Interview: Yuichi Ohara
Text & Photos: Shinsaku Arakawa
Translation: Nino Moscardi
He’s always delivering quality skating with casual style, and never fading from the media’s eye. He’s of firm mind and natural talent that can give form to an image. And he’s the kind of skater who has brought to life so much that exists in the space between the ideal and the real. Continuously maturing as a skateboarder, Hiroki Muraoka is a dedicated and natural talent whenever he steps on his board.
How old were you when you first discovered skateboarding?
I was about 9. I learned about it from my brothers who are 5 and 6 years older than me. The first one I had was just a toy, and then later I got a hand me down from my brother was a more legit deck.
So you and all your brothers are skaters? What’s it like when you go back to your hometown in Tottori?
We all just go out skating, go to the hot springs, eat, drink, and sleep pretty much. I go fishing with my older brothers and paint or draw together with my younger brother. They influenced me with all of it. We’re just like really close friends.
So generally you would get decks from your brothers?
Yeah, I was always taking their old ones. The first one I actually got new was in junior high. My dad bought one for me for my birthday and I was so stoked. It was a really wide Zero complete. After that, the first one I actually picked out myself I honestly don’t even remember. I first got sponsored when I was a junior in high school, so I haven’t really bought a deck since then. There was a shop in my hometown called Far Side, and one of the older skaters who worked there would always support me, so I was getting a new deck every month.
Pretty quick to get sponsored, huh. What videos were coming out at the time?
I think I was watching stuff like 411, mouse, Tozai Nanboku, 7 Year Glitch, Static. At the time, Daiki Hosoda had just gotten back from Osaka so he would tell me about all the new stuff. The parts I liked I’d watch a bunch of times in one day. I’d get up early, watch a video, go out and skate before going to school, then skate after school and go to sleep. The one I watched most was probably Jake Rupp’s Static part, Kenny Reed’s 7 Year Glitch part, Rob Welsh when he was on Aesthetics, and Jason Adams in the Black Label days. I like skaters that are original and have a sense of individuality.
Sounds like a pretty diverse crowd. Did you have an image or an idea of what kind of skater you wanted to be?
Well I guess I wanted to be like the guys I was watching in the videos. I liked how unique the style and character of all those guys were, so my goal was to try and put out photos and videos that left a real impression on the viewer, you know? I guess it’s the same now though.
So the guys that influenced you were mostly your brothers then? Was there anyone else?
Yeah, too many to count really. My brothers and all the older crew back home, Daiki Hosoda, Hisashi Nakamura, Deshi, Jin Takayama, Hiroshi Kondo, Toru Yoshida, Junichi Gonsho, Kenny Reed, Jake Rupp, Stevie Williams, Kevin Taylor, Matt Rodriguez, Ricky Oyola…the list goes on and on. As for young dudes, I’d say guys like Jiro Kaneko are pretty close to me. I’m always being influenced by a really broad range of people.
What is it that you find so inspiring about them?
I think what makes them influential to me is how stylish they all are. In their sense of tricks and spots. I think it’s sick to when you excel at a specific style of skating like those guys do. Also, when it’s a dude you’re actually going out and skating together with, it’s rad to be able to see how they approach a trick and what makes them tick.
When did you leave the hometown and start living in Tokyo?
When I was 18, as soon as I graduated from high school I left my hometown and lived in Shonan for about a year. It was like a factory with a dormitory attached to it. At the time, I was down for any work I could get, but I also wanted to skate so that’s why I ended up there. I just saved up money, got my driver’s license and moved out. I wanted to try to go to New York, so I was really living as cheaply as I could and working overtime, night shifts, working through lunch…I had about 10 grand saved up at the end of the year so I moved in with my hometown friend Yasu who was in Tokyo in the Toubu-Nerima area. I’ve been in Tokyo ever since. I got my license in the interim when I was living at Yasu’s before getting my own place and would go to New York with Uru-san (of Kukunochi Distribution) and Akira Ishizawa (5Boro pro). It wasn’t even like I’d be invited. I was just an annoying little kid. Now, putting myself in their shoes, I wish I was more careful. They actually did get pretty pissed. I just wasn’t as respectful as I should’ve been. A lot of shit went down.
Now that you mention it, the first time we met was at that art show. I was working there on Mune’s invite (Munekazu Kitajima), and when we met, you were just like “Let’s go skate!” without even saying hi. I thought you were a fucking brat. Like, “Nah dude, I gotta work…”
Yeah, that was when I was like 18 or 19. I wasn’t really into art shows and all I wanted to do was skate. I couldn’t help it. Even if I was introduced to someone I’d act like I didn’t know who they were. I was just some young, piece of shit kid who judged people only on their skating. I was so full of it. Sorry about that. But now I ride for Color Communications! I owe you one… (laughs)
I do remember when you were younger, even when you’d make a trick, you’d be so stubborn about redoing it until you made one that you were satisfied with.
Yeah. Even if it was a make, if I moved a little weird or wasn’t exactly how I was imagining it, I’d want to do it over and over until it was right. There were a lot of times where the filmers would have to tell me it was fine to get me to stop.
So you’ve changed since then? Why?
I used to have really high standards and wanted to land everything absolutely perfectly, so I never wanted to use anything I got because I wasn’t hyped on it, but now I’ve come to look at it more as my own unique style and feel like I understand my skating now more than ever. Or at least I feel like I’m not adding any false steez to my tricks or whatever. In any case, before I wasn’t really expressing myself in my tricks. I was just imitating the skaters I admired I think.
It feels like you’ve got a diverse bag of tricks. Is that something you’re aware of when you’re skating?
