At Yokosuka, surfing catches a wave of popularity
Stars and Stripes August 12, 2006
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — He’s a blond-haired American carrying a surfboard; he must be a surfer dude from California, say the Japanese surfers. Then Seth Williams paddles out to them on his rented longboard from Green Beach Marina.
“They say, ‘Ah, good surfer’ when they first see me,” Williams joked. “Then they watch me and shake their heads.”
Williams, a beginner, is one of many folks at Yokosuka Naval Base who are catching waves this summer with Morale, Welfare and Recreation’s newly expanded surfing program.
MWR now has 15 surfboards for rent, from foam boards for beginners to epoxy shortboards for the skilled. MWR also offers group and private lessons, plus surfing trips. To date, two of three surfing classes have sold out, said Steve Marksberry, Yokosuka’s Outdoor Recreation director.
“We’ve had everyone from a 12-year-old to people in [their] late 40s. … We get all makes and models of people coming in for surfing,” Marksberry said. “Most of them grew up inland and have never had the opportunity to do it before.”
Many sailors are surprised you can surf in the land of sushi, which is not nearly as well-known as a surf destinations as Indonesia, Hawaii and California.
Unless a typhoon is nearby, the waves are smaller — which is good for beginners. Small waves don’t hold you down for long when you wipe out, Williams said.
Japanese surfing has its own brand of challenge, mainly in terms of crowd control, said MWR surfing instructor Makoto Yamamoto, who’s surfed Japan for 25 years. Surf spots near the base — especially Chiba and Shonan — are the most crowded in the country, he said.
“There can be thousands of people out there,” Yamamoto said. “Each person has an 8-, 9-foot surfboard and a 10-foot leash. It can be scary for a beginner.”
MWR officials initially worried about how Japanese surfers would react to the influx of American beginners on their turf, Green Beach Marina manager Dennis Lindemann said.
“The surfing community can be very defensive that way,” he said. “But we’ve had no incidents and no negative reports.”
Yamamoto’s American students keep surprising him, as even the larger ones usually can stand up by the end of the day, Yamamoto said.
“Each person has their own personality; some look like a sportsman, but they find it difficult. Others — like small children — are catching waves after two or three tries,” Yamamoto said. “It’s exciting for me, too, as their teacher.”
Some of those trying surfing on for size are finding a perfect fit.
“It’s a blast,” said Williams, who has surfed five times and plans to buy a board of his own when he returns to Western Washington University this fall. “Even if you don’t catch a wave, it’s still a day in the water. And the Japanese love seeing you out there.”
Surfboard rentals run $15 a day or $20 a week. The next surfing lesson is Sept. 16. Group lessons run $60 to $80 per person and private lessons range from $180 to $240.
Learn the lingo: A guide to surfspeakNeptune Cocktail talk: A primer to surfing lingo (as adapted from Cougartown.com, a Web site homage to ’60s California teen life)
Amped: Overdoing it; excited; stoked.
Ankle busters: Small waves.
Awesome: Great; fantastic (also see “Off the Richter,” “Off the Wall,” “Outrageous,” “Boss,” “Primo” and “Rad”).
Bogus: False; lame; ridiculous; unbelievable.
Bummer: Too bad; a total drag.
Carve: To make a radical turn.
Catch a wave: To ride a breaking wave.
Curl: The portion of the wave that is spilling over and breaking.
Dude: A male surfing enthusiast (women are referred to as “dudettes”).
Fer Sure: The surfer pronunciation of “For sure,” meaning absolutely, correct or definitely.
Gnarlatious: Anything really great or awesome.
Gnarly: Treacherous; large and dangerous. Also, bitchin’.
Gremlin: A young hodad; a beginning surfer aka “Gremmie.”
Hodad: A nonsurfer, usually someone who just hangs around the beach.
Honeys: Female surfers or girlfriends of surfers.
Kamikaze: Riding the board at the nose with arms held straight out to each side.
Longboard: A surfboard 8 to 10 feet long.
Mondo: Something huge, of epic proportions.
Ripping: Executing drastic and radical moves on the wave. Having it your way with a wave.
Neptune cocktail: A wave having its way with you. The large bellyful of seawater one ingests during a particularly gnarly wipeout. Usually happens concurrently with the Sand Facial.
Sand facial: The result of wiping out and being dragged along the bottom, face first.
Selling Buicks: The process of reversing the ingestion of a Neptune cocktail. After selling Buicks, it’s generally assumed one’s day at the beach is pretty much over.
Shred: To surf aggressively.
Surf’s up: Waves are breaking and surfable.
Wipe out: To fall off or be knocked off your board (also, eat it).
— Stars and Stripes
What to know before you go — advice on surfing etiquette from MWR intern Seth Williams:
Breaking for the break
1.Get some surf wax, as MWR does not provide it. It’s cheap, about 200 yen (about $1.74) per bar.
2.You can take up to an 8-foot, 2-inch board on the train after you remove the fins and wrap them in a towel and cover your surfboard so wax doesn’t get everywhere.
3.During the summer, some beaches are “swimming beaches” from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can surf before or after those hours.
Rules of the road … ahem, the ocean:
1. Look both ways before you start paddling — just like you’re crossing the street. There’s a lot of traffic out there.
2. If you cut someone off — which is almost a given in Japan’s crowded surf breaks — find that person later and tell them “Sumimasen” or acknowledge your misdeed in some way.
3. Whoever stands up first gets first dibs on the wave — they have the right-of way because they are going to get the longest, coolest ride.
“Be courteous and respectful,” Williams said.
— Stars and Stripes