Welcome to Okinawa Surfing. If you are new to the island then this page will get you pointed in the right direction to become an island shredder. Okinawa and the surrounding islands are filled with surf for short boarders, longer boarders, knee boarders and boogies. The island waves don’t discriminate on whatever wave craft you are riding.
The season for surfing on Okinawa is roughly split in half. The winter swells come from the NW side and everyone surfs on the West side of the Island. The season for the west side starts from fall time with Cold Korean weather systems that blow on-shore and create waves, then they die off, leaving nice weather and residual waves. The air temperature gets colder and colder as the winter progresses so we start off wearing wetsuit tops and then 3/2 wetsuits. Anything more than type of rubber is unnecessary. Winter time of the year is the least crowded as fair weather surfers can’t handle the cold morning sessions. You can have the line up to yourself some beautiful crispy cold mornings.
The summer for surfing in Okinawa starts when you get sick of waiting for waves on the west coast and we start driving to the east side of the island. The Pacific Ocean swells are usually pretty consistent at giving riders waist to head high waves on a consistent basis. At this point the weather becomes much warmer and down right hot and you can put the wetsuits away until winter. Overall the waves generated from the Pacific are pretty lacklustre until a typhoon brews together. The waves in Okinawa then become downright epic and every little spot that you thought could never hold a wave then becomes a epic right or left hander. The typhoon can approach from any direction and depart in any direction so certain spots begin to light up and world class waves are created for the life of the typhoon which is usually pretty short.
To surf on Okinawa you need a high tide. There are a few selective spots that operate on a lower tide but they are few and those spots usually work better on a mid tide than a lower tide anyway. Depending on the tide for the day you can surf roughly 2 hours prior to the peak of high tide and about 1.5 hours after the high tide. The best way to know your tide is to download the smart phone app called Shralp Tide. This tide app is great and a convenient way to plan your surf. So not only do you need a great swell and a correct wind direction to surf on Okinawa but we are also given the challenge of timing it with a good tide.
In Okinawa there are no sandy bottoms, it is all reef. This is probably the biggest downfall to learning to surf on Okinawa and this is why we must pay attention to what the tide is doing at all times. If you are surfing a spot on a lower tide and you happen to hit the bottom a severe injury can occur. In some cases when the surf becomes large from a typhoon the suck and smash from falling on a wave with great power can still drive you down onto the reef and cause injuries. In these wave conditions even experienced surfers will be wearing a surf helmet.
The local surfers are on Okinawa are generally the most friendly group of surfers I have yet to meet and as foreigners to the island we must all strive to maintain harmony. There are no instances of harsh behaviour in the parking lot, fights in the line up or any other local beef. This is because Okinawan Surfers are great people. To maintain this great atmosphere we do not paddle to the line up with the entitlement of taking waves over another surfer. All surfers must wait there turn, never drop in and keep a good happy well being. A surfer who paddles out with the intention of competing for waves and not being friendly is the exact opposite approach to surfing in Okinawa. As a foreigner to Okinawa we are at the back of the line and we slowly may move head in the pecking order as times goes on in the short and long term of living here. If you ever get dropped in on, you brush it off and go about your way. Never make confrontation and fight, it’s never worth it.
This blog would never reveal any secret spot that local surfers would like to keep uncrowded. This will tell you where the main surfing areas on Okinawa exist but it is up to you to search and find the other ones. Basically there are four areas to surf on Okinawa and these mentioned spots will allow you to surf on any wind condition.
The first spot is in the south called Suicide Cliffs in Itoman area. The conditions fair year round and as long as there are good winds you will find it is about waist high on most days. Unfortunately this spot is the most popular spot to surf on Okinawa with the most amount of surfers because it is located close to the densely populated Naha City. The Suicide Cliffs stretch really far so if you decide to walk or paddle down away from the parking lot and pathways you can find some sparsely populated surf breaks, otherwise anything close to the parking lot and pathways are extremely crowded.
The next spot is called Ikei-Jima. This spot is located on the East of Okinawa and it is located on an Island that is connected to Okinawa by bridge. This is definitely a summer time spot when all of the island is small or nothing much happening in the ocean this is the spot to go to, the great thing about this spot is that it can never really be crowded as there are so many different peaks to choose from you can always move onto another wave if the one you are surfing is too crowded. You don’t want to surf here on any type of typhoon or big swell as this place can be a dangerous place with sea currents that pull you out.
To the very north is a place called Cape Hedo and in front of my favourite bird lies a break called Ko-Chan. This little bay is great place to investigate and explore on a camping adventure. There are some pretty fun right handers that roll into the bay but the experience of driving up to this area on the weekend is half of the fun. Surprisingly this spot attracts a lot of surfers that are keen to drive and experience a fresh water cold shower that is available.
The last spot is the Sunabe Seawall and it located in Chatan. This spot can work in all times of the year but you are most likely going to view it as a flat lake unless there is a system of some sort hitting. The waves along the seawall vary from lefts to right but are all very short. The greatest thing about this spot is the convenience of parking and jumping right into the ocean in a matter of seconds. This has to offer the shortest paddle out on island.
Bonus Spot: One spot that is rarely surfed but has an epic left hander when it’s on is a surf break on Kudaka Island. This island is located in the southern east side of the island and close to the harbour area has a reeling left hander that is fun and long. It also offers tube sections for the more advanced. The island is also fun to explore and eat some delicious Okinawa Soba.
How to Avoid Crowds
If you are surfing on Okinawa and fed up with surfing at crowded spots then it’s about time to explored your other options. Many surfers on the island surf the same spots day in and day out and so to find a surf break sparsely surfed is easy. There are all kinds of surf break with no one on them. Those surf spots could be far away from the parking lot, pathway or easy access. To find your own wave to call your own you can drive all the way to the northern area and there are plenty of good surf breaks with no one around. You can also strap your surfboard onto a SUP and paddle out to an outer reef and surf a break far away from land. If you are really serious of about surfing breaks with no one on them then you can get a boat (dingy) with a small motor or a sea kayak and explore outer reefs and islands.