Making Kendama History in Latvia : THE KEKE KENDAMA STORY
By Ryan Reese
In the past year, Latvia has proven to be a hotbed for kendama attracting American companies attention and even collaborating with them. The popularity of kendama in Latvia may seem to have come out of nowhere, but that’s not the case. It actually took lots of hard work, dedication and patience to slowly build a scene in a Baltic country not many outside of it have even heard of. But who exactly is responsible for it? How were they able to start up a kendama store in the capital of Latvia? How did they manage to achieve putting kendama in music videos, TV commercials, and newspapers?
It seems like it would take an entire marketing team to do such things but in reality, it was two dudes who just thought kendama was cool, and worth sharing on a national level.
Their names are Ingus and Roach.
Together Ingus and Roach have raised the bar when it comes to spreading kendama by using media, events, and of course clout. You might have seen a few of their Vlogs on Youtube where they mesh the fabric of kendama and music, often jamming during the day and hitting music festivals by night.
So what is the Latvian lowdown? Who were these two guys I kept hearing were changing the Latvian landscape with kendama? And what could we learn from them? So after tracking them down in between shifts at the KeKe Kendama Shop, I interviewed both Ingus and Roach about how kendama has not only changed their lives, but lots of others in Latvia.
Hey Ingus and Roach, it’s great to finally meet you guys! To get started, what were you doing before kendama entered your lives?
INGUS: Before kendama entered my life I was riding bmx freestyle and working as a dog handler and Northern lights guide on island called Kvaloya, located 350km above the arctic circle in northern Norway. I’m originally from Latvia but after some bad decisions I was left unemployed and was forced to move abroad where I started to chase my ''into the wild'' dream. I moved to the big north in 2015 to work in one of the biggest husky farms in a world with over 350 alaskan huskies to take care of. It was a 12-hours-a-day outdoors job in a very rough climate that taught me a lot about life and how to help myself if I end up in helpless situations. Our husky tours were one of the most popular winter activities in Northern Norway. It guaranteed we would get to meet people from all over the world every single day. That way I experienced how people from different places live, think and act.
ROACH: Before I got into dama, I used to be super into video games and music. I started playing video games in kindergarten when I had a GameBoy Advance. I picked up music around 3 years ago when I got super into new school rap music.
How did you guys end up getting into kendama?
INGUS: I got introduced to kendama by Alex Donnachie who is an XGames gold medalist in BMX street and a hella cool dude. He is a teammate of Reed Stark, my main kendama plug and the guy who found me in Latvia and help me connect with SWEETS. He takes a lot of credit in making this all. In summer 2017 Alex came to Riga for a bmx competition and had couple kendamas with him of which one was Reeds Safari Mod. It didn't catch my interest at first, but when I got back to Norway I ordered one to try and see if I could actually learn something on it. I got my first kendama in January 2018 and started to play whenever I'd find myself bored.
ROACH: First time I ever saw a dama was around 11/12 years ago when I was a skater and some inline kids had some on them. But couldn't be into it because the whole ‘skateboarders vs. inliners’ kid bullshit. 10 years later I see one in a No Jumper vlog as Adam22 was just getting into it. So I decided to order a basic one from Ebay. Needless to say I’ve been hooked ever since.
How did you guys meet and become friends?
INGUS: I got to know Roach through a mutual friend. He was watching the No Jumper podcast and got a piece of kendama even before I started so he knew how to spike it straight away. I already was running the Keke web shop and wanted to do a kendama jam at a local skate plaza. Roach found a post about the kendama jam and our mutual friend linked us on Instagram. I liked Roaches music so I figured I'd give him a dama for free to show up at my jam. After that we started to meet up more often and think about future ideas we had. Then in August Roach finished his job as a security guy and he started to come to my place, a small dorm room, where all business was being run. He helped me pack up online orders and one day woke up, called me and said: “Yo, let’s open up a shop. I’ll go to work there, we'll all benefit from it,” And that’s how we got the idea to open the Keke shop.
ROACH: I met Ingus randomly, but it was destiny. Everything just worked out smoothly because we really connected and both had hella fun playing kendama. Since then we have been around the world, done some crazy shit so far and can’t wait to see what’s up next!
When was the moment where you guys decided that you wanted to spread kendama throughout Latvia and start the Keke Shop?
INGUS: After I moved back to Latvia in April of 2018, I had saved up some cash and didn't want to waste it. So I figured opening a kendama shop was the best option as there were zero places selling kendama here in Latvia when I got back from Norway. Sooner or later kendama would appear here and someone would start to sell it so why not that be me?
ROACH: I think it was right the day after when Ingus met Reed Stark. But I really knew we could grow this into something big the moment we met up for the first time in the old crib Ingus was crashing at. We slowly started to work our way up, and when the shop idea was born everything skyrocketed. When we had our first jam in Valmiera, remembering how around 10 kids showed up to sesh with us was insane. Or the time we we’re making orders for the eshop, taking them to the post office and being all hyped up to see that people were slowly falling in love with kendama.
How did it feel to get your own signature kendama from Sweets?
INGUS: My very first kendama from Sweets was a Reed Stark safari mod which was gifted by Reed himself when he was in Latvia last summer. It was a special moment because before that, I only had a cheap Chinese kendama, and I had never seen a Sweets or any other brand in person. That was a solid base to start work with Sweets. I fell in love with PRIME kens and Sweets as a company in general. I even got a crossken tattoo so I'm Sweets for life!
ROACH: All I knew at that time was that Sweets is one of the leading companies in the game, they have some INSANELY talented players, and that their vibes are off the charts - watching their vlogs and videos, I just remember thinking “Yo, i really want to hang out with these guys!”. “My signature model turned out better than expected (shout out to Paulsen of course) Get your #PrusaxMod and see for yourself!"
Tell me about hanging out with the Sweets crew and KendamaGOAT in Latvia. What was a favorite moment that you will never forget?
INGUS: My favorite memory was probably the first day in Ventspils before the Ghetto Games festival where we all went out with electric scooters to ride around as a gang and explore the city. That was possibly the most fun day of 2019 for me so far. Since Coop and Norx have been here before it was easy to get along with everyone. We all talk on social media quite often and had good communication with everyone before they came here. Also shoutout to living legend Christian Fraser for coming over to this event. One love SWEETS gang!
ROACH: The entire thing is probably my highlight of the year so far. It was SO much fun just going around the city, playing dama, meeting players with the pros, everything. The whole Sweets team is just on another level. Family. My personal highlight though was, same as last year, Baldones Waterfest. My group had a gig, we were turning up with the local squad AND with Coop and Norx it was crazy!
What has kendama taught you besides tricks?
INGUS: To not give up and grind!
ROACH: Never give up. Don’t lose faith. Never stop the grind. Stay grounded & humble.
What are some tips for other players out there who want to grow their community?
INGUS: There is no perfect recipe to build a scene. People in each country are thinking and acting somewhat differently. It's important to feel the scene and not just follow guide book that says that’s how its being done. It’s not for everyone, but if you can find a balance in your life between working, making time for your friends and family, studying something new, playing kendama, partying like an animal, all while still making it to work the next day like I do, you can probably do it too. Multitasking is the key.
ROACH: For us this happened so naturally that I don’t even know. My opinion is if you have a passion for the stuff you do, everything is going to happen the way it should. Like it or not, life finds its ways of surprising you. ________