Shin Sanbongi has achieved the two things that every skater would dream of. With the free spirit nurtured in his hometown, he's finally reached the starting line of his pro career.
──SHIN SANBONGI (ENGLISH)
[ JAPANESE / ENGLISH ]
Archive photos courtesy of Shin Sanbongi & Kukunochi
VHSMAG (V)： You were born and raised in this beach town Chigasaki, right?
Shin Sanbongi (S)： Actually I was born in Kichijoji, Tokyo. I moved out here really young though. So this is my hometown.
V： You seem to have a strong attachment to your hometown. What's the best thing about Chigasaki?
S： The best thing about this town is that skating and surfing is really rooted from the older generation. I was playing soccer when I was young but my dad used to skate a little so sometimes we'd go to the local skate park together. That was the first time I ever skated.
V： Your dad is a surfer, right?
S： Yeah, he mainly surfs and skates a bit. He's not a skater though.
V： How did you get hooked to skating, like, "Skating is better than soccer!"
S： When I was in the eighth grade, I went on an expedition to Barcelona because I was playing in a club league. In Barcelona, there were these kids skating while they were playing soccer. I'd see a lot of skaters in the street and that blew my mind. I returned to Japan and my passion towards soccer fizzled and got more interested in skate and surf culture that was rooted in my hometown. Also I had a lot of pro surfers in my school who had their sights set on going out to the world. So having those people around inspired me to do the same with skating.
V： What was it like skating in your hometown back then?
S： When I really got into skating, I liked skating transitions so I'd go to the local skate park a lot. I'd skate mini ramps. I was skating a lot with my surfer friends from school. The skate scene in Shonan area was already strong with the older generation like Chatty Chatty. Having skaters who have proved themselves overseas like Yoshiaki Toeda and Soichiro Nakajima, and getting advice from them at a young age was a big thing for me.
V： Who was your first sponsor?
S： My first sponsor was a local surf shop called R Surf. Other than that, I was getting boards from Zen, a brand ran by local surf skaters.
V： You're strongly connected to surfing. How did you get on Polar?
S： I was always trying to find the right brands until I got on Polar. I saw this promo video that Polar made and I was like, "This is it!" I thought the brand would be the right fit for me. So I checked who the distributor was in Japan and found out that Kukunochi was going to carry it. By that time, I was already getting random boards from Kukunochi. There was this mini ramp contest at a trade show and Uru from Kukunochi had hooked me up. I told him that I wanted to ride for Polar, and then started out as a flow.
V： You have all these things you need to clear before getting welcomed to the official team. How was that like?
S： First I went to Malmo with Uru to meet Pontus. I skated with him there but it was more like just paying him a visit. Then I went back to Malmo the next year by myself and they were just about to leave to Paris for a filming trip. I gave them heads up that I was coming to Malmo right before flying out there... so of course I didn't have my flight to Paris. Then Hjalte had gotten hurt and he couldn't go to Paris, so they gave me his flight. So there I was in Paris, ten days with the Polar team. That was a random chance so I just had to give my best and prove myself. We spent ten days together and I got to know the team. I realized that this is where I belong.
V： Going to Malmo alone, getting lucky, taking advantage of it and getting a good result. Sounds awesome.
S： The next year, they invited me to a skate camp-ish trip. They welcomed me to the team there.
V： What was that like?
S： Pontus told me directly. We were sitting around a bonfire one night and someone said, "Shin, you should get on the team." I couldn't say anything back to him (laughs). Andrew Wilson was there from NY as well and Pontus was like, "Yeah, let's welcome Shin and Andrew to the am team." That's how I got on. I was stoked like, "Yes! I'm finally on the team!"
V： I've been on one of your trips before with other brand. I was watching you and I was impressed how you were doing your thing and how you proved yourself. I assume that's exactly what you were doing during the trips with Polar.
S： I don't like to just skate. If you ride for someone, you have to carry their name with you and give something back. If you're a flow, I think the opportunity to skate with the global team is most important. Through that, it's also important to get to know the team before getting accepted from the owner of the brand. It's important to express your skating. You gotta do your thing when you have the chance.
V： You got that right. Pontus is super serious about what he does. Anything that sticks out from spending time with him?
S： When I first went to see him in Malmo with Uru, we met up at TBS, that DIY spot by the train tracks. I was filming with Uru before that and we got there pretty late... and he was pretty upset. I was like, "Oh no, I blew it...," but it was fine in the end because he let us stay at his place (laughs). He's super on point about what he does. Making videos, filming, art... no compromise. He doesn't care what other people think. He values his own way of expression. So when he's working on a skate video, he pretty much lets us do our thing and he tries to bring out each skater's individuality.
