Summer Surfing Chiba-style

Despite past stops by the world pro surfing tour, Japan is generally not recognized as a top international surfing destination. But watch pros Benji Weatherly, Rob Machado and Donovan Frankenreiter ripping it up in “Drive Thru Japan,” and the Japan segment of filmmaker Taylor Steele’s 2007 release “Sipping Jetstreams,” and you’ll see Japan has good waves — and in Ichinomiya, Chiba, they’re right at your doorstep.

Life in Ichinomiya is pretty “cruisy.” This small town in Chiba is inhabited by surfers, their families and an older farming generation which provides fresh produce, such as the town’s famous strawberries and ichigo daifuku (rice cakes with strawberry filling). Yet, for most, life revolves around surfing. Getting in the water at least once a day is the norm and, when the swell picks up, it seems as if the whole town calls in sick. From October, the familiar term “typhoon yasumi” is the topic of regular conversation.

With its central location and consistent swell, Ichinomiya is home to a handful of Japan’s top professional short-boarders, long-boarders and body-boarders. The area has experienced a lot of development and growth over the past 20 years, and the number or leisure surfers coming from Tokyo and all over Japan to surf on weekends and holidays has increased dramatically.

Indeed, surfing is becoming such a popular sport in Japan that sports stores far away from the ocean are swapping their snowboard stock for wetsuits and surfboards in summer.

In winter (December-March), Ichinomiya is a bit of a ghost town as the pros flee to warmer waters in Hawaii and Australia, while the rest of us head to the mountains to shred powder and escape the winter ocean-side chill. But in summer the town thrives, with live music, great food and surf/skate festivals and contests.

The consistency of the waves year round in Ichinomiya makes it an important training ground for Japan’s top surfers, and the town attracts the Japan Pro Surfing Association (JPSA) pro and amateur tours, and the Nippon Surfing Association (NSA) holds contests throughout the year.

SURFING GUIDE
Ichinomiya gets waves all year round, but during the typhoon season (in September) the area gets big, powerful waves. Here’s a rundown of the main surf points in the Ichinomiya area.

Ichinomiya Beach
Home to the SurfSk8ers Festival and Ichinomiya Hanami Matsuri in summer, this fun beach break is suitable for all levels
Swell:
East, South East (summer) North, North East (winter)
Offshore:
West

Bottom: Sandbank
Level:
All levels.
Wave Consistency:
5/5
Facilities:
In summer, the beachfront houses (umi no ie) have showers and toilets as well as food and drinks available.

Uma & ‘3’ Rise (“San” Rise)
A bit of a local point, my old home break Uma is a great spot, and when the size gets to about overhead, the crowd tends to dissipate, allowing for some great surfing sessions. Enjoy tacos or enchiladas from nearby Topa Tacos after your surf.

Swell: East, South East (summer) North, North East (winter)
Offshore:
West
Bottom:
Sandbank
Level:
Intermediate / Expert
Wave Consistency:
5/5
Facilities:
Showers are available for a few hundred yen at neighboring cafés.

Torami
Access has been a bit difficult, as the car park has been undergoing construction for what feels like years, but if you can find a way to get there, enjoy. Torami is a very popular spot and the first place I surfed in Japan. Often you can catch some of the local pro surfers out there giving it their best.

Swell: East, South East (summer) North, North East (winter)
Offshore: West
Bottom: Sandbank
Level: Intermediate / Expert
Wave Consistency: 5/5
Facilities: Parking is limited. No showers available.

Shidashita
Home to the Association of Surfing Professionals World Championship Tour (WCT) when it’s in town, “Shida” is where you will find most of the local pros and often the beach is shared by eager onlookers and cameramen. With the right banks, winds and swell, you can get nicely barreled at Shida while surfing among Japan’s best. On a contest day, the car park will be full and you will want to surf somewhere else. If you drive a nice car with low suspension, beware of the horrid Shida pot holes!

Swell:
East, Southeast (summer), North, Northeast (winter)
Offshore:
North-Southwest
Bottom:
Sandbank
Level:
Intermediate / Expert
Wave Consistency:
5/5
Facilities:
Large car park with public toilets.

Taito
Known as the local long-boarding point, Taito is a fun, wind-protected wave that is often very crowded. Make sure you know how to get out of the way of an oncoming nine-footer and the locals alike! Home to many contests, amateur and professional, Taito is renowned as a fun, mellow wave among the world’s best long boarders.

Swell: East, Southeast (summer) North, Northeast (winter)
Offshore:
Southwest
Bottom:
Sandbank
Level:
All levels
Wave Consistency:
3-4/5; Due to its protected location, sometimes the swell misses Taito and the waves are generally smaller than the rest of the local breaks.
Facilities: Large car park with public toilets. In summer, the umi no ie have showers and toilets as well as food and drinks available.