Yeah, I try to stay conscious of having a wide variety. Like so I can skate everything. I think the ability to adapt is really sought after in street skating. I used to not skate ramps at all, but after I met Deshi, we’d roll together and there’d be times when we go to these spots where it’s nothing but super steep ramps. You’ve really got no choice but try and skate it when you’re put in a situation like that. That’s all there is anyways. It’s like, we came all the way out here on our day off so even if I’m not good at it, I’m still gonna try. That’s how I learned to skate transition.
How’d you film for your Night Prowler part?
Sunday sessions dude. We had a set crew to just go out and skate every Sunday, and then Katsumi (Minami) who filmed it all just compiled it into one video and that was Night Prowler. Wadapp, Katsumi, Deshi, Akira (Imamura), all those dudes. I was skating and filming other days too, but that was my first full part that got out into the world. I think that was big for getting my name out in Japan. I don’t think anyone really knew who I was before that, so it was pretty huge that Katsumi was hooking me up.
How long has it been since you got on Traffic? And why Traffic?
About 4 or 5 years now. Rich (Adler) recommended me to Ricky, and I got an email directly from Ricky afterwards, and then Habuchin at Bigwing (distributor for Traffic in Japan) contacted me too. At the time, I was riding for enjoi but I didn’t have any contacts with them in the States, so I thought there could be more a chance for progression at Traffic. I hit them up and let them know I was trying to have a relationship with the brand in which I’d be able to make moves together with them. Since I got on, I’ve gone to Philly and the Sabotage crew put me in Traffic Report.
I think there’s an image out there of you as a guy who’s able to balance skating as a sponsored rider and working a full time job to make a living, but isn’t that a rough gig?
Well the costs of living alone just on rent and food…if you don’t have any money, you can’t live at all, right? Since we can’t really make a living off skateboarding alone, it kind of makes you have to balance the two. But it’s not really a problem for me. I just skate all night after work until I go to sleep, and then skate like mad on Saturday and Sunday. I actually think I’m skating way more than if I just had some part time job and wasn’t being serious. It can be tough, but I think I actually like it. Maybe I just don’t mind the pain and exhaustion. Or maybe I just love skateboarding.
Yeah, somehow or other you’re always making moves and out filming, huh. You don’t ever think like “ah, I’ll take today off.”?
Probably not too much. One of the things I always want to do most is go out and film. Aren’t the most fun times when you’re doing something you’re most passionate about? Like it gives me a sense of accomplishment. Generally, I’m always going on my own schedule at my own leisure so there’s never a sense that I don’t want to do it. Like even if I know that I’m definitely not skating that day, I’ll be thinking about what I’m going to do instead whether it’s just chilling at home or drawing or something. Then the next day I know I’m definitely gonna be skating, even if I do get tired and am not really feeling going out to skate, I know I’ve already decided I’m going to so that’s what I prioritize. As long as it’s not pouring rain or I’ve got a cold or something, I’m generally out skating. Once you start thinking like “Ah I can go out and skate any other time,” it makes you not want to go out and get it anymore, and I’m not down with that.
Speaking of which, you do do a lot of illustration and design when you’re not skating. I knew you were an artist but what was it that brought it out of you?
I was just showing a bunch of people my work, and Chomesu contacted me and asked me to a little exhibit in this little one room gallery in Ebisu. Everyone showed up for it and I guess it just got out from there that I was illustrating and designing. After that I got to do some exhibitions in BEAMS and Greenroom, and did a split exhibit with Orista and live paintings and stuff like that. Toshikazu Nozaka helped me get a lot of exhibitions going in Hokkaido and all over the place too.
Does the urge to skate feel the same as the urge to illustrate or design? Or is it completely different?
Yeah, it’s different. I’d say the urge to skate is more about wanting to move or enjoy the act of riding and controlling your board, but the urge to draw comes from having a good idea in my head and giving it form, or focusing my energy into making something.
In terms of illustrating or designing, is there anything new you’ve got on the horizon?
I’d like to keep doing more exhibits and shows. And it’d be rad if I can get some work as an illustrator or designer. Like designing apparel or boards myself. Or someday have my own brand or something. A lot of the older guys I look up to are doing exactly that so that’s been a big influence on me so I’d love to be able to make some money off skating and graphics. I know it’s a tough gig, but it’s something I enjoy so it’s worth it to me.
You want your own pro model?
Yeah, it’d be rad to get a pro model but I’m not obsessing about it. When it comes to how I’d like to be as a skater, I’d feel much stronger about putting out videos and photos that are on point. Getting good work out there on the regular is something I’d rather put my focus on. But yeah, it would be sick to get a pro deck. I think I would actually be super hyped on that after all (laughs).
Anything you’re working on currently?
Well in terms of my artwork, I’m working on a collab magazine project with Ben Gore using his photographs and my illustrations. I’ve already got a bunch of illustrations done for it and it’s coming along real well so I’m looking forward to it coming out. I’m also working on a little welcome video for Prize Fighter NY, then I’ve also got a Color Communications video and a Colin Read video coming down the pipe. I’ve got a lot of faith in Colin’s creativity and he always puts out rad stuff, so that’s kind of what I’m focusing on at the moment. I think it’ll be out by the end of the year. Don’t miss it!
Then to wrap this up, anything you want to say to the young kids trying to make moves in skating?
Don’t worry about other people and do what it is that you like doing. That’s the most important thing. It’s not really about following trends. Have faith in what you believe to be your best and just try to express yourself. And I think that applies to anything. Not just skateboarding. That’s what’s most important.
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