The 2018 Japan trip was so outrageous its hard to know where to start! Actually lets start with day one.
So the team is solid this year. We roll into Narita five deep, after a rowdy car ride to the airport and a 10 hour direct flight (which Dylan managed to get 11 hours sleep on?) the boys are keen as mustard to hit up Tokyo for a day of adventure! This year the crew is none other that Daniel (Pac Man) Packer, Jason (Mustang) Salopek, Dylan (Rad Face) Warren, Craig (Craigos) Hallihan and myself Daniel (Cactus Formo) Foreman.
As Packer and the boys say good bye to Darren who the boys use to skate with and coincidentally had the same flight, we were greeted by our dearest mate Tomomi Akiyama. Standing next to him was a smiling and over enthusiastic Caucasian guy. It took me a little while to realize it was Joel (The Shark Fin) Betzler from Germany. He had landed just before us! At this stage everything was going to plan and it was time to explore Tokyo. We stuffed our bags in Tommy’s pimped out 12-seater van and hit the streets with Jason our reliable tour guide leading the way. Dylan saw an opportunity to try and fifty fifty a raised garden bed in the amazingly clean and prestigious part of town that left myself and Craig feeling a little uneasy along with an overwhelming amount of onlookers. But it wasn’t to be so we continued walking putting all our faith into our trusted tour guide Jason.
The walking never really seemed to end and we all started to question Jason’s human compass. Finally we end up in the heart of the main district and find a five story Sega gaming complex. Jason tried extremely hard to hide his excitement from us but it was evident he was right in his element. We did the usual ‘watch a Japanese guy dance on the virtual dance pad’ (he was a good eight hours in at this stage) and had a bit of a look around but we were all starting to get super pumped on skating the rooftop skate park that Jason wouldn’t stop talking about, so of we went off in search!
As we walk around it became more and more obvious that there is no skate park. In fact it had been demolished months prior so we did what any normal group of blokes would do in our defeated state and that was to find a place that had some nice craft beers and complementary nuts! Me being the second rate citizen I am opted for the cheaper beer only to find out off Shark Fin that it was non alcoholic, whilst winding down we thought we would ask the bar staff for touristy recommendation but due to the communication barrier we were left empty handed. We set off on foot to watch Dyl try to nail a kick flip in the middle of Shibuya Crossing and is kindly asked by the police man to stop. Our time almost up, we quickly made our way to the meeting point and after a few painful phone calls and a bit of scouting we find Tomomi and with him the one and only Kody ( Chicken Boots) Stuart.
We make our way back to Dylan's second home Fujinomia and we are all exhausted but excited at the same time, making for some rather funny conversations. From the photos, the accommodation looks amazing the main sleeping quarters can only be described as super luxurious bunk bed boxes with fancy Japanese timber and acoustic paper doors. The main living area was a cool space that had a few comfy ass couches and a dining table that played host to a whole range of conversations.
We finally get in and are greeted by none other than the two legendary Europeans Nicky Geerse and Arno Van den Veyver plus our local hero’s John Son, Dick Son, Ricky Son and Makken Boss. With no time to waste we head straight to the Yuka’s bar for drinks and Karaoke! Whilst all this is happening an even bigger surprise was about to add another element to this already outrageous trip and with no idea when or where we finally receive word and head out to collect the Al Con. It was a last minute split second decision that got our last team member on board and boy were we glad to see him as he added his quirky humours spin on what was now been call the trip of a life time!
The dream team split in half with Dylan, Jason, Al Con, Packer and Arno hitting up the skate parks with the rest of us heading out to the YMCA camp to check out the track. I was blown away by the amount of work that the Balance Team had put into this in such short time. As impressive as it was there was still a heap of hand shaping and compaction to be done to get it right, plus we had a crazy amount of rain forecast so we needed to get cracking.
