Death Label's search for the Holy Bowly.
PJ Gustafsson is no stranger to Japan. Part of the Death Label crew since 2008, he's had his fair share of good times in the land of the rising sun. He recently made the trip back out there to join the team on yet another tour, representing the product, riding with locals and generally having a damn good time. he hit us up with this report from his adventures, and it sounds rad. Read on to find out what went down as the Death Label crew searched for their Unholy Bowly.
So you’re back from the Death Label tour. What went down?
Yes, I am! Back in my cabin in Sälen, Sweden at the moment. Just chillin' and enjoying some spring riding. Damn...So much fun stuff went down on this Death Label tour it's hard to know where to begin...
Ok, so this trip was divided into roughly three sessions? (Dream Session, Battlegram, Yuzawa Niigata Session) Can you explain a little about each one?
Yeah, so Taka (Death Label founder/owner/boss) his son and Yuzi Azuma (Death Label rider) aka Ton picked me up at the Tokyo, Narita airport when I landed after travelling for a mellow 22 hours or so. Then Ton and I started the tour off right away by driving directly to Hakuba Norikura to participate in a three-day event called Dream Session 4.
Dream Session is basically an annual snowboard, snowskate and Yukiita event created by a guy named Goro Komatsu. It's not a contest...It's just rad sessions for three days with lots of good riders and really good vibes. This was the 4th year and Goro and his crew had built a sick setup with a big bowl, banks, hips, spines, snake runs, bumps, volcanos and tranny for days.
The park was divided into three parts, one for snowboards, one for snowskates and one for Yukiita. Then there was food tents, DJs, lots of beer and several snowboard, snowskate and Yukiita companies that had put up demo tents. The first two days it was just me, Ton and Yuji Hara from the Death Label team. It was bluebird, good vibes, lots of good riders and some really good sessions went down. We all hiked the park and rode a lot the first day.
Day two I was really starting to feel the jetlag plus the lack of sleep and maybe a little bit too heavy partying the night before, so I took it pretty chill and enjoyed watching Yuji, Ton and other great riders such as Yusaku Horii, Masaki Kitae, Dan Ato and others get some really creative and sick lines.
Day three Taka and Tatsuya Nagumo (OG Death Label rider) came and joined us. The weather really sucked balls but I was feeling normal again and we had some really fun and good sessions both on the snowboard and on snowskates before it was time to pack it up and move on.
Tatsuya went back home to Niigata with his wife but Taka, Ton, Yuji and I moved on to Nagano for three days of riding spring powder and shooting in the Shiga Kogen area. It was three awesome days! We had some really good times and fun riding there for sure, as well as some really exciting and thrilling pool games between me, Yuji and Taka and Ton in the bar at the place we stayed at.
After doing some sightseeing in Nagano, visiting the old Buddhist temple Zenkō-ji that was built in the 7th century and saying hello to the "snow monkeys" in Jigokudani, it was time to say goodbye to Yuji and Ton for this time. Me and Taka went on to meet up with Tomo from Death Label at the Death Label apartment in Minakami.
After the first nights sleep at the Death Label apartment we went to Kawaba Resort in Gunma to do a Banked Slalom contest. I had the completely wrong board set up for a banked slalom contest haha. I rode my 151cm long camber-rocker hybrid board with rounded edges. Definitely not the best choice when it comes to high speed carving through a banked slalom course, but a fucking great board anyways.
I did my two runs and ended in 35th place out of 81 haha... Taka got 40th place and Tomo killed it. He got 9th place! Mike Rav won! He was almost 7 seconds faster than me I believe hahaha. He was fast as a fucking shark!! Really fun to meet Mike Rav and Scott Stevens there. They were on a Capita Japan tour and we came to cross paths with them again in Kandatsu Kogen and later on in Ishiuchimaruyama as well.
Anyways...After the banked slalom, Tomo and I moved on to Niigata and a big two-day on-snow demo at Kandatsu Kogen Resort. It was two days of helping out in the really busy Death Label demo tent, some chill shredding with customers, sunny skies and seeing lots of old and new faces. When all of that was done Tatsuya joined us again and we had a nice and sunny little session in the Battlegram bowl at Ishiuchimaruyama Resort before it was time for our last session of this tour.
The last session of this tour was basically me, Tatsuya, Tomo and a crew of Japanese pros and photographers that went out with snowmobiles and built this line with two corner jumps (fs and then bs if you are regular) in a row in a big gully somewhere in the Yuzawa Niigata backcountry. We spent at least five hours or so on building the jumps, landings and the in-run during the morning.
It was sunny as hell and when it was finally time to shred I didn't have more power left than to hit it 4 or 5 times before my legs turned to Japanese Soba noodles and I had to call it the day. All the riding, hiking, partying, travelling, late nights and early mornings had taken its toll on me. But I guess that it's ok to get a little bit tired after 13 days on snowboard tour when you are in fact 39 and not 25 anymore haha.
It was still fun to just sit down, sip on a beer and watch some of the young guys' session the jumps and Tatsuya and Tomo go all in on all kinds of flips even if they had some troubles with their landings haha. It was a good session for sure. Me, Taka and Tomo ended this whole tour with the cherry blossom festival and river boat trip in Tokyo with many beers and good memories.
So, how did you meet all those Japanese dudes back in the day?
I started riding for Death Label in March 2008. At this point, I was the first and only non-Japanese rider on the team and I had never met any of the other riders. In Late February 2011 I went on my first Death Label Japan trip for three weeks and since then I have been on another three Death Label trips to Japan. During these ten years and all of these trips, I have become very good friends with most of the Death Label guys. I guess that when you are on tour together and spend all your time travelling, riding, eating, laughing and partying together 24/7, you get to know each other very fast if you are a small crew. I can easily say that some of the Death Label guys have become some of my best friends today. They are family for sure.
You’re pretty seasoned by Japan these days, what’s your favourite thing about the place?
So many things! The people, the culture, the mountains, the snow. I fucking love Japan! People, in general, are so friendly, kind and polite. They have so much cool history. There are ski resorts pretty much everywhere...Over 500 spread out all over Japan and the powder they get is easily the best there is.
Where are you heading next?
Next up is the Holy Bowly week in Timberline with a Death Label crew consisting of me, Andrew Brewer, Ton, Taka, Curren Weber and Tomo. Last years Holy Bowly in Sunshine Village was insane! I can't wait to see what Krush and Snowboy Productions will create this time.
Check out the previous Death label Japan Tour in Volume 18.2. In your local shred shop and right here.