The Sweet Spot 1.1 - Japan

Hi guys, Austen here. Welcome to the first installment of The Sweet Spot, where I'll be sharing selected images and stories pulled from my 35mm film archives from over the years.

I chose Japan for this installment because as I'm writing this it's 5 am and I'm sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Asahi-dake, sipping coffee to fight off the jetlag, and patiently waiting for first light to break. As I look out the window I see that, once again, it’s nuking snow. I watch anxiously as it piles up and I begin to count down the minutes until I strap in and lay into the day’s first deep powder turn.

The Land of The Rising Sun. The birthplace of sushi. The home of the onsen. And Ground Zero for some of winter’s most legendary and consistently deep snow. For most boarders, Japan conjures images of glory pow runs through sparse forests, followed by big bowls of steaming hot ramen, and long soaks in natural hot springs (aka, onsen), all set against a cultural backdrop that can be either ancient, quiet, and noble, or else overwhelmingly bustling, loud, and high-tech, depending on where you are in the country. For me, the dream of visiting Japan came at a young age after seeing countless Absinthe segments with Gigi and Nicolas ripping apart the deepest snow I had ever seen.  

It would be some years before I'd finally get to strap in and ride these beautiful mountains, a dream opportunity that came when I was invited to film for Absinthe's Eversince. That trip included Brandon Cocard, Cale Zima, and Keegan Valaika, and although I was the new guy on the crew, I felt right at home with this crew as we explored Hokkaido and rode everything in sight. It's amazing and humbling to think back on how my journey came full circle from being totally inspired by those film parts as a kid, to actually riding and filming with an equally inspiring crew for Absinthe as a pro rider. 

Cale Zima, Japan.         

This time around, I'm traveling with Quiksilver for a new campaign showcasing the elements of the Quik logo -- the iconic mountain and wave -- doing what we all live for, chasing deep powder and uncrowded, perfect surf. Though it’s been quite a few years since I was here, it almost feels as if I never left. The Japanese people are as generous and welcoming as I remembered. There's a deep sense of community and culture of respect, for treating everyone and everything with kindness. The smell of hot springs and chill of the falling flakes brings it all back.

As I was going through photos from my first trip, I came across one of my favorites, this photo of an older Japanese man wearing a Coal hat that we gave him. We had spent the day in Otaru, just outside of Sapporo riding the steep snow-covered streets and alleys that covered the hillside. Dropping in at the top, straight into a pow turn, followed by weaving in and out of the alley way, ollieing over trash cans and jumping off garage roofs, we were truly urban powder boarding! Midway through our session this man stepped outside of his house, shovel in hand, ready to do some work.  Instantly amused with what we were doing, he cheered us on and every time we did something, he would wave his shovel around in the air with excitement. When we were finished riding we went to talk to him; we just had to. With that giant smile on his face we felt welcomed and stoked to see how excited he was on snowboarding.  His hat was mangled and torn, so we offered him a fresh new Coal hat we had laying in the van.  It made me happy to see that anyone anywhere could get just as stoked on snowboarding as we are!

Our next mission would be to Asahi-dake, the tallest mountain on the North Island, and although this time we drove up in the night during a blizzard, I thought back to how it felt three years ago on my first time approaching the massive volcanic peak. I was mesmerized then as the mountain came into view dominating the horizon through the windshield, thinking this must be one of the coolest places I’d ever been to. After three years, my fascination with this mountain and my anticipation for riding pow had only grown! Because this time, although it was dark and stormy, I knew the morning would bring what we all came back for: endless deep, effortless pow turns. And it was just that -- we were boarding through space with feelings of complete and total freedom!

 Photos and words by Austen Sweetin, 2018.