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The Surfing Life – Hata Style

Intrepid surfers are known for traveling to the far reaches of the globe to find quality waves. While Kochi Prefecture, in southern Shikoku Island, may not qualify as remote, it is far away from the frenetic pace of Osaka, Tokyo and other large cities in Japan. Bruce Dillon, an avid Australian surfer, laid roots in Kuroshio, a town located in the Hata District of Kochi, and has built a “surf dojo” where aspiring surfers can get their feet wet and get a taste for the surfing lifestyle. The Hata area has numerous surf breaks, delicious local cuisine and a laid-back culture that is ideal for extended holidays or remote work away from the crowds.

It takes just an hour by plane to leave behind the dense cityscape of Tokyo for the lush mountains and expansive view of Tosa Bay. When you emerge, the inviting warm air and relaxed atmosphere feels like you just landed in Hawaii. Locals’ friendly demeanor reinforces the vibe. It’s a two-hour drive from Kochi Ryoma Airport to Kuroshio Town. This is where most of the best surf breaks in Kochi Prefecture begin.

Bruce Dillon, a Gold Coast native who spent the last 25 years in Japan, started Hata Surf Dojo here. Although he moved to Kochi for his own surfing and worked in various fields, he has managed to turn his passion into a successful bilingual surf school. The Dojo offers private and group lessons for new or beginner surfers. Because the Irino Coast consistently provides small to medium-sized waves, it’s a great place to learn under Bruce and his instructors’ expert guidance. Bruce also makes great jalapeño peppers under the “Hatapeño” label.

This was just my fifth time surfing, and although I occasionally get lucky, I mostly wipe out while trying to stand. I was eager to take a real lesson for the first time and ride some waves. At the safety briefing, instructors discussed where to wait, which types of waves to look for, and the perfect timing for catching waves. It was immensely helpful to understand the theory behind surfing and get a better understanding of the ocean. Although theory and execution are worlds apart, everyone in the group was able to stand and ride at least a few waves. I was hooked and went out with a friend the next morning. The nearby bay offers a wide, manageable-sized wave that doesn’t require too much paddling to reach—all pluses for beginning surfers.

Surfing is a lifestyle and speaking with Bruce illuminated many aspects of surf culture. For Bruce, it’s all about surfing: being in the water is why he moved to Kochi and what still motivates him to this day. Various companies approach him with opportunities to grow his business or branch into new opportunities, but he has declined, his passion for The Dojo is what has lead to his success. First and foremost, surfing is a lifestyle. When waves are too big for lessons that’s when he gets to surf.

Before visiting Kochi, I had heard rumors of heavy localism tossed around, meaning only locals are welcome at particular surf breaks. Although localism is an issue in Japan’s surf culture, knowing some surf etiquette and going with a local surfer helps immensely. If you don’t know anyone, take a lesson to understand the area or make some friends before going out solo. It’s also vital to never surf breaks or in areas beyond your ability level. Like other aspects of etiquette in Japan, effort goes a long way and covers a multitude of faux pas.

Besides the great surf, other cool aspects of the area are the unique accommodation and the local izakaya (Japanese pubs). This area of Kochi doesn’t attract the large number of tourists needed to support large hotel chains, so small guesthouses, and inns feature prominently. Minshuku Kajika and Kuroshio-no-Ie have super friendly innkeepers. While Kajika features home-cooked, Tosa-style meals, Kuroshio-no-Ie is sudomari (stay only) which gives you the chance to go out and explore the food scene. The seared katsuo (bonito) at Izakaya Pokopen was probably the best I have ever tried. Solana Surf Camp makes a mean pizza, and Kamochinoyado Cafe & Bar is a fantastic redesign of an old kominka (Japanese-style house). There are also a few cafes around, but they seem to be sporadically open—perhaps it depends on if the surf is up—so check Google Maps, restaurant’s social media pages or call before visiting.

Shimanto City, just 20 minutes away, has more hotels, restaurants and activity options, but doesn’t have Kuroshio’s surf town vibe where it feels like you are in the “real Japan.” Being close to nature—especially the waves—is what draws people here, and why the locals want some (but not too many) surfers to check it out. If you enjoy exploring Japan and have been thinking of giving surfing a try, you won’t find a better destination to dip your toes into the surfing life and experience some Hata hospitality.

Essential Info

When to Go

The best season for surfing in Kochi is from April to November. Typhoon season begins in the summer so check the local weather forecasts to stay safe. For activities besides surfing, spring and autumn are excellent times to be in Kochi when the weather is a little cooler. In autumn, the water is still warm but the weather outside is cooler.

Getting There

If you’re coming from the Kansai area, you can either take a bullet train to Okayama and then switch to the Dosan Line, or rent a car and drive down. This scenic route takes you across the Great Seto Bridge which connects the main island of Honshu to Shikoku. It takes about three hours to reach Kochi Station. The best way to see Kochi is to drive or rent a car. Public transportation is available but limited and taxis are not available at most train stations.
From Kochi Ryoma Airport, Kuroshio Town is about a 50-minute drive from the Shimantocho-chuo IC on the Kochi Expressway. The toll road ends partway down the coast and turns into a coastal highway. There is also a direct train from Kochi Station, for those who don’t have licenses or prefer not to drive.

Accommodation

Kuroshio-no-Ie
Comfortable guesthouse
kuroshiostay.com

• Minshuku Kajika
Japanese-style bed and breakfast
kuroshiokajika.sakura.ne.jp

Activities

• Hata Surf Dojo
Bilingual private and group surf lessons and board rentals
visitkochijapan.com/en/activities/10160

• Whale Watching
Daily whale watching tours from April to October.
Weather dependent.
visitkochijapan.com/en/activities/10131

• Bonito Experience
Try searing your own bonito at the Kuroshio Ichibankan.
visitkochijapan.com/en/taste-of-kochi/10265

Restaurants

• Solana Surf Camp
Best pizza in town. Uses “Hatapeño” peppers
instagram.com/solana_surf_camp

• Early Bird The Bread Stand
Best bakery in town.
instagram.com/earlybird_the_bread_stand

• Izakaya Pokopen
Izakaya-style dining for local Kochi cuisine.
visitkochijapan.com/en/taste-of-kochi/10260

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