November 17, 2023 TOPICS

Female skateboarding pioneer who defines the Paris Olympics as “the culmination of her skateboarding career” nabs spot on Japanese national team

Kisa Nakamura (4th year, College of Gastronomy Management), a pioneer in the women's skateboard park event, has set her sights on a new goal. Skateboarding debuted as an Olympic sport in 2021 at the Tokyo Olympics, but Nakamura suffered an upset in the qualifying round and failed to make the national team. Feeling depressed, she had a hard time devoting herself fully to her training, but in the end, she was spurred on by the support and encouragement of those around her. With her sights set on the 2024 Paris Olympics, which she says will be the culmination of her skateboarding career, she has been honing her dynamic aerial tricks, all while working hard on her studies.

She says she was finally able to regain some perspective after competing in a tournament in Argentina this May. “When I felt like I was enjoying skating, I was able to perform well. That’s the feeling that has finally returned,” says an excited Nakamura. “I want to skate the best that I can, so, now I am ready to practice more. Not only because it’s fun, but because I want to go to the Paris Olympics. I will have to face many rivals, but I will give it my all,” says Nakamura emphatically.

Nakamura’s ticket to the Tokyo Olympics was all but punched. Unfortunately, she was unable to give her best performance at the final qualifying round in Iowa due to an injured ligament in her knee, and she finished in seventh place, with three other Japanese skaters placing higher. She narrowly missed the third and final spot on the national team at the last minute and ended up being named an alternate. Two months before this event, her beloved father, Takahide, who had always been there to support her, passed away, which only added to her emotional distress. “I didn’t feel like skating at all. Mentally, I was in a bad space,” explains Nakamura reflecting on that time. “At its core, skateboarding is not a sport; it’s a culture. So, the added stress of having to win had me in turmoil,” she says. When she was on her board, she was just skating. Because she had qualified, she continued to compete in the events leading up to the Paris Olympics, but she started to lose sight of her goal and had all but lost her motivation.

That’s when her classmates rallied around to cheer her on. Sakura Yosozumi, the gold medalist at the Tokyo Olympics, is one grade below Nakamura, and they both trained at G Park in Kobe. Even Yosozumi struggles to keep up with the young, up-and-coming skaters like Kokona Hiraki and Hinano Kusaki. “I talk to Sakura (Yosozumi) and other skaters often, and they all say that when you turn 20, a lot of things change and you can only practice for four or five hours, or about half of the 10 hours that you used to be able to practice. When you’re competing against other skaters who are only 15, it’s tough to keep your mind in check,” she says. Looking at the situation overseas, including the United States, where skateboarding was born, and Brazil, she says there are very few female skaters over the age of 25. “I have been only been competing in a closed world where only invited players can compete. But the can-do spirit is the same no matter how old you are. I regret that I stopped skating for such a long time, but if I quit now, I would also regret it. I would also regret losing to a 15-year-old. This is why I am ready to compete again,” says Nakamura. These powerful words are typical of someone who has pioneered their field.

Nakamura started skateboarding at the age of six. Her father, Takahide, who was a surfer, made her approach skateboarding as athletic training in order to raise her to be a professional surfer. At the age of eight, she won her first championship in a tournament where adults also participated. Starting in 2011, when she turned 11, she won consecutive national Japan championships, and her next big leap came in 2014, when she crossed the ocean for the first time. She needed an invitation to participate in a tournament, so she sent an email with a video taken by her father and included English subtitles to express her desire to compete. She successfully earned a spot in the tournament and placed second. That same year she was also invited to the world's most prestigious tournament, where she placed sixth, and the following week she won her first professional competition in the United States. In 2016, she became the first Asian to win the X Games, an extreme sports competition. Despite her small size, she has leveraged her trademark speed and dynamic tricks to cement her position on the world stage. “Back then, there were no skate park events in Japan, but they had them in the United States, so all I wanted to do was show everyone how I could skate. It is tough living abroad by yourself, but as long as there are other skaters around, everything is fine,” says Nakamura with a smile.

According to Nakamura, the appeal of skateboarding is that everyone has their own personality and style. It’s not just about skill, it’s about expressing yourself in the moment, and anything is possible. Unlike surfing, the community is close-knit, so you can even talk to your friends while you skate. This environment is what Nakamura says she loves about skateboarding. She is also unique in that she doesn’t have a coach. “I was good at spinning my body but not my deck. I overcame this by watching YouTube videos over and over with my father at the skate park and practicing very hard,” recounts Nakamura. Experiencing this success gave her the courage and confidence to compete on the front lines in the global arena.

Nakamura entered Ritsumeikan University because she was intrigued by the College of Gastronomy Management. "I had a personal contract with a nutritionist and understood the importance of food myself, so I wanted to learn more about how what you eat affects your mental health and motivation. I also want to develop multifaceted management skills related to factors like business administration and economics through the lens of food,” explains Nakamura, who commutes two hours each way just as she did in high school. Nakamura, who has many friends at university who support her, says, “The most relaxing time for me is when I am with my friends who root for me. Sometimes they even come to my classes with me even though they are not registered.” Nakamura took a year off from school to focus on skateboarding, so she says she took her “first graduation trip” to Ishikawa with her friends this March.

Although she did not place in the World Skateboarding Championships held in Italy this October, her goal is to advance to the final eight in the next tournament in Dubai in January. “The younger skaters have a lot of momentum, but I have the edge in terms of experience. I will focus on the finer points and technical aspects,” she says confidently. Nakamura will fly to Dubai in November to start practicing in-country. “I won’t have enough time to prepare if I only skate in the open practice sessions before the tournament,” she explains. She plans to focus on honing the finer aspects of her technique.

Nakamura says she will retire after the Paris Olympics, but even if she stops skateboarding professionally, she wants to support the sport in some way. On the other hand, she also dreams of using the experience gained from studying management to plan and produce events that bring skateboarders together. “I want to remain in a position where I can always support skateboarding,” declares Nakamura. This time, she is sure to shine at the Olympics.

Profile: Kisa Nakamura

Born in Kobe on May 22, 2000, Nakamura graduated from Osaka Gakugei Senior High School before coming to Ritsumeikan. She is a pioneer in the women's skateboard park, an event where skaters compete on technique and expression in a park-like setting with bowls, ramps, and other obstacles. After traveling the world for competitions, she says her favorite country is Sweden Because of its amazing townscapes. Her best friend outside of Japan is the Tokyo Olympics bronze medalist Sky Brown from the UK. She has even visited her home in the United States. Nakamura’s hobby is reading. She likes to read before going to bed, and her favorite author is Maha Harada. She is also passionate about fashion.


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