Ryuhei Kitazume – Meet You There

The Shonan area, a string of beachfront towns an hour away from central Tokyo, is known as ‘Surfer’s Paradise’ in Japan, but it’s also home to one of the strongest skate scenes, producing some of the best skaters to ever come out the country. ‘Sega Mae’ was the EMB of Shonan, a marble plaza with perfect ledges right in front of the beach. The ‘Chatty Chatty’ crew: Koichi ‘Zizow’ Kitamura, Soichiro Nakajima, Yoshiaki Toeda, Junya Fire and many more, have been making videos around Sega Mae for 20 years, filmed by videographer Chatty Pong. Ryuhei Kitazume literally grew up at Sega Mae, witnessing the OG’s and blending that signature Chatty Chatty tech style with plenty of added power.
Unfortunately, street skating in Japan is public enemy number one, and while it’s always been difficult it’s recently become almost impossible. In the last few years Sega Mae has been knobbed, then liberated, then reknobbed and the ledges chunked, then liberated, then reknobbed and sand dumped in front of the ledges. What was once one of Japan’s best spots is now an unskateable eyesore. Ryuhei spent the pandemic in Shonan waiting for the world to reopen so he could travel again and skate some ledges.
In November 2021 we were finally able to link in Barcelona and Ryuhei filmed a full part while he shot this interview for Free. Ryuhei is one of my favourite skaters but I know this part is just the start of a new chapter for him; he’s headed back to Europe, this time to stay a while.

– Anthony Claravall

Frontside bluntslide, Cornellà. Photo: Gerard Riera.

Interview (from 🔴 46) by Laurence Keefe.

Are you still living in Shonan?
Yeah, it’s away from the city and a quiet town. Because there are a lot of surfers in the area it’s a bit more lenient towards skating than Tokyo.

Most skaters there seem to follow a certain style: baggy pants and knee-high ledge tricks. How did that happen?
Yeah that’s because of Sega Mae. The ledges there are high so you need to have a big ollie to get up onto them. Yoshiaki Toeda and Zizow were big influences for me.

I was told you lived in Kentucky a bit when you were younger. How come? How long? And what was it like?
How did you hear that? I can’t really remember Kentucky but I lived in the US from the age of one to eight. The first year in Kentucky and after that in Indiana. My father was working for Toyota and there was a factory out there. I was speaking English when I was there, but I went to a Japanese school on Saturdays so I could practise Japanese as well.
It was really in the countryside out there, nothing like New York or California. I’d wake up in the morning and see a deer in the garden, or skunks and snakes. It was that rural. I remember Nickelodeon though, I always watched that and SpongeBob…

Did you skate when you were there?
Do you know Rocket Power? It was a cartoon with surfing, snowboarding and skating for kids. I watched that but at the time I was only really going down slopes on a Toys ’R’ Us board kind of level.

Same as me at that age then. Tell us about some of the different jobs you’ve had. You worked at a Pachinko parlour, but also at a port right?
Pachinko was just a part-time job when I was a student. I just did that because the money was good at the time. More recently was the port work. It was hard. I would be doing things like moving 700 packets of 25kg flour onto a container, then repeating to fill around five containers in a day with one other guy.

Crooked grind Chiba, Japan. Photo: Nobuo Iseki.

And you were active as a pro skater at that time? Was that tough?
Yes, I was. It was so hard. The good thing was that it was an early start in the morning but I would finish around three or 4pm so I would be able to skate after until it got dark. I did that for around three years. I would be so tired, but would go skating anyway, starting from total exhaustion. (Laughs)

Was that like training for you though? Like Brazilians that play football on the beach with no shoes play way easier on the pitch afterwards…
Ahhhh nah not really ha ha. But the money was good and it was like a free gym to me. At the time I always thought paying to go to a gym was dumb when you could get paid to work out at the port. Losing weight and getting paid for it.

And are you still working now? Or just skating?
Just skating. Thanks to Tightbooth and Nike.

What did you study at university?
International studies. It was a course about cultural differences. I guess because I lived in the States at a young age and was interested in pursuing a career in something where I could use the English language. I haven’t really used what I studied yet in my career so I can’t really judge if it was worth it or not, but it’s up to me what I do from now on. I never thought I would be able to be a pro skater forever, so I thought it would be good to have a plan B and plan C as well.

Backside Smith grind, Viladecans. Gerard Riera.

I know you rode for Western Edition a long time, and even went pro for them. And now you’ve made the switch to Tightbooth, which are now making boards. When did this happen and why the switch?
I was pro for Western Edition, but at some point, they weren’t really putting out any new boards. I was skating but WE didn’t really have any projects going on. More than just being a pro, I wanted to be out filming. So, I quit for the time being and thought about riding something else, and Shinpei (Ueno) asked me if I wanted to ride for Tightbooth. We were filming for Lenz III already so I started with the clothing, and as I didn’t have a board sponsor, he told me they would start making boards as well. I was contemplating it for a while but ended up getting on.

Did you have any offers from other board brands over the years?
Yes. Should I say?? Aaaaaaaah…

Why did you turn them down?
There were a few that I got offers that I didn’t really know the brand, or I just thought that my circumstances wouldn’t change even if I changed sponsors. When I was on WE I wanted to skate more, film more, travel to more places so I quit, but if I ended up getting on another company of a similar size it probably wouldn’t change for me. I’d just get boards for free but wouldn’t be able to do what I’m trying to do.

