Totsuka's Yonex connect set to build brand in Beijing

© Kyodo News

Japanese sporting equipment maker Yonex has staked much on men's snowboard halfpipe world champion Yuto Totsuka, and one of the company's product developers is hoping the board that bears his name will establish the brand's bona fides worldwide.

Hirokazu Yaegashi works for Yonex, a company better known for its extensive lines of tennis and badminton rackets than for their snowboards, a market they entered in 1995.

Yaegashi sees the Beijing Games as a great opportunity for the brand to remake its image with the help of snowboarders it equips.

"It will make me extremely happy to see a Japanese win a gold medal using gear made by a Japanese company," Yaegashi said in a recent interview with Kyodo News.

"That would inspire the whole country and it would make us proud of our efforts."

Yaegashi helped Yonex make a snowboard he believes will more than stand the Olympic test and can help riders like Totsuka challenge for the podium.

In March 2021, the 20-year-old Japanese won his first halfpipe world title in Aspen, Colorado, overcoming Aussie snowboarding superstar Scotty James who had dominated each of the three editions held since 2015.

Yonex is eager to make the most of the showcase the Olympics provide to attract new customers to its boards while encouraging those who already ride them to remain loyal when upgrading.

Early in Yonex's foray into the snowboard market, it found itself trailing in the wake of industry heavyweights like Burton, Lib Tech and Ride, but the Japanese company has shown steady growth in the past few years with a consumer-focused approach and stringent research standards that helped refine its offering.

Totsuka's signature model, also known as the Rev Yts, features the lightest swing weight of any board ever made.

Swing weight is the term used to describe the rotational forces that exist at the tip and tail of the board. The weight distribution affects both the way the board turns and the control that the rider has in the air.

At the Feb. 4-20 Beijing Games, there will be 11 gold medals up for grabs, five for male and female athletes competing in the big air, halfpipe, slopestyle, parallel giant slalom and snowboard cross events as well as another the new mixed team snowboard cross event.

Totsuka will make his second Olympic appearance in Beijing after a horrific crash in the halfpipe final ended his at Pyeongchang Games, and will compete with a board designed just for him, the "Totsuka Special Model."

Totsuka's board combines world-class performance with an infusion of freeriding style to fit his needs.

"They know what I look for (in a board). I'm satisfied because they've managed to make a board that is both stiff and light," Totsuka said.

The stiffness of a snowboard has a huge effect on its characteristics under the feet of the rider, and as such all brands will give a flex rating, usually between one and ten.

"A lot of thinking has gone into our product development, as we wanted to help the athletes train in any small way. Now we wait to see the fruits of our labor," Yaegashi said.

"Of course, it's the athletes who do the work and we're just behind-the-scenes making the equipment, but we take pride in being able to support those striving for success," he said.

Those looking to emulate their favorite snowboarding star can start by purchasing the Totsuka Rev Yts signature board for 98,000 yen ($850).

Ruka Hirano, a men's halfpipe gold medalist at the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, and Sena Tomita, who qualified for the women's snowboarding team along with her younger sister Ruki, are also Yonex riders.

Both Hirano and Tomita, and of course Totsuka, have the chance to make the podium in Beijing, and their Olympic success will not only be a turning point for Yonex but a golden opportunity to promote the sport, Yaegashi says.

"It would be great if those who've never ridden a snowboard before start after the Beijing Olympics. I want them to feel inspired to do so and it generates a buzz about the Japanese snowboard industry."