The boys missed there train to Shizuoka skatepark but eventually arrived. The skatepark was split into two sections. An outdoor concerete park and an indoor timber park. The boys got there just in time to have a skate before the weekends big skate competition hosted by American company Skatepark of Tampa. Meanwhile kody, found the mini truck and starts running it around the track to try and pack it all in so it was solid much like Nicky G’s rig, which mind you was out by this stage and he couldn’t wait to strap in and run a couple speed checks of the course with Joel and a few the balance crew. Craig was assigned the quarter pipe. Constructed out of scaffold and film coat ply, lets just say I’m glad it wasn’t me!
The skate crew had a fun time skating the parks and got to catch up with Yuma Hara, a sponsored Japanese skateboarder and friend from years before. Al Conn made a unusual purchase of a very cute owl purse from that had everyone scratching there heads? Apparently the shop attendant wrapped it as a gift thinking Al had bought it for a significant other (but really it was for him) The weather had caught up with them too so they also made their way back, very keen on a shower and a burger from the Burger shop below our accommodation as were we all.
With the group all reassembled, showered and fed we pulled out the UNO cards and got stuck in! This was the first sign of any competitiveness so far in the trip and with a few stupid rules and a couple of beers the conversation started flowing and before we knew it the game had fizzled out and all the talk was about mountainboarding. From stories of the good old days, the rise and fall and everything in between! I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face it was some of the most amazing conversations and stories I’ve ever heard. All these guys have one thing in common and that was we all wanted more than anything to contribute to growing this sport and introducing it to as many people as possible so they can all share in this sport that we love so much.
We had a heap of rain over night and all I could think is that half the track could potentially have disappeared and all that work was for nothing, on arrival we got the truck bogged hard and Joel (Shark Fin) Betzler coped a flying piece of ply to the knee trying to push the truck out, he was putting on a brave face but he was hurt pretty bad to the point that he didn’t ride that day or the day after this situation almost brought the guy to tears as he usually mountainboards every day.
Once we assessed the track it was evident it held up relatively well with only minor washouts and a few soft spots, so this time it was all hands on deck to try and cut and shape while the moisture was in the ground. Craig continued his fight with the scaffold quarter, managing to get it relatively close to finished and after we had a brief discussion in regards to achieving a smoother transition he had it set. The Balance Team were setting up all the tents and marquee’s in preparation for the event some people even came and set there tents up in advance, Kody found his way behind the wheel of the truck again and we jumped on the back to try and pack the track in, Arno was leaving everyone dumb founded with his very direct Q and A segments that were heaps of fun it was a pretty mellow day once we set every thing out the track was to wet for riding so we only tested it a couple of times. With the day coming to a close Makken’s next activity on his itinerary was to the traditional Japanese bathhouse – the Onsen.
I mean what better way to get to know a bloke than to sit next to them naked in a pool of near boiling water, 100% sober, trying to have a normal conversation whilst also trying to minimize eye contact? Unfortunately it didn’t last long for Daniel (pac man) Packer and Nicholas ( Nicky G) Geerse due to the no visible tattoos rule that has something to do with the Japanese culture towards gangs and what not, all that aside Pac was not happy and I was relieved that they didn’t get Kirky (my gigantic birthmark, yes it has a nickname) mixed up and boot me out as well! It was very clear to me that Kody wasn’t enjoying himself finding the water simply to hot to find relaxing. I tended to agree but more so because I was trying to float in the salt bath and flip leaving my mouth and eyes with a painful taste of regret.
We finish up and head back where most guys had a bit of time to relax before going out somewhere local for dinner, I however was on package duty that night with John Son and Ricky Son, and that was to pick up the package Jereme (Jezza) Leafe aka the ‘Living Legend’ up from the airport just before midnight, it was a pretty funny two hour car trip with me in the back pretending to understand what the boys were talking about responding with one of the five words in Japanese I know every once and a while and fake laughing when I thought it was warranted I did my best to try and stay awake and figure out the pocket wifi in case we heard from him, Eventually we get there and thankfully he wasn’t to hard to find, we whisk him away and after a brief introduction he starts re capping how crazy his last couple of months were and how he has a disgustingly small amount of sleep, I reassure him that we are staying the night at the Onsen and last time Dylan stayed there he said it was really nice and they had normal beds with checkout at nine.
