No Waves In Okinawa?
Many visitors and new residents alike usually have their first encounter with the ocean during the hot steamy summer months along the East China Sea. This coast is pretty docile during the summer months, which leads many to assume that Okinawa never experiences surf. Due to Okinawa’s geographic location and volatile weather systems this, however, could never be further from the truth! The Ryukyu Islands sit with the entire Pacific Ocean Basin on their East facing shores and the East China Sea on its Western coasts. This positioning provides a very large ‘window’ for open ocean swells to arrive undisturbed. This combined with the fact that the island chain is right smack dab in the middle of the notoriously destructive “Typhoon Alley”, makes surf in Okinawa quite consistent and occasionally world class.
That is right, world class! The prime months for good surf are commonly from the middle of June through to the middle of March. Although sometimes a disturbance arrives early in the season, spring is when local surfers go stir crazy waiting for the typhoon season to heat up. June typically sees the start of consistent swells on Southern and Eastern facing shores. These swells are created by tropical disturbances and typhoons, which normally begin in the South China Sea before moving north. The West Coast is, as a rule, dreadfully flat during the summer unless a tropical storm tracks up through the Taiwan Straits and enters the East China Sea. This scenario has many prerequisite weather pattern variables and makes for some frustrating months and on occasion, years, waiting for storms to hit this southwest swell window. The summer climaxes in late summer/early autumn with several big typhoons. These late season storms create a surf smorgasbord for frenzied surfers, whom, turn years of local knowledge in their heads trying to pick which spot will have the most epic waves. Summer swells are generally long period swells (ground swells) which mean the waves are created by storms far removed from Okinawa’s coasts. These are the best for surfing as there is usually little or no wind accompanying the swells and the waves are well defined and organized. In addition, ground swells are more powerful and moving at a greater velocity then their smaller unorganized short period cousins. In late October and early November, the winter season begins knocking on the door with swells generated by low pressures swooping down on Okinawa from China.
Winter is when the Northern and Western facing shores begin to wake up from their long summer slumber. A typical winter sees the West Coast with 10-15 days of good surf and another 5-10 days of mediocre surf a month. The East Coast commonly has waves every day during the winter, but unfortunately, due to consistent NE winds, the coast is onshore the entire winter. The South Coast is also reliable for regular surf, however, suffers a little when the Northeasterly wind is blowing. Winter swells are dislike summer swell in that the swell is generated in close proximity to Okinawa. This means the periods between waves are very small which results in unorganized surf with strong onshore and side-shore winds. Winter surf is commonly big and choppy while the low-pressure front travels over Okinawa. Once the front has passed the swell is cleaned up by offshore winds, but its size diminishes rapidly. Okinawa is anything, but wave starved. Most of the rumors of Okinawa not having surf had their beginnings with divers. Although divers are in tune with the ocean, they customarily seek out protective dive sites for safety reasons. This has caused more than a few divers to presume that Okinawa does not have any surf. Okinawa might not have the world-renowned surf of Hawaii, or the high profile, but this is fine with the dialed in local surfer. The local surfer always has the knowing grin when they hear the phrase; “Okinawa doesn’t have any surf” and more often than not, lets out a little chuckle!