Dec 9, 2015

Is It a Shark? Even worse … It’s a Gaijin!: Surfing In Japan

Is It a Shark? Even worse … It’s a Gaijin!: Surfing In Japan photo

I’ve surfed my regular spot in Chiba for years.  During that time, I could probably count the number of non-Japanese surfers I’ve spotted on one hand.  I’ve long gotten used to this, and overcome my initial madness that locals would think me to be some sort of expert, schooled on much tougher breaks overseas.  I’m emphatically not!  I couldn’t look less like a surfer if I tried (Although, damn it, I want to!), and my skills in the water are usually a let down to those who bear witness.  This might also be an account of my staggering arrogance, that people take me for an expert simply because I’m not one of them!

The point is that nobody, in all this time, has made reference to the fact that I’m a surfer who isn’t Japanese … until last Sunday.

The waves were about as limp as wet towel but the weather was stunning; no wind, bright sunshine, blue sky.  Possibly a last chance to enjoy entering the water before it gets insanely cold.  The lineup was busy.

In a crowded situation with few waves on offer, there’s nothing worse than a group of family and friends surfing together.  I know, it sounds like bliss, and it probably is for them.  For everyone else though, it’s a royal pain in the backside, as they occupy a whole section of breaks, scowling at anyone who tries to join the family love.  It’s even worse when the patriarchal figure is an idiot!

He was probably late 40s, and amongst his clan were two daughters (his?) who couldn’t have been teenagers.   I was floating about 10 - 20 m away from them, when I heard his raised voice.  Is it a shark? (Unlikely, but not entirely out of the question). Is a jellyfish? (Not worth raising one’s voice about).  Is it a floater?  (How did it escape the wetsuit?).  No.  It’s me, apparently.

"There’s a gaijin!  There’s a gaijin over there, isn’t there?!  That is a gaijin, isn’t it?!".  Said with all the lump-headed nuance of someone who slept through every class in school.

I’ve never really had a problem with the word ‘gaijin’.  Some people say it’s offensive (usually jittery locals), but I am a ‘gaijin’, just like I’m a ‘human’ or a ‘surfer’.  You could put any number of labels on me, and I wouldn’t really care.  But the fact that this grown man was soiling his wetsuit at the sight of me, in front of impressionable kids, and reducing me to some sort of curiosity at the circus, well, it really pissed me off!

What should I have done?  Confront him, and cause a stir?  Paddle away in defeat? I did neither.  I stayed where I was and fumed.  

Anyway, his problem I suppose.  Japan is running out of numbers and they’ve got an Olympics to host pretty soon.  This guy is going to have to get used to people like me.  Why, they’re even thinking of surfing as an Olympic sport.  That many gaijin in the water?  At one break in Japan?  I hope his heart is in good nick!

Learn more about the hazards of surfing in Japan, here.



Traveler, surfer, and scribe. Based in Tokyo for six years.