The sun rises slowly, coloring the sky and the majestic Mount Fuji with a faded orange tint. The ocean also rises, offering a group of surfers a ride to the sandy shores. It’s just another perfect day for the locals along Shonan Beach.
Among surfers worldwide, Japan is not considered a must surf destination like Hawaii or Tahiti because its surf is small and inconsistent. But Japan is home to hundreds of miles of sandy beaches, and its coastline hides reefs, points and river mouths, enticing many surfers to test the waves off the Land of Rising Sun. And the most famous surf area is Shonan Beach, a 20-mile stretch from Oiso Beach to Hayama Beach in Kanagawa.
Located about an hour train ride from Tokyo, 10 miles from Yokosuka Naval Base, 15 miles from Camp Zama and Naval Air Facility Atsugi and 43 miles from Yokota Air Base, Shonan Beach is often featured in TV shows, songs and movies. The “capital of surfing” in Japan has its own laidback atmosphere, a mixture of California, Hawaii and a Japanese fishing village.
It’s normal to see surfers riding bicycles with a surfboard attached checking the ocean, ready to jump in if the waves are rolling. If you stop by local stores in this area during summer, you will see surfers shopping with just swim trunks and flip flops. To me, the area is a Japanese version of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” It is just a beach town where beach bums worship the sun.
“This place is the origin of Japanese surf culture,” said Kazuhiko Kimura, owner of “NEO SURF” located in Tsujido. “It is said that some U.S. sailors from Yokosuka started to surf around this area back in 1960s, and local youth started to get into surfing.
“This is the best place to learn surfing because it is a shallow, sandy beach and most of the time waves are small and powerless,” said Kimura, who has been surfing the area for the past 25 years. “Shonan is the place children and adults can enjoy surfing. I want people to feel the Japanese beach culture.”
Even though the waves are pretty small most of the time, when typhoon season brings swells to the area, it turns into a serious surf stage. Many professional surfers from all over the world visit Shonan Beach during this time.
The street that leads Tsujido Beach is called “Surfer Street,” where many surf shops and cafes are lined up. Here you’ll find surf shops barbequing outside on the weekend and visitors and locals enjoying the beach and waves. And, of course, there are many good seafood restaurants; offering fresh catch from local fishermen.
“We welcome visitors, but it’s important to keep the beach clean.” said Kimura. “All locals are friendly, so stop by a surf shop and ask for quick tips. If you don’t have a surfboard, we have rental boards and we do surf lessons as well.”
And what about those folks who are experienced surfers?
“The best time is September when typhoon swells hit his area from right direction,” Kimura said. “There are several secret spots as well. If you are lucky, you may be able to surf with perfect waves.”
Recommended Shonan Beach surf spots:
- Tsujido Beach: Tsujido Beach offers a great beach break. It’s best when the swells come from the south. There is a large parking lot across Route 134. Look for the police box. Check out “Surfer Street” and get some surf tips from local surfshops.
- Kugenuma Beach: The most popular surf beach on the Shonan shores. It has a big parking lot. The beach can get very crowded at times. There are various shops, cafés and restaurants, from Red Lobster to Yoshinoya, the beaf bowl place. Since it takes only 10 minutes to walk from Odakyu Honkugenuma Station to Kugenuma Beach, many people come to the beach by train and rent boards from surf shops. Also, Enoshima Island is within a walking distance.
- Yuigahama Beach: Located in Kamaukura City, it is a good place for beginner surfers. Parking is available. There are variety of beach shacks, known as Uminoie ,where you can purchase cold drinks and food during the summer. Why don’t you stop by the big Buddha and pray for some big surf?
- Shichirigahama Beach: There is a mix of sand and reef off this beach, so be careful and watch out for sea urchins. There are beautiful homes on the cliffs of Shichirigahama. It’s known as a wealthy area. Parking is available.
NEO Surf shop information:
Address: 1-11-27 Tsujido Higashikaigan, Fujisawa city, Kanagawa
Board rental: 3,000 yen for one day
Surf lesson: 5,000 yen for 2 hours (including wet suits and surfboard rental)
Surfing on Okinawa
Okinawa is known for its crystal clear water and beautiful coral reef for diving. However, for surfers, there are some serious waves breaking over the reef.
Surfing on Okinawa is all about the tide because of its shallow reef. At most surf spots on Okinawa, you can surf only from two hours before high tide until two hours after high tide, unless you are good enough not to wipe out on a sharp reef.
Here are some major surf spots:
- Sunabe Reef Break: The most popular surfing spot for American surfers is located by American Village. There are several breaks you can surf in the area such as Bowls, California, Hawaiians and Hotels. Drive along Route 58 until you see a Sega game place, take that turn and drive straight till you get the end, park and check it out.
- Suicide Cliff: The most consistent surf spot on Okinawa is located on the South tip of the island. Fun waves, but it can get pretty shallow, so be careful. You may see some sea turtles if you are lucky. Go south on the express way to Itoman. Take the service road all the way to the end. You can get lost on the way, so it is best to ask for local surfers for directions.
- Ikei island: You can drive to this island. And once you get to the beach, it takes a long time to paddle to the point. But, it’s worth it. Make sure to check the tide since it is very shallow. Gorgeous scenery. It is a well-known spot to anyone on Okinawa who surfs, so stop by a surf shop and ask directions.
For more information: http://www.wannasurf.com/spot/Asia/Japan/Okinawa/