As we approach the counter and pay the cost seemed relatively cheap I looked at Jereme as if to say this is a bargain, the lady points us up the stairs and we head up to find a heap of people asleep on the floor with nothing more than a couple of cushions? Jereme looks directly at me disgusted and humored all in one, grabs as many cushions as humanly possible and storms toward the darkest corner he could find! For the next ten minutes I cant seem to stop laughing, I eventually get a grip as John Son points to one man fast asleep on the ground fully clothed I started laughing again but soon realized it was the one and only Jack Daniels Son! Unaware of the fact that its was now two o’clock in the morning I snuggled in next to him and became his big spoon, his reaction was one of surprise and slight disgust as we made him aware of the time and without any hesitation he went straight back to sleep in fact we all did with tomorrow closer around the corner than any of us could have hoped.
Jereme, John Son, Ricky Son, Jack Daniels Son and myself awake to the lights coming on at seven and I quickly flip over my cushion to hide the saucer size drool patch I had left, we all slowly start waking up expect one Jereme Leafe who was determined to get a little extra shut eye, as we are gathering our things we see staff members personally approaching people asking them to wake up, this is not the start to the trip Jereme was hoping for, they finally get around to him as we all watch on to see his reaction? It takes a while but he finally gets up an sights me from across the room with a look that read ‘what the F#%& dude its 7:30!’ I cant stop laughing AGAIN!
We make our way down stairs and try and wake ourselves up with a morning salt bath and it actually kind of worked, we were super keen to get back and catch up with the others who I’m sure were as keen as us to hit the track up for a ride.
We meet the boys at the YMCA camp for the last day of fine tuning and already the track had dried a heap with a late morning touch up we used the rest of the day to get use to the track and actually ride obviously apart from Joel (Shark Fin) Betzler who was nursing that knee injury. It was relatively slow to start but as the day went on it became a bit faster and more guys really started to boost of some of the features, I trying creating a small semi bowl section and a different line that in the end didn’t get used but looked cool and made it all look complete, it also allowed the moisture in the last section of the pump track to disperse and harden up.
The usual suspects all started arriving and before we knew it we had a good amount of spectators and riders all setting up for what was indeed going to be the best competition seen at the Balance Golden Session to date, we left our tents to the last minute and it got very cold very quickly as the natural light was fading fast, of course Jason, Dylan and Al Con’s tent was up last after we all chipped in to put it together.
It was Korean BBQ style dinner for most of us apart from the herbivores Arno and Nicky G. Before long we were all sitting around the camp fire playing some of the stupidest games ever invented, one of which almost left John Son with mild concussion when he tried to smash a full beer can on his forehead but rotated on the approach and got a bit of the bottom rim! Eventually after every one having a decent crack at it PAC was the one with the prevailing skull and wore the beer shower with pride! We all received gifts from Makken and the team of bamboo bandannas and I opted for the red and black with Mt Fuji on it and the rest of the night for most of us was a blur.
So there were a few really second hand blokes getting around unfortunately I was one of them as I forced myself up found the early risers in Craigos and Kody having there daily chat about cars and conventions, I was in desperate need of a shower to freshen up and the boys also agreed.
The Shark Fin’s knee was feeling a heap better and he was so excited to be able to ride the track. The only unfortunate thing about the freestyle section was that you needed to pump the first table to get the right speed for the second. It didn’t matter what we did in terms of shaping or compacting we just couldn’t get around it.
After a slow morning the boys rode hard for most of the day in preparation for the night show which I must say was possibly the highlight of the trip, with all of the boys pulling out some of the most impressive tricks I have ever witnessed! Unfortunately I didn’t know half of them or was to scared of calling them wrong so the MCing was a lot of me just yelling in disbelief which wasn’t too much of a problem considering 80% of the crowed could understand me anyway.
We were all buzzing from the freestyle night show, so it was time to party!
The Balance camp had set up stalls of all different foods and Yuka even had a portable bar set up. Jereme gave us a master class in how to party like an American. This included trying his best moves on some of the local ladies which went nowhere, as we all watched on and had a laugh. We eventually put him to bed, not the local ladies. It became seemingly obvious that most guys had forgotten there was a competition tomorrow.
