On Okinawa, surf's up off Yomitan

Photos courtesy of Happy Surfing Okinawa
Photos courtesy of Happy Surfing Okinawa

On Okinawa, surf's up off Yomitan

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Okinawa

As another hot summer sun beat down on Okinawa, me and a group of five fellow surfers paddled out off Yomitan in search of our next wave. With only two more hours before the sunset, the clock was ticking. Lucky for us, we had pro surfer Danny Melhado to guide us.

This was my second time surfing and I chose Happy Surfing Okinawa for the one-day surf lesson taught by Melhado. My first attempt off the mainland in Shonan-Enoshima Beach in Kanagawa Pref. was fun, so I knew I wanted to try on my home turf here on the island.

With Melhado’s, guidance, the six of us headed to the launchpoint where Melhado would direct us into what would hopefully be a successful ride on a wave.

As I paddled into the water, I began feeling a little nervous. Although the water wasn’t very deep, waves were continuously crashing at me, making the advance a little daunting. Compared to the waters at Shonan-Enoshima, the waves at Yomitan seem to come in quicker.
As the others in the group reached the launchpoint, off they went catching waves, one after another. Danny, already at the launchpoint, assisted his students into the oncoming waves.

As I waited for my turn, I could see other students glide above the water with smiles on their faces. Although some of them said they were beginners, from my veiwpoint they looked like they had done it before.

Soon, it was my turn. Danny cued me as I transitioned from a paddling position and pushed up to bring my feet to the middle of the board. Before I knew it, however, I was thrown under water, my body too tight and unable to maintain a balance on the surfboard. I laughed it off and paddled back to the launchpoint to keep trying.

As I was paddling against the waves, a concern crossed my mind; What if I just keep falling off, not having even one single successful ride? Feeling pressure mounting in my mind, I went for my second try.

This time, however, my body reacted before my mind was crushed by the pressure. Bringing my feet to the center of the board, I found myself in a balance as if it was meant to be. It was probably because I was using a longboard which has good buoyancy. At that moment, my mind stopped thinking and worrying, just letting the wave carry me toward the shore.

Although it had been almost a year since I first tried surfing, muscle memory kicked in and I was reminded again of the unique and exhilarating feeling I experienced during my first attempt at riding a wave.

I went for more attempts with the aim of achieving that feeling and the balance I had already managed. I fell several times, but I did accomplish some decent rides. But then then the exhaustion from paddling against the waves began to set in.

After about 10 rides, I felt so tired that I could barely walk on my own. But it felt good feeling the fatigue because I knew it was good exercise. After the session, the others looked tired yet happy, too.

Kelsi Corriveau from Kadena Air Base was one of the other members that joined me on the waves that afternoon. This was Corriveau’s first time surfing and she admitted that though she was nervous at first, she had a good time.

“Once I got the hang of it. It was fun. I plan on coming back here,” Corriveau said.

Madeline Prine from Camp Kinser is a regular surfer, but she learned a lot and received good feedback in the session with Melhado.

“Having someone out there, who knew what they were doing and who was able to give me guidance was very beneficial,” Prine said, adding that she’s surfed at other locations around the island like Sunabe Seawall and Suicide Cliffs.

“I think surfing is one of the sports that are really fun because it’s so challenging,” Prine said. “When you have to work for something, and you have that payoff of actually catching a wave and going out, standing up and surfing. On top of that, it’s a really, really good work out.”

This was my second time jumping on a surfboard, and though it was more exhausting than the first time, it was also more fun this time around. The irreplaceable thrill of finally catching a wave is one that on my drive home already had me thinking of when I’d go back and try again.

kudaka.shoji@stripes.com

HAPPY SURFING OKINAWA

GPS Coordinates: N 26.388187, E 127.725465
Tel.: 090-1943-8654
Lesson fee: 10,000 to 15,000 yen per person (US$ accepted)
Email: danmelhado@aol.com
Website: www.happysurfingokinawa.com
Blog: http://happysurfingokinawa.blogspot.com/
Instagram: www.instagram.com/happysurfingokinawa/
YOUTUBE: Happy Surfing Okinawa

Q & A with pro surfer

S&S: Please tell us about yourself, how you started surfing, your passion for surfing, your achievement as a surfer, etc.
Melhado: I started surfing at the age of 10 in Florida. I competed from the age of 14 and became a member of the United States Surfing Team alongside world surfing champion Kelly Slater. I became an East Coast professional champion and competed worldwide on the World Surf League. After retiring from traveling as a pro surfer, I began teaching surfing in Hawaii. I have been teaching surfing now for 15 years, 10 of which have been here at my surfing school in Okinawa, Happy Surfing Okinawa. I have 37 years surfing experience around the world.

S&S: What is surfing like in Okinawa compared to other popular surf locations?
Melhado: Okinawa has some world class amazing waves. It’s all reef breaks, which is not much different than Hawaii. The great thing about reef breaks is the wave is mechanical where it breaks in the same place every time and you have a channel of water to paddle back out so you’re not having to push through waves.

Now the hard facts about surfing in Okinawa: It’s very tidal (around 6 feet of water) so most places are not able to surf at low tides. Okinawa is a wonderful place for small wave surfing long boards and beginner surfing.

In the winter or summer typhoon season, we see bigger swells, which tend to be more expert-only waves as they are generally fast and hollow.


A group photo taken before the class. (Photos courtesy of Happy Surfing Okinawa)

S&S: Do you have safety tips for surfing in Okinawa?
Melhado: As far as surfing safely in Okinawa, you want someone to help teach you about tides, and each break is very different as well as each day is very different. You want to get to know the spots you frequent and have the best local knowledge you can get before just jumping into a new place. You can get so much out of a few guided tours, whether it is beginner school or getting introduced to a new spot.

S&S: Please tell us about your surf school. What should students expect from the program?
Melhado: The lessons are set up a couple days prior via www.happysurfingokinawa.com and vary depending on the best location for your level and the day’s conditions. We meet at the school at a set time according to the tide and the drive time it takes to get set up in the water. We limit lessons to a maximum of 5 people or less, so everyone gets great hands-on training and advice. We have a range of boards and will put you on what is best suited for your size and ability. We also have wetsuits and reef boots if needed.

S&S: You have been to many places as a surfer. Could you give some advice on surf travel?
Melhado: Surfing has become a popular worldwide sport and it’s wonderful to travel and experience all the waves, cultures and foods. There are lots of surf camps and schools around the world. I would always recommend you do your homework. Talk to people who have been there and what their experience was. If you’re going to get a surfing lesson, make sure you are being taught from a professional. Just because someone puts up an ad does not mean they are a good teacher. Just like anything, there is a lot of bad apples out there just jumping on the wagon and you will get what you pay for. So do your research before your purchase.

S&S: What other advice do you have for those interested in surfing?
Melhado: Surfing is a great way to stay fit, to get in touch with nature, and to give yourself time away from the stresses on land. You will be looking to improve your focus, balance, endurance (not muscles) and understanding of the ocean. Grace, finesse, style..... smooth like butter. I look forward to sessions with you soon!

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