“As we ride a nice wave into a peaceful sunny day, we don’t see what danger may be just on the side or below us that the day may bring. So just do the right things in life and it will all be OK …”
And with that, you have the theme for team Hawaii in the 46th International Snow Sculpture Contest, part of the 70th Sapporo Snow Festival.
That team includes Kauai’s Charlie Matsuda, along with Oahu’s Dale Radomski and Norimitsu Wada-Goode.
“Every year we go there, we’re hoping, we want to bring back first place,” Matsuda said in an interview with The Garden Island shortly before leaving for the competition in Japan that began Sunday, wraps up Wednesday, with the winners named Thursday.
Eight three-person teams from China, Korea, Finland, Thailand, Singapore, Poland, Indonesia and Macao, China, are also participating in the contest.
Charlie’s wife, Kathleen Matsuda, reported in Sunday from International Square in Sapporo.
“The weather today is a very cold 20 degrees with continuous snow,” she wrote.
The chilly conditions are no sweat for her husband and friends, who have competed in this festival for more than a decade, with a third-place finish to their credit in 2017 and a fourth in 2016.
Their experience, camaraderie and artistry are their strengths. Matsuda is quick to credit his teammates — “these guys are incredible artists” — for doing well at the invitation-only event.
“It’s like a brotherhood between us,” he said.
An estimated two million people and swarms of media attend the Sapporo Snow Festival and nearly every one of them makes their way to the snow sculpture contest.
Team Hawaii does more than carve sculptures from snow during their stay in Japan. They feel they have a responsibility to represent their state and share the love.
“We give back the aloha,” said Matsuda, who is a professional cook when he’s not using saws, chisels and sand paper to turn frozen blocks of snow into surfers, waves, hula dancers, canoes, sharks and turtles.
To do it at such a level is beyond a hobby. It’s demanding, which goes with being among the best.
“It’s really physical,” he said.
Being from Hawaii, Matsuda and friends are at a disadvantage going against teams from places like Poland, where it snows. They don’t get to actually practice on giant snow blocks.
But they have their ways to woo and win judges and fans.
“We always talk about it,” Matsuda said. “We know what to expect. I call Dale all the time and we’re always collaborating.”
While the competition is fierce, teams respect each other. Cultures collide over sculptures and come together over smiles at the same time.
“We’ve established a lot of friendships,” Matsuda said.
The Hawaii team created this year’s design well in advance of the contest. It shows a surfer riding a wave, the sun behind him, a sail in the distance, and two sharks below.
“There is danger below,” Matsuda said. “We can’t see what’s there, but we all love the ocean every day.”
“We all feel good about this piece,” he added.
It’s carved out of block of frozen snow that’s about 10 by 10 by a little more than 20 feet tall.
Once they start, they move slowly, methodically. Carve, step back, study, saw here and there, chisel, smooth over, then do it again. And again. And again.
Keep it clean, keep it simple, keep the lines pure. After all these years, they know what they judges like, and don’t like. Don’t get too caught up in details.
“We trust each other, know how much to take out,” Matsuda said. “Having that vision is what makes the whole team click all together.”
They’ll spend four days, about 12 hours a day, on their task. Breaks for food and hot tea are kept to a minimum.
Enduring the cold, working from ladders and scaffolding, the men are a unit. No power tools, hand tools only. Each saw is sharpened to a fine edge. They pay close attention. One small error, one tiny miscue, can undo days of painstaking precision.
You get the idea. There is no margin for error.
“We all share that responsibility. We can’t make a mistake,” Matsuda said.
Being invited to the contest and being part of Hawaii’s team, he said, is a dream come true, one for which he is grateful.
He gave a shout out to some main sponsors, Hawaiian Airlines, Kauai Kookie and Kauai Coffee, for getting them to Sapporo’s winter festival where they pursue their passion.
“I’m blown away every year. It is a spectacular thing,” he said. “Being on the team all these years, going there, it’s amazing.”