It’s late January and snow is falling around Daichi Ikemizu’s home in Ibusuki, Kagoshima Prefecture. Freezing temperatures are rare in sub-tropical Kagoshima, and even during this unusual winter weather, Ikemizu is waiting until school ends to go surfing with his family.
On top of running a large private kindergarten, Ikemizu is the founder and chair of the annual Ibusuki Summer Breeze Festival. The event is held every summer in August, in the coastal city of Ibusuki, in the occasionally wave-rich southern corner of the Satsuma Peninsula.
Ibusuki Summer Breeze is more than just a festival. It’s an introduction to extreme sports for the area’s youth. Along with Ikemizu is a team of professional instructors and hobbyists who teach surf, skateboarding, BMX and stand up paddle boarding (SUP) to local children and adults.
Set up inside the event zone on Ibusuki’s coastal park are vendors, surf and skate shop pop-ups, and food stands. There’s a BMX course, dozens of surfboards and ramps. In the middle of the event area is the main stage where performers play for the attendees.
Although the event is geared towards the youth, people of all ages come to enjoy the music and festivities. “The best thing about participating in Ibusuki Summer Breeze was that my sons were able to try SUP, BMX and skateboarding for the first time, and that’s how they started skateboarding,” says local parent Yuki Tokunaga.
From a Vision to Reality
The idea for the event started before 2010, during long conversations between Ikemizu and other local surfers and parents who were tired of the lack of sports options for their children. As an avid surfer, skater and father of two, Ikemizu wished that the area’s youth could experience what he experiences every day, a love and respect for the ocean and action sports.
“Before, all the kids in the area had to take part in was the usual volleyball, baseball and soccer,” says Ikemizu. “I wanted to give them the opportunity to discover these [action] sports for themselves and in the same event enjoy live music and have fun.”
In 2014, Ikemizu’s vision became a reality. The event started with a few hundred participants. In attendance were the usual crew of supporters: local surfers, skaters and parents with their children. A few surf shop owners also showed up in support.
Soon, the event started to grow. “The city has been very supportive,” says Ikemizu. As Ikemizu booked popular artists like Bomba Crew, Mariyo and DJ YSK, more people from other parts of Kyushu and Japan started attending.
Within a few years, the event was attracting several thousand people. Local children were learning how to surf, SUP, skateboard and ride BMX bikes. On top of that, they were learning fundamental lessons in extreme sports like safety, respect and community.
After each event, more and more attendees signed up for the local beach cleaning to stay connected with the local surf community. “Beach cleaning is held almost every month under the auspices of the Ei Surfing Federation. It’s becoming a huge event!” says Ikemizu. The small town of Ei, just a few kilometers to the west of Ibusuki, is the area’s center for surfing.
As if introducing the local parents and children to extreme sports and their community-growing potential wasn’t enough, many people could now see popular artists performing in their hometown.
Ikemizu couldn’t imagine the impact that the festival would have. “I had never been in the ocean before, and had never done SUP, so it was a precious experience. I was also able to have a lot of fun on stage with my children. We’re really looking forward to next time,” says local Yua Otuji.
To many people, running a hugely popular event in one of the biggest beach towns in Kyushu seems like a dream. However, it’s not without its difficulties. “The biggest challenge is rotating our few staff and dealing with the heat. Also, zoning can be tricky,” says Ikemizu.
The Pandemic and a Return to Normal
Like all events in Japan, Ibusuki Summer Breeze went on a hiatus in 2020. After the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, events shut down worldwide, and just as they were preparing for the summer event, Ikemizu and his team pulled the plug.
“Yeah, Japan is strict, but we’re all in this together,” says Ikemizu. Quickly moving on from the 2020 and 2021 gap years, Ikemizu was excited to promote this year’s return to normal. “We’ll be selling tickets starting in May.”
Last year was the first time the city held Ibusuki Summer Breeze since the start of the pandemic. This year the city is relaxing its mask mandate and limits for people gathering. Because of the looser regulations, Ikemizu and his team expect a much larger turnout for 2023.
In preparation, Ikemizu aims to have over 130 staff members at the event this year. Like the years preceding the pandemic, over one-hundred companies will take part, with the main sponsor providing the bulk of the support.
Also, Ikemizu expects this year’s event to have even more people attending for the skateboarding and surfing lessons. “Because of last year’s Olympics, surfing and, obviously, skateboarding have become really popular in Japan,” says Ikemizu.
“This year’s event will probably run from 11 AM to 7 PM. There’s also an after party for adults and parents, with drinks and live music,” says Ikemizu. Afterparties on Ikemizu’s notorious Party Ship are legendary amongst Kagoshima’s surfing community and this year they are scheduled to make a long-awaited comeback.
Because of Ikemizu and his team’s vision and hard-work, the area’s children have the resources to pursue dreams of one day competing in the Olympics or representing their corner of Japan on a professional level as extreme athletes. Because of the Olympics and parents’ support, many schools are taking note and some are encouraging their students to trade a baseball bat for a surfboard.
On top of this impact on his community, Ikemizu is just happy to get people of all ages and backgrounds together to party and celebrate life. When asked about the future of the event, Ikemizu smiles and says, “We want to unify the [surf and skate] shops and the athletes into one big supportive community.” Ibusuki Summer Breeze, he explains, is the perfect way to do this organically while making sure everyone is having a lot of fun.
Tickets will go on sale at http://ibusama.com/#tickets in May.