Surfing in Japan with Dane Gillett

Surfing in Japan with Dane Gillett

posted in: Stories, Surfing | 0

Dane is a real waterman. If he isn`t riding the waves on his surfboard or SUP (stand up paddle) you will find him in the water with his camera taking pictures of the surf. With his lovely family he runs the Splash Guest House right in front of the famous surf spot Hebara in the province of Chiba, Japan. It`s the perfect getaway from the bustling Tokyo. As the founder of the renown website surfinginjapan.com his knowledge about the waves in Japan is enormous and he is happy to share his experience. Dane can not only provide you with information but also with any surf gear that you might need. All this combined makes his guest house a great stop for any surfer coming to Japan. During our stay we talked to Dane about his business, life and surfing in Japan.

Dane, besides running Splash Guesthouse, you are also the man behind the most popular English website about surfing in Japan?

The story of surfinginjapan.com goes back about 15 years, when I started with surfing in Japan. I got frustrated very quickly by the lack of information in English. Luckily, I had my Japanese surf buddies and they were taking me to many different spots. I began taking notes to memorize the places. Plus, I was chasing webcams to check the surf conditions and to make sure the long drive to that beach would be worth it. Soon I had over 600 bookmarks of sites from Japanese bloggers and photographers. It was a bit crazy and overwhelming.

That’s why I decided to put them all on a simple web page which I also shared with my friends. Everybody liked it, so I thought I could take this one step further and taught myself how to build a website. I not only included webcams but also information about the spots and the kind of facilities they have onsite. For about 10 to 12 years I checked out the surf spots all over Japan and updated my website religiously, for about two hours in the morning and two in the night. I also provided a surf report, by taking pictures from the webcams or asking other photographers to send me some. The site soon grew popular among foreigners and I received many positive feedbacks. Of course this was great and to be honest it was also playing in my head that maybe I could make money with it someday. But ultimately the website was more for myself. As a photographer it was great to have a way to catalogue my pictures. So I could look at them later and remember the awesome surf that I had.

How did you develop the idea of Splash guesthouse?

As surfinginjapan.com became more populare I also received more and more E-mails from people who wanted to go surfing with me. So I thought maybe I could be a surf guide. I built this other website japansurftours.com and I did a few guided tours. But I was still working fulltime in Tokyo and to take time off was very expensive. That made it not very practical. Mostly I would just give the people tips where they could go surfing or where they find surf shops and so on. I also recommended that we meet up on their first weekend for a surf so that we could have a chat and I could help them to sort out the rest of their trip. Part of me was always thinking that the best way to do this, would be to have a guest house.

Let people come and stay with us. But more important for me was to find a nice place for my family to live. Somewhere, where we could have a comfortable lifestyle and the kids could go to a good school. I wanted to build something that we loved living in and if we have some guests from time to time it would be great. I never thought that I would actually give up my job and do this full time. But things worked out great and we got a lot of visitors staying with us. Coming from a family of 13 children I love having a busy house. Spending time with people is a true gift. And it’s great for my kids too, they meet people from all over the world. We have this beautiful place directly on the beach, decorated with many of our souvenirs from all over the world and a lot of Hawaiian vibe. And people also seem to love it for what it is. I always say, we are not a five star hotel but also not a backpacker – just a family that opens up their home to other people and invites them to come and enjoy the beauty that surrounds us.

You manage the Splash Guesthouse with a lot of drive and devotion. But your other passion is photography, what can you tell us about that ?

I have always loved taking pictures. If am not surfing you will definitively find me in the water with my camera capturing some waves or surfers. And most people are super stoked about having a surf picture of themselves, as it is a relatively rare thing having someone actually shooting in the water. My goal is also, to add more variety to the Japanese surf photography. So far most of the surf pictures you see are taken during a typhoon swell. The big waves look spectacular but the water is just grey. This is a shame. We have some awesome places with crystal clear blue water, like Hawaii. That is, what I like to show the world. Plus, I want to develop myself more in the SUP-Photography. Since I live here in Chiba I really got into Stand Up Paddling  - and I love it! You can shoot some amazing pictures from a SUP. The perspective is totally different and you can see more of the landscape and not only just the water.

How would you describe the province of Chiba in regard to surfing?

Chiba is a swell magnet. In fact, only a few days a year the ocean gets completely flat. Otherwise there will always be something to surf. And the days with awesome waves are countless. The wave consistency is the reason why Chiba is home to World Surfing League (WSL) events. Our most famous spot is Malibu, a fantastic reef break. In 2005 we could witness here a real showdown between Andy Irons and Kelly Slater. Overall I can say that Japan is one of the most underestimated and undiscovered surf destination by the Western world. Mainly due to lack of information. But the coastline facing the pacific is huge. If you are at the right place at the right time, you will have some solid waves!

