369K Instagram followers (as of January 2022.) The number may be astounding for those who are not familiar with the name Kyosuke Yamashita as he is not a celebrity nor an Olympic medalist. But once you read this interview, you will understand why he is garnering this many followers.
We will be sharing his interview in two installments, elucidating the allure of Kyosuke Yamashita. In part one, we unveil the skater as we take a close look at his turning point in his skateboarding life.
First time meeting YouTuber Luis, who’s Changed My Life
ーーThere must be many people who are surprised by the large number of followers you have on Instagram. So, how do you think you’ve gained this many followers?
Kyonosuke Yamashita (Hereinafter Yamashita): I started getting a lot of followers since I appeared on Luis Mora’s YouTube channel and Instagram. He’s a YouTuber with over 1.5M subscribers, and he used to live in Japan. He’s also got like 430K followers (as of January 2022) on Instagram. So I think my followers are mostly from abroad.
ーーHow did you first meet Luis?
Yamashita: I met him for the first time at Mura-pa (Murasaki Park Tokyo). I was skating with Daiki [Ikeda] and Luis was there shooting Yuto [Horigome]. And Taiki knew Luis, so we went up to him like, “Yo, you gotta shoot us, too!”
That was in 2017, so I think I was still in my first year of middle school? You can see the footage from that time on his YouTube channel. We appear a bit towards the end, so check it out if you’re interested.
ーーLater, you got sponsored by Luis’ brand ERASED—So, how did that come about? Also, can you tell us about ERASED?
Yamashita: About half a year later I met Luis at Mura-pa, we randomly saw each other again at a park in Shinyokohama, and he shot me there again. The footage turned out really cool, and so he casually gave me the clothes, telling me they’re from a brand he started. Later, he DM-ed me on Insta, saying he wanted to sponsor me officially, and since then, we started doing more things together.
ERASED is a brand founded by Luis and Edwin [Acuna], who used to be in Stüssy‘s design team. The meaning behind the brand’s name is, “Erase the dark past. Erase the past life. Create your new life.” Luis himself went through a lot in the past, and he told me that his feelings from when he started the brand is directly embedded in the name.
Even though the brand doesn’t have a physical store or a domestic distributor and is only doing promotions online, it’s amazing how the brand is so well-known, and I feel honored to be supported by such trailblazing brand.
I think Luis’ contents are so attractive. You can learn more thoroughly about him on “LUIS MORA / ROAD TO 1 MILLION SUBSCRIBERS.”
Joining the team of a sought-after brand, Primitive
ーーLast summer, you joined Primitive‘s am team while you were in the US, and the news garnered a lot of traction in the US. So, how did you join the team?
Yamashita: It started from releasing my street part from Erased in February. I took it with me when I went to the States from March to April. But Primitive‘s Japanese distributor had already contacted Primitive US before my trip and told them about me, and Primitive US took me out on tour. We did a Las Vegas tour for less than a week with guys like Trent McCrung and JP Souza, and we were able to get some gnarly footage.
After I went back to Los Angeles, I had some chances to hang out with the boss of Primitive, Paul Rodriguez, and he was really cool to me. But it was after I came back to Japan, I got asked to sign with Primitive US through their Japanese distributor. At first, I thought I was going to be a flow [pre-contract], but they were actually signing me as an am, which I was incredibly surprised. So then, I immediately flew to the States to get signed, and they officially welcomed me to their team and made an official announcement to the world.
ーーPrimitive is one of the current most popular skateboard brands. So, how did you manage to join the team? Also, what was your impression of the legendary skater Paul Rodriguez?
Yamashita: When I went to the states with Luis from Erased, the guys from Lakai‘s Japanese distribution company, OSC Distribution, were also in the US, and we were saying it’d be cool if we could meet the guys from Lakai US.
After we had the conversation, we all went to Diamond Supply Co skate park to skate, and Paul Rodriguez and Primitive’s team manager at that time happened to be there.
Back then, OSC was just about to launch Primitive in Japan, and so when they [people from Primitive US] saw me skating at the park, they said to OSC, “Why don’t we just sign him as our rider?” OSC asked me if I were interested in the deal after we were back in Japan, and that’s how I got the sponsorship.
Primitive is insanely popular now, but it wasn’t like I went up to them desperately to hook me up. I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time.
And obviously, Paul Rodriguez is a legend, and I knew him from before, so when I met him, I was nervous and couldn’t even say hi to him. Also, I can say this now, but back then, I didn’t know Primitive at all [laughs].
ーーBut people your age wouldn’t know Paul Rodriguez when he was at the height of his career, right?
Yamashita: That’s true, I’ve never seen him in real-time when he was at the height of his career, but I’ve watched Girl Skateboard‘s video, YEAH RIGHT. Plus, he’s got a massive aura, so I always get nervous when I see him in person. It’s hard to describe in words, but it’s like I’m careful not to make a fool out of myself in front of him. I get so humbled, and it’s ridiculous how I get so nervous when we’re skating together [laughs].
