In my favorite Harry Potter book The Goblet of Fire, Hermione Granger states that competition is really about cooperation. "This whole tournament is supposed to be about getting to know foreign wizards and making friends with them,” she proclaims one evening, after receiving an unearned rousting from isolationist Ronald Weasley, who’s own insecurities and jealousies have made him untrusting of wizards from outside of the U.K.
At the time of reading this book, I had just started getting into wavesailing competition. Competing against people who were older than me, infinitely more capable, and also accustomed to the tour life and lifestyle scene that seemed bizarre and propped-up to me, I harbored a lot of confusion about competition. I perpetuated this confusion throughout my early-adult life. I was feeling confused about the edges of my sport - which is my love and passion - as it was driving something between me and the other human beings who shared this passion, and who just happened to be in a heat with me, I would think about that fantasy world at Hogwarts. For me, at Hogwarts, a more nuanced representation of the competitive spirit unfolded in a kind of parable.
In a fantasy like the Harry Potter series, the mythic explains the mundane. The significance and meaning of commonplace morality is often elevated or made into a magical spell for remedying the complex obscurity of gray ol’ life. The maxim presented in such a notion as ‘competition is cooperation’ works to harmonize discordant opposites in philosophical alchemy. It makes this thing more than the sum of its parts, and therefore beautiful. This alchemy was the experience that unfolded for me in Japan this year for the IWT and PWT Windsurf World Tour’s first stop in Omazaki, Japan. If ever you have the good fortune to see for yourself a way in which an elimination event can be made into something profoundly cooperative and supportive, it is this wavesailing world tour. On tour, people make real friends, and every year the friendships grow in span and depth. Throughout this event I‘ve come to know a handful of fantastic Japanese sailors that I genuinely miss not just after leaving Omaezaki, but often. I think of them throughout the year.
In 2023, when I initially arrived in Tokyo, my local friend Molishan was there to pick me up and drive me the 4+ hours south to Omaezaki. He was wearing a 2020 Omaezaki Japan Cup t-shirt, commemorating an event that never happened due to COVID. We played guitar together in 2019 when we couldn’t have a conversation in either of our native languages. He’d spent time in the past three years taking English lessons, working evenings so he could windsurf every day, and planning this 2023 event for the opportunity to share in those meaningful friendships.
There’s pro riders that I’d never been really close to until I met them in Omaezaki. Even people with whom I share my home island of Hawaii. In 2019, I found a common denominator of humor in Jake Schetewi that I never expected. I became better friends with Antoine Martin and let our IWT competitive tension rise into a creative mutual blossoming as bright as the Sakura branches from that time of year, laden with the pureness of fraternity.
The 2023 season is markedly special in that the PWA and IWT tours are - for the first time- unified and working together to put on several great events. Japan was host to both sets of riders from each tour for the first time together outside of Maui. Real strides were made in what once was an adversarial relationship I had with Ricardo Campello. This is something that would not have happened if we hadn’t been pushed together in a foreign place outside of both of our comfort zones. And PWA riders whom I had only briefly encountered in Cabo Verde became new compadres in Japan.
The chemistry for this melding was really simple: get all the riders on buses together, go down to the beach together, sail together, spend off-days exploring and adventuring -even snowboarding- together. Eat at the same conveyor-belt sushi joints with one another, and you’ll achieve progress in unification! For so long events have been too focused on what differentiates riders which makes athletes more guarded and reclusive. I’ve been to contests where people hide from one another in an effort to self-contain leading up to competition day.
I just think our wavesailing sport is too small for that. It needs intimacy like a flame needs fanning. I appreciate the Omaezaki Japan Cup for its emphasis on the athletes as a body of professional representatives. We all go to the same promotional events. All of us are there at the same autograph signings. We visit the same public elementary schools.
There are folks speculating on the Unified Wave Tour as just a bigger, more expensive, mashup of two tours, spreading the sport out farther thus making it more difficult for anyone to follow or attend. That viewpoint, in my opinion, is looking at the new tour as the sum of both the old tour’s constituent parts, while Japan has shown that this new event format is really the amplification of each of their respective strengths. The PWA undoubtedly brings a level of professionalism, objectivity and real-world power to Pacific-centric wavesailers like myself where it had previously been concentrated on the European side of the windsurfing world. The IWT also champions the human quality so prevalent in Omaezaki, but also found in Chile, Fiji, and - of course - on Maui. Seeing the two finally interwoven, strengthening the fabric of our interdependent sport and witnessing athletes from either hemisphere of windsurfing enjoying the benefits of each side, I am heartened and optimistic about the future of wavesailing competition. And I feel like that magical moral lesson from The Goblet of Fire that so captivated my sense of competition is finally manifest in my own world! WE are going to celebrate wavesailing all together in 2023!
I emphasize this quality of fraternity as the winning element of Omaezaki because there was no definitive winner! And what a fitting place to leave things on the first leg of this new combined tour. The only thing in the contest that was uncooperative, and a bit unfriendly really, was the wind. It was there when we arrived, but dipped out completely when the competition window opened. The capricious wind did not return but for one day of sailing, and sent us home with little to show for our efforts, but two rounds of competition.
