Lester Kasai, an Anaheim, California native, began skating at age 11, and turned pro in 1982 at 16. He was one of the original Sadlands team riders, and was a top pro for many years. Known for his stylish, huge airs, he created the Benihana and Poliki.
OGRT: Lester, I greatly appreciate you taking the time to speak with us. Give us a rundown on what’s up with Lester Kasai.
LK: Well, the newest event in my life is that I had my first child last September. A baby boy named Keenu. I’ve been hanging with my family a lot lately, but I am still getting out to skate every chance I get.
LK: In 1977, my cousin Terence and I were walking down the street from my house and we found a Black Knight skateboard in a neighbor’s trash can. We rolled around the sidewalk with it and we were hooked. Next thing we know, we are skating at all the skateparks like Skatopia, Concrete Wave and Big O. We also started skating local skate spots like Sadlands and Salk Ditch in Anaheim. Sun California was the local skateshop down the street.
OGRT: Who were your first sponsors?
LK: My very first sponsor was Gullwing sometime around 1980. Then I got a call from Tom Sims, and he asked me to skate for the Sims team. I couldn’t believe it. I was so stoked to be part of such an incredible team with pros like Andrecht, Bowman, Lamar and Folmer. I got to go visit the Sims warehouse in Santa Barbara and got hooked up with hardware goodies, a Sims jersey, and some sick Sims gloves. It was one of the best days of my life. Tom Sims gave me my first real gift of support in skateboarding and I am forever grateful. R.I.P legendary Tom Sims.
OGRT: Talk about your first pro model, and how turning pro changed your life?
LK: My first pro model was the Sims Splash graphics in 1983. I think turning pro in 1982 didn’t change my life so much. Back then things were different. Me, Tony Hawk and Chris Miller all turned pro at the Rusty Harris Whittier contest. All we did is check a box on the registration form that we were pro and we were in. Seems like we were just crazy kids having fun and turning pro. There wasn’t much money in it and many of the skateparks were starting to close. However, when skateboarding got popular in the later part of the 80’s, we got to start traveling around the world to skateboard contests and all of us pros started to make some major cash.
OGRT: I remember when one of my friends in high school bought a Tracker Lester Kasai with the oak leaf; what is the meaning behind the graphics? What does it say?
LK: The oak leaf is a Japanese family crest called a mon. We added some ankh symbols and a circle around it. The Japanese writing that is on the board means “Forever Happiness.” I guess I was a happy and funny kid. I really had fun making that shape too.
OGRT: The new Theeve CSX Lester Splash trucks are sick; talk about how those came about.
LK: I first got a set of Theeve full titanium trucks in 2010. It’s so crazy how the trucks have no axles. The hanger is just one whole piece and they are super light. The technology is so amazing and no more axle slips. I’ve been riding my current set of titanium trucks for a couple of years now. They just haven’t grinded through.
I was honored when Trevor Ward from Theeve asked me to do a truck. It’s my first signature truck. Of course the CSX Lester Splash trucks are just the base model regular metal truck. I am super stoked on how the splash graphics came out on the truck. Thank you Theeve.
OGRT: Being a pro skater, you travel around quite a bit. What’s your favorite place skating has taken you?
LK: My favorite country to visit is New Zealand. It’s so beautiful and the energy there is so chill. New Zealand has the best tasting apples but the ozone layer in New Zealand is damaged so it’s a bit hard on the skin. The Wellington bowl is a really fun bowl to skate and Lee Ralph lives in New Zealand. Lee has always been one of my favorites to watch skate.
OGRT: Do you have a favorite skate memory?
LK: Year 1980. Orange, California. The Big O Gold Cup contest and a small Sadlands crew. Me, my cousin Terence Yoshizawa, Dave Church, Keith Cote and Lynn Cooper all snuck in underneath the bleachers to the watch the finals. I remember Dave Andrecht was blasting big method backside airs on the face wall out of our sight. That was the first time I witnessed a truly big air. It was the most insane thing I saw at that time. I even went out and bought an Andrecht board because I thought it would make me do big airs. Dave Andrecht rules!!!
OGRT: What injuries have you had over your skate career and what do you do now for injury prevention (yoga, stretching, etc.)?
LK: My injury list is long. I had many broken bones and torn muscles. I hung up on a lien to tail and ruptured my kidney back in 1985. That really sucked. 11 months ago I took a bad slam skating a pool in Getxo, Spain. I hung up in the death box doing a backside air. I ended up with a shattered collar bone, two broken ribs, a punctured lung that collapsed, and a heavily dislocated finger. I flew back to my wife’s home in Germany, had surgery and was hospitalized for a week. It was pretty gnarly but I healed up pretty quick.
Tom Sims gave me my first real gift of support in skateboarding and I am forever grateful. R.I.P legendary Tom Sims.