What is your scariest surf experience?

My two waves hold down in Serangan, Bali, is definitively on top of that list. It was a day with a massive swell and I was sitting as usual far outside to wait for the big bombs. On the horizon I spotted the set. As it was coming closer I noticed it was monstrous so I paddled hard to breach the first wave. Then I saw the second one and it was double the size of the first! There was no way that I could have managed to paddle over it in time. I had only seconds to make a decision: trying to duck dive or throwing the board. I had not time to open the leash, so I couldn’t just ditch the board and dive to the bottom. I decided to hold onto my board and duck dive. And I got powdered - absolutely pancaked!

My arm made a hole in the glass of the board and I got pressed down so hard, that my fins got stuck in the reef. Everything was pitch black. Until today I am not sure if I actually blacked out. The pressure of the wave made it impossible to move and suddenly the pain in my arm kicked in. It was an absolute nightmare! When I finally managed to get free I tried to swim up. I took about three strong strokes but still didn’t break the surface. I went for my leash in order to pull me up. That’s when I realized that my board was actually below me. Probably the water pressed it down in a lying position as it didn’t shoot up vertically. I took another stroke and finally, I felt foam and saw light. My lungs were burning. I just breached the surface when I saw the next wave coming down on me. This time it was caught in the washing machine and it just smashed me around in all directions. I knew I could only stay calm, try to hold on my surfboard, let it happen. The wave washed me over the reef and when it was finally over I was happy to discover that my board was still in one piece. I was absolutely done for that day with surfing but really glad that I was still alive. The ocean definitively humbles you and you should never take it too lightly. But I love being in the water and I touch wood and hope I can still do it for the next 10 years or so when I still have my fitness and youth. Chasing bigger waves and taking great pictures.

What are your next business projects and what are your personal goals?

Actually we are starting this year with proper surf tours, like a ten-days all-inclusive surf trip. This we would only offer from September till November, during the typhoon season, when there is a guarantee for big waves. The base would be at Splash Guesthouse, but we will pick-up the people from the airport and provide a surf guide, that will be with them the entire ten days to search for the best waves. We also offer breakfast and organise a BBQ or a pizza night. But no regular dinner besides that, because we have fantastic local restaurants people should check out. And for the days with quiet surf we were thinking of taking the people for an overnight trip to Tokyo, to do some sightseeing, have some drinks and do other fun stuff. But this is all optional of course, the main focus will be on surfing.

For me personal I only wish to provide everything for my family and make sure they are happy. In fact, everything I do, for example in the house, I mainly do for the sake of my family. But naturally the people staying with us like it too and so it works also for the business. 

For the first time surfing will be part of the Olympics in Tokyo 2020. Chiba is on the shortlist for the competition – what can you tell us about it?

For me it is very exciting. Hebara is on the shortlist for the venues together with Ichinomiya and Kamogawa and a few others. The Olympics will put Chiba and Japan on the surfing map, to the same degree like Pipeline and Uluwatu. And of course it will increase tourism and will get more foreign surfers to come to Japan and discover this beautiful country. And with every new Olympics sport that takes off, there will be more drive on the youth side. So more parents will encourage their children to go to the beach and try out surfing instead of hanging on their smartphones all the time. And this development in turn would also re-energize the life saving culture at the beach. Hopefully it will also wake up a lot of local councils that have great surf beaches in Japan. Maybe they will realise that if they invest some money in better facilities on the beach, more surfers will come and spend their money in local businesses. And of course I am happy if it also will improve my business. So yeah I am really positive about the Olympic games and look forward to it.

 

Thank you very much Dane for the interview and for having us! We had a wonderful time and we will be back for sure! See you in the water! 😉

Our personal experience:

Splash Guesthouse is right in front of Hebara beach with several breaks within walking distance. The rooms are lovely decorated and the whole place feels really relaxing and we enjoyed having a few days to just surf and chill. Dane also helped us out with selling a board and gave us many tips what to visit in Japan and how to organize it best. It was possible to leave the surfboards at the guesthouse during our short trip to Kyoto. Dane has a lot of experience and knowledge about surfing and he is very happy to share it with you and will honestly tell you what the conditions are. Hebara is really consistent, even with a 1-2 ft swell, there are some rideable waves. But you will rarely be the only person in the water. We were surprised about how committed the Japanese surfers are, no matter what the conditions are like, there are always people in the water. The sun rises early in Japan and so do the surfers. At the weekend you`re likely to see already at 4 am more than 10 people in the water. We can really recommend Splash Guesthouse and you should check out surfinginjapan.com if you plan to surf in Japan. 

If you have more questions about surfing in Japan or travelling there just write us on Facebook or send us an email at hello@laybacktravel.com We would be glad to help out.

 

All pictures were taken and are owned by Dane Gillett. Respect the copyright.