the year. He turned professional at 11, and currently spends one-third of the year abroad, appearing in more than 18 competitions in a single season.
“I notched a victory in the first competition I appeared in as a professional skater. That experience made me feel like I wanted to aim higher,” Ikeda said.
Entering unknown territory
As he travels down the ambitious path ahead of him, his eyes are firmly set on the Tokyo Olympics, where skateboarding will make its debut.
“I want to represent Japan to compete in the Games,” Ikeda said. “If I do, I have got to get the gold medal, for sure.”
Although he is touted as one of the Japanese skateboarders who are medal hopefuls in 2020, Ikeda seems relaxed, and said he does not feel any pressure. Admitting he usually gets a little nervous before a run, he said, “If it turns out to be fun at the end, that’s cool.”
Ikeda said such a positive attitude always brings the best performances.
As skateboarding is traditionally an individual activity, competing as a member of the national squad is a completely new experience for Ikeda.
“As I’ve never represented Japan, in terms of pressure, I just have no idea what it will be like,” he said.
Facing an unknown challenge, he didn’t hide his desire to be part of the Games in Tokyo, where he is originally from, saying he is eager to appear in both park and street programs — disciplines to be held at the Olympics.
Fear behind creativity
Ikeda said he likes listening to hip-hop as it “pumps him up,” citing the late rapper XXXTentacion as his favorite. Music associated with street culture and casual and trendy fashion styles might have helped to create a stereotypical image of skateboarding as a laid-back pastime.
But far from such an image, top-level skaters — Ikeda included — contend with massive fear every day in their drive to come up with creative and unique tricks, succeeding by repeatedly practicing the moves.
“When I’m trying to master a new trick, the fear that I could get injured creeps into my head. I can easily imagine what would happen if I hit my head or I land on my wrist,” Ikeda said as he spoke about the hardest part of skateboarding. “Dreading this, my imagination goes wild.”
In one of the most severe injuries he has sustained, Ikeda fractured his wrist while he was taking on the challenge of a new trick. But he said, “I was back on the board the following day.”
Added Ikeda: “My feel for it dampens if I don’t skate for a day. Even if I can successfully pull off a new trick, it’s difficult to do so after a day off because the image of the moment I made a mistake gets stronger, and I find it really hard to get back on the board.
“I guess all other skaters feel the same. Great riders are on the skateboard every day.”
Seeks more facilities in Japan
Skateboarding has secured a spot as an Olympic event, but in reality, the environment surrounding the sport in Japan still appears to be lagging behind the United States, where the sport has developed.
“If skaters still get in trouble on the streets, I want to see more skateboarding parks built [in Japan],” Ikeda said, expressing concern over the closure of such facilities.
“We need more facilities where skaters can practice so they can compete at a world-class level,” he added, lamenting design errors on handrails at some parks that can be dangerous for skaters.
For Ikeda, skate parks mean more than a just place to skate.
“At each park I go to, I have different buddies. I show off my new tricks, which encourage them to try even harder techniques and hone their skills,” Ikeda said. “That’s how we raise our skating levels.”
Rather than attending lessons, making friends at parks and skating with them “100 percent makes you a better skater.”
Recently, Ikeda has noticed more children taking up skateboarding, a change that he believes was brought about because of the Olympics.
“If more parks are built, it will naturally boost the number of skateboarders in Japan,” Ikeda said. “Through that process, I believe skateboarding will become more and more of a sport, changing from an activity that’s simply done as a pastime.” Speech