Lessons from Last Chair – What’s Up with Kendama?

Lessons from Last Chair – What’s Up with Kendama?

The Ski Boss explains the Japanese game’s draw for skiers


If you’ve been a freeskiing fan over the past 15-or-so years, you’ve likely witnessed a photograph, film segment or web edit featuring a peculiar wooden toy with a ball attached. It’s called a Kendama, and it’s made up of a “Ken,” the handle, and the “Tama,” the ball. In this game of skill, players perform tricks by juggling the ball with the Ken’s three cups, ultimately to land the ball on the “spike” of the Ken.

The contraption comes from Japan, and was first made popular in the ski world by JP Auclair, who brought a Kendama home with him from a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. Auclair, who once said, “having a Kendama on me is a constant reminder that I really don’t need much to be happy,” would go on to become one of the few non-Japanese citizens to be certified at the game.

Recently, Tanner Hall began posting Instagram videos of himself performing pretty wild tricks with his Kendama, which spurred a newfound interest in the game from FREESKIER. The wooden toy has been in the ski world for awhile, so why did Hall decide to pick it up now? Continue reading to find out.

How did you get into Kendama? Did someone teach you?

I’ve always seen them around; JP Auclair used to play with those things religiously, and he brought it back from Japan and got certified as a Kendama master. He made Kendamas for [his non-profit] Alpine Initiatives, so I’ve always seen them around the Armada headquarters. It was always something I would pick up and I would try it like three times, wouldn’t even come close to doing anything with it, and be like, “well, fuck this thing.”

So, I’ve never really thought about it, until I got to Park City this summer. In the middle of July is when I really started picking it up and playing with it. I sucked at first, but it started coming along, and I’m not good by any means, but it’s got my attention now where I can go on playing with it forever.

Why does this little toy attract skiers, specifically?

I don’t know, hand-eye coordination, maybe? It’s a feel thing. You know? When I’m trying to stomp a line in the backcountry or a new trick in the park, it’s all about how I’m drawing it up. When you come close to getting a trick with a Kendama you just have to make micro-adjustments to get it to where you need to be and that definitely correlates with skiing.

From your social posts you look pretty good at it to me. What’re the craziest tricks you can do?

Dude, you gotta go on YouTube and type in Kendama, and you’ll watch dudes that have zero lives, probably never had a girlfriend, I don’t think they ever put the thing down. Some people can just do the most absurd maneuvers with these things. I could probably do it for ten years straight and not do half the stuff these guys are doing.

I don’t know the names of the tricks; I’m very new at this shit, bro. But I did some crazy stuff yesterday; I did two maneuvers that involved flipping the whole toy in the air, it was awesome. It’s super rewarding when you get it after you’re not even coming close and your brain is like, “I don’t even know why I’m still doing this.” All of a sudden it’s like CLINK! and you’re like, holy shit!

Do you have to ski Japan to play Kendama?

I don’t know, because I’ve only skied in Japan once and when I was there I wasn’t playing Kendama. When I go there again I’ll be hyped to, hopefully, have a Kendama with me. It’ll be so sick; I’ll be shredding with the Kendama in my backpack and in the onsen with my feet up playing Kendama, Japanese style.

If you’d like to try out this game of skill, consider picking up the Alpine Initiatives Kendama, via alpineinitiatives.org. Founded by JP Auclair in 2008, Alpine Initiatives is a non-profit organization that provides funding and inspiration for the betterment of mountain communities worldwide.


Upgrade Your Inbox

Don't waste time seeking out the best skiing content; we'll send it all right to you.