The surf craze in Japan before Tokyo 2020

By the end of July 2020, surfing will become an Olympic discipline at the Summer Olympics held in Japan.
Cesar Alvarez
Cesar Alvarez


Surf nomad

Roaming the globe with a surfboard and a laptop, crafting digital stories that ride the wave of surfing culture.

By the end of July 2020, surfing will become an Olympic discipline at the Summer Olympics held in Japan. Ichinomiya has been selected to be the host city for the surf events and the relatively small town seems to attract many new surfers and is quickly growing...

Japan and Tsurigasaki Beach, the new surf economy

More precisely, the competition will take place at Tsurigasaki Beach, a spot located south of Chiba prefecture about 100 km from Tokyo. The surfing venue, whose entrance is symbolized by a Shinto shrine, will host the men's and women's surfing events for the first time organized at the Olympics in 2020.


That’s a lot of excitement for the 40 surfers that will be qualified for the event with 20 male and 20 female athletes from several countries. Not surprisingly the reputation of this long-time discrete city goes hand in hand with the growing interest for this sport in Japan.

This is one of the most popular surf spots, already known for its proximity to Tokyo (about 90 min by  train). 600,000 visitors per year are already jumping into the water, many of whom live in Tokyo and take a break for the day or the weekend. According to the newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, the city with declining agricultural activity, came back to life thanks to the economy of surfing (representing about 25.2 million euros a year),. A rare fact for a small provincial town in Japan: Ichinomiya earns 500 inhabitants every year.

"Tsurigasaki beach is known to have some of the biggest waves in the region," said Fernando Aguerre, president of the International Surfing Association (ISA). Fernando declared that they are very confident for the upcoming event: "it already smell Olympism down there and blazing development on the road along the coast.

According to Shin Sasaki, director of a real estate company: "In recent years, the number of building constructions has quadrupled and the momentum has picked up since the selection of the Olympic site". Tsurigasaki is also the training spot for professional surfers, such as Nao Omura (ranked 3rd in Japan) and Minori Kawaï, only aged 17 but one of the biggest Japanese young talent for the Olympics. "When I surf in Tsurigasaki, I sometimes dream of an Olympic medal, gold obviously" said the young surf athlete.

Beyond the pro surfers, the sport is seducing more and more workers from Tokyo, seeking to escape the city hustle and bustle. In Ichinomiya, they even developed the concept of "surf and work". These are shared offices, rented to employees - especially creative ones - who come for inspiration far from the skyscrapers of the Japanese capital. The service is quite pricey: about 113 euros per month (15,000 yen) for access to the common work area. Count between 300 and 414 euros per month for private offices facing the beach.


More and more tourists come to surf in the region

After a first development in the 70s, the Japanese surf is getting ready for its new golden age. Today, there are an estimated two million amateur surfers in the country. A number that remains far from the 9 million golfers, or 12 million skiers in Japan. Surfer Nao Omura said that "the interest of the general public is increasing step by step since the announcement of the introduction of surfing at the Tokyo Olympics". The Japanese surf is at a turning point in its history: "more and more foreigners come to surf here. I believe that with the Summer Olympics, Japan will gain recognition from the global surfing community", pointed out Dan Gillett, an English owner of a guest house on Hebara Beach in Chiba.


The tourist goal is for Japan to take a seat on the map of "surf countries". In the imagination of surf lovers, it is forgotten or relegated to the background behind major destinations such as Hawaii, the United States, Brazil, Australia ... But the country is determined to show its strengths: 29,751 km of coastline mostly turned towards the Pacific Ocean and a season of typhoons (from end of August to end of September) with world standing and impressive waves. The Japanese hope to earn a share of the $ 50 billion in economic benefits generated each year by surf tourism in the world.

This sport can also provide an answer to the demographic challenge that the country is facing. Surfers are seen as people likely to move out of major cities, to go to coastal towns that are losing inhabitants. In fact, 896 towns could disappear by 2040 because of the quick aging of the population. Parkings, commercial buildings, beaches, artificial waves... Several cities are investing in equipment to attract amateur surfers, such as in Hyuga, on the island of Kyushu, in the south of the country with a project named "Surf City".
Some cities also hope to bring more people by hosting national teams in 2020. Makinohara (Shizuoka Prefecture) has already received official visits from the American team to set up a training camp for the Olympics. On the Japanese coast, everyone wants to enjoy the wave of surfing!