Soichiro Nakajima is an actual living legend amongst skateboarders here in Japan. Thanks to his supernatural skills he got his first sponsor at the age of just 15. In his early 20s he got picked up by the American skateboarding giant Element and spent six years touring the globe as a professional, full time skateboarder.
Now in his early 30s he has moved back to his home town of Chigasaki, one hour south of Tokyo on the Shounan coast. You could say it’s the ‘Dog Town’ of Japan. It was here amongst the coastal urban and industrial sprawl that surfing and skateboarding culture thrived in Japan during the 1970s, and continues to thrive today. It’s here that IFO is based. From Soichiro’s live in office he co-ordinates the rapidly growing company, distributing everything from decks, apparel and hardware throughout Japan (and as of recently to New Zealand).
Despite being a new brand in a particularly flooded market and during a ‘financial crisis,’ IFO is doing exceptionally well. This success might have something to do with his design team – IFO’s first line of decks was the handiwork of time lapse painting guru Rinpa Eshidan. For the second line he called upon world renowned graffiti and fine artist Ben Mori, and for the Spring 2010 line yours truly, SIDEROOM.COM stepped up to the plate.
Personally, it’s been my dream to design skateboards since the time my voice was breaking and I got my first Edwards, so to think kids across Japan are rocking SIDEROOM.COM decks always puts a little smile on my dial. Recently I got the chance to drop into IFO HQ and talk with Soichiro about what led to now.
How long did you ride for Element and why did you leave?
Six years, and I left for so many reasons. Element is a great company but a big one. It was hard because I didn’t have a lot of personal freedom. I had to get permission from a chain of employees I felt didn’t have the same understanding of skateboards that I did. I was travelling a lot skateboarding, meeting so many people and making a lot of good connections. Then suddenly I turned 30 and thought it was time for change. I figured the best way to get what I wanted out of a company was to start my own. I really wanted to create a company that understands and respects its riders… so that’s IFO.
When did you start IFO?
January 1st 2009.
How is it going?
It’s doing good.
Do you have some kinda philosophy as far as IFO designs go?
I don’t want IFO to be constricted just to Japan. That’s why I have artists like Rinpa Eishidan, Ben Mori and SIDEROOM doing the graphics. They all have unique styles and followers around the world. As they grow as artists IFO grows and vice versa.
The SIDEROOM boards are selling well?
Yep really well, they are actually selling the best out of the whole spring range. I just started exporting them to New Zealand. IFO is probably now the first Japanese Skateboard company to export out of Japan. Thanks SIDEROOM (laughs).
You’ve never visited NZ, how do you envision it?
Judging from the people I meet from New Zealand they are different from Americans. More mellow and similar to Japanese I guess. Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact we are almost on the same longitude and geographically similar. I hear you have osens too.
Kareem Campbell, PJ Lad, Mark Appleyard.
What was your favourite skate company growing up?
Menace, Kareem Campbell’s old label, he had the best styles and pop. When I was 14 I went to a demo he was riding in. He gave me a World Industries deck and said I should ride for the distributor here in Japan. Kareem was the reason I got sponsored.
Favorite skate spot?
What do you like about skateboarding?
That it’s limitless and so creative. It really makes you use your imagination.
What don’t you like about skateboarding?
Video and interview deadlines, especially video. It’s stressful when my body is really fucked but I have to keep pushing to make a trick for the camera.
Anything you want to add?
Check out www.ifoskateboard.com to see what’s going on. I’m always updating and uploading.
IFO decks are available from The Learning Curve on K’Rd, Auckland, New Zealand. Check the IFO website for skateboard retailers across Japan.