words: Mary Walsh
photos: Mary Walsh and Sean Genovese
The multi-facted transition park that defines the rideable acres of Holy Bowly sets the stage for a rare seasonal reunion, unique in bringing together a cadre of snowboarders who set their sights on spending a week figuring out the lines less traveled down the mountain. The individuals who come together make up the fabric of the Holy Bowly as much as the Snowboy Productions-created course itself. The Bowly oasis of berms, gaps, transfers and boobs calls, and the winter wayfarers answer. From longtime Bowly legends Jesse Burtner, Austin Hironaka, Jamie Lynn, Wes Makepeace and Forest Bailey to formidable turners Louif Paradis, Phil Jacques, Chris Grenier, Max Warbington, Tucker Andrews, Zak Hale, Tim Humphreys, Dylan Thompson, and Ian Keay, to more recent additions Finn and JJ Westbury, Jacob Krugmire, Matteo Soltane, Miles Fallon, Cooper Whittier, Milo Malkoski, to style stalwarts Sean Genovese, Forest Bailey, Scott Stevens, Ben Bilocq, Alex Lopez, Koutaru Minamiya, Hikaru Tairu, and Naoto Morota—the distinct styles of snowboarding represented runs the gamut and fuses into a cohesive and diverse crew. The proof of why Bowly is such a highly regarded and beloved annual gathering is in the pudding, or in this case, the substance is in the snowboarding and the snowboarders, themselves. Just as everyone lends a hand, a shovel, and a slip during the necessary group transition rake every afternoon, from the builders, to the resort staff, to the riders, and of course, Krush Kulesza, the man behind the madness plays a roll in making Holy Bowly what it is at every turn.
Kenji Kato is an instrumental individual in Bowly’s beginning across the Pacific, first at Happo-One and then at Tenjin in Japan. After becoming friends with Krush while living in Seattle, Kenji collaborated with Krush as the liason to Snowboy’s Japanese events. Holy Bowl-eh, the third installment of the international gathering of transition and flow in North America, and the first in Canada, was Kenji’s first time at the event since Tenjin. Heading to Sunshine Village for Bowl-eh also marked Kenji’s first time back in Canada in years, so in order to make the trip extra epic, he crewed up with some friends, flew into Vancouver where they rented an RV and roadtripped across BC to Banff, Alberta. The crew left their mark on the berms every day, bringing a tenacious and flowly style to every turn. On the final day of Holy Bowl-eh, we caught up with Kenji to get to know one of the boarders who makes Bowly unique, special, revered, and just so damn fun.
SBDR: So, this is your first Holy Bowly in North America?
Kenji: First one in North America.
Could you describe your involvement with Krush in kicking off Holy Bowly in Japan?
Well, that was about eight years ago now, I think. I used to live in Seattle, working at a snowboard shop called Snowboard Connection. I had to leave because of the visas and all that kind of stuff, so before I left, Krush and I had dinner at Mexican restaurant and he basically wanted to do some events in Japan. I am going to be staying in Japan and going to be a good bridge between the snowboard scenes in North America and Japan. We started off with Boxes for Days. We did that in Hakuba, since I live there. So, we did that first and second years, and after the second year, Krush wanted to do the Holy Bowly in Japan. The idea came up from bowl culture in Japan that he saw and also he was doing the Holy Oly [at Snoqualmie]. So, yeah we decided to do it. Krush came over, did the Holy Bowly in Hakuba, was the first year, over in Happo. It was really simple, a bowl with a couple of boobs on it. We got Jamie [Lynn], Pat Moore, Wes Makepeace. Who else? [Scott] Blum, [Austin] Hironaka. Hironaka’s been every year. Jesse [Burtner], all the Think Thank crew. The Think Thank guys always come to Hakuba. They were there, super hyped. That’s like how first Holy Bowly first started and I’m pretty stoked to be a part of it.
Could you touch on the bowl culture in Japan for anyone who’s not familiar with it?
Bowl culture. There’s many guys out there who know more about the bowl culture deeply, but what I’d say is, bowl culture came out from a natural terrain shape. We have really complex terrain in Japan that actually looks like a bowl, very surfy. So, this guy, Bubbles, Hayato Maruyama, he rides for Gentem, he is one of the pioneers that started the bowl culture. He tried to make natural terrain spots with hand-shaping, more like a skate bowl, and also another guy, Goro Komatsu, he actually lives in Hakuba. He’s also one of the pioneers of bowl culture, too. It’s huge. The cool thing about the bowl is any level, any snowboarder can ride it. Like Krush mentioned a 12 year old kid, strapping in and riding next to Jamie Lynn. You don’t see that many times in the park. In the terrain park, you have to be good at jibbing, jumps and stuff—in the bowl, there’s so many lines in it and you can make your own style. So, I think that’s the beauty of the bowl culture. It’s really deep in Japan.
So, you guys held the event for two years in Japan and then Krush brought it to North America and finally you’re able to join here in Canada for the first time.
I just came over to say hi, since I haven’t been in North America for a long time. It’s been like seven years, so I wanted to see those guys, see what’s up and wanted to make this trip a little bit more special. And now, Krush mentioned he wants to do it in Japan next year. So, I guess I’m just going to team up with him again, kind of a reunion. I’m pretty stoked on it.
You came over with a crew and road tripped from Vancouver.
Yep. Yep. This crew, that guy Hikaru [Taira] and also Naoto [Morota], and their old homie Jun [Ooide]. They’ve been riding Tenzan, which is about two hours from Tokyo and they wanted to do some kind of special trip and Hikary asked me, “Hey, Kenji, do you want to come over? It’ll be fun. You know how to drive on the right hand side and you’ll be a good interpreter and you know what’s up in Canada.” And I have always wanted to go to see my buddies and stuff so I, “Yeah let’s go!” It took only five hours or something, less than that probably. “Alright, I’m going.” And the next day I got a plane ticket. “We should make this trip more fun, like a road trip kind of thing. Instead of flying all the way to Calgary, we should rent a camper van.” They were super stoked on it. We got the RV, [drove for] three days, great scenery, super stoked on those mountains and food and beer. (laughs) A couple guys from our crew had never been outside of Japan, so everything is so fresh. Even going to the supermarket is super fresh. Like “Wow, this is crazy! What is this? What is this?” It’s been a fun trip.
There’s one more photo drop to come from Holy Bowl-eh and one more video. Stay tuned to Snowboarder.com for more.