V： Polar's full length "We Blew It At Some Point" got released in 2018. You had that back noseblunt at the wave spot. Skaters across the world got blown away.
S： Back noseblunt is my go-to trick and I wanted to film it at a Japanese spot. So I was figuring out where to do it and I thought that spot would be the best. I think it took about 20 tries. I could get it to noseblunt position but the lip is slanted so I was slipping out. So I had to recall all the transitions I skated before and concentrated on the rhythm. Then it came together all the sudden. I think that's one of my favorite clips.
V： adidas Skateboarding is a big part of your life now. How did you get hooked up with them?
S： I was in Malmo and we were at this bar with Pontus and the team. There was a moment where I was alone with Pontus and he told me, "adidas is interested in you. It's from the global so give it a thought." I came back to Japan and I asked for advise from my friends because I was riding for other shoe brand at the time. And then I just figured that I wanted to go for it. I think that was in 2017.
V： So it was directly from the global. Then Japan team's "Splits" came out around the same time, right?
S： Yeah, they were filming for it and I got a couple tricks.
V： You had clips out from overseas like Quartersnacks' Remix and OJ Wheels' promo last year. Do you feel you're getting recognized overseas?
S： I guess, I started feeling that after "We Blew It At Some Point" came out. I think people started recognizing like, "Who's Shin Sanbongi?" Back then I was just obsessed with filming for that video because when I was still a flow rider, I filmed like ten VX clips with Uru and sent them over to Polar. But Pontus didn't even know me and the footage never got used in "I like it here inside my mind, don’t wake me this time." That made me want to be in Polar video even more. So having clips in "We Blew It At Some Point" was a big deal.
V： All the efforts you put in have lead you to all the things that are happening this year. First of all, your signature colorway from adidas Skateboarding.
S： I never thought I'd have my own shoe to start with. I got a call from Laurence, the team manager of adidas Japan team, saying that I'm getting a shoe. But in a way, I had been fantasizing it... I wanted to have my shoe some day from adidas. Board and wheels too. And the shoe just happened to come before the board. It's normally the opposite. At first I wanted Campus but adidas wanted to promote Matchbreak Super so we decided to go with that. They told me I could do whatever I wanted with the model. It's a bit faded, but I used white and red to represent the Japanese flag. My message was like, "From Japan to the world."
V： How does it feel to have your name on a shoe?
S： It took time to really sink in but I got stoked when I saw my friends skate in my shoe. I'm really happy about this.
V： How about the promo video?
S： I got to go to all these different places. It started from LA, then NY, Philly, Detroit, Paris and Taiwan. That's how the promo "SHIN" was made. I could pick skaters to bring on the trip so I brought a Swedish skater Filip Almqvist, who skates for Polar and adidas, and Girl am Neils Bennett. Then at the end of the trip, Silas Baxter-Neal and Dennis Busenitz joined the trip. I was stoked. They're one of my favorite skaters that I used to watch when I started skating and we're working on a project together. They were like, "It's your trip, let's go where you wanna go!" That's how we rolled in Paris and Taiwan. It was awesome to see them rip in person. I mean, it's pretty rare that you get to spend time with skaters who are making a living with skating. I skated my ass off and enjoyed the moment.
V： A few months later, you went pro for Polar.
S： It all started last year. I got the cover of Boardkill and Pontus saw it. He sent me a DM and he was like, "That cover is dope. We're going to make your board." From there we started exploring what shape to use. They already had different shapes but Pontus wanted to make a new one. He told me that I have surf style so let's make a board that looks like a surf board. I'm stoked with the shape. As for the board graphics, they came up with it. At first they had a weird Chinese character on the bottom right and they were like, "What does it mean?" But it wasn't Japanese and it didn't even make sense. So decided to replace it with "自由" which means "Freedom."
V： That word perfectly represents your style.
S： Yeah, there's no rule in skating. That's what I like about it and you can express however you want. I just wanted to be free so I put that word "自由."
V： Your new pro boards just got released too. Who's responsible for the board graphic?
S： Toshikazu Nozaka worked on the graphic where a rabbit is kind of like surfing, just like my skate style. The shape is new, it's call Side Cuts. I also have another shape called Arigato.
V： A signature colorway and a pro board. Two of skater's dream came true this year. I guess this would be the real start for you. What's next?
S： Right now I'm filming for the next Polar promo. I'm finally at the start line of my pro career so I'm just gonna take skating more seriously, think about the reason to skate, and make things happen. Videos and photos, and also getting people stoked at demos. It'd be awesome if I could keep expressing my style like that.
Born in 1992, originally from Tokyo currently resides in Chigasaki, Kanagawa. Shin is an ATV known for his surf inspired style. He's just released his first signature colorway from adidas Skateboarding and turned pro for Polar this year.