Most important is my diet. Seems like many of my friends and family are dying or getting cancer. Let’s face it, what you put in your body is going to make a difference with everything you do. I used to drink tons of alcohol, basically chain smoke and eat junky food. I was waking up in a cloudy haze every sluggish morning. I quit drinking alcohol a couple years ago and I quit tobacco a year ago.
Nowadays, I try to eat mostly organic veggies, fruits, legumes and grains. I try to stay away from any processed foods, caffeine, sugar, dairy, gluten and meats (except fish). I’m not 100 percent perfect with my diet, especially when I travel, but it’s pretty dead on. I feel fantastic and have more energy than I’ve ever had. I’m at the same weight that I was when I was a teenager. My body seems to recover and heal faster by eating a cleaner diet. Some of my favorite documentaries to watch are Forks Over Knives; Hungry For Change; Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead; and Tapped. These documentaries could change your life for the better. Most of these are on Netflix.
OGRT: How often do you ride now, and who do your ride with?
LK: I used to skate every day but the responsibility of taking care of a baby supersedes skating for now. I still manage to skate a few times a week. I often skate with the locals at Vans Combi and Vans Huntington Beach clover. I’m so lucky to be able to skate with Lonny Hiramoto a lot. Lonny is one of my childhood heroes. I remember watching Lonny win a skateboard contest on Television in the late 70’s. I also skate with my Madrid teammate Daniel Cuervo when I get the chance.
LK: Yes my wife can skate. She charges it and is pretty tough. She’s a really good snowboarder as well. We really don’t teach each other anything. We just go charge it and have fun.
OGRT: Will you pass skating on to your son?
LK: It would be so cool if my son skates. He’s only 11 months old, but he likes to play on the board already. I’m definitely going to pass on all my skateboarding goodies I’ve collected over the past 38 years to him. He should be stoked on that.
OGRT: What do you hope to be remembered for?
LK: I hope that I have brought some fun and laughter into skate sessions with my friends.
OGRT: Skateboarding has really embraced the legends/masters, I know I love watching the “Old Guys,” and audiences love it as well. Talk about what that’s been like.
LK: When I was a young skater, I never really imagined that I would be 49 years old and skating such crazy good bowls and pools all over the world. It’s a dream come true to be able to skate sessions with the older guys I looked up to when I was a kid. When I skate a session with names like George Orton, Doug Salidino, Jay Smith, Steve Olson or Dave Hackett, I get like a giddy little kid skating with his heroes. Watching these legends skate is like looking at art. The style, the flow and the lines they can generate are second to none. Watch Olson carve a bowl, Hackett slash a grind or Jay Smith throw down a layback and you’ll know what I mean. It just can’t be recreated. It’s one of a kind and special. It’s just plain awesome to watch old guys have fun skating and not letting their age stop them.
Let’s face it, what you put in your body is going to make a difference with everything you do.
LK: Madrid, Theeve, Type-S, Rockers bearings, Hurley, S-ONE helmets, 187, Black Flys, Socal Skateshop, OMSA (Old Men Skateboard Association) and Osiris (flow).
OGRT: What do you think of the progression of skateboarding?
LK: In terms of progression the mega ramp is just about the craziest thing I’ve ever seen on a skateboard. There really isn’t much room for error riding it. Mega is like the ceiling of seriously messing yourself up on a skateboard if you miscalculate. I like seeing progression in terms of these intangible boundaries that are being broken. Pedro and Boyster jumping the combi hip at the last Vans Pool Party was one of those boundaries.
On a deep personal note, I love the progression of how good bowls are being constructed from the design, the technology of pool coping, and to how smooth the concrete finishing is. Cardiff and Huntington Beach pools are my favorite. Both pools are new builds and are so fast and smooth. I start to laugh right in the middle of a run sometimes because these pools are so ridiculously good.
LK: Pat Ngoho, Lonny Hiramoto, Steve Olson, Jay Smith, Dave Hackett and Brad Bowman… power, style and flow!!!
OGRT: What about the young guns? Any favorites?
LK: Pedro Barros, Greyson Fletcher, Charlie Blair, Nolan Munroe, Zach Miller, Sky Siljeg and Kiko Francisco… stylish, springy, and fun to watch!!!
OGRT: Any shout outs you’d like to give?
LK: Thanks mom for buying me my first real skateboard. I never would have skated without her support. Thanks to my wife Insa and boy Keenu for always being there for me. Thanks to my super cool sponsors for all the support they have given me throughout the years. Thanks OGRT for a fun interview… Spread the love and gratitude!!!
OGRT: Again we greatly appreciate the time Lester. Time to let em’ know…
LK: Old Guys Rip Too!
Please visit Lester’s sponsors: