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Interview with Olympic hopeful Katie Tsuyuki

Olympic hopeful and guest Pro Ride coach Katie Tsuyuki took time out of her busy training schedule to talk to us about Whistler, the board she designed and preparation for Sochi.

Where did you grow up and how did you get into snowboarding?

I grew up in Toronto, Ontario, but I spent a lot of time at high school, just north of there in Muskoka. I was 15 when I started snowboarding and I never took it very seriously until my 20s, when I left the waterski/wakeboard industry for snow. I knew I wanted to be an athlete and figured there were more opportunities in snowboarding.  

What do you like most about living close to Whistler?

Waking up in the mountains is the best feeling, especially if you have spent a lot of time in the city. I love the fact that I don’t have to rely on anyone to get a ride in, with wakeboarding I always needed people and a boat to get my fix. With snowboarding all I need is my pass and music. Also, the community is supportive, Pro Ride has always played an intimate part of my carrier, Anthony Crute was my first real coach.

What does Whistler Blackcomb have that others resorts do not?

Variety. There is always something fun to ride no matter the weather.  From its world class parks to epic powder, beginner to advanced, I have been to a lot of resorts but Whistler Blackcomb truly has everything you can think of to have a blast. 

You have worked as a Pro Ride coach? Did you enjoy it? What did you take from teaching snowboarders from all over the world?

I have worked as a Pro Ride coach in between the Olympic cycles, when I am not travelling as much. I have always looked forward to spending time with the guests of the camp because they are interesting people who are following their passion, I love that. Passion is important, but not always easy to take the time to find it or follow it.  I enjoy teaching because I feel like I am contributing to fulfilling that passion. Teaching snowboarders from all over the world has shown me just how lucky I am to be in Whistler and that people make the effort to come a long way to play in my backyard.  

We heard you worked with Donek to make a snowboard? How did that come about and what kind of board did you design?

Donek has been in the snowboarding industry primarily as a race board company. This is the main reason why I approached them when thinking about designing a pipe specific board, because aside from all the tricks we do in the air, the sport is closest to race on the ground. Kelly Clark once said to me “The one who goes the fastest from lip to lip is going to win the contest”.  I had sparked interest in Sean, the owner of Donek, when I pleaded to him my case and he was willing to work with me on the task. Riding halfpipe isn’t like riding any other feature, and so it needs a special tool that the freestyle industry hasn’t spent much time on developing. We are very excited to get more halfpipe riders on the boards after the Olympics, until then it’s my secret weapon.

You are a professional snowboarder but are still training with Olympian, Crispin Lipscomb. Tell us why having expert intuition can help even a well-seasoned snowboarder?

Even though I have trained with a lot of coaches in Canada and the US, I have enjoyed training with Crispin the most. Snowboarding is still a young sport with not many athletes have turned into coaches out there. There is great value in having your coach understand all the ins and outs of what happens to an athlete from the start gate to the finish line, not to mention during training and resting cycles. Not all Olympians or great athletes can coach, so Crispin is a special person to have on my side supporting me. His many years of snowboarding are priceless to anyone, and a great asset to the Canadian snowboarding industry. 

How are preparations for Sochi 2014 going?

Sochi 2014 is quickly approaching; I have a countdown clock on my website I look at every day. I am excited for the days to go by because we are on track and I confident in my planning. We review our goals at the end of every training cycle to make sure we are hitting our benchmarks and see where we need to make adjustments if we are not hitting those benchmarks. The biggest challenge so far has been fundraising to cover costs to get me to the games. I am fortunate to have good support around me like my friends, family, and sponsors who donate their time and product to fundraising to make ends meet.  

What is your favourite trick in the half pipe?

My favourite trick right now in the pipe is an air to fake with a tweaked Japan grab, but I also love busting out hand plants at the end of a run. They are just too much fun.

What has been your best accomplishment so far?

My most memorable accomplishment so far has been winning a National Championship title. It was so special because I never expected it and I had my whole family there to celebrate it with me. I remember I forgot to take off my goggles when I was on the podium, probably because I was in tears. It was an emotional moment.

What has motivated you to aim for the Olympics?

My abilities have motivated me the most. I never really thought I would go to the Olympics when I was starting out. I thought it was really cool when I was first invited to compete at the World Cups.  But when I noticed that I just may have the riding ability to make the Olympics then I decided to go for it. As a kid I dreamed of being at the top of a waterski pyramid at Sea World…wow has that ever changed!  

When you’re not boarding, what other thing do you like to do?

Wakesurfing is my second love, I basically grew up behind a ski boat and I love going out whenever I get a chance. Even when I am in New Zealand I get to go surfing behind my friend Mark Williams’ boat in the freezing cold water. I also love to cook, especially Japanese dishes, but that is not a surprise since eating is a huge deal to athletes. Lastly, preaching about passion is very special to me. I have a workshop that I present to young people about finding their passion and pursuing it. I think it is important to let kids know that it’s great to have a passion and it is ok to follow it. That message isn’t spoken enough to young people who are discovering who they are and who they will be when they reach adulthood. 

What are your hopes for the future?

Post Olympics I am going to put together an organization for skiers and snowboarders called Halfpipe Canada with the mission of increasing halfpipes and their usage in Canada. I think this will be crucial for the future of the sport and for increasing Canada’s pool of athletes to put on podiums. There is a huge gap that needs to be filled and I would love to be the one to close it. This will be my legacy to leave behind. It will be a lot of work but I am not a stranger to hard work and I am ready for the challenge.   

Check out Katie’s latest news and fundraising efforts at her website ktathletics