Local Profile: Pro Rider Teppei Tajima
In 2007 local Chiba ripper Teppei Tajima fell just short of taking out the whole JPSA tour. Will 2008 be his year? He’s off to a fine start, winning the first contest in Ibaraki.

PROFILE
Rider Name: Teppei Tajima / 田嶋鉄兵
Birthday / 生年月日: Aug. 30, 1984
Blood Type / 血液型: Type B / B型
Pro Since / プロ合格年: 2000
Height / 身長: 170 cm.
Weight / 体重: 66 kg.
Stance / スタンス: Regular / レギュラー
Home Break / ホームブレイク: Shidashita and other close-by breaks / 志田下周辺
Hobbies / 趣味: Karaoke / カラオケ
Person he admires most / 尊敬する人: My mom / 母親
Favorite Book / 愛読書: Tokyo Tower / 東京タワー
Favorite Famous Person / 好きな有名人: Tsutsumi Shinichi / 堤 真一
Favorite Expression / 好きな言葉: Charge! / チャージ!
Favorite Band / 好きな音楽: EXILE
Future Dream / 将来の夢: (Big dream....) / to make the top 16 of the World Championship Tour (WCT) / (夢はでっかく)WCT Top 16 入り.

Sponsors: Justice, Savor Cross, Volcom, Red-X, Electric, DAKINE, Vertra, Player Color Record, Nixon, Peace Wave, Gravity, Morishita Chiropractor, 森下治療院, Fit Wave, 3T.
Personal Blog: http://ameblo.jp/teppei-tajima/

CAFÉS & RESTAURANTS

There are a variety of great places to eat in Ichinomiya, and all can be found along the main beach road, starting from the Ichinomiya Beach end and continuing to Taito.

Local Profile: Cana
This little Cuban hotspot is without doubt the most unique eating and drinking spot in town. Famous for the incredible array of cocktails, Cuban rum, international beers, wine and Cuban cigars, and boasting an extensive well-priced food menu ranging from traditional Cuban fare to pizza, pasta and seafood, Cana is the one place in town open all night.

The staff speaks English, and the menu is available in English and Japanese.
In summer, it’s OK to bring your pets, and private parties are available from 10 people and up throughout the year. You can also order cakes to go if you give at least two days notice.

Menu Highlights: Entrée: Homemade Pickles ¥500; Main: Shrimp with Cuban Enchilada (a traditional Cuban dish served with rice and black beans) ¥1,200; Drink: You can’t beat the fresh summer taste of Mojitos, ¥700.
Hours: 7 p.m. – 5 a.m., 6 days a week (closed on Tuesdays)
Contact: (0475) 40-0818 / info@cana.nu / http://cana.nu

Topa Tacos
This authentic Mexican hut serves up cheap, mouthwatering tacos, enchiladas, avocado rolls and lots more, including ice-cold Coronas.
Hours: Mid-day to early evening in summer, seven days a week. (Shorter hours in winter.)
Contact: 080-3489-1081

40 Miles Station
Combined American-style football sports bar & restaurant, surf shop (The Suns) and fitness gym (The Gym), 40 Miles Station has held live shows featuring the likes of Timmy Curran, Spinna B-ill, Pete Murray and others. Best-known for its Irregular Burger (¥1,050) and array of international beers on tap, 40 Miles is Chiba’s one-stop-surf shop.
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. / Dinner 5:30 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Contact: (0475) 40-0040 / 40miles_s@b-cross.com.

Seasong
Wood-oven pizza and bread are the specialty here, but the locals say you can’t miss the Surfer’s Plate.
Hours: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. / Last order 9:30 p.m.
Contact: (0475) 42-4288 / www.seasong.net


Kobuta
The best teishoku (set meal) restaurant in town, check out the autographs of local and international pro surfers on the walls. The ebi furai (fried shrimp) is enormous.
Hours: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Contact: (0475) 42-6685

SURF SHOPS
Scattered among the cafés and restaurants are countless surf shops, where you can get absolutely everything you need, from boards, wetsuits, leash cords, clothing and wax to skate boards, bicycles, surf board racks and even portable showers. A majority of the shops also offer surf lessons and have rental boards, so don’t be afraid to ask. A few of the many shops include:

Local Profile: CYNET Surf Shop

Located in the heart of the Ichinomiya surfing scene, CYNET is a local surf company owned by lifetime surfer Yoshi Miyajima.

