We pulled up a little before first light and parked under an overpass. We sat in the van as the world turned slowly from black to dark gray. The guys spoke quietly in Japanese, but even without understanding the words I could detect an underlying tension and excitement to their voices.
A big swell was reportedly hitting this section of the Japanese coastline, and we’d driven the better part of the night from Osaka to be here. The beach wasn’t much to look at, just a thin strip of brown sand, but we could hear and feel the growling, vibrating surf with each pounding wave. As it got light enough to make out the surf, I could see we’d definitely hit the swell right on.
Ono-san was the leader. Not only did he have a successful surf shop, but he’d surfed professionally and had spent a couple of years on the world tour. In true Japanese fashion, he had a whole posse of disciples.
As we paddled out through the big surf, I stuck close to Ono-san. There’s nothing like local knowledge, and he seemed to know exactly how to find the rips to get out and how to time it perfectly between sets.
It was fully light by the time we made it to the outside. It was bigger than I thought, and I had some serious butterflies. None of the disciples had made it all the way out, but I spotted them on the inside break. None looked good, but they were dropping in with no fear and a sort of reckless abandon.
Ono-san had taken a couple of big ones before I worked up my courage to drop in on a juicy 12-footer. Following him, I started adjusting and catching good rides until I got caught in a close out and my leash broke. It was a long swim in and I had to detour around a fat rip current. But I switched out leashes and made it back out.
Suddenly, I heard shouting. Several of the disciples were trying to get a swimmer to shore and he almost choked one of them who got too close. They had him on a board, but that rip current was keeping them out while the waves pounded them all.
A fire truck arrived, and some guys in bunker gear yelled from shore. I paddled to them, and we ended up swimming sideways out of the rip and eventually to shore.
The guy was in bad shape and left in an ambulance. But the surfers spotted Ono-san catch a nice tube on the outside and excitedly ran back into the water.
Hopefully, that beach has a lifeguard service by now!