Route 338 weaves along the northeast tip of Aomori in northern Honshu where sandy beaches stretch all the way from Misawa north to Rokkasho Village and even further up the coast. Where jetties and break walls protect the coastline while helping create magical waves. Here local farmers, firefighters and teachers surf year ’round in bone-chilling water. This is Tohoku. This is surfing the deep north.
There are countless river mouths and sand bars along Route 338. Therefore, locals keep track of the surf points by numbering the river mouths in between the jetties. One popular break is called “4.5,” as it is located between the fourth and fifth rivers. It’s like the secret language of the local tribe. If possible, go with a local surfer who can show you where to go.
The shifting sandbars keep searching for waves fresh, so you must be vigilant to get the best waves. Depending on tide, swell directions and wind, one sandbar might be “A-framing,” while others are closing out (“dumpa” in the local surf speak).
Most of these breaks can only handle waves up to a couple feet overhead, but there is one big wave point in the area. Misawa fishing seaport will hold up to double overhead, creating a larger then life “left.” This point goes off during typhoon swell season.
Heading north form the seaport there are a series of jetties accessed by unmarked dirt roads. Depending on which sandbar is working, the Misawa locals will gather on weekends to surf and catch up on life. Surfing in this area is never rushed, as there are always enough waves to go around.
During the busiest times, there will be 20-30 people in the water, but the reality is more like 10-15 surfers on any given weekend. If you are fortunate to be there on a weekday, you will most likely have waves to yourself.
Surfing isn’t always about scoring the perfect waves; it’s also about the search and the journey with friends. Route 338 has many small unmarked or unnamed points so, if you find a road with a river next to it, hang a right and head toward the ocean. You never know what you might find. If you are less adventurous or strapped for time, follow the signs north to Rokkasho.
Rokkasho has two main breaks, Obuchi to the north and Shinnaya to the south. Shinnaya is a long beach by a fishing port. When the sandbars set up here, surfers from Aomori City will make the trek to get their fix.
When Shinnaya has junky conditions, one can usually find shelter from the wind at Obuchi which is protected by a series of break walls creating clean inside peaks up and down the beach.
Surfing in this part of Japan is for passionate surfers. You can’t be afraid to explore random roads leading to the sea or brave the snowy winter months for waves. Yet devoted surfers will most definitely to get your kicks on Route 338.
I’m a long way from my home break in Hermosa Beach, California, and I give thanks to friends such as Eiji for inviting me into the local surfing community here along this lost sandy coast of northern Japan.
Localism: There is a small amount of localism as there is any surf spot, but as long as you respect the break and the people who surf there, you will not have too many problems. Do not paddle out with a crowd or your buddies, smile, say hello or good morning and never drop in on anyone.
What to wear: Most surfers use dry suits in the winter and 4/3 to 3/2 millimeter in the summer and fall months.
338 Surf Shop: Tel. (0176) 51-5331, Web: www.338surf.com, Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/338SURF-Misawa/124148084273850
Access: There are domestic flights and Shinkansen (bullet trains) to Aomori City. However, you will most likely want to drive or rent a car to get to the best surf spots in Tohoku.