While news of surfing’s near-imminent inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo has the surf world in a polarized frenzy, there’s a possibly more concerning (and ironic) development in the works: Japan might destroy three of its most iconic waves in the process. According to reports, the Japanese government plans to construct a new village and breakwater for the sailing competition that would result in the destruction of three of the nation’s treasured waves: Osaki, Kabune, and Inamura.
This development has Surfilmfestibal, one of Europe’s premier surf film festivals, to take arms.
“Right now, surfing wants to be [in the] Olympics” says Sancho Rodriguez, President of Surfilmfestibal, “But, we should not construct over nature. This does not make any sense.”
Rodriguez said that the festival always chooses a specific focus. In 2011 the festival chose to celebrate Japanese surf culture, and upon discovery of a new threat to Japan’s iconic surf destinations via the Olympic Sailing village, the Japanese surf community reached out to Sancho for help.
“What had a large effect on me was how in 2011 surf spots in Japan were banned because of radio-activity from Fukushima,” said Rodriguez. He vowed to do his best, but his feelings on surfing as an Olympic sport are mixed.
“I can understand and support the Olympics, concerning the sport and how it helps athletes’ careers,” said Rodriguez. “But I have a lot of doubts about these kinds of huge events where there are general state scams, or where main sponsors end up being online betting companies. For me, it is a big contradiction.” He says the potential destruction of the waves has such a profound effect on him because it is the year that surfing wants to be considered “Olympic,” but the Olympics might ironically cause deliberate destruction to Japan’s precious natural resources.
To support his defense of Japan’s waves, Rodriguez commissioned artist Miguel Brieva to create the official art for Surfilmfestibal as well as renderings to generate awareness about the situation in Japan.
The three waves under threat are some of Japan’s finest. Inamura, undoubtedly the best of the three waves, is home to the “Inamura Classic,” an established contest that draws a substantial crowd every year to Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan’s southern Kantō region.
Here is a past video of the event:
After hearing from ISA President Fernando Aguerre, it seems almost a sure thing that surfing will join the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games. However, Aguerre claims to know nothing about any threat to existing Japanese waves. I, also, struggled to find information regarding this potential catastrophe. An article in The Surfer’s Journal Japan from December 2015 claims plans exist to build new high-rises and a sailing competition site for athletes and fans in the Kotsubo area. But information is hard to come by.
Surprisingly, Japanese surfers have been reluctant to speak out in light of larger environmental issues, such as the fact that Fukushima is still leaking. He also worries about what is at stake for Japanese surfers who do speak out. He notes that even the contacts who reached out to him “were hesitant, perhaps they were scared.”
Surfrider Japan emailed The Inertia the following when asked for comment:
“There is no firm indication as to the construction plan or if such is indeed in the works today. However, residents and surfers who are in long love for this particular spot [are] having to spend days worrying that one day, [the] decision to go ahead with the construction plan (to cover for immediate needs for the next Olympic games) will be firmed being too late for anyone to action against it.”
“I know that surfers are not going to save the world,” said Rodriguez, “but we are a little drop of water in the world, and our sport is relevant, cool and hip. The youth wants surfers for role models, and the biggest surf role models should take a stand.”
I asked Sancho if he thought the WSL, the ISA, and other bigger players like Kelly Slater should pull all support for the Olympics provided the three waves are, in fact, destroyed, he answered “Fuck yeah. Of course.”