By TRACEY ROXBURGH
As far as international competition debuts go, Queenstown’s Cool Wakushima’s is hard to beat.
The 18-year-old snowboarder, who left Wakatipu High School last year, is in her first competition season overseas, and over the weekend picked up a silver medal in slopestyle and then a gold two days later in the big air at the Aspen Open stop of the US Revolution Tour in Colorado.
It follows a fourth placing in slopestyle at the European Cup, in Switzerland, at the end of
Talking to Mountain Scene from the US as she prepares for the snowboard world champs, in Aspen from this Sunday, Wakushima says she’s ‘‘stoked’’ with her effort last week.
‘‘I think the silver really pushed me to go for gold — that feeling of being so close and not getting it really pushed me.’’
In fact, Wakushima didn’t just win gold, she obliterated the field with a score of 179.50 for her huge double wildcat and stylish frontside 720, 17 points clear of silver medallist Kanami Okuyama, of Japan, and 37.75 points ahead of bronze medallist Courtney Rummel (US).
Of that performance, she says she had four warm-up runs and saw lots of athletes struggling with speed.
‘‘So we came up with the double wildcat as best option, since it is a trick that sends me the
‘‘It wasn’t my first time stomping this in my competition run, but I am still stoked that I landed the trick.
‘‘Everyone was ripping — all the girls were throwing it down — and I was nervous as well, but I just had a good run and a good landing, I guess.’’
The Japanese-born boarder, who trains locally at Cardrona Alpine Resort, says competition
will be tough at the world champs, where she’ll be competing in the same two disciplines and going up against some of the women she’s looked up to over the years, including American Hailey Langland.
‘‘It’s pretty cool to be in that spot to be able to compete with the top athletes — that’s what I’m most excited about, hopefully we can be friends.’’
Wakushima started boarding when she was about seven, spurred on by her older brother,
The family would head up the mountain and ‘‘I had nothing to do, so I just strapped on his old boards’’.
Her younger brother, Anru, is also now in on the action, but Wakushima says their mum, Yuko, ‘‘is probably the one that loves snowboarding the most’’.
She’s spent half of her life in Japan, moving to NZ when she was nine, and could represent that country, but ‘‘I wouldn’t’’.
‘‘I’d rather compete for NZ.’’
Wakushima, whose mum just ‘‘randomly chose’’ her name — ‘‘I don’t think she realised she was naming me after a word’’ — is due to fly back to Europe to compete in the world cup there later this month before returning to Queenstown.
This year, for the first time, she’ll be able to train as often as she wants, with a view to eventually going pro.
Meantime, ski racer Alice Robinson finished fourth in the giant slalom at the FIS ski world
champs, held in Italy, last month — that’s Robinsons’ top ski world champs result of her career.