Stab Magazine | Why Japan’s Oceanic Olympic Future Is Misguided And Harmful

Why Japan’s Oceanic Olympic Future Is Misguided And Harmful

Or, Ryan Callinan braves radiation and potential second head for all important qualifying points

news // Jun 2, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Ryan Callinan won in Japan, taking out the Three-Eyed Fish 6000 brought to you by Fukushima, otherwise known as the Ichinomiya Pro.

The Novocastrian crookfoot overcame challenging, radioactive conditions to best Seth Moniz in the final, the younger Hawaiian having the advantage of being accustomed to surfing in enriched uranium given Oahu’s location in the path of the failed nuclear reactor’s effluence.

The event is seen by many as being a precursor to surfing’s first foray into the Olympics. One unnamed official remarked that “We sure do hope none of these bastards die from radiation poisoning before 2020—that’d be a really bad look.” 

Deserved kudos to Callinan aside, of course we’re being facetious. The Japan-as-radioactive narrative is one that’s stubbornly endured, despite the experts reassuring us that it ain’t so, and it may have repercussions for surfing’s big debut on the Olympic stage.

A well-placed little birdy passed along a whisper, that one reason the ISA and IOC were pushing forward with hosting the Olympic surfing in the lacklustre Japanese summer ocean, is to prove that the ocean there is safe for surfing consumption. That the global exposure of the Olympics and the healthy men and women dancing on it, would be final proof to the world that the beaches off Tokyo are again open for business, following 2011’s tsunami and the attendant Fukushima nuclear disaster.

There’s no doubt that the crippled nuclear reactors and their oceanic fallout have had a lingering detrimental effect not just on the waters near to Fukushima, but on Japan’s image as a safe destination for visitors – particularly those interested in the sea.

Despite the experts’ constant reassurances that the sea is safe outside the 10-kilometer exclusion zone, radiation is the type of invisible, insidious bastard about which many travellers, and even more surfers, are reluctant to buy the official line. Conspiracy theories flourish around Fukushima, with fears of nearly the entire Pacific being contaminated, radiation reaching the Californian coast, even as far as Down Under, with unscientific conspiracy-type theories propagating across social media.

Images of, not three-eyed fish, but tumorous sharks and buck-toothed salmon are wheeled out as proof that the nuclear core is contaminating what is effectively the world’s biggest radiation sponge without nary a shred of proof that Fukushima, nor radiation, was the culprit.

If you see it online, and it supports what you’re already invested in being scared of, it will be adopted as irrefutable truth. Images like the one below, purporting to show the spread of radiation across the sea, have been shared wildly by the surfing community since 2011, despite it being instantly and repetitiously proven to be a map of the tsunami’s actual path and not in any way shape or form indicative of radiation levels.

We want to be outraged by the ocean’s contamination and will wilfully disregard our tools of reasoning to remain incensed.

Surfing has long been held in the throes of conspiratorial thinking, perhaps the product of long hours spent in the sea pondering, or our propensity to invest faith in our ability to make premonitions based on the most rudimentary of anecdotal evidence (how many old blokes at your local try and tell you what the surf will be like next week based on the way the seagulls are flocking, or the shape of the clouds, the moon’s position in the night’s sky, etc.). Maybe surfing’s long-held partnership with the devil’s lettuce leads us to invest in correlations that inhabit the outer edges of reason.

That we’re still in a state of panic about something so thoroughly debunked goes to show just how deep-seated our paranoias are – that they may be affecting surfing’s chance to go robotic in 2020 might be pandering too much to our unscientific fears.

Yes, radiation was leaked into the Pacific Ocean and continues to leak. Nope, the cleanup in Fukushima isn’t an easy task, and will likely go on for decades. The ocean is by far the best absorber and dissipator of radioactive material and as such releasing radiation into it is the best way to deal with the problem.

While fallout from the disaster has been detected on the West Coast of America, it was in such trace amounts that it required our most sophisticated and sensitive tools to discern it. The fact of the matter is that the amount of radiation one absorbs from eating fish caught in the Pacific is less than we cop chowing on a banana.

The ocean in Japan is safe to surf in, and we don’t need 2020’s best surfers to prove it for us.

If the idea is to hold the surfing in the ocean to attract surfing tourists is real, then they’ve completely misjudged their target market. The thing with surfers is that we couldn’t give two inanimate carbon rods if the sea is contaminated. Show us good waves and we’re there, dropping in on toxic avengers and dodging isotopic turds all the while.

If the rumours are true, and IOC and ISA are bullishly insisting on holding the Olympic surfing in the sea to lure tourists back to Japanese beaches, it’s going to spectacularly backfire. While we were stoked to see Callinan succeed off the coast of Japan, the surfscape didn’t inspire us to book the next JAL to Narita and throw ourselves into the sushi fields there. The waves were windy, mushy, brown and uninspiring.

If you want to lure surfers to Japan, then hold an event during typhoon season. Alternatively, if there’s a Kelly Slater Wave peeling on the outskirts of Tokyo then, accessibility notwithstanding, we’ll be adding that to our Nippon itineraries, alongside paying a man in a Pikachu suit to cover your downstairs mix-up in soy sauce and octopus tentacles.

Japan, we believe that your sea is safe – thousands enter it and millions more eat its wares daily. And we’re yet to see two-headed salary men shooting sake in Shibuya.

If you’re even thinking about holding the Olympics in the sea to boost tourism, we fear you may be disastrously misguided. Do the right, sane, logical thing and host the event in a pool.

If surfing does belong in the Olympics and on the world stage, it has to be on a predictable, programmable, even playing field, not in Chiba’s tepid summer shore no matter how radiation free it may be.


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