The life of a modern professional athlete is a life on the road. But for elite surfers using the world’s oceans as their stadiums, the airline miles and opportunities for adventure rack up faster than for most. Surf Break offers a behind-the-scenes look at how professional surfers fill in their days and hours off the waves, often immersed in a culture that’s not their own. Our inaugural films shadow famed brothers Tanner and Pat Gudauskas on a recent journey through Japan.
The highways southeast of Tokyo, in Chiba Prefecture, are surprisingly quiet. As roads wind through mountains and past rice paddies, other drivers are seldom seen. An hour and a half from the congested energy of the city, fireflies light up forested hillsides, and the loudest sound is the crashing of waves in the distance.
Ichinomiya, a small town on the coast, is a quintessential surf community incorporated into the surrounding farmland. Weekend surf shacks, temporary retreats for city-dwelling surfers, line the streets near the beach, and numerous shops cater to wave hunters, providing boards and wax, wetsuit and sandals, soba and beer. The World Surf League holds the Ichinomiya Open annually in the late spring, hosting competitors from around the world. It’s a community with relaxed vibes. A 3/2 wetsuit paired with sandals is the uniform of choice in the late spring and summer.
On a recent trip to Chiba, professional surfers Patrick and Tanner Gudauskas explored the area surrounding the beach after the competition wrapped up. “Japan is such a unique place,” Tanner said.”The language barrier, all of the things you can’t understand just because you can’t get the words through — it almost takes away one of your senses so that everything else is in high-definition and you’re more aware.”
Driving past rice paddies, the road from the coast gets wider and busier approaching Tokyo. Everything is amplified and multiplied. Sounds, lights, people, buildings, movement — all coming together in one immense city. The waves of Ichinomiya and the endless rows of rice, though only a short drive away, couldn’t be more removed. Yet tucked away in small storefronts or in back corners, high in department stores, respect for heritage is alive and pulsing through Tokyo.
From incredible food to unique clothing, the city is a wealth of inspiration — always informed by its commitment to quality. Vintage camera shops occupy space next to high-end designers, rows upon rows of Mamiyas against racks of finely tailored clothing. On the top floor of a high-rise, you may find a small restaurant serving perfectly grilled fish. Down a flight of stairs in its basement, a hole-in-the-wall joint with the best umibudo seaweed. While the density of Tokyo exists in stark contrast to the surrounding countryside, it’s still home to the same beliefs and ideologies present throughout Chiba. It’s this respect for the past that allows Japan to continue to innovate and grow, without losing touch with what makes it unique.
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