VAIL - For now, he's known to many as "that 14-year-old Japanese snowboarder kid," but make no mistake, Ayumu Hirano is well on his way to becoming a household name here in the U.S. He's been competing against adults and reaching the podium in big comps for a little while now, but he really caught the attention of Americans in January when he finished runner-up to Shaun White at the X Games superpipe, the marquee event in the sport of halfpipe snowboarding. A few weeks later, he was able to come away with a win at the Burton European Open - the European version of the event now happening in Vail - with Shaun White not in attendance."Their skills are similar," said Hirano's coach here in the U.S., Ski & Snowboard Club Vail's Elijah Teter. "He likes to go big. And if you look at Shaun White, he's a skater, too. Ayumu skates vert ramps real well. Being able to ride both well like that is typical (for halfpipe snowboarders)."Hirano's been living in Summit County with a manager and crew that Teter calls Hirano's "second family in the U.S."That family includes an actual family member, Hirano's brother Eiju, as well as some well-known names in the world of Japanese snowboarding, including Kazu Kokubo, Kohei Kudo and Taku Hiraoka."It's a cool crew, all great snowboarders who just love the sport," Teter said. Teter said he first took notice of Hirano at the Burton U.S. Open two years ago."I was just like, 'Holy cow, look at that kid go,'" Teter said. "He was just tiny, going so big for how tiny he was and oozing with style ... It was pretty cool to watch that a couple years ago and then have the opportunity to work with him this winter."Teter and Hirano have mainly been working on variations of the "double," a trick where two off-axis inverted maneuvers are performed in the same trick. Teter said as Hirano has been learning, so has he."It's been fun, working on coaching without as many words," Teter said. "Just explaining what you mean through gestures and having him understand, you know. It's pretty cool."But, Teter said, Hirano's been learning more than just variations of the double."His English is getting a lot better," he said. Check out Hirano in the halfpipe semifinals starting at 10 a.m. today.
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