After several years of importing and selling Hawaiian surfboards and fins, Yoshi began CYNET seven years ago after selling Hawaiian surfboards and fins for several years. He distributes Hawaiian short boards, long boards, paddle boards, fins and his very own Japanese designed and produced wetsuits.

Adding diversity to the business, he has recently joined forces with well-known Japanese designer Sho Watanabe and his surf/clothing label Cloveru Underground, producing a special line of “No Wipeout” T-shirts unique to CYNET’s Equipage wetsuit brand.

Surfing every day in front of his house with wife Chie, Yoshi still competes in local contests and travels the world in search of good waves.
Brands: Equipage Watersuits, Plus Fort Wetsuits, CSP2 Fins, Town & Country Surfboards, Glen Pang and Tonny Tanaka, Unknown Surfboards, Dennis Pand and Tony Clapper, Kanoa Dahlin Fins, Transporter, PCA.
Contact: (0475) 42-7252
Web: www.cyn.co.jp

The Suns
Part of the Surf Garden complex that houses 40 Miles Station, The Suns is a branch of chain sports store Murasaki Sports and is more of a fashion surf store but also sells skateboards and bicycles.
Hours: 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Contact: (0475) 40-0011 / www.murasaki-sp.com/murasaki/shop/thesuns/ichinomiya.html

Goddess
Surfboards, skateboards, apparel and accessories, Goddess has everything you need. You can’t miss the giant skate ramp in the car park.
Hours: 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Contact: (0475) 42-1731

Places to Stay

Pension Todo

Right next to Cana, Todo is a great little pension with tennis court, bar, outdoor showers and relax area, whose clientele has included the likes of Kelly Slater, Timmy Curran, and Dave “Rasta” Rastovich.
Price details: From ¥6,000
Contact: (0475) 42-6588
Web: http://park2.wakwak.com/~todo/

The Boon
The Boon pension boasts absolute beach frontage, is affordable and central to all the local surf shops, cafés and restaurants.
Price Details: From ¥3,000
Contact: (0475) 42-3394
Web: http://www4.ocn.ne.jp/~jpboon

Events

Japan Pro Surfing Tour
The Japan Professional Surfing Association (JPSA) tour will take a break in August this year, but short and long board contests will commence from September. Check out the official Website for up-to-date information at www.jpsa.com.

Nippon Surfing Association
The Nippon Surfing Association (NSA) is the amateur tour with contests in Ichinomiya and throughout Japan. All contests are listed on the official website at www.nsa-surf.org.

Event Spotlight: Surfsk8ter’s Festival
The Surfsk8ter’s Festival is perhaps the most exciting event in Ichinomiya. It’s held in mid-to-late August right on the beachfront. Japan’s best surfers and skaters compete over two days in the water and on the ramp, combining scores from both to crown an all-round champion.


Sponsored by surfer/actor Claude Maki’s clothing label, Nesta Brand, the event also features live hip/hop, reggae and dancehall music all day and well into the night. There’s plenty of food and beer, plus stalls from local surf and skate brands. As surfing’s World Qualifying Series (WQS) also comes to Japan around the time of the event, it is not uncommon to see international pro surfers letting loose in the “Surfing Expression Session” exhibition.
Keep an eye on the Nesta Brand Website for this year’s schedule. Web: www.nestajapan.com

Local Profile: Surfer/Skater Takaaki Notoya
Riders come from all over Japan to compete in the two-day Surfsk8ers event. I took a few moments to chat with last year’s finalist, Takaaki Notoya, from Hokkaido, to find out from a competitor’s perspective just what is so special about the event.

PROFILE
Name: Takaaki Notoya / 能登屋 貴映
Hometown: Sapporo / 札幌出身
Blood Type: AB型
Surfing Since / サーフィン歴: 9年
Skating Since / スケート歴: 9年
Sponsors / スポンサー : redi、ムラサキスポーツ札幌地区、 7UNION「The Library」、谷shouten

What makes the Ichinomiya Surfskater’s event special?

The event itself is just a lot of fun and is unique. Everyone parties together and there’s a real connection and sense of togetherness among the surfers and fans you don’t get at a normal surf contest.

What about surfing and skating in general?
Up to this point I’ve traveled all over Japan for work and shared a special connection with the people I’ve met through skating and surfing. That’s probably the best part about these sports.

How has your background and lifestyle influenced your riding?

I was born and raised in Hokkaido where the winters are long. I didn’t get in a lot of surfing but with all the snow I had a lot of fun snowboarding. It was really inspirational to be surrounded by world-class riders. Having been exposed to a lot of great styles and different things, I hope that comes out through my riding. Although tricks are an important part of riding, I also want to stay in touch with that basic feeling of riding a board and being in control of both gravity and centrifugal force. —T.A.