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Amami, Japan

It's not that often that you hear of Aussie surfers heading to Japan in search of perfect uncrowded waves, and there are of course a number of reasons for this. Japan is generally expensive, crowded, often cold and the waves are small and uninspiring. The thought of millions of Japanese squeezed into super-sized cities is not one that accompanies images of a great surf adventure.

I had first heard of Amami a few years previously, through some travelling Japanese surfers. They told me of an island more like Hawaii than Japan, with warm waters and perfect consistent, uncrowded waves, and only a handful of friendly locals. Yet, whenever I asked any Japanese surfers I met whether they had been there, their answer was always no. I would ask if they'd seen any photos of the place, and again, the answer was no. I couldn't even find anyone that knew a surfer who had been there, yet every Japanese surfer had heard of the island's great waves, and its beauty. It was rumoured that Bruce Brown had Amami on his short list for Endless Summer II.

The trusty world map on my office wall confirmed the existance of the place, right at the bottom of Japan, between Okinawa and the mainland.

I didn't have to spend too long convincing Scott Elison and Nathan Allan to come along - the mention of surf and no work ensured I had two faithful companions for the trip. Nathan's the typical grom, always good for a laugh, and Scott's a little older, speaks Japanese and knows Karate, both comforting advantages.

Scott set about finding out some more details about Amami while we were on the plane, and sought help from a beautiful hostess. While she knew nothing about the surf there, she did agree to a date the next time she was in town, and Nathan was left to lament at his lack of fluency in Japanese. However, the hostess was able to pass along the number of a surfer on Amami, who would look after us. So, while changing planes in Okinawa, we gave Diasuke a call; believe it or not, the guy decided to meet us, take some time off work, and show us around for a few days. Not much more than an hour later, he was at the airport with his girlfriend and 4WD to greet us.

As we came in to land, we were treated to the sight of perfect waves breaking everywhere, and were keen to the hilt to hit the surf immediately. The drive along the coast from the airport confirmed what we already believed, and we knew we were on a winner as in every direction we looked, good waves would appear, with not a soul out.

Diasuke informed us that we needed a mid to high tide for most of the island's breaks to turn it on, and so, while we waited for the tide to turn, we were treated to out first taste of Japanese food, while our host told us more about the paradise he called home. He informed us that the waves here were probably the best in Japan, with around a hundred surfers, mostly learners, on an island about the size of Oahu.

Amami is subtropical, and is open to the typhoons that form in both the Pacific and South China Seas. In the afternoon, Diasuke took us to his favourite break, and we were treated to a quality four foot reef break. In a short while, our group of five had become 30, as Diasuke had informed the local surfing community that we were in town, and a bunch of local guys and girls paddled out to watch and surf with us.

That night the local crew took us out for dinner, and we received plenty of attention from the island's residents. We were later informed that we were the first known white surfers to visit Amami, which made us feel quite special, expecially when one guy insisted on picking up the dinner bill, around $1300 Australian! What a champ.

The next day arrived, and we were up early enough to greet the sun, as a typhoon was setting itself in position to give us a surprise. Diasuke and his girlfriend were already awake, packing the 4WD for the day's journey. The now obligatory group of locals had joined us, and I couldn't help but envy their lifestyle. Most worked at night and surfed by day, and their girlfriends followed them everywhere. Many Japanese girls have a servile upbringing - the guys surfed and the girls rode bodyboards, and would never take a wave from a male. Which probably explains why the guys took such good care of their girlfriends.

Diasuke took us to the same break as on the previous day, and we were a little disappointed to find no discernable difference in size. It appeared that the typhoon had moved away from us. For the next four days we surfed some excellent waves and made some great friends, who treated us to top rate hospitality. Nathan was still in shock weeks later, and could be seen mutteringto himself "I didn't have to buy a beer the whole trip."

However, I couldn't really understand why they would take us only to the same breaks every day, when they had the whole island at their disposal. Perhaps Japanese surfers don't feel the same need to explore, and many prefer city living confines to wide open spaces. Or perhaps they chose to keep their secrets to themselves - if not, my mind boggles at the potential that they are missing out on.

We had a truly unique time, and the memories of that trip always some back to tease me. One thing I'll never forget, was Scott going to try his hand at Perchinco, which is like the Japanese version of poker machines. He'd won all these little balls, and become bored with the game, so he gave them away to an old man at the next machine. Little did Scott realise the value of his gift, until the next day, when we returned to the game hall to find that Scott had given away $US500. Nathan finally found a female friend. He couldn't speak Japanese, and she couldn't speak English, but that didn't stop her taking him back to her house to show off to her friends. Nathan finally escaped the viewings, and split back to the safety of the boys.

We arrived back home in Australia to crash at Scott's place for the night, all worn out instead of rested, the way every good surf trip leaves you. The phone's ringing woke us at about 12:30 am and Scott answered abruptly "It's 12:30 in the morning, call back some other time!". The look on his face altered subtly as he hung up the phone, and he jumped instantly out of bed screaming "That was the air hostess!". Nathan just smiled and went back to sleep.