Turning Japanese at State Champs

Two Japanese lifesavers are getting a healthy taste of Aussie beach culture at Ocean Beach-Umina where they have joined thousands of Open competitors at the Allphones NSW Surf Life Saving Championships.

Reina Ohyama and Tsukasa ‘Aichi’ Sakakibara, both 19, have been in Australia for a month staying at Brighton Le Sands. They competed at the branch carnival three weeks ago, but will return home before the Aussie champs in mid-April.

“Every Aussie so nice to me,” said Ohyama today after she lined up for a heat of the Open Women’s board event. Unfortunately the Waseda University literature student didn’t qualify for the next round, but will try again in the Open swim and Beach Flags.

Due to a short beach season of just 6-8 weeks in Japan, lifesavers have limited time to hone their skills and beachgoers have the same limited opportunity to head to the sand for some fun in the sun.

There is magnificent surf but due to the offshore breezes and the beaches facing directly towards the ocean, the water can be just 13 degrees while the air is 30 degrees. For a couple of months a year the water temperature rises to 24 degrees.

Stewart Cameron works in Japan in the off season training a group of between 13 and 30 mostly university students who are members of the Hasaki Life Saving Club on Japan’s east coast in the board and ski disciplines, as well as how to patrol a beach. Through a commercial operator, Hasaki LSC, the only surf club in Japan with an actual clubhouse, has an informal exchange arrangement with North Cronulla and Cronulla SLSC.

Cameron cites many differences between Australian and Japanese beaches; their more popular beaches such as Nishihama can have a crowd of 100,000 turn up on a warm day. Cars drive onto the beach where BBQs are unpacked and often drinking alcohol starts in the morning as part of relaxation. Unless there is a storm, surf conditions are similar to this weekend’s NSW state titles with flat seas and a tiny shore break at Umina beach.

“There are some strange Council rules like you can swim with a body board but no flippers in case you kick someone in the face,” said Cameron. “Also swimmers can’t wear goggles in case they smash and break against your face if you are dumped by a shore wave.”

Ohyama says the surf is much bigger in Australia, but there is less to worry about surfing in Japan given there are no sharks. On the culinary differences she says, “I eat many sausages here.”

Cameron has had a 48 year association with Australian surf lifesaving and a 25 year affiliation with Japanese surf lifesaving, which is a growing movement he says. Japanese lifesavers come to Australia for the cultural experience and they train with Australian champions like ironman Chris Allum, Will Budd, the national board champion from North Cronulla, and Maggie Mahoney, the under 15 board champion. “They are that keen to learn,” adds Cameron.

Swimmer and paddler Lara Hughes from North Cronulla agrees they have a strong work ethic, “Reina and Aichi are the only ones at training who don’t bludge. I got to the pool the other morning and Reina was asleep in her car waiting for training to start.”

Fri 8 Mar 2013