© Keita Yasukawa
The first time I ever glided on snow was four days before the snowboard slalom event at the 2017 Sapporo Asian Winter Games. The “power of sport” had taken me who had never even seen snow to Sapporo’s snow-covered landscape.
Vietnam’s northern mountainous region sometimes sees a sprinkling of snow, but it never snows enough to make snowboarding possible. What’s more, I live in Mui Ne, which is a popular tourist beach resort in the south of Vietnam. As you can imagine, it never snows in my home town. So, what I did was use the sand dunes of Mui Ne, instead of snow-covered slopes to train for the 2017 Sapporo Asian Winter Games.
Taking part in a snowboarding competition without having trained on snow might sound like a reckless endeavour. But, I chose to embrace this challenge as an adventure that the “power of sport” led me to. I did my best and represented Vietnam with pride. I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure. Through this experience, I also gained something that I treasure which is a wide circle of friends from various parts of Asia.
As an athlete, I believe that sports will strengthen our minds and bodies if we dedicate ourselves to it with a sincere attitude. It opens up enormous possibilities. This “sincere attitude” consists firstly of honesty. This means honesty with oneself and those close to us as well as toward the other athletes that we compete against. I believe that everyone can achieve growth—not just as athletes but also as individuals—if we have a mutual respect for each other, whether it’s an ally or opponent. It is also possible to find enjoyment even in hard training and tough competition. When people are enjoying themselves, they naturally develop positive feelings. Furthermore, sport also creates a connection to new people.
When I was a small child, I was short and thin, and of somewhat delicate health. What eventually made me grow healthy and strong was the martial arts training that I began when I was twelve. It was Vo Binh Dinh, which is the traditional martial arts of the Binh Dinh region of central Vietnam.
That was how I met Master Minh. He guided me with kindness and, at times, with strictness. As I continued to train in Vo Binh Dinh, I grew stronger both physically and mentally. I had always had a dream back then of becoming a school teacher. I added to it the desire to become a teacher like Master Minh and teach sport to children.
Without having had Master Minh as my guide, I don't think I would be the athlete that I am today. Discovering Vo Binh Dinh at age twelve was the first big turning point in my life.
The second big turning point came when I was twenty-one and visited Ho Chi Minh City—Vietnam’s largest city, located about 200 kilometres from Mui Ne. I went to visit my older sister, who was staying in a hospital in the city at the time. On my way to the hospital, I saw some people skateboarding in a park. It sparked my interest, so I immediately hurried into a nearby skateboard shop. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough money to buy a skateboard. Mr. Phuc, who owned the shop, had noticed that he lent me a skateboard for free. From that day, I got into board sports. Borrowing that skateboard was the first step in the adventure that took me to Sapporo.
When I got back to Mui Ne after discovering skateboarding in Ho Chi Minh City, I was next drawn in by the sight of kitesurfing foreign tourists. So, from around age twenty-two, I began learning marine sport. Today I work as an instructor, teaching kitesurfing and surfing to tourists and local children. It's a bit different from my childhood dream of being a school teacher, but the core—which was to teach things to people—hasn’t changed. My top priority as an instructor is to teach with gentleness and patience. Master Minh greatly influenced my teaching policy.
It was only about six months ago that I was selected to participate in the 2017 Asian Winter Games in Sapporo. Mr. Phuc, the shop owner who had lent me the skateboard, had heard about my activities. One of his friends is the current coach of the Vietnamese snowboard national team, and he told him about me. That opened the door to this adventure of mine. After being selected to represent Vietnam in snowboarding, I spent five months training on the sand dunes of Mui Ne, using it as my version of a snow-covered mountain.
My great adventure on snowy slopes has provided me with memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life. What must always be remembered, though, is that it was an “adventure” made possible through my relationships with others and the kindness of the people that I met.
© Keita Yasukawa
I will go back to Mui Ne, now that my adventure in Sapporo has ended.
I gained a countless number of things through this adventure. I experienced the greatness of continuing to pursue a dream. I gained a renewed sense of the joy as well as the hardship of sport. I felt the huge possibilities of sport that are created when you face it with a sincere, straightforward attitude.
I proved that someone from snowless Vietnam can become a snowboarder. This may be the first and last time that I represent my country as an athlete. But, if I ever encounter in the future any children in Vietnam who dream of becoming a snowboarder, I will gladly serve as their guidepost to the world of snow.
I’ll get married soon after I return to Mui Ne. It probably won't be long before I become a father, too. My biggest desire is that my future children will grow into kind people, strong in mind and body. Whether a boy or girl, it would make me very happy if they come to enjoy sport like I do. My awareness of the role I should play is growing as I imagine myself as a father and think of my future family as well as the future of children growing up in Mui Ne.
As I teach kitesurfing and skateboarding, I will continue to pursue my dream of becoming a teacher of a kind like Master Minh. I will pass on the positive possibilities of sport with others challenging their own adventure.
© Keita Yasukawa
© Keita Yasukawa
I have been supported by so many people in my life so far—my parents, of course, and other family members, Master Minh, Mr Phuc, the skateboard shop owner, and many friends. I have continued to grow, blessed by meeting many wonderful people and receiving their heart-warming support.
The Vo Binh Dinh martial arts, which I trained in for ten years from the age of twelve, gave me the internal and physical strength that enables me to compete as an athlete. At the same time, I learned things that give me direction as a self-reliant person pursuing a dream.
I dropped out of high school when I was seventeen and began working to support my family. Up to that point, my parents had raised us with warmth, even though they had to work very hard to support five children. My parents were having difficulties, and it was only natural that I would help these people who are the closest to me. It’s also a given that, as a person, I would always hold precious my family, friends and others I encounter each day. I believe that doing so brings about new encounters and positive bonds of people.
Today, there are very few people in Vietnam who work as professional athletes. However, the “power of sport” is always at the base regardless of whether a person is a professional or amateur athlete. I’m going to continue to relay to children the “power of sport” that I learnt in my life. It would be wonderful if that helps children find their own future adventures.
Born in 1989 in Vietnam. Began training in the traditional martial art Vo Binh Dinh at age twelve, despite being born small, with a weak physical constitution.
First introduced to skateboarding in Ho Chi Minh City at age twenty-one, and soon became dedicated to board sport. Began marine sport in the ocean by his hometown of Mui Ne at age twenty-two, starting with kitesurfing. Currently active as a surfing and kitesurfing instructor.
On the recommendation of the owner of a skateboard shop in Ho Chi Minh City, was named to and competed as a member of the men’s slalom snowboarding team that represented Vietnam at the 2017 Sapporo Asian Winter Games.