Big Kahuna brings surfing and Hawaiian brotherhood to burned-out businessmen in Chiba.
It’s a brisk Sunday morning in May and I’m on the 6:15 a.m. train headed for Chiba—hangover notwithstanding. The city gives way to green rice fields as the sun burns off the night chill and, without a cloud in sight, I soon arrive at the sandy beach and surprisingly spry swells of Onjuku Beach because, as my instructor would come to utter with a persistence verging on giddiness, “You gotta say you tried surfing at least once in your life.”
Eugene Teal’s tussled boyish looks, his gentle, friendly countenance and mellow Hawaiian demeanor betray the fact he is the best professional longboard surfer in this area and, arguably, Japan.
He was the Japan Pro Surfing Association’s (JPSA) Longboard Tour Rookie of the Year in 2003 and the JPSA champion two years later in 2005.
He has been featured on SkyTV’s GAORA sports channel, starred in two instructional longboard videos and countless magazine photo shoots and has competed in surfing events throughout the Pacific from New Caledonia to Bali to Sri Lanka. He is one of only four foreigners to compete on the JPSA Pro Tour and is currently sponsored by Crymson Company & Russ-K Wetsuits, Surftech Surfboards, FCS & Gorilla Grip, Cobian Beach Sandals and Satou Kougyo Construction. But, despite his impressive resume, it reflects only a part of who he really is.
He teaches English lessons to kids in the village and twice each summer organizes a beach cleanup. The small cross around his neck is only slightly more conspicuous than when he crosses his heart before entering the water. Though only 30, Teal exudes the protectiveness of an older brother—a role he often plays to visitors and surfers in Onjuku.
“In Hawaii we have a brother code: everyone watches out for one another,” he explains. “But in Japan, it’s not as well-known with the amateurs. Whether you’re a pro or a beginner, we’re all surfers, and you gotta make sure everyone is safe.”
Though he makes a living through contest winnings and corporate sponsors, Teal’s English-language surf school is located across the street from his home and about a three-minute walk from the beach. His surf school comes equipped with a “clubhouse” where eager pupils—many of whom come seeking respite from the pressures of urban life—learn basic surf techniques and get outfitted with wetsuits and surfboards, and his surf shop showcases state-of-the-art surfing gear.
Most impressive, however, is the personal attention Teal offers to each of his students. Unlike most pro instructors, he teaches every lesson from the water, so he can relate to the conditions and adjust his instructions accordingly—a method that witnessed everyone in our group riding their own waves by the end of our first lesson.
In most countries, one would have to fight through an entourage just for an autograph from a cover-boy pro athlete, but Teal’s kindness motivates him to pick up students from the train upon arrival in Onjuku Station, and his main following is giggly village kids—in many of whom he sees potential.
“In the future, I’d like to be part of getting the next generation of Japanese surfers to the world level,” says Teal with a selflessness that seems to define him. “I would love to help give an international perspective to surfing in Japan.”
When asked about his plans for the future, Teal doesn’t hesitate, “When I decide to buy property, it’ll be right here,” he says. And, as I follow his gaze across the shimmering sea to the fiery-red horizon, I am exhausted from one day of battling the waves in Onjuku but, still, I compare my office to his, and I envy him.
Eugene Teal: At a Glance
2006 JPSA Ranked #4
2005 JPSA Longboard Champion (#1)
2004 JPSA Ranked #7
2003 JPSA Longboard Rookie of the Year (#5)
2-hour Surf School & Equipment: ¥8,000
Surf School, Equipment & Overnight Stay: ¥10,000
Overnight Stay: ¥2,000/day
July/Aug. Overnight Stay: ¥2,500
Golden Week/Year End Stay: ¥3,500
Wetsuit Rental: ¥2,000/day or ¥1,000/2hrs.
Surfboard Rental: ¥4,000/day or ¥2,000/2hrs.
Getting to Onjuku
140 minutes, Price: ¥1,890
Shinjuku(Sobu Local) ► Kinshicho(Sobu Rapid) ► Chiba(Sotobo Line) ► Onjuku
147 minutes, Price: ¥1,890
Shinjuku(Chuo Rapid) ► Tokyo(Keiyo Rapid) ► Soga(Sotobo Line) ► Onjuku
85 minutes, Price: ¥3,700
Tokyo(Wakashio No.1) ► Onjuku