Interview with Philippe Mentone: The Originator of the Japan Air

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We found him! Following up on our "Origins of the Japan Air" story, Brett Nichols (with an assist from Hidehiko Fujiwara, the owner of Japan's first skateshop in the early '80s—California Street Skateshop in Tokyo) and Japanese artist Haroshi we were able to track down Philippe Mentone—the French/Japanese skater who unwittingly tweaked the very first "Japan" air for a photo in our Feb. 1985 issue, forever naming the trick based on the massive "Japan" lettering above him on the page.

After Haroshi created the "Have You Seen Him?" poster, initiated a seeming county-wide manhunt and located Philippe, Brett connected me to an Instagram account set up by Philippe and his wife, Maintenay in order to answer some questions, albeit in French. Luckily, having grown up in Nice, I still speak some French. Now 51-years-old, and still living in Tokyo, here was my back-and-forth with Philippe via Insta DMs.

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Haroshi’s Chin like poster of Philippe Mentone. Photo: NISI (RIP).

(French) ME: Voila, en gros, comme vous le savez peut-etre la photo de Philippe dans notre edition (TWS Feb. 1985) avec le texte ‘Japan’ au dessus a finit par donner le nom ‘Japan’ au tricks ou ‘catch’ que Philippe faisait dans la photo. Les Skaters aux US comme Tony Hawk ont été marquee par la photo de Philippe et ont garder le nom ‘Japan’ qui existe dans tous les sports de glisse aujourd’hui.

(English) ME: Okay, so broadly as you perhaps know the photo of Philippe in our Feb. 1985 issue, with the 'Japan' text above him ended up giving the name 'Japan' to the trick or 'grab' that Philippe was doing in the photo. US skaters like Tony Hawk were marked by the photo and kept the name 'Japan' that now exists across all board sports (skate, surf, snow, wake, etc…)

1) Donc, premiérement, je voullais juste demander si Philippe était au courant que sa photo avait changeait le sport de cette manierre?
1) So first off, I just wanted to ask if Philippe was aware that his photo had changed the sport in that way?

Philippe Mentone: Oui, je le savais depuis longtemps. Mais pas tant que ça, c’est-à-dire dans tout les sports—le snowboard, le skateboard, le rollerskate, wakeboard, etc… Moi même je suis surpris.

Philippe Mentone: Yes, I had known about the name of the trick for a long time. But not to that extent really. I didn't know it had affected all the board sports—snowboarding, skateboarding, roller-skating, wakeboarding, etc… I myself am surprised to hear that.

2) Quand est-ce que Philippe a vu la photo dans le magazine pour la premiere fois?
2) When did Philippe see the photo in the magazine for the first time?

Mentone: Je l’ai vu juste après la session de Musashi Kiyose dans le TWS Feb. 1985.
Mentone: I saw it not long after the session at the Musashi Kiyose (skatepark) in the TWS Feb. 1985.

3) Quel tricks essayait Philippe ce jour la au skatepark Musashi? C’etait un tricks normal pour Philippe a l’epoche.
3) What trick was Philippe trying that day at the Musashi skatepark? Was it a normal trick for Philippe at the time?

Mentone: J’ai voulu juste faire un Mute air stylish.
Mentone: I just wanted to do a stylish Mute air.

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The page as it ran in our Feb. 1985 issue. Photo: NISI.

4) Depuis la photo en 1985, est ce que Philippe a continué a skater? Que fait Philippe a present?
4) Since the photo in 1985, did Philippe continue skating? What is Philippe up to these days?

Mentone: Malheureusement non, je ne skate plus. Mais je fait un peu de circuit (voiture de cours) et du snowboard. Je suis né le 17 Mai, 1965 à Madagascar, j’ai vécu à Marseille jusqu’à 8ans et je suis à Tokyo actuellement. Donc j’ai 51ans. Ça me fait plaisir de revenir dans le monde des skaters. C’est super se que tu veux faire.

Mentone: Unfortunately no, I don't skate anymore. But I do some closed circuit car racing and do some snowboarding. For the record, I was born May 17, 1965 in Madagascar, I lived in Marseilles until I was 8 years old, and have been in Toyko since. So I'm 51 years old. It makes me happy to come back into the world of skaters. I really appreciate what you wanted to do.

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Close up of Philippe’s “stylish mute” that named the Japan air. Photo: NISI.

Huge thanks to Philippe for creating one of the best grabs in the book, and major thanks to Brett Nichols, Hidehiko Fujiwara, and Haroshi for getting us connected. Scroll Down for some classic Japans.

Tony Cox pays homage to Philippe on our Jan. 2004 cover. Photo: Thompson. Vol. 22, No. 1.
Tony Cox pays homage to Philippe on our Jan. 2004 cover. Photo: Thompson. Vol. 22, No. 1.
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Sal Barbier tweaks Philippe’s creation for his legendary 1996 23 Skateboards ad. Scan: Chromeball.
Ali Boulala tweaks one to fakie under Ali Cairns. Photo: Wig. TWS June, 1997. Vol. 15, No. 6.
Ali Boulala grabs one to fakie under Ali Cairns. Photo: Wig. TWS June, 1997. Vol. 15, No. 6.
John Cardiel, Japan over a pole. Photo: Morford. TWS Aug. 1999, Vol. 17, No. 8.
John Cardiel, Japan over a pole. Photo: Morford. TWS Aug. 1999, Vol. 17, No. 8.
Danny Way Japan over that famous hydrant in Vista. Photo: Brittain. TWS Oct. 91, Vol. 9, No. 10.
Danny Way Japan over that famous hydrant in Vista. Photo: Brittain. TWS Oct. 91, Vol. 9, No. 10.
The Donger, aka Kien Lieu with a hefty one at School W. Photo: Sherman. TWS July 1990, Vol. 8, No. 7.
The Donger, aka Kien Lieu with a hefty one at School W. Photo: Sherman. TWS July 1990, Vol. 8, No. 7.
JLee had a really good Japan. Photo: Mountain. TWS April 1989, Vol. 7, No. 2.
JLee had a really good Japan. Photo: Mountain. TWS April 1989, Vol. 7, No. 2.
John Duff. Photo: Brittain. TWS April 1991, Vol. 9, No. 4.
John Duff. Photo: Brittain. TWS April 1991, Vol. 9, No. 4.
Jeremy Klein. Photo: Spike. TWS Sept. 1990, Vol. 8, No. 9.
Jeremy Klein. Photo: Spike. TWS Sept. 1990, Vol. 8, No. 9.
Jason Rogers at Munster. Photo: Ogden. TWS Jan. 1992, Vol, 10, No.1.
Jason Rogers at Munster. Photo: Ogden. TWS Jan. 1992, Vol, 10, No.1.

Follow Brett on Instagram: @brettenichols and check out his project Pathways.
Follow Hidehiko on Instagram: @california_street.
Follow Haroshi on Instagram: @haroshi.

Stay tuned for more Origins.
Previous nerdology:

Origins of the Back Noseblunt with Matt Hensley
Origins of the Japan Air with Tony Hawk
Origins of the Noseblunt with Gonz, Guy, and Julien Stranger
Gonz and Hawk: The Origins of the Stalefish
The Photo that Named the Sadplant
Origins of the Stalefish Follow Up
Skatenerdstarmaps: Kenter Canyon with Eric Dressen
Skatenerdstarmaps: School Q
COCI: Ron Chatman
COCI: Simon Woodstock
COCI: Tony Cox