It's great being a surfer in Miyazaki. There are so many breaks scattered along the beautiful coastline. The water is clean and warm all year 'round, and there's enough swell to keep the average wave rider more than happy. If it does go flat, there's even a simulated beach paradise just 300 meters from the real shoreline.
The Ocean Dome is a giant indoor wave pool. In 1993 when it was built for a mere $2 billion U.S., it was the world's largest water park also boasting the largest retractable roof, opened only on days when the weather outside does not threaten the carefully regulated climate inside.
Despite losing money from day one, every night for eight years the Dome hosted a spectacular surfing show featuring Australian pro-surfer Mathew Pitts whose dream job was to showcase the advanced wave-making technology for amazed crowds.
Although most surfers won't admit it, there is a certain allure to the Dome. Inside its curved white walls lies the secret dream of every wave rider: technology capable of producing realistic waves you can surf any time you like.
It had been the topic of many a late night conversation among my surfer friends. Although we imagined surfing the Ocean Dome, we never thought it possible. Usually the closest you can get is to rent a body board and share a one-foot wave with six or seven others.
When a friend called one evening to say he had managed to rent the Dome for one night, I was beside myself with excitement. He was looking for enough surfers to make it work. "Sign me up!" I replied immediately.
Three days later I was standing on the artificial shore waiting to step into the chlorinated waves. It was my first time inside the building, and I was impressed. A long, palm-lined beach (complete with imitation sand) stretched out before me.
Looking out to "sea," one can notice the bay was given shape by large artificial rocks on both sides. If it wasn't for the music eerily drifting in from hidden speakers and the shooting stars continually flashing across the two-dimensional sky, I might have believed I was on a real beach.
The technology creating the waves at the Dome is incredible. Twenty huge pumps suck up massive volumes of water (1,800 tons for every wave), and then release it from a height, sending it surging into the pool.
When the water meets with the concrete "banks" on the bottom of the pool, a wave forms, and its size can even be adjusted to a maximum height of eight feet.
Lifeguards were in the water to help us keep our positions. One signalled for me to paddle out to a marker on the bottom of the pool and wait. Each set would contain four waves: a right and then a left peeling across from either side of the bay followed by an a-frame peak in the middle. A loud klaxon soon fired to announce the oncoming set.
I sat ready to take the left break. Before I knew it, the water was swirling around beneath, and I was urged to paddle. Unlike the ocean where you can see the wave coming, here the wave suddenly appears from behind a wall. I just had to go for it and trust it was coming.
Sure enough. I soon saw the familiar shape of a steep drop appear beneath me. I scratched into it, then raced along the fast wall breaking over the shallow bottom. There was nothing artificial about my smile as I kicked off and went back for more.
The Dome was a fun wave with good shape and power. In fairness, it's not quite the absolute perfection of which I had dreamed, even when they cranked it up, but surfing there was an amazing experience, a literal step into a world of fantasy.
It also cemented (pardon the pun) for me the fact we have a way to go before we can match nature's way. The surfer's dream of a perfect wave is out there but, for now, I'm happy to make do with the less reliable, but much cheaper, ocean breaks. .
The Ocean Dome is situated in Miyazaki's Seagaia complex, beside the Sheraton Hotel. From Miyazaki City follow the Hitotsuba toll road north to the Seagaia exit and turn into Gate 4 of the Ocean Dome.
It is possible to rent the Dome on weekdays, and ￥100,000 buys you two hours and 160 waves to surf. To inquire about the Dome, call (0985) 21-1177.