Who is Genki "Wanky" Watanabe?
“Winning silver in 2018 was the best moment in my career. It was my first medal in the U.S.” -Wanky
Words and Photos by: Hunter Dood
THE CROWD IN MINNEAPOLIS cheers on as athletes throw whip after whip during the 2018 X-Games Best Whip competition. The silver medal winner, Genki Watanabe, or Wanky, took home his first X-Games medal.
“Winning silver in 2018 was best moment in my career,” Wanky said. “It was my first medal in U.S.”
Wanky has become known for his freestyle riding, but who is Wanky?
Born in Osaka, Japan, Wanky fell in love with skating and snowboarding early in his life. He didn’t find his passion for dirt bikes until he was 10-years-old, when he began racing moto.
“All my buddies raced motocross so they called me to race,” he said.
About eight years later, Wanky was a professional motocross racer in Japan. He raced professionally from 2007-09 in the 250 class.
“But I got bored… I just wanted to skate. But I had so many trainings every weekend, which made me stressed. I felt stuck.”
So, the professional racer retired, but the rider did not. In 2010, Wanky began his next life as a freestyle motocross rider.
A year later, Wanky found himself pursuing his freestyle career in Temecula, California.
“I rode at Deegan’s house, Ronnie Faaist’s house. I rode so many back yards in 2011.”
Wanky said one of his biggest supporters early on in his freestyle career was Taka Higashino, a fellow Japanese freestyle rider. Taka was the person that pushed for Wanky to move over to the U.S.
Wanky has the utmost respect for his best friend.
“He was a two time X-Games gold medalist and he still practiced every day. Respect dude. So nuts.”
Wanky and Taka stayed together at Faaist’s house during 2011, until Taka needed to train for X-Games.
The freedom and style of freestyle attracted Wanky to the sport.
“A long time ago freestyle looked like a punk rock star, you know? Metal Mulisha was so sick. Everybody so sick.”
One of Wanky’s biggest inspirations was Jeremy “Twitch” Stenberg. Nowadays, Wanky wakes up in Twitch’s house, and he has been for the last couple of years.
“Everyday I’m like, ‘What is life, Twitch’s house… crazy.’”
Everybody calls Twitch “grandpa” because he’s like everybody’s dad. No matter what, he’s always helping everybody.
Although Wanky is in the U.S. competing and riding, he said he still travels back to Japan to see his family. He visits about three times a year for 2-4 weeks at a time.
“I have a wife and baby in Japan, that is why I am always in and out,” he said. “It sucks, dude. I like California better, I want them to come here.”
He said he doesn’t get to ride much in Japan. Instead he spends his time building skateparks.
In late 2020, Wanky broke his ankle skating at his sponsored skate park in Japan that he helped build.
“I hit the big bowl five or six times but I wanted to go longer, so I tried and broke my ankle.”
In 2021, Wanky hopes to medal in the X-Games best whip, if the games are held.
A sign that freestyle competition has fallen to free-riding, which has become his new focus.
“Practice, practice, practice. I’ll ride four times a week.”
He also hopes to compete in the quarter pipe, an event he has never competed in at the X-Games.
Beyond free-riding, Wanky just wants to ride and skate.
“I want to be riding my dirt bike, or skating. I really like skating, it’s so sick. I just want to have fun. Sometimes I’ll eat it, but you know how it goes.”
Wanky became a part of State of Ethos in early 2021 after a falling out with is previous gear deal.
Twitch linked up Wanky and the State of Ethos crew.
“I never knew what State of Ethos was,” he said. “I always saw Kelana (Humphrey) had it on his bike and his kits. And he always looks sick, so I was trying to find out more about State of Ethos.”
The State of Ethos crew and Wanky had a previous run in with each other. A party in Las Vegas when Wanky started talking to Emily Humphrey.
“I started talking to her and I said ‘This kid from Indonesia, Kelana, his bike and kits are always so sick,’ I had no idea I was talking to Kelana’s mom.”
Wanky said he wants to expand his riding and practice by hitting the desert, mountains and hills.
Twitch introduced Wanky to the DBK crew and other free riders. Nowadays Wanky rides with Taka, Tyler Bereman, Vikki Golden, Axell Hodges, Robbie Madison and Twitch.
“We ride Maddo’s (Robbie Madison) place a lot,” Wanky said. “Or we go hit the hills. The hills are so sick, dude.”
Now that Wanky knows what is behind State of Ethos, he wants to get out and create.
“I want to do a photo or video shoot on the quarter pipe,” he said. “I want to get a good shot. Photo shoots are the best, dude.”
Wanky said he wants to shoot just about anything he does on wheels, whether it be two or four. The more the better in Wanky’s eyes.
“Last year sucked, I’m so stoked for 2021.”