Rediscovering Surfing In Chiba’s Onjuku Beach
An Ultimate Summer Adventure
This summer, catch some waves in Chiba — just an hour away from Tokyo.
If you’re a water baby like myself, then watersports are far more appealing than snow adventures. Now that it’s mid-June and summer has once again made an appearance, I still have memories of Japan’s August humidity, so I decided to head to the beach while the weather was still relatively cool.
Chiba Prefecture is only an hour or so away from Tokyo, and Onjuku Beach, famed for its history of abalone and lobster fishing by topless ama (divers) women, is a beautiful sweeping bay, great for surfing.
The small town of Onjuku has everything you need to escape from city life — breathtaking views, out-of-city serenity, delicious local seafood, and an amazing beach. But for this trip, the main purpose of my visit was surfing.
Bar a brief stint in the cold-and-choppy winter coastal waters of England, I haven’t been surfing for many years. But, apart from the sudden realization that I had, indeed, “forgotten” to achieve a beach-ready body, I had no concerns this time.
Together with a few fellow adventurers, in early June I stayed at Flying Sumo Surf Co., an unassuming container-like surf school, just minutes from the main beach area. I had booked two-hour lessons for both Saturday and Sunday. Prices (¥6,000 to ¥8,000) are similar to skiing, except this includes a board, wetsuit and instruction, so bang for your buck!
Before we headed to the beach, our instructor (and also one of the owners of Flying Sumo), Del, sent us off to slip into our wetsuits as the water wasn’t quite comfortable to the skin yet. We were then loaded up with foam boards — apparently the perfect ones for beginners — which were nine feet tall and almost twice the size of me.
After a short march to the beach, we began the lesson. First up was deciding which foot was your leading foot. This is the same for any martial artist or snowboarder, so in my case, a regular stance with my left foot forward.
Then comes the part of the lesson where you may feel, essentially, like a beached whale. We lay flat on our boards on the warm sand, with our chests placed just over the middle of them, and tested out how well we could pop up onto our feet. (For any yogis out there, your Vinyasa flow’s upward dog will come in handy.)
Sliding your hands back to about the bottom of your ribs, it’s all about the power in the arms to push up, and then, the swift move of your leading foot forward just ahead of the middle of the board. Hopefully, you stand up the first time, but chances are you’ll need to practice this a few times to get the hang of it.
Then — suddenly — we were wading out into the water. If you’re short like me, these cumbersome boards can be a little tricky to maneuver. However, Del had given us a straightforward introduction on how to approach a wave with the board, so it doesn’t knock you out.
Once the water was deep enough, we rolled elegantly onto our boards. Next, we began paddling, pushing up into upward facing dog (that is, arching our backs toward the boards and chins to the sky) to prevent capsizing, as we went over waves.
One thing that’s tricky and seemingly cannot be learned after your first lesson is the waves themselves. Having an instructor there to help spot the best waves and tell you when to paddle was a crucial part of the lesson. It also prevented the disappointment of when you think you’re about to catch a wave, when in fact, you’ve missed it.
Once we had mastered making a beeline for the shore, we toyed with some gradual turns. All it required was to look where you’re going, and of course, not fall off. About an hour and a half in, my body began to reject the idea of getting up on a board and I lay, face-to-board despite being told to paddle.
It was a great experience, and those moments when you stand up and quite literally feel like a cool surfer dude, make all the tumbles on the seafloor worth it.
Though far away from home and on unknown waves, I managed to pick surfing up again very quickly, although I was told by my fellow novices that my height and weight—and thus, lower center of gravity—could have been to my advantage. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a great summer adventure — even if a complete newbie to surfing.
Tips for beginners: Choose your most secure bikini, particularly if you’re going during the hotter part of the summer when all you have holding everything in is a rash vest.
Address: 2140-2 Hama, Onjuku, Isumi District, Chiba prefecture
Cost: Private lessons: ¥8,000, Group lessons: ¥6,000/person