Koji Asada (Lesque): Skateboard File II

, 2010/03/05

For Koji Asada and the Lesque (les-ke) team, skateboarding isn’t particularly the answer to all the endless questions we face in life, but rather an essential way of dealing with the tribulations and occasional emotional turbulence of life. This ethos of acknowledging skateboarding as a positive force and its indispensability remains at the center of the Lesque team and their march towards progress.  In 2007, the Lesque team formally blasted onto the Japanese skate scene and raised eye brows with an introductory collection of five models and the timely premier of their then new video, “Endless Question.” While 2007 proved to be a tremendously busy and active year for the young skater-run company, the road there was not necessarily the stuff of pipe dreams. This is the story of Lesque Skateboards.

Koji Asada is one of the founding members and main brains behind Lesque. Born and raised in Costa Rica and the United States, Asada re-engaged with the skate scene as an independent videographer when moving to Japan a few years ago. Upon moving to Tokyo, Asada had been working on a video project with two established skaters, Junichi Arahata and ItoShin, entitled “Catch Me.” In addition, Asada was also giving time to another of his personal projects, the English-friendly website which provides information on skateboarding in Japan while taking on a web magazine element with news, interviews, photography and video. “When I moved to Japan, there wasn’t any information in English which I could find about skateboarding in Japan so we decided to set it up and it’s been working out really well.”

By 2005, skaters ItoShin and Junichi Arahata had already established themselves as pros on the circuit; on product flow from Japanese distributors of notable American brands like Chocolate.  Respectively, Arahata and ItoShin began to feel limited, triggering thoughts that their future of making a living from skateboarding was drawing an increasingly eerie degree of uncertainty.  Soon enough, the idea to start up a proper skateboard company started circulating around the small circle of friends.

Debating yet another set of endless questions, the three had to come to terms with their observations of the skateboarding community they lived and breathed within. The soon to be entrepreneurs concurred that the current distributors weren’t doing enough for the skateboarders. Asada recalls an initial impetus, “we wanted to take better care of our skaters and foster a more a positive environment. We wanted to pay our riders photo incentives and things like that. We wanted to be a model company- for skaters and by skaters and well, really show how it should be done.” Shortly after, ItoShin decided to drop all of his sponsors and put his energy into going independent. Support from Arahata and Asada was something of a transgressive power for the aspirational ideas of their many late night conversations to solidify. The three foot soldiers next tapped another photographer friend on the shoulder, reached deep into their pockets and pooled their savings together.  “Looking back, it was almost like a natural combination- we had the skaters, we had the videographers, we had the photographer and with our willingness, we had the solved the equation necessary to get Lesque off the ground.”

Setting up in Western Tokyo in a two-story home office, essentially a glorified skate house, Asada and his new “associates” hit the books. Rather than injuries as the primary setback to almost anything a skater does, the only obstacles these skaters-at-desks faced was learning new software for design and production in addition to the bland nature of legal procedures and accounting.  Once that was under enough control, the next task was getting their new boards stocked in skate shops. Asada recounted it being a difficult at first but in their second year, things began to pick up as word of mouth spread and Lesque let their skating do the talking. The original five shops who stocked Lesque boards seems indeed miniscule when comparing to the over one hundred nationwide who stock the Lesque decks today. Guided by their ethos of positively electrifying the skate community, things rapidly changed for the Lesque team as they trail blazed across the country.

In early 2008, the Lesque team hit the road and went on their first tour stopping by Osaka, Shikoku and Shimane and other points through out the Kanto region.  “We wanted to travel around Japan and link up with skateboard shops and really stimulate some of the young kids out there.”  The hard work paid off and a considerable swell in attention came when Lesque earned the coveted Team of the Year award from mainstay magazine Transworld Skateboarding. More heads began to turn when Okinawan Masataka Yamashiro, the 2005 “Rookie of the Year” according to Transworld Skateboarding, came on board the Lesque team.

Asada reflected on the Lesque work ethic,  “we had put out two videos in two years and we stopped and thought about it- there were other companies who have been around longer than us and not even put out a solid video. Things seemed kind of stale, companies were stalling at the time and well, we saw a lot of open opportunities and just acted on them.”  Other companies had barely tapped into the web while Lesque was doing something of a do-it-yourself world premier with their videos on YouTube.  With their continuous travelog video reports documenting their travels as a team around the country and world, their exposure steadily increased. The trailer for the Endless Question video has reached over 14,000 views while Junichi Arahata’s footage has excited more than 27,000 viewers.

When pressed for what’s in store for 2010, Asada assured there will be more touring and, “we’ll continue working on our next video and just try to keep stimulating the skate scene even more.”  True to his word, on April 3rd, Asada and the gang are getting together the first ‘Battle of the Skateshops’ contest which will take form as an all night showcase in a club setting to see which skate shop team can come out on top. In the meantime, the Lesque skateboard family is likely to be sighted during team practice at Nogawa Park in West Tokyo.



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Koji Asada
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