DOB: 8/16/88 || Stance: Regular
Sponsors: Adidas, Monster, Capita, Union, Oakley, Neff, Mizu, Wend, Stonp, G-Shock
It’s been fourteen years since a tiny Japanese kid in a floppy hat stood atop the US Open halfpipe in Stratton, Vermont and shocked the world with double overhead McTwists. His name was Kazuhiro Kokubo, and in the near decade-and-a-half since that day, he has become so infamous in the snowboarding world that years later, he would simply be referred to only as Kazu.
It’s been a while since Kazu threw up double middle fingers to the X Games judges or got flack in his home country of Japan for wearing his trousers low and his tie loosened before the Olympics at the airport, but he is still snowboarding’s preeminent anti-hero in every aspect of the word, and his fans and snowboarding as a whole love him for that. Last winter, Kazu emerged again and spent his winter filming for Union’s new flick, Stronger, and once again, Kokubo didn’t disappoint, sending it off pillow stacks and spinning off of massive cheese wedges with his patented lackadaisical style and nonchalance that he’s so well known for.
2015 Rider of the Year Bode Merrill says of Kazu, “It’s almost like he’s not even trying, he’s just so good,” while big mountain badass and tiny home enthusiast Jason Robinson claims, “Kazu oozes style and is one of the most powerful and creative riders out there. Kazu charges! He rides fast, goes huge and makes it look so good. He has such a unique approach to riding natural terrain and it really shows in his video parts. His opener in the Union movie was one of my favorite parts of the year.”
While Kazu may not be in the contest scene anymore, his riding translates well to his former peers, as 2014 Sochi Olympic slopestyle gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg had this to say about Kokubo, “His style alone should be in the top 5 every year but his backcountry game this year was outstanding and flawless. Dayyummmmm!” While the bronze medalist in said Sochi Games and last year’s Rider of the Year, Mark McMorris, quipped, “Best style, most passion, biggest shit. Inspired me like no other.” Kazu did it again, and it’s because he has built a lasting legacy in our culture by keeping quiet and never forcing it, and that’s exactly why he is our #2 rider of 2017. Here’s hoping he keeps reemerging to reinvent backcountry riding time and again for years to come.
– T. Bird