The Waterman of Chiba

You’d think that for most budding watermen who get to taste the limitless potential that Maui holds for such a career path, they’d probably end up just selling their return flight ticket and finding some way – any way – to stay put. Many have. But for some, the siren song of their home country just proves too alluring. So it was for Jun Adegawa, Japan’s foremost foil pioneer, who is leading from the front in Japan’s nascent foil surfing scene…

Words & photos Pedro Gomes

Chiba is a Japanese province located in the Kanto area in greater Tokyo, on the east coast of Honshu, the main island in Japan. It largely consists of the Boso Peninsula, which encloses the eastern side of Tokyo Bay with an extensive Pacific Ocean coastline. Being located so close to Tokyo, it’s really amazing how this place still keeps the old Japanese traditions alive with their architecture, agriculture, and the habits of daily life. A car ride around Chiba gives the impression that time has stopped still in Japan, a Japan that we can only imagine through the pictures from films or history books; the traditional rice fields, the old train stations, the local population that is basically made up of senior citizens manages to send us back to a nostalgic Japan, an amazing and fascinating place.

Born into this environment was Jun Adegawa, a Japanese waterman who learned from a young age how to interact with the ocean in so many different ways, using the beautiful Chiba coastline as his backyard. The prodigal son of Ted Adegawa, a surfer, visionary businessman and creator of the first surfboard factory in Japan back in the 60s, he had a big influence on Jun’s passion for the ocean and was the one who guided Jun in exploring the coastline of Chiba. With several beaches and a huge variety of surf breaks, the Chiba coastline can accommodate any kind of surfing. And with foiling, it’s no different.

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Jun started to surf at the age of six with a regular surfboard, but he was always open to trying any kind of surfing… From windsurfing to stand-up paddleboards, to kitesurfing, Jun has enjoyed surfing in so many different ways, but he became really addicted to foiling… “Foiling is the kind of surfing you can do in any kind of conditions. Flat days, windy days, big days… it is a matter of reading the conditions well, grabbing the right gear and jumping in the sea.” Jun is one of the foil surfing pioneers in Japan, and he’s the guy who knows where to be depending on swell and wind direction, or even on flat days… “Chiba has a very indented coastline, so the possibilities are endless. You can surf in the morning and kite in the afternoon, or in the case of it being a total lake out there, you can explore the outer reefs, foiling with the support of a jetski, or using a wing on windy days.”

“The surfers of my age called me a freak when everyone was focused on high-performance shortboards and waiting for the swell”

The interest in alternative kinds of surfing increased when he moved to Hawaii, where he graduated from college. Before going to live on Maui, Jun was already a windsurfer and had taken part in a few competitions. One of the reasons he chose to live on Maui was the good reputation Maui has as a great windsurfing spot. He had expected to improve his windsurf and surf skills, but once he got there he quickly realized that the Maui lifestyle was all about the different ways of having fun in the ocean. “People in Maui do so many marine sports without thinking about it or planning anything too much. To them, it is something natural, spending countless hours in the water, surfing, kitesurfing, windsurfing or doing any other activity related to the sea. Somehow this Maui lifestyle has remained alive in my present life.”

When he moved back to Japan, he was enthusiastic to introduce all the kinds of surfing that he discovered overseas to the locals in Japan, “The surfers of my age called me a freak when everyone was focused on high-performance shortboards and waiting for the swell, I was into windsurfing, taking advantage of windy days when using a shortboard was just not realistic and no-one was able to catch a single wave. The stand-up paddleboards, the kite surfing, I can say that somehow I was kind of a pioneer for all kinds of alternative surfing in Japan and with the foil, it wasn’t any different.”

Now, foil surfing is what Jun is dedicating more time to, and he’s been training hard for the last three years, “I foil almost every day in all kinds of conditions. If it’s windy, I’ll go wing foil or kite foil. If there is no wind, I’ll SUP foil or go to the outer reefs chasing some swell on the surf foil. I try to put the foil in my menu at all times!” To keep his strength up for all this time on the water, Jun maintains a very healthy lifestyle, “I try to keep very active, I  run next to the rice fields near my house and I try to eat only the local vegetables, that for me are the best I have ever tasted, especially the Isumi rice. This is the secret of my power!”

