TMC Freeriderz celebrates 25th anniversary 

Owner looks back on starting the shop at just 16

click to flip through (2) PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON - FROM then to now Yosuke Hamazaki celebrates 25 years of TMC Freeriderz at the shop in December.
  • Photo by Dan Falloon
  • FROM then to now Yosuke Hamazaki celebrates 25 years of TMC Freeriderz at the shop in December.
 

As Yosuke Hamazaki led the way to his office above his TMC Freeriderz shop along Skier's Approach, he commented that the space hadn't really had an adult's touch.

Perhaps that's because a quarter-century ago, at age 16, he made that space the inaugural headquarters of his shop, which is still going strong today.

In fact, it was his dad's storage space for his rental shop below, but became Hamazaki's shop and de facto bedroom space after he fell in love with the sport after joining the local freestyle club a couple years prior.

"I took everything from my dad's storage and put it in my own personal bedroom. He gave me a chance to try it, and then a following took place," he said, noting his father came to Whistler in the 1970s as a ski instructor and was a hot-dog skiing pioneer alongside Wayne Wong.

With freestyle skiing emerging as a discipline in the early 1990s, Hamazaki had the freedom to explore via retail in a similar way that he and his contemporaries were pushing boundaries on the mountain.

However, with athletes coming from a wide variety of backgrounds, there was still a matter of finding that connection with customers.

"We didn't want to create what's going on. We wanted that to happen organically with the customers. The customers were starting to tell us what their style was," he said. "Some people were local: leather jackets, jeans, and that was the style. Another person would be the Euro style, where they would have neon-coloured baggy pants ... or really tight pants.

"It is, as a shop, difficult to cater to all those different groups of people."

Hamazaki made the foray into designing clothing at age 19, and certainly made an appeal to some fringe fashionistas.

"We made some wild pants. We made some snakeskin-style ski pants. We wanted to add flavour to what our sport was trying to become," he said. "We would design the product, get a mother in North Vancouver to draw the patterns for us. I went to her house in one day, then drive to a pattern-cutter place on the other side of town, had to drive to a zipper place to get the zippers and end up at a factory."

Hamazaki sees parallels to the growth of freestyle and his own shop, as both have had to justify their existence and deal with the ebbs and flows of popularity.

"In the shop, it was a very big challenge because it was a sport that we had to sell to each individual coming in. It wasn't on TV, it wasn't in the magazines yet," he said. "When (people from other sports) want to try it, we were really accommodating, so I think that's one thing that helped freeride skiing become what it is today."

At the time of his debut, other ski shops were starting to have small freestyle sections, but soon after, stores were opening based on Hamazaki's blueprint, which created additional competition.

All these years later, Hamazaki is looking to expand to Honolulu, Hawaii of all places. While it might seem like an odd place to open a winter sports store, he cited the success of Island Snow, a small snowboard shop that eventually became the world's leading Burton dealer. It's a way of accessing the Asian market, as many tourists vacation in Hawaii and tend to find excellent deals for equipment they'd use at home.

"If we do this shop in Hawaii, it would basically be a stamp that says 'Wow, freestyle is here,'" he said.

In its infancy, TMC stood for The Mogul Corner, but to recognize the diverse array of freestyle disciplines, is now short for True Matrix Core, a saying from Hamazaki's father with the message of believing in the path one chooses with the whole heart. Hamazaki also credits his father, who also owned a gift shop and a fur shop, with providing him the opportunity to forge his own way, but also a willingness to provide expertise to help him if needed.

"He'd always let me make the mistakes, but he was adamant about teaching me what I should be doing," Hamazaki said. "Usually, they weren't personal mistakes. They were business mistakes, but I'd take it personally."

Despite some challenging years with lower snow or the Olympics drawing people to watch sports more than participate in them, Hamazaki always found a way through, whether it was turning into a flag shop during the Games or sticking it out with smaller companies as they weathered their own downturns in popularity. But deep down, he feels there will always be a place for freestyle, a lesson he took from skiing's status when he first got involved.

"It had the image of stretchy pants and through the '80s, the neon colours and all that. It was a fun time, but it kind of seemed like it was dying down," he said. "In my heart, it doesn't matter what's going on in reality as long as you're feeling like you're part of something, you're part of a community."

To perhaps highlight its entrenchment in the community, TMC recently finished fifth in Canada and tops in Whistler in Freeskier's Top Shop contest (Comor and Whistler Village Sports also made the top 10). Hamazaki was grateful for the 2,000-plus votes, and looking back, is thrilled to have reached the milestone he has.

"We don't try to say we're the first ski shop, but we are definitely the first freeride ski shop," he said. "It sets into stone that after 25 years, we just kept on doing what we did through the rough times, we made it."

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