Local govts try to ride X-sports popularity

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A visitor skates at The West Base in Yamagata.

At the Beijing Winter Olympics skateboard and snowboard double-threat Ayumu Hirano soared to gold in the men’s snowboard halfpipe. His success, among other brilliant results achieved by Japanese athletes in both Beijing and at the Tokyo Summer Games, has helped X-sports popularity explode.

X-sports, an abbreviation for extreme sports, are sports such as skateboarding, snowboarding and BMX that involve high speed and risk. Supported mainly by young people, the sports also have strong ties with music and fashion.

Local governments are trying to capitalize on the popularity by using unused swimming pools and an empty snowplow garage as practice grounds to promote the sports in their regions.

The Nagano city government has secured a design cost of ¥4 million in the new fiscal year budget for a project that will turn a now-defunct public pool into a skateboard park in April 2024.

“Since the Tokyo Olympics, the number of young skateboarders has rapidly increased,” said Mayor Kenji Ogiwara, a Nordic combined skier who won two Olympic gold medals in 1992 and 1994.

“I want the project to be a step toward my policy of sports promotion,” he said.

Yamagata Prefecture offers a winter-only skateboarding facility called “The West Base” in a large snowplow garage that houses about 40 plows in the city of Yamagata. The facility is open between December and March when the place is empty, and is run by construction company Yahagidoken Co., which provides snow removal services for the region.

It is the facility’s third season and visitors have increased after the Tokyo Olympics with the number of users between December and January increasing from 558 last season to 866 this season.

“If facilities for indoor skateboarding were established, more people would take up the sport, even in snowy Yamagata,” said Shoichi Yahagi, a sales manager at Yahagidoken.

Numazu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, renovated an abandoned elementary school to create a BMX training facility. The mortar curve was created in the 25-meter swimming pool so that visitors can practice such basic movements as riding and stopping.

“It would be great if future Olympic athletes came from here,” the city’s sports division chief said. “We plan to hold training sessions.”