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Japan's surfing towns prepare to cash in on Olympic wave

by Shingo Onda

Kyodo

Surfing spots across Japan are looking to ride a wave to economic revitalization before the 2020 Tokyo Games, when surfing will make its Olympic debut.

Hoping to attract more tourists and stop population decline, these municipalities are hosting surfing events and setting up special websites to promote themselves as go-to destinations for surfing enthusiasts.

Ichinomiya in Chiba Prefecture will host the Olympic surfing event. Situated on the Pacific coast, Tsurigasaki beach draws many surfboarders in the early morning and late afternoon because it is easily accessible from central Tokyo. The nearest station is Kazusa-Ichinomiya, about an hour by express train from Tokyo Station.

Bunta Terada, a 13-year-old junior high school student, goes there almost every day during the season from his home in neighboring Isumi. According to the teen surfer, the coast has “good waves” that Japan’s best can use to hone their skills.

About 600,000 surfers a year visit Ichinomiya, population 12,000. It hosts a competition for professional athletes from around the world every year and has seen its profile steadily grow.

In October 2015, the Ichinomiya Municipal Government worked out a comprehensive economic strategy centered on “surfonomics.”

It has created a “surf street” along the beach dotted with shops and restaurants. An information center that opened in April 2018 rents out surfboards and bicycles for people to carry their gear on.

“The Olympics is a significant opportunity for us,” said Ichinomiya Mayor Masaya Mabuchi, 61, who expects to see an increase in foreign surfers. “I hope we can use the economic effects of surfing to revitalize other industries.”

Hyuga in Miyazaki Prefecture has pursued an initiative dubbed “Relax Surf Town Hyuga” since December 2016.

Boasting a warm climate, the city has one of the nation’s most popular surfing spots.

In 2017, the latest year for which figures were available, it attracted more than 300,000 surfers and beachgoers, up from 200,000 in 2012.

Hyuga regularly releases promotional videos on a special website and uploads images of its coastline on social media. It is working hard to attract surfing events to capitalize on the sport’s Olympic debut.

“First of all, we hope people will get to know Hyuga, seizing on the opportunity created by surfing,” a city official said.

Makinohara in Shizuoka Prefecture lost the bid to host the Olympic surfing events to Ichinomiya but was chosen to host training facilities for the U.S. and other surfing teams.

The city, which sits directly across from the Izu Peninsula on the opposite side of Suruga Bay, organizes lessons for elementary school students to introduce the sport at an early age.

Another spot known for quality waves is Niijima Island. Part of the Izu Islands, Niijima takes about 2½ hours to reach from Tokyo by high-speed ferry or 35 minutes by air.

The island used to host international surfing competitions and is trying to energize its economy by wooing surfers back.

The move appears to be succeeding. The annual domestic surfing competitions and festivals it hosts have led to an increase in surfers in recent years.

“The beautiful ocean is the pride of the island,” an official said. “We hope more people will come and enjoy surfing.”

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