Japan is rife with vivid recreations of American culture. A pair of Levi’s from the 1940s, a burger spot from the 1950s, a jazz bar from the 1960s — each one’s history is studied in excruciating detail before the Japanese begin creating their own, oftentimes superior version of these quintessentially American things. It should come as no surprise that they are masters of another top-ten American invention: the kickflip.
American kickflips are for the mass market. Sure, there’s Reider up Fish Gap, Westgate over the bump-to-bar or Cyrus 1Oak over the garbage, but most of the time, they’re flipped and thrown in a pile. Our culture is in a constant state of making things faster, bigger, louder, though not necessarily better. First we had big flips, now we have bigger flips. Not better flips, they’re just bigger with more spins. We come from a place of deluxe editions and super sizes, so why not a hardflip revert late flip or a 900 shove-it? Mastering a classic is boring; let’s add a 270 to it.
We are failing to elevate Mr. Mullen’s seminal invention. It is stagnating in the country of its birth.
The Japanese, on the other hand, are master kickflippers. Like a pair of jeans from seventy years ago, they give every nuance perverse amounts of attention before creating their own. They probably look for hidden pockets in the concave of a board that we haven’t even noticed yet, or perform sophisticated toe exercises to improve flick capabilities. The average Japanese kickflip is not average.
Kickflips in Japan are a meticulous art. Naturally, over the course of a two-week period spent there this spring, a notable portion of our time was spent at Tokyo’s closest equivalent to the T.F. Upon first observation, it’s not hard to notice that certain Japanese skaters bail on kickflips quite a bit, almost as if they have just learned them. But then — maybe on the third or fourth attempt after kicking it out — that next try will be over two feet high, tweaked to an absurd degree, caught at the most precise millisecond of its peak, and landed bolts. If a kickflip doesn’t have traces of Kalis in Peep This, is there even a point in sticking it?
For example, the one above took four or five tries. Not because he couldn’t have landed the first one, but because it had to look the way it ended up looking to be worthwhile.
Masterful kickflips manifest themselves in different ways throughout Japanese skate videos. Beyond the guys who are just plain good at kickflips, there are skaters who have their own breed of strange tech. Rather than the aforementioned American flip-pivot-flip concoctions, the Japanese opt to flip off of knobbed benches they just tic-tac-ed through, or onto, between and off two ledges that are no longer than a board itself. So obviously a Japanese guy is the only known person on record to perform a good looking frontside lipslide flip out.
Other Japanese skaters play hard to get with their kickflips. You spend an entire video part with a guy just knowing — knowing — “fuck, this guy definitely has a good kickflip.” His frontside flip is elegant and his 360 flip enunciates every degree of its rotation, but he hasn’t done a single kickflip. Until the ender, where he soars one over a bar and into a bank with an attention to detail that only a Japanese person or Josh Kalis in 1998 has the patience for.
Thank you Japan, for keeping a great American tradition alive, and giving it a greater modern legacy that even we ourselves do today :)
(Special thanks to Yo Sawada in helping research this post.)