Oct 16, 2015
I’ve mentioned before that Japan is probably one of the world’s most underrated surfing resources … by people outside of Japan. But if you can save the money, and the courage (to tackle the language that is, rather than the waves), the country has plenty of fun breaks on tap.
Surfing in Japan isn’t without its hazards though. Some to watch out for …
Thankfully, Japan has been spared the kind of psychotic localism that plagues many a break in other parts. The chances of getting your tires slashed, a bloody nose, or even a meat-headed, “Stay off my wave, bra!” are an emphatic nil. Still, there are a few spots where the visiting novice could get the stink eye.
No, when we talk about ‘other surfers’, we mean, simply, the sheer numbers. The Shonan area south of Tokyo is a prime example. The ocean could be as flat as a pond, but if the sun’s out of a Saturday morning, taking off on even a one foot wave is akin to fighting one’s way to front of Stones concert.
Japan is famously expensive. Sometimes (but not always) with good reason. Buying kit for surfing in Japan, is one such case. A new board from a top shaper/brand will easily fetch over 100,000 yen. A bottom-of-the-range 3-5mm wetsuit will be at least 30,000 yen. Thankfully the Japanese hobbyist has a fetish for all things new, so there’s no shortage of secondhand gear to be found. Visions of previous owners urinating and farting in their wetsuits might be a bit of a hurdle, though.
Jaw dropping footage of surf legend Mick Fanning getting attacked by a great white mid competition in South Africa (he was fine, by the way) served as a reminder to the complacent surfer. See the footage here (if it doesn’t bring you out in goosebumps, have someone check your pulse).
Sharks attacks in Japan are rare (fatal attacks on surfers extremely so). That said, authorities got themselves into a panic this summer when fins started showing up at beaches north and south of Tokyo. This is unusual, apparently. Beaches were closed and summers dampened. The culprits; hammerhead and sand sharks. Now that summer is over, nobody seems to care anymore. Except this surfer!
Everything has a season in Japan, even jellyfish. After a hot summer (around September) any mention of surfing in Japan will bring out an exasperated, “Watch out for the jellyfish!”. In this surfer’s experience, they’re not much to get excited about. An irritation at best. And I feel guilty for saying it. It is their home after all.
On occasion, in summer, sections of beach may be closed due to stingrays. Like the jellyfish, this is nothing serious, but getting pinged by their tails is reportedly painful. They like to hang out in the shallows, burying themselves just under the sand so as you can’t see them. If there are no official signs around, check to see how other surfers enter the water. If they prance in like a ballet dancer then dive on their boards as quickly as possible, do likewise!
A blessing and a curse, these. A day or two after a typhoon has passed will often see some of the best surf the country has to offer. The problem is, typhoons have psychotically annoying timing, usually saving their worst for the weekends. Or maybe it’s just my mind playing tricks. Either way, surfing during a typhoon is completely stupid. You’d think it wouldn’t need saying. Still, it’s not unusual to hear stories of surfers over here doing their best impression of Patrick Swayze at the end of Point Break.
For more info about surfing in Japan check my earlier posts on City-Cost …
Hi Tomuu, Thanks for sharing all this information in this post. Your article it's a very interesting read that covers all the possible hazards of Surfing here in Japan. I'm also an expat living in Japan for over a decade. Have you ever surfed in Shonan, Hiratsuka/Ooiso area? I have been very surprised that you definitely find "psychotic" surf localism even in Japan. The break point it's in the mouth of the river "Hanamizu" 花水川（花水川河口） which is located in the middle of Oiso and Hiratsuka beach area. Anyway I thought it was worthy to share this information in your article about hazards of Surfing in Japan. Cheers, JS
@1kyuusan Thanks for the comment. Oh, no. The point about the "psychotic localism" was that there isn't any in Japan. Not that I've encountered, anyway. (Although I hear some spots in Shikoku can be a bit local.) I've surfed in the Shonan area one or two times but not in recent years. I live in Chiba so making the journey to those beaches doesn't make much sense for me (plus I wouldn't know how to drive there without the Japanese partner joining the ride to help me with navigation). What are the conditions like at Hanamizu? Is it pretty consistent?