words and captions: T. Bird
photos: Blotto

It's arguable that rail jams have undergone the most evolution of all the genres of snowboard contests in the last fifteen years. At the turn of the century roughly a decade-and-a-half ago, street session-style events started popping up all over the globe and it seemed that this newfound style of contest was widely accepted as a grassroots event popularized by riders like Scotty Arnold, Eddie Wall, Lucas Magoon, Lane Knaack and other street-centric shredders. The features as well as the riding focused solely on rail riding, the act of putting P-Tex to metal and sliding down handrails. However, just a few years later, rail jam event organizers and builders began to incorporate features that were usually more reserved for slopestyle contests. The introduction of quarterpipes, hips and even straight-over jumps seemed to compromise the legitimacy of an actual "rail jam," though this attempt to market these events to a more mainstream audience seemed to be very successful.

This also allowed pro snowboarders whose riding was more catered to slopestyle to be introduced to into the fold and because of that, the field was much more varied than when the only features in a rail jam were a simple down bar placed next to a single kink. The setups were spectacular, laser light show-esque and they drew massive crowds. Plainly put, it was a bit over-the-top, but in the evolution of the rail jam, it was eventually scaled back and the people putting on the events—as well as the riders and the builders—found some common ground. It seems that an event like Burton Rail Days—now in it's fifth iteration—is an amalgamation of the days when a fifteen stair down bar was all that was provided mixed with the garish and sometimes ostentatious presentation that was the "rail jam" of a few years prior. While the setup is indeed impressive aesthetically, Burton and the builders have focused more on the features themselves as well as incorporating some of the more mainstream qualities that make the event enjoyable to someone who may not be on the hill fifty-plus days a year. Not to mention, it's smack dab in the middle of downtown Tokyo, which is a miraculous feat to pull off in and of itself. In other words, Rail Days is the modern-day rail jam evolved and what snowboarding has learned from this category of riding is ever-present in this event, from start to finish.

Together with SPT, Burton built one of the most remarkable street setups to date, as the course offered dozens of opportunities for the eighteen invited riders to find multiple lines, but this wasn't a one-hit feature by any means. Perched right in the middle of Roppongi Hills Arena sat a behemoth of a feature while some of the best rail riders on earth were strapping in atop the giant, ready to put on a show. The format was simple and straightforward. Two heats of nine riders with each session running for 25 minutes. The top three would advance to the finals from each heat to battle it out for the first place prize of $15,000. The heats were broken up as such:

Heat 1:

  • Alex Andrews
  • Benny Milam
  • Darcy Sharpe
  • Ethan Deiss
  • Jesse Augustinus
  • Johnny O'Connor
  • Yuma Abe
  • Luke Staveley
  • Sean Ryan

Heat 2:

  • Mark Swoboda
  • Kyle Kennedy
  • Reo Takahashi
  • Sebastien Toutant
  • Tristin Heiner
  • Zach Aller
  • Zak Hale
  • Yuki Kadono

After fifty minutes and two full heats of non-stop action, only six remained. While rail jam staples and new-age rail phenoms like Kyle Kennedy, Johnny O'Connor, Zak Hale, Benny Milam and Jesse Augustinus failed to qualify, last year's Burton Rail Days champion Zach Aller, slopestyle standout Darcy Sharpe, Olympian and multi-time X Games medalist Sebastién Toutant, former Knowbuddy-turned-all-around radman for Burton Snowboards Alex Andrews, sponsorless street savant Sean Ryan and hometown hero Ryusei Takahashi advanced to the finals. For the twenty minute jam, despite some judging issues not at all related to the judges, everyone went crazy and the crowd reciprocated their efforts. The one surprise in the finals jam session was centered around one of the most consistent riders in the contest circuit, Seb Toots. Despite absolutely dominating the qualifying heat in which he maintained the lead throughout the entire session, Seb simply couldn't get his feet underneath him and for more than half of the final, was in last place. He finally started to get his groove a little more than halfway through and ended up one spot ahead of Ryusei and ended up in fifth place.

In contrast, the story of the night was the sponsorless Stonp acquaintance from the States, Sean Ryan. Sean got into the event when one of the original invited riders couldn't make it and head judge Sandy McDonald—who knew Sean from his days as a Forum rider—informed the event organizers that the immensely talented expat lived in Tokyo and would be hyped to compete. In what was one of the most inspiring stories at Rail Days, Sean not only went on to the finals but held the lead throughout three-quarters of it, all the while, smiling, laughing, and hyping up the crowd with every single drop. In the end, three riders beat him, but only after linking a handful of lines and deservedly bumping Sean down into fourth place.

Last year's winner Zach Aller rode incredibly well all night long and capped off his night with a few 270 transfer variations as well as a massive frontside invert on the wallride that also earned him Best Wall Trick and an extra $1,000 on top of the $3,000 he took home for third place. Second place went to Bonezone creator, former Knowbuddy and all-around badass Alex Andrews, who flew over to Tokyo on a whim to test his mettle against the best in the world. Turns out, Double-A is back and in my personal opinion, should launch the comeback of the century and melt the snowboard world's D's off. The kid took home $6,000 and I can't wait to see how he spends it. All night long, Alex rode clean, consistent and concise. The kid's still got it and I couldn't have been more stoked to see him standing on the podium in second place. But there was one kid who stood out, both literally and metaphorically. The tall Canadian Darcy Sharpe was doing the most spectacular and technical tricks of the evening and he carried that into the finals with crazy variations and unfailing consistency. Darcy took home $15,000 for his efforts and the title of 2015 Burton Rail Days champion. It was a Rail Days for the record books and the only thing more fun than attending the event itself was stepping out into the pinball-esque Tokyo nightlife scene after the contest and having the time of our lives that evening. Thanks to all the riders, Burton, MINI and the entire city of Tokyo for showing us all an incredible week in a spectacular city. Until next year. Kampai!

2015 Burton Rail Days Presented by MINI Results
1st place: Darcy Sharpe $15,000
2nd place: Alex Andrews $6,000
3rd place Zach Aller: $3,000