Anthony Claravall told us that semi-recently you thought about giving the skate game a rest, getting a proper career, etc. What happened that changed your mind?
I’ve never actually properly looked for a job, but I was more interested in doing what I want to do rather than just trying to be a pro skater. I just wanted to skate how I wanted. At the time I was thinking that if I just worked for my own money I could spend it how I like and be free to skate how I like. I thought that would mean I’d enjoy my time skating more.

But then your free time for skating gets less and less… Might not end up being so fun…
Ha ha yeah it probably wouldn’t have been fun. That’s how I was thinking before Tightbooth though. There are things we have to do for the brand, but Shinpei lets me do what I want as well. If that’s the case then that’s probably best for me, right?

For how long were you filming your part for Lenz III with Shinpei and the Tighbooth crew?
I remember the first time filming for the video. It was April 2018 in Osaka. At that time Tightbooth was still based in Osaka, so I would go there once every six months. Over the years my sponsors changed though, so I ended up re-filming a lot of it.

Switch heelflip, Barcelona. Photo: Gerard Riera.

So how much of your part did you have to re-film because your clothing got baggier?
Maybe half? And it wasn’t much fun. You compare everything to the first time you filmed it and sometimes the first one looked better. Or the second time you try to film it you already know you can land it, but you don’t get it so easy and it can be fucking frustrating. It’s hard to get yourself in a good state of mind. I’m glad I re-filmed it all though.

So much of the video is filmed at night. What would your typical schedule be on the day of one of those night missions?
When we were filming for Lenz in Osaka we would start skating around midday until it got dark around 5pm. Maybe we wouldn’t get a good clip and would still want to try and get something, so we would chill for a few hours, eat something then go out filming again and would end up being out until morning.
If we only go out at night we would usually wait until after midnight when the trains stop running to start skating because you get kicked out less and there are less pedestrians in the way. You only need one guy that calls the police on you to get kicked out so you have to wait until the middle of the night.

Do you ever get roped into holding lights and looking out for traffic when others are filming tricks? How do you feel about staffing filming sessions to help the others get clips?
They do it for me, so I have to do it for the others for it to be fair. You need staff in Japan; to look out for people, but even to look after the car while someone tries a trick. You get kicked out in two seconds so it doesn’t make sense to pay to park the car…

Claravall said that he caught you listening to the Lion King soundtrack once, ha ha, what kind of music do you like?
It was just once! Must have made a lasting impression… Yeah I listened to the Lion King soundtrack. I went to Broadway to see the musical with my family. At that time, I had the CD at home and put it into my iTunes. It was just once but Ant asks me about it from time to time.

So, what do you usually listen to?
Hip-hop, sometimes reggae, Hikaru Utada, etc.

Did you choose your own track for Lenz III?
No, that was Shinpei, but that track was a perfect choice. SITT is now the theme to my life.

Can we expect a Disney tune for your new part with Ant then?
No way ha ha. Ant likes Hip-hop as well so I think he understands.

Frontside nosegrind, Calafell. Photo: Gerard Riera.

Where have you travelled to with Ant for this part?
Tokyo this time, but mostly Barcelona and a bit in Lisbon.

What was your favourite European destination?
I haven’t been to so many places yet so I don’t know. Barcelona is great and Portugal was good but I haven’t been anywhere else yet. I’m a ledge skater, so if there’s a good ledge and the weather’s good I’m set.

Could you see yourself living outside of Japan one day?
If I could I’d love to. Right now I’m thinking about living in Barcelona.

You said you were heading there in January, right?
I’ve got a one-way ticket. Hopefully I’ll stay for over a year. If my visa runs out and I want to keep going by then I’d love to go to Brazil as well. For that first year, I don’t want to only stay in Barcelona but travel around Europe too. Depends how long my money lasts. If I have the funds I’d like to go to Milan, the UK and Germany… Depends on money, timing and if there’s a good filmer. I’m not worried. Everyone travels to Barcelona so it’s easy to meet people from all over Europe.

Ph. Gerard Riera

Hablas Español?
Un poco. Estudié Espańol en la universidad. I studied for two years, but in reality you learn faster if you’re there; al carrer de Barcelona (on the streets of Barcelona). They only teach you weird stuff to say though ha ha.

What would you miss about Japan if you lived overseas?
7-11, public order and the food; it’s so good. You can eat beef on rice here for around 300yen (two euros) and it’s the best. For that kind of thing Japan is the best. Food for sure. 7-11 is all about the food as well.

And is there anything you wouldn’t miss?
The Japanese public generally hates skateboarding and I think that’s the worst. I don’t even want to speak to those kinds of people. I don’t even feel the need to convince them and make them understand skateboarding. I can’t stand it.

Any thank-yous or last words?
I want to say thank you to Anthony for filming, and Gerard for shooting the photos. A lot of people to thank for shooting… All my sponsors: Tightbooth, Nike SB, Spitfire, Ace Trucks, Bones Bearings, 9FIVE and FTC… All the Spanish friends that took care of me even though I couldn’t speak Spanish, and from now as well I hope you all look out for me in Barcelona.

Cheers moite.
Cheers mate.

Frontside crooked grind, Barcelona. Photo: Gerard Riera.