U.S.-style surfing first came to Japan in the 1960s but, as far back as the 1820s, there are records of children riding waves with wooden boards known as itago. Later, in the 1930s, the chic and wealthy of Kanagawa Prefecture rode waves with what resembled very short surfboards. However, it wasn’t until U.S. soldiers came to Kanagawa’s Shonan coast that the Japanese got their first look at the genuine article.

The Americans, with their colorful longboards, were a revelation to the Japanese and from here the sport rapidly caught on. In 1966, the same year that The Beach Boys came out with “Good Vibrations,” Japan held its first surfing competition on a beach in Kamogawa, Chiba Prefecture, with 99 participants, all of whom were Japanese. Five decades and four years later, the nation will host the world’s first Olympic surfing competition in Ichinomiya, again in Chiba.

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