Fukushima Fallout: “I Lost Everything. Except My Surfing.”
Meet the surfers who brave truly nuclear waters (sorry Ben Gravy).
You’re not nearly as hardcore as you think you are. Not even close. The Fukushima crew has you beat by a country mile.
Koji Suzuki is 64-year-old local at a wave-rich stretch of sand called Minamisoma. Before a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck the area on March 11, 2011, subsequently crippling the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, he owned and operated a surf shop.
Shinji Murohara is a 52-year-old shaper from Odaka, nine miles north of the now-decommissioned nuke plant.
Both of their lives changed in an instant when the earthquake and tsunami hit. Nine years later they continue to try and recover.
“I lost my house, my job and my shop. My mother died … and my father’s death followed within months. I lost everything. Except my surfing,” Suzuki recently told the Japan Times.
”It felt like a movie. No one can understand except for the people who experienced it,” Murohara explained to SBNation.com.
Suzuki’s entire town was destroyed, including his shop. When he fled the only thing he was left with were the two surfboards that were already in his car. Murohara faired slightly better, his shaping factory wasn’t badly damaged, but living nine miles from the hot zone made that irrelevant.
In the wake of the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, surfing has provided both men with solace.
Suzuki was back at the beach the summer after the accident. And while radiation still leaked from the nuke plant and bodies were still being recovered, Suzuki was determined to get back in the water. Eventually, after ensuring the radiation levels were not dangerous, paddled out.
“It was a heartbreaking view, but the ocean was there, just like before,” he says. “I thought if I didn’t go into the water now, this shore would be dead forever.”
Murohara finally returned to Odaka in 2016 and has begun to put the pieces of his life back together.
There are still tremendous challenges facing Fukushima. For starters, this still around 1 million tons of tritium-tainted water stored in tanks at the plant site and the Japanese government has no idea what they’re going to do with it. And it wasn’t until just last summer that Minamisoma officially opened to the public for the first time since the accident.
Today, Suzuki reckons he surfs about 250 days a year. And he’s still on his shortboard. He doesn’t anticipate having to migrate to a longboard until he’s 70. But despite Suzuki’s passion for his local break, he understands things will never return to the way they were.
“Fukushima will never recover,” he says. “I can never go back to the same place where I used to live and run my shop. Fukushima will be stigmatized in history, forever.”
And on an Olympic note, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to share Fukushima’s recovery with the world and is planning to start the Japan leg of the torch relay there. With the threat of coronavirus, it’s unclear if the torch relay, or even Olympics will proceed as planned, but hey, at least the nuclear holocaust is behind us.
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