Competition day and everyone was a little worse for wear, especially Jereme, who we all thought was dead at one stage. The boardercross finals came down to three Japanese riders, after some great competition in the early stages.
Our focus then went to the intermediate freestyle, with a heap of Japanese riders and our very own Daniel Packer. It was an impressive display from all, but there were two clear standouts in John-son and Ren, who got awarded first and second place. With all that done it was time for the BIG event. The Pro freestyle with Nicky G setting the bar high early on. Jason and Joel Sharkfin landing tricks that they’d never tried before on dirt.
I tried my best to call the event but my voice and knowledge of tricks were clearly letting me down, unlike the quality of the boys performance. The highlights reel featuring Dylans Cork 720, Kodys one footers. It was hard work for the judges as the consistency and level of skill shown by the riders made it difficult to pick a clear winner. In the end they decided they would award five places. Fifth place going to Joel Sharkfin Betzler, fourth place to Kody Wild K-ody Stewart, third going to Dylan Homeless Wizard Warren, second went to Yuya Ninja Rider and first being awarded to NICKY G.
After celebrations and giveaways (and a shitload of hugging) the Balance Supercamp and Golden Session 2018 was complete. We headed on back for our last night back at Station One (the burger joint/ accommodation) we’re we had a surprise little party waiting for us! The spread was amazing and it was nice to just chill and chat about all about the event. After another group shot the conversation started about were we head next and someone said there’s a small punk bar about a block away that we absolutely had to check out.
So with a short walk we find ourselves in what could only be described as the smallest bar in the world, but it was totally rad with all kinds of crazy memorabilia posted up on every wall. It seemed the longer we stayed at this place the crazier it got from a Grandma geisha to a mid night skate session with some skateboards that were on display. Things escalated quickly and before you knew it we had the attention of the cops, who in the end turn out to be super cool about it even getting some photos with some of the boys. Before long we had drank him out of beer and the shots began, by this stage the owner of the hostel was drinking with us and a couple fellas were starting to feel it so we staggered back to get whatever little sleep was left.
It was time to leave Fujinomia and in was all hugs, photos and a few tears from the locals. We all had an amazing time and couldn’t be more great full to Makken and the whole Balance Team, they were truly amazing! We take the bullet train back to Tokyo for our last night; Jason and Al Con found a reasonable four-story apartment for us to stay in. It was awesome and relatively close to where we needed to be, to make it easier for our flight in the morning.
We eventually get there, drop all our stuff off and head out for so lunch and some site seeing. After a few hours of relaxing we get back on the beers as we wait for some of the others to get back. Sick of waiting we head out for dinner and eventually catch up with everyone. Most bars were closed as it was a week night so it was hard to find places but we somehow manage.
By this stage it was Nicky G, Arno, Kody, Jereme and myself left, with Jereme buying up a disgusting amount of Sake everywhere we went. It’s seemed the only places that were still open were dart bars and Arno and Kody were clearly the standouts. After running out of decent venues at about 2am me and Arno try and find our way back, after getting slightly lost due to deep conversation we arrive back and Jereme and Kody not to far behind us. It wasn’t til I was in bed I did the calculations and realized I had to be at the airport in 3 hours for a 10-hour direct flight I wish I could say I regret my decision but that would be a lie.
As per usual Craig and I are the first up and we scramble to try and get everything together knowing these boys would be waking up with no time to spare. We say our goodbyes to the other boys as Craig, Jason, Dylan, Joel and myself headed to the airport.
After allocated seating on the train splits us up we eventually regroup and arrive at Narita Airport to find out Joel's flight has been delayed, he receives a voucher for his trouble and shouts us all Maccas. After breakfast, we say goodbye to the legendary Shark Fin and board our plane home.
Thank you so much Makken, Tomomi and The Balance team!!
If you ever have thought about visiting Japan. Book your flights now, because next year is going to be bigger and better!
Makken, Balance, Jason, Dylan