But the Primitive crew has a strong camaraderie, and they’re constantly on the go, and they ask me out every time they’re doing a shoot. I don’t think I’d be able to skate as much as I do now if they hadn’t accepted me.
Usually, Japanese people become reserved when abroad, but we’re all skaters here, so people will just straight up come and talk to you if you’re doing your thing. That’s how I naturally got along well with the team.
ーーSo would you say you’re fluent enough to communicate in English?
Yamashita: I can have conversations in English. But I don’t know much about grammar, so my English can be sloppy, and there’s still a lot of times I don’t understand. It’s hard.
But my teammates correct me when I’m wrong, so that’s been a huge help for me. It would be the best if I could naturally pick up the language just by traveling to the States frequently, but that’s not the case, and I actually have to study harder.
Signing multiple contracts in 2021, opening up the path to the world
ーーAnd can you tell us about Lakai? They’ve collaborated with Erased, and it seems like they’re going worldwide.
Yamashita: Yes. I’m now signed to Lakai US. It actually happened quite recently—They signed me last August when I was in the US, right before flying back to Japan.
But, another thing I can say now is that I wasn’t sure if I should really sign with Lakai back then. It’s because I was getting offers from other brands simultaneously, and I was asking around people what would be the right move to make. But I’ve been wearing shoes from Lakai for a long time, and they meant so much to me. So, in the end, we decided that I should sign with Lakai with a higher-level sponsorship.
It took time to figure it out, but eventually, I got signed to them right before flying back to Japan. But I’ve got to say, it’s such an honor to be admired by many brands.
ーーAlso, you did a shoot with G-SHOCK for your welcome clip while you were in the US. Can you tell us how you joined team G-SHOCK?
Yamashita: Essentially, G-SHOCK was looking for a male rider who could be the face of the brand. Initially, I got the offer through the skateboard online media VHS MAG, and later they had arranged a meeting for me with the people from the brand, which went well, and things moved forward from there.
When I told the G-SHOCK crew that I had an upcoming trip to the US, they were like, “You should shoot your welcome video there!” So they hooked me up with an American filmer and photographer, did a shoot while I was in the States, and used that video to officially announce my joining the team.
Before, I used to go to their skate contest event called REAL TOUGHNESS, and I’ve always thought they’re a cool brand, so I’m truly happy to be part of their team now.
ーーHow many times have you traveled to Los Angeles, and what brought you there? Also, any memorable experiences you had in LA?
Yamashita: How many times have I gone to LA? I honestly don’t remember [laughs]. But I remember my first time in LA was for TAMPA AM. My most memorable trip to LA was when Luis took me there when I was in my second year of middle school. It was a whole new experience, and it left a strong imprint on me. Erased got me the flight tickets, and it was my first-ever tour to do a shoot.
Also, in my final year of middle school, I was chosen one of the High-Performance Program players for the Tokyo Olympics, so I got to go to the States and many other countries to participate in different contests. Back then, I focused more on doing well at competitions instead of documenting my skating in videos as I do now. So, it’s a big difference between now compared to two-and-a-half years ago. I’ve signed contracts this summer, so that allows me to skate in the States whenever possible. At the end of last November, when I skated at TAMPA AM, I got to stop by LA and skate with my teammates. I want to keep myself going in 2022.
Current lifestyle and plan for the future
ーーIn Japan, you are in Vantan high school studying skateboards and designs. What’s your life like in Japan?
Yamashita: Vantan high school is in Ebisu, and I usually go there in the morning to take design, video editing, or graphic design class and study for about two hours. Then, after lunch break, I go to the skate park and just skate ’till class ends, which always feels so short [laughs].
I have Mr. Rob Taro for the video editing class, Mr. Hiroki Muraoka for the sketch class, Mr. Issei Morinaka, Ryo Motohashi, Mr. Rob Taro, and Mr. Muraoka for the skate class. I know all my teachers from before, so they don’t feel like normal schoolteachers. I think this is something unique in the skateboard culture.
ーーNow you are 17 and in your second year of high school. What are you thinking of doing after you graduate high school? Please tell us your plan for the future.
Yamashita: While I’m in high school, I want to skate as much as I want in Japan, go to the US as much as I can and skate there as much as I do in Japan. I hope I can get a US visa before I graduate. I’m considering moving to the States after I graduate and being based out of there.
With contests, I’ll participate whenever I can. After a year of the pandemic, I see more younger kids at domestic competitions, so I think it’s now shifting to the next generation. I’m now the oldest contestant, so if I’m signing up for a contest, I need to go to the venue beforehand and practice hard enough to win.
As you can tell from this year’s TAMPA AM, Japan is getting strong these days, and I want to make sure I keep up with it and show my style and achieve results.