Besides being an all-round waterman, Jun also runs the family surf shop that was started by his father in the 1960s, called TED SURF, which is now mainly focused on surf foiling due to the increasing uptake in the sport within the local populace. This was always his aim… Get more people in the water, more of the time, in more ways, so that they can have as much fun as him. “I like to introduce new types of surfing to my clients so that we can spend all year in the water. With the average surfboard, you can only surf for six months of the year as it is flat all summer.”

Jun spent a lot of time on countless international surf trips chasing waves and wind, competing but also getting to know and understand other cultures. “I have been to almost everywhere on the globe, places like the Marshall Islands in Micronesia, New Caledonia, Indonesia, Hawaii, Europe, Tahiti where I competed in a SUP event called the Water Man League. In the same year I competed in the event at Sunset Beach in Oahu, and after that I decided to not compete anymore, and just dedicate myself to free surfing.

“The international trips to me are not just about surfing but also about a way to learn and know other cultures, so even the way you see your own culture and traditions change after that.” Jun started to appreciate his hometown more than ever, where the many positives of a mix of ocean and country lifestyle are in abundance. “Chiba is kind of the perfect place to be. You can have a simple country lifestyle and still be in touch with the ocean. All that and yet still only one hour away from Tokyo city. I have traveled to so many places in this world, chasing waves and enjoying other cultures… But I can safely say that Chiba in Japan is definitely a very good destination for foiling, surfing, and also for learning and appreciating the basic, simple, and beautiful Japanese lifestyle.”

I met Jun at the end of May this year to explore the deep waters of Isumi town, where he lives. Due to the coronavirus issues, Jun hadn’t surfed since the end of February, even though Japan hadn’t enforced a severe lockdown like China and some countries in Europe had. The population listened to the recommendations of the health authorities and the majority voluntarily chose to stay at home and avoid public places, such as beaches and parks. It was a nice spring day after several months of winter weather, and after so long staying inside the house, and with coronavirus cases under control in Japan, Jun felt it was a good day to go back to the things we like doing the most, “I was out of the ocean for almost three months, watching the news telling us how the country was handling the coronavirus issue well. I decided to call Pedro to see if he wanted to come take some photos. I grabbed my favorite foil set up and called another friend to join us.”

We met up, considered our options, and then used the support of a jetski to go chase a swell while the regular beach breaks remained completely flat. After we crossed the Isumi river mouth that empties into the ocean, coloring the seawater brown, we drove the jetski for another 15 minutes to the north, where there sits a cliff with many rocks scattered on the shoreline, and it was here we found some swell. It’s likely that, for any other kind of surfing, it wouldn’t have been possible to have enjoyed any action up there. But with the foil being pulled by the jetski, it turned a relatively flat day of surfing into a super fun foiling session. Just being out there, under a huge cliff face, with a deep blue sea below, and nobody there but us, made it the perfect afternoon in the ocean. After riding several waves there, Jun decided to have a look at the outside banks of Taito beach, a popular longboard spot in Isumi town. All the way, from under Isumi cliff to Taito beach, Jun was reading the swell, following the signs…

Once we made it to the outside of Taito beach, with the sun dipping into the horizon, the light was just amazing, shining all kinds of gold and turning the aqua blue water into a deep, dark blue that mixed with the color of the setting sun and turned the water purple in places, depending on the angle you looked at it. The location is a foil paradise, it’s deep but you don’t get any underwater currents, making the ride so smooth and easy. “I have foiled in many locations in Japan and overseas…” says Jun with a smile, “but the outside of Taito is one of my most favorite spots in the whole world. The time between sets can be a bit long, but once it comes, all that waiting is ultimately rewarding.”

That day we stayed in the water until late, with plenty of laughter, several photos, and stoked faces, making our plans for the next session in this Japanese slice of paradise.

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