The first day of the 2023 Omaezaki Japan Cup seemed to consist almost entirely of anticipation, especially for myself and Marcilio Browne, as we waited until the last 15 minutes of daylight to compete! It was a tough heat in conditions less than stellar. However I really got into the little rhythms of the spot, and I loved seeing each rider’s approach to the nuisances of soft waveriding and finesse jumping. Omaezaki is a great place for windsurfing even in these challenging days, and I’m very happy to be here competing!
The men’s fleet had the advantage of watching the entire women’s bracket unfold throughout the day, as the conditions improved incrementally. I was very interested in the semifinal between Maria Andres and Jane Seman, two IWT riders of incredible skill. The heat brought forth two noticeable elements of the day: the inconsistency of the sets, and the unreliable wave faces even on the set waves. Most of the “big scores” came from waves ridden in a careful, passive style. Since these onshore wind-lumps broke in small wedges along the sandbar bottom, it paid to commit to one good frontside turn, then disengage and head back upwind for more sail power and board-speed; this provided the added benefit of giving the wave time to reform. It was the furthest thing from “down the line” wavesailing, more “down and then up and back down”, but it was waveriding, of a particularly technical variety. Maria beat out Jane in a tight heat.
In classic contest fashion it seemed that Seman hit her stride in the dingle final, sailing into 3rd with the power and confidence that would have likely brought her into the final. But so is the way of competition in the conditions we had, the waves and wind gaveth and tooketh away.
Motoko Sato sailed her local spot brilliantly, demonstrating a keen knowledge for Omaezaki. And as she claimed her win in the women’s final, the men were preparing to run. Interestingly, there was much debate among the sailors as to whether the Pro men should run. People were split as to whether the conditions were good enough to be contested in, and quickly formed into two camps. In one camp, comprised largely of PWA riders, the consensus was not to run. But there was a contingency on the other side, a lot of IWT riders and local Japanese sailors, saying different; while they acknowledged that the conditions were marginal and almost incontestable, there was a spirit to drive ahead and complete the event for windsurfing, particularly Omaezaki windsurfing.
The PWA riders undoubtedly held the valid stance of objectivity, in seeing the conditions for the snooze-fest that they were. Understandably, running in such conditions introduced a level of uncertainty in the result; of course the ocean is always unpredictable, thus the reason for actually sailing the heat on the day. Still, there’s a level of inconsistency in waves and wind that even seasoned competitive sailors are uncomfortable with, because the result of the heat might not reflect the skill of the rider but really the luck of ‘who got the one wave that came’.
I think that the riders who either lived in the area -who were a part of that community, or took part in the event in years prior- were possessed with a kind of sentimentality toward running, regardless of conditions. Ideally, we would have offshores and throaty shorepound rollers to punt off of in style! Regardless of oceanic energy, the communal human energy was high, and raring to go. Since the last international event to reach these shores was back in 2019, and so much had happened between now and then, there was a sense of necessity to having something, anything, happen as a result of the -not just months but years- of collective hoping and planning for windsurfing to once again shine and dazzle these waters.
These two camps debated as the wind and waves rose, proving that the sport of wavesailing is incredibly democratic, but also incredibly divided. There’s constant debate among the athletes as to how to run, when to run, for how long and what to count. This happens on a micro and macro level in the sport, whether it be small differences in preference to run on a given day, or big differences of opinion about what events should count on a World Tour. This is the first ever IWT/PWA cooperative event, outside of Maui, something that has taken years to see to fruition. While the Omaezaki Japan Cup represents a new level of unity in the sport, it also brings together the disparate ends of a sport divided into two hemispheres. The European, PWA, side; and the IWT, western/Pacific, side. These groups of windsurfers have very different approaches, careers, and styles. Of course they will not always share the same values and opinions, therein lies the new challenge we are tackling as a unified tour!
Though the ultimate decision is always up to the Head Judge, Duncan Coombs, he undoubtedly factors in the general consensus of the field of riders. The same goes for our tour directors, Simeon Glasson and Rich Page. It will come down to their joint efforts in accommodating and communicating with both PWA and IWT athletes, local organizers and sponsors to see our sport transition from duplicities to harmonies.
Ultimately the call was made to run, and I took my leave of debating on the hilltop to rig and prepare in the valley/parking lot below. Descending from that high speculative place, I walked among the people, as it were. Omaezaki is special because Japanese windsurfers are special, this contest resembles a kind of extended family reunion. Tents representing every brand are post up in the lot, underneath are little groups drinking tea together, sharing snacks; each group is a flowing and fluxing coagulation of friends and families from different areas in Japan, reps from various brands exchanging stories about their part of the country, the conditions; their businesses and personal relationships mingling harmoniously. The piles of gear (that pros bring in by the van-load) serving as enclosures for intimate gathering. My favorite part about this ‘event within the event’ is that no one is really watching the conditions minute-to-minute. They’re watching each other, this time of the year being their moment to check in on one another. I can’t imagine that windsurf retailers make up a sizable portion of the Japanese populous, and it is likely that these folks are seen as uncouth, living unorthodox lives centered around a passion amidst the strict traditions of their society.
I see my fiend, Molishan, in a gathering around a picnic table of rice cracker treats; he and his wife drove to Tokyo and back, twice, (a trip that is 4 hours each way) just to shuttle athletes and gear from the airport to the event. Molishan owns his own classic car garage, he sails religiously, taking many of the prime business hours of the day off to get on the water. He also tries to snowboard each weekend with his wife; Molishan is a hero among men, but of course not your typical Japanese working class family man. Among them he probably does not find fraternity. His people are us. He looks forward to the day when like-minds come to visit and share stories from sessions sailed around the world. As his wife drove their box truck out of Narita Airport, Molishan chronicled for me the time between the last Omaezaki Japan Cup (2019) and now. Everything that happened, the pandemic, lockdown, cancellations and isolations, a 2022 event closed to international athletes, a local community isolated from their international friends… He wears an event t-shirt from the “2020 Omaezaki Japan Cup”, that never happened, and was canceled mere weeks before it was set to run; and I can see that this is a living event that has been both missed and mourned. And I wonder if any other event is so strongly felt by its participants and organizers?
I mean, Cabo Verde made my year, my life! To be there was to realize a dream, to act out a movie I’d been playing nonstop since I was 12. But its not happening this year, and I’m ok with it, because something like that doesn’t need to happen every single year. But Omaezaki, a place where friends meet, that is required, that is of the utmost importance.
And so we ran our heats, everyone jumping wildly and waveriding with spectacular skill. It was no banner day for the level of pro windsurfing, pushing the limits of what is possible for the best of the best. But, it served the fans of this Omaezaki Japan Cup, it gave them validation for the years of hard work and sacrifice that it took to resurrect this event. I am so thankful to be back here, thankful to passionate windsurfers who envision these gatherings, and commit to making them happen. This family congregation is the perfect starting point for a unified IWT/PWA tour, a place where we can reconnect with the roots of the beautiful tradition of windsurfing. It’s my hope that the rest of this year, this tour, carries with it the spirit that thrives in Omaezaki.