Yuji Watanabe is the head and cutman at MBM Parkbuilders. We look back on his career in skateboarding and unveil their project they're set out to work on to support young skaters.
──YUJI WATANABE × MBM PARKBUILDERS (ENGLISH)
[ JAPANESE / ENGLISH ]
Photos by Junpei Ishikawa, Video by TK, Interview by VHSMAG, Special thanks: MBM Parkbuilders
VHSMAG (V)： How did you start skating?
Yuji Watanabe (W)： I started skating when I was in the 8th grade. I saw
a skate section in a magazine and got interested. I was in a sports
club but it wasn't fun at all... Then I skated and it got more fun and
started hanging out with skater friends.
V： Who were your influences?
W： Back then it was the people who were in magazines. People like Uru
(Masanori Uruma) and also Hiroki Saegusa, which seems a bit strange
now. I used to rock baggy pants back then (laughs).
V： What was the environment like back then?
W： I was skating street. I started skating tranny when AXIS was built in Ryugasaki area. They had a ramp and a concrete half bowl. I skated there and not that I switched up style but tranny got more and more interesting.
V： So you eventually got good and got a sponsor. Who was your first sponsor?
W： My first sponsor was AXIS. I got flowed Emerica from Sonik Distribution too. I got to skate with a lot of people after I got sponsored and I feel it broadened my view on skating.
V： You skated for Coda too, right?
W： Yes, but I skated for 5Boro before that. It was a while back but 5Boro team came to Japan on a tour and Pat Smith was there. I liked him since the Black Label days so I just followed him when he was in Kanto area and had a chance to skate with him. That's how I got hooked up with 5Boro. I was still in the teens.
V： So that means you just went with him when he started Coda. How did
you get your signature board?
W： I guess after I visited him in Portland Oregon and skated together. Back then he was spending the summer in NY and winter in Portland. I stayed at his place for a month. He taught me a lot of work. He's a interior carpenter and he was building ramps and obstacles for skate events too. He had friends who would work with concrete so I got to see that as well. It was a great experience to see that kind of work in the US. I never thought I'd be a park builder though (laughs).
V： What did you learn while you were there?
W： I got to know that everyone had a real job. I realized that I can't be slacking and need to work. I didn't have a job back then but they were working and skating hard at the same time.
V： Did seeing and realizing that help in any way after you came back to Japan?
W： Yes, I can say that it made me work at the company I work for today, which is called Masaken. They didn't have any park building job back then and they only had regular construction work. When I started working there, there were so many things you need to learn and it's also physically hard that I couldn't skate at all. I was concentrating on work for about five years. But it was like skating, you learn something new and you get excited. It's like learning a new trick (laughs). They let me take time off when I had a skate demo or a trip. The company is run by AXIS and I'm one of their riders so they had my back.
V： Seeing what Pat Smith and his friends were doing is probably one of the reasons, but how did you get interested in park building?
W： Well, I used to play around with concrete in the streets before working for Masaken. The city would destroy and take it away quickly but we were doing it over and over. That's how I got interested in park building.
V： And now Masaken has started building parks as MBM Parkbuilders. What do you exactly do there?
W： I'm the head of the park building section of the company. I overlook the team. We work together and if there's anything they don't understand, I give advice. Also I'm mainly a cutman, I make transition after mortar is sprayed on the surface.
V： Is that work something that you can do because you've skated many different kind of transition?
W： To a certain extent, but technically it comes from all the work experience at Masaken. I had worked at so many different kinds of site and used so many equipment. This is not something you can do right away just because you're a skater.
V： Let me ask a little about what you guys are building right now. What exactly are you working on?
W： The bowl we have is too deep and you can't skate it casually. So we thought why not build a shallower bowl that we can skate and have fun, something not dangerous. We skated an ameba-shaped bowl in Prince Park last year and we got inspired by it. The transition is totally different but it's a bowl that you can skate and still go to work the next day.
V： What were you guys working on this morning?
W： We had been spraying concrete and finishing up the surface. The pump we use is the one and only one in Japan. The best thing about building parks is that you can skate it with the guys you built it with. That's why we work super hard. And I don't think you can find work like this anywhere else because getting concrete and mortar on transition and bank is very special kind of work. It's very difficult and you definitely need special set of skills. Other construction site gets so much easier if you have the skill to build skateparks.
V： I heard MBM is starting a new project.
W： Yes, but I don't exactly know what it's about so you should ask the owner.
V： Kimura-san, what kind of project are you starting?
Masato Kimura (K)： To put it simple, it's a project to support work and career of skaters. I got the idea from watching Yuji. He was talking about how he was playing around with concrete in the street, but he was nothing but an amateur. But he was having fun, you know? He wanted to skate, work, play with concrete and also film. I had been watching him for a long time and had him do whatever he wants. He said he was unable to skate for five years but he was really into learning the job. And the Olympics thing came along and park building job cam into play. Then Yuji's life... the construction work and skating, everything clicked. Seeing that happen, I thought that he's having a great life. I had been wanting and had been supporting skaters since 20 years ago, but business was difficult and we didn't have the right environment to do so. But now I can support kids who love skating. With MBM and what we have going right now, I thought we can build the second Yuji.
V： I see. So you have the firm ground to stand on now.
K： Yuji had been working hard and was away from skating for a little while, and there were times when I thought if this is the right thing for him or not. But now he's back with park building and he says he's skating better than ever. That makes me happy. I'm hoping to bring up this kind of skater through the project. Even when you're crushed and you're done with your skate career, I want to give them an option of a new path.
V： What exactly are you planning to do to support the skaters?
K： We have many employees so we have a dormitory. We have rooms available so we offer an environment where you can live and work. We have a branch near Murasaki Park in Tokyo so you can live around there as construction worker and you can skate after work. We have a skate shop so we can offer gear cheaper than retail price. You can learn how construction job work under good skate environment. You can pursue skate career as long as you want, and when you become a weekend skater you can work like Yuji and enjoy life. That's what I'm hoping to do. We will let you know how to apply so heads up if you interested.
V： Sounds good. Okay, back to Yuji. What's the best thing about MBM Parkbuilders?
W： Everyone is the team gets along and we all love skating. I think it's a great work if you love skating. You travel to build parks and there you not only build park but also go fishing and swimming in the ocean. The on and off in work is very clear. If you skate and if you're interested in building parks, you should just start and try working here for a month.
V： Lastly, is there anything lined up in the near future for MBM?
W： We have four skate parks to build this year. I can't say where yet but hope you like them.
Born in Chiba. Yuji is a respected skater with flawless style on tranny and has released a signature board from Coda. Currently he's the head of MBM Parkbuilders and has been working on skateparks across the country.