Kendamas. We’ve all seen them, maybe even played with one, but what’s the deal with them? I reached out to Reed Stark (the first person I recall seeing with one in BMX) to learn more about them.
Click below for the Q&A.
Reed, how the hell are ya and what were you doing before answering these questions?
Doing good! Just showed up to the cut and sew studio to pick up some Safari State apparel in Downtown LA.
So here we are… talking about Kendamas! If someone has never seen or heard of a Kendama before, how would you describe what it is to them?
Kendama is a lifestyle really. It’s a way for me to meditate, enhance hand eye coordination, increase focus, and learn patience.
When and how did you first come across one and how quickly were you hooked?
My homie Bjorn in college was filming videos for Sweets Kendamas. He showed up with one at my house. We were watching TV and every time during commercials he’d bust it out and jam. I didn’t understand what it was, but found myself staring at him playing and knew I had to get one.
How long did it take for you to confidently feel good at it?
I went on a 4 month trip around Europe and got one right beforehand. I don’t think you can ever master it or feel too confident, but I remember a couple months into that trip being able to flow with cups to the beat of some music for a minute or so and definitely felt a lot more connected to it.
Do you ever get asked about it when people see one around your neck?
Every day. Most people want a reason to talk with others and kendama is the perfect icebreaker. I actually met my girlfriend at a party teaching her how to big cup. Been living with her for over a year now.
I credit you with ushering the Kendama into BMX, so which rider/person from our scene has excelled at it the most in your eyes?
Adam22 has leveled up insanely fast and I’d say is top dog in our scene at this point. Catfish, Joris Coulomb, Anthony Perrin, Simone Barraco, Broc Raiford and Justin Spriet all slay dama too. Pretty much all my friends can big cup but those are some notable mentions for sure.
I saw you sessioning your Kendama in between your runs at the recent Vans Rebel Jam in HB. Is this to help you calm your nerves, keep you focused or something similar?
Both. I can’t imagine being in a contest or even just going out riding without having one nowadays. It keeps me safe because it tells me how ready I am for whatever is about to go down on the BMX. Sometimes when I wake up in the morning and do a big cup, the ball moves up and down super fast. It’s like the world is moving in fast motion. After I’m playing with it for a while and start flowing, the kendama starts to slow down time in my head. All of a sudden the ball is moving slower and I can land way more shit. It also helps shake nerves. You’re never waiting if you have a kendama.
Speaking of, Boo Johnson came out to hang with you at Rebel Jam, talk a bit about your relationship with him? Did you guys connect through Kendamas?
I met Boo at Coachella a couple years back and we vibed right away. I showed him the kendama and he was super stoked on it. He talked about how landing a trick on the kendama gives him the same feeling he gets when he lands a skate trick. Couldn’t be more stoked to welcome him to the Sweets team.
You have you’re own signature Kendama with Sweets, and it carries your Safari vibe pretty damn well. How did this partnership come about and how did they find out about you?
Ayy cheers g! I walked into the Sweets store after my 4 month euro trip and was going to buy my parents kendamas. Was wearing this Japanese designer’s coat with a specific print on it and all the dudes at Sweets freaked out because they were currently making a kendama holster with the same dude’s print. Sweets ended up asking me to go model their new clothing line that night. Was sick meeting everyone on the team. Felt like family right away. Some months later I had a signature BSD giraffe print seat coming out and I thought damn what about a giraffe print kendama. Suggested it to Sweets and they were down.
I assume you get royalties from sales of it?
Yessir same as you would with a signature BMX product.
Knowing next to nothing about the Kendama scene, what can you tell me about it? Are people making good money and/or a living with it?
It’s a super tight crew of old people, young people, crazy people, normal people, and everyone in between from everywhere around the world. There are contests all the time and people definitely making a living off it. It’s wild being at a kendama jam or contest. You can leave your bag sitting out with all your valuables and that bag will be safe. People put so many hours into this thing and they’d never do anything bad to anyone who did the same. There’s a lot of respect. It’s similar to BMX. The kendama scene is growing fast, but it’s still super new to most of the world. I actually work with Sweets to set up kendama distributors and retailers in countries that don’t have one because it’s so new.
Who is the Garrett Reynolds of Kendama and why?
Definitely my boy Bonzatron. He’s from Boulder, Colorado and grew up jamming dama on a slackline. He’s the most balanced dude I know. Man has won every event in the world at least once and will blow your fucking mind. Peep him on Instagram for a jaw drop or 2.
In terms of difficulty, what is the hardest Kendama move out there and what does it entail?
My dude Cooper Eddy did a trick called the tightrope. It’s where you hold the tama (ball), toss up the ken (handle), grab the string, and balance the spike of the kendama on the string. Probably the hardest trick to describe and do. Look it up on Youtube if you’re interested.
Have you ever nailed one?
Not even close. Been trying border balance lately which is where you balance the spike on the ball, but I’ve only done it for a second or 2. Tightrope is so next level.
Thanks Reed, anything you’d like to add before we wrap this up?
Thanks to Nuno @ Defgrip for the interview and shoutout to BSD, Sweets Kendamas, Safari State, Rawr Superfoods, Los Angeles Kush, Plants Basically, and you for all the support. Humans need gang.