On the Gold Coast you meet lots of Japanese surfers. Duranbah, Snapper, Kirra, Burliegh … they’re everywhere. Come to think of it, the phenominon isn’t just limited to the east coast of Australia, either. They’re in Bali, France, California, and Hawaii. They charge Pipe on big days, they rip the Superbank, and they pack the lineups at Ulluwatu. So with all the surfing the Japanese do around the world, why can’t they produce a full-blooded Japanese competitior who can qualify for the World Championship Tour?
Masatoshi “Ma Ohno, might be the person who reverses this mode of thought. Ma and his twin brother Norimasa (or “Nori) grew up in the small coastal town of Shimoda in the Shizuoka prefecture, just a four-hour drive north of Tokyo. In the past couple years, the pair have immerged as members of an international group of surfers who many see as the future of modern professional surfing. Among others, the group includes Americans Dane Reynolds and Mike Losness, Aussie Jay Phillips, Frenchman Mikey Picon, and Indonesia’s Made “Bol Adi Putra. These are young professionals who show aptitude for a wide variety of surf, and who seem to want to experience the entirety of the professional surfing experience … from photo trips to far off islands to qualifying for the world most prestigious contest circuit.
I met Ma in Bali last year, where he was taking a vacation with his girlfriend Rachel. I ran into them again yesterday on the Gold Coast, the day after Ma had surfed the Quiksilver Pro trials, and I thought I’d ask them why the Japanese can’t make the ‘CT.
TWS: Why aren’t there any Japanese surfers on the WCT?
Ma: I was thinking about that the other day, and I couldn’t figure out why. ‘Cause Kelly Slater’s from Florida, Cory and Shea Lopez, too. They all come from shitty beachbreaks. I don’t really know why …
Rachel (Ma’s girlfriend): Yes you do. You told me the other day.
Ma: What did I say?
Ma: Oh totally, that’s for sure, man.
TWS: Hunger? You mean the hunger to succeed as a pro surfer?
Rachel: It’s the national policy to give way. (Laughs)
Ma: In Japan you are supposed to think of other people first. If someone gives you a present, at first you have to say “no, no before you can accept it.
TWS: So you have to say “no first?
Ma: You don’t have to, but it’s polite.
TWS: So it’s pushy societies that produce better surfers?
Rachel: I think Japanese surfers are afraid to hustle for waves. Is that true?
Ma: It’s hard to explain. In Japan there’s a “please go ahead spirit. So I think there’s three reasons why the Japanese aren’t on the WCT: the surf level, hunger, and the “please, please, please.
TWS: So how does the politeness that Japanese society values so much affect their surfing?
Ma: You’ve got to fight with another person to get the wave, right?
TWS: Yeah, so is it that Japanese society frowns on the types of things you have to do to succeed as a professional surfer?
Rachel: The whole society is build on consideration for other people’s feelings. For example, you can’t use your mobile phone on a bus.
Ma: Consideration of how other people feel. Kalani Robb … he’s half Japanese, or his grandmother is Japanese, I think he has a little bit of Japanese blood … he asked me, “Why do you think the full Japanese people can’t get in the ‘CT? I told him that same thing. And he agreed. He said to me, “You guys are too soft. You gotta be aggressive to get that wave. That’s what he told me. I think he’s right. That affects all Japanese surfers.
TWS: Does that affect you?
Ma: Yeah. John Shimooka (in charge of the Quiksilver International team and announcer of the MC of the Quiksilver Pro at Snapper) calls me “Mr. Nice Guy, because I give all my waves away in my heat. I want to win, so I have to throw Mr. Nice Guy away someewhere. I think we’re too nice. Always when you’re eating together with Japanese people, there is one piece (of sushi or food) left, and nobody takes it. (Ma and Rachel laugh) Everyone’s going, “Go for it, you take it, go for it, and it’s just there.
Rachel: No one will take it.