Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on July 2010

Awa Kamogawa doesn’t look like a surf town, even though you can smell the ocean from the train station. Tiled-roof houses line the narrow streets, with wild grass pushing the asphalt apart in places. Closer to the shore there are thick coils of rope, buoys and low-circling hawks.

It’s still predominately a fishing town, albeit one that happens to have a well-regarded surfing point. “The waves are clean, with a nice shape,” says local surfer Kazuya Yokoyama. “I prefer Minami-Boso,” he continues, referring to the name for this southern part of the Chiba peninsula. “The water is cleaner and warmer here.”

The coast at Awa Kamogawa curls gently, dotted with a few humble beach shacks and the ever-present tetrapods. Smack in the middle is Seaside, the name for a consistent beach break that favors a northwest wind. Yokoyama says that summer is good for beginners, while typhoon season produces waves that are “not Hawaii, but not bad at all.”

A few minutes’ walk from the beach you’ll find Anuenue Backpackers, the guesthouse which Yokoyama runs. This longtime surfer fell hard for backpacker culture during extended stints traveling in Australia and Indonesia, and seven years ago he decided to bring a bit of that culture home. Anuenue, which takes its name from the Hawaiian word for “rainbow,” is awash with color inside and out, all of it the work of the owner himself. You can’t miss it.

Unlike the beaches further north, Awa Kamogawa has yet to be infiltrated by brightly lit brand-name surf shops and hamburger joints. The half-dozen stores that do operate in the area share the same homegrown vibe as Anuenue. Like other coastal towns, however, this one is gradually drawing harried Tokyoites—not just day trippers, but also those looking for a more permanent change of pace.

From a visitor’s point of view, the main drawback to Awa Kamogawa is its notorious localism, particularly at the central Seaside break. The areas on either side of the main break and near the river mouth (where the current is particularly strong) are less coveted. Yokoyama admits that the water can be tense at times, but believes that showing courtesy and playing by the rules—absolutely no dropping-in—goes a long way. He also points out that the town itself is relatively tolerant, offering free parking and showers at the beach.

Given this territorialism, the service that Yokoyama—along with his Lomi Lomi masseur wife—offer is a rare boon to city dwellers. Anuenue welcomes travelers of all stripes, and can arrange lessons with local surf shops as well as sea kayaking and bicycle rentals. Down the road is a temple that holds yoga lessons most weekends, while there are hiking trails in the dense green hills beyond, and those with their own wheels can take advantage of the beaches to the south. Yokoyama recommends Wada, just below Awa Kamogawa, and Heisaura at the tip of the peninsula.

2935-2 Kaisuka, Kamogawa-shi, Chiba. Tel: 080-3086-7013. Nearest stn: Awa Kamogawa. www.anuenue-backpackers-herbs.org

Surfin’ Safari

Chiba’s surf beaches run along the outer coast of the peninsula, from Kujukuri in the north all the way to the southern tip at Heisaura. As a general rule, the crowds thin out as one moves further south—and further away from Tokyo. However, the weekend toll reduction on the Aqua Line highway connecting Chiba with Kanagawa has also made the southern area more accessible.

Katagai is the most popular point in Kujukuri, thanks to consistent waves and easy highway access from Tokyo. The black sand stretch from Ichinomiya to Taito, passing through Torami and Sunrise, offers a string of beach breaks that are accessible from Torami station on the Sotobo line (a 20 min walk to the coast). Taito is generally the easiest. On a good day, Shidashita (next to Torami) is popular with the local surfing elite, and hosts the occasional competition.

Beaches below Taito are served by a southern current and are thus a bit warmer. With its white sand and nearby station, Onjuku is particularly attractive (read: crowded, but not Shonan-crowded). Many beginners start out here, and surf schools abound. Below are the less-trafficked Minami-Boso beaches, beginning with Awa Kamogawa and continuing through Wada, Chitose and Chikura—all within 20 minutes’ walk from stations on the Uchibo line.

Board rentals and lessons in English are available at Oasis (Ichinomiya; www.oasis2009.jp) and Eugene Teal Surf School & Clubhouse (Onjuku; www.kanaloa7.tv/teal). The undulating coastline means wind and wave conditions vary from point to point. BCM’s popular wave report can be accessed by PC, mobile or iPhone: www.bcm-surfpatrol.com (Japanese only).