There was much debate among the sailors as to whether the Pro men should compete. People were split as to whether the conditions were good enough to hold a competition, and quickly formed into two camps. In one camp, which was composed largely of PWA riders, the consensus was not to run. Then, there was a contingency on the other side, with a lot of IWT riders and local Japanese sailors, feeling differently. While they acknowledged that the conditions were marginal and almost incontestable, there was a spirit to drive ahead and complete the event for Omaezaki windsurfing and celebrate the opening leg on this new world tour. On that day, I found familiar apprehensions surfacing about competition, about the challenge of bringing these disparate hemispheres of athletes together. For a moment, it seemed these two diverse attitudes were irreconcilable.
The PWA riders undoubtedly held the valid stance of objectivity, in seeing the conditions for the snooze-fest that they were. Understandably, running a world tour event in such poor conditions magnified a level of uncertainty in results. Of course the ocean is always unpredictable, thus the reason for actually sailing the heat that day. However, there is a level of inconsistency in waves and wind that even seasoned competitive sailors are uncomfortable with, because the result of the heat might not accurately reflect the skill of the rider but rather the luck of ‘who got the one wave that came through’.
The riders who lived in the area - who were a part of that community, or took part in the event in years prior - were possessed with a kind of sentimentality toward running, regardless of conditions. Ideally, we wanted to have offshore winds and throaty shorepound rollers to punt off of in style! Regardless of oceanic energy, the communal human energy that day was high, and raring to go. Since the last international event to reach these shores was back in 2019, and because so much had happened between now and then, there was a sense of necessity to have something, anything, happen as a result of the years-of collective planning for windsurfing to once again shine and dazzle on these waters.
The two camps debated as the wind and waves rose, proving that the sport of wavesailing is incredibly democratic while also incredibly divided. There’s constant debate among the athletes as to how to run, when to run, for how long and what to count. This happens on a micro and macro level in the sport, whether it be small differences in preference to run on a given day, or big differences of opinion about what events should count on a World Tour.
This is the first ever IWT/PWA cooperative event, outside of Maui, something that has taken years to come to fruition. While the Omaezaki Japan Cup represents a new level of unity in the sport, it also brought together the disparate sides of a sport that had been previously divided into two hemispheres: the European, or PWA side, and the IWT, or western/Pacific, side. These groups of windsurfers have very different approaches, careers, and styles. Of course they will not always share the same values and opinions. Therein lies the new challenge we are tackling as a unified tour!
The ultimate decision was up to the Head Judge, Duncan Coombs, but he fairly factors in the general consensus of the field of riders. The same goes for our tour directors, Simeon Glasson and Rich Page. It came down to their joint efforts in accommodating and communicating with both PWA and IWT athletes, local organizers and sponsors to see this day and our sport transition from duplicities to harmonies.
Ultimately the call was made to run. I took my leave of the debating squad on the hilltop to rig and prepare in the valley and parking lot below. Descending from that high speculative place, I walked among the people, as it were. Omaezaki is exceptional because Japanese windsurfers are community-oriented. This contest resembled a kind of extended family reunion. Tents representing every brand were posted up in the lot, underneath formed little groups drinking tea together, sharing snacks. Each group was a flowing and fluxing coagulation of friends and families from different areas in Japan while reps from various brands exchanged stories about their region, the conditions, their businesses and personal relationships mingling harmoniously. The piles of gear (that pros bring in by the van-load) serve as enclosures for additional intimate gatherings.
My favorite part about this ‘event within the event’ was that no one was really watching the conditions minute-to-minute. They were watching each other. This time of the year was the moment to check in on one another. I can’t imagine that windsurf retailers make up a sizable portion of the Japanese populace, and it is likely that these folks are seen as uncouth, living unorthodox lives centered around a passion amidst the strict traditions of their society.
I see my friend, Molishan, in a gathering around a picnic table of rice cracker treats. He and his wife drove to Tokyo and back, twice, - a trip that is 4 hours each way - to help shuttle athletes and gear from the airport to the event. Molishan owns his own classic car garage. He sails religiously, taking many of the prime business hours of the day off to get on the water. He also tries to snowboard each weekend with his wife. Molishan is a hero among men, but of course not your typical Japanese working class family man. Among them he probably does not find fraternity. His people are the wavesailers like us. He looks forward to the day when like-minds come to visit and share stories from sessions sailed around the world.
His wife drove their box truck out of Narita Airport, Molishan chronicled for me the time between the last Omaezaki Japan Cup (2019) and today. This included everything that happened in the time between including the pandemic, Japan’s lockdown, event cancellations and community isolations. There was a 2022 event closed to international athletes, a local community isolated from their international friends. Today, he wears an event t-shirt from the 2020 Omaezaki Japan Cup, an event that never happened. It was canceled mere weeks before it was set to run, and I can see that this is an event that has been both missed and mourned. I wonder if any other event is so strongly felt by its participants and organizers?
I mean, Cabo Verde made my year, my life! To be there was to realize a dream, to act out a movie I’d been playing nonstop since I was twelve. But it's not happening this year, and I’m ok with it, because something like that doesn’t need to happen every single year. Omaezaki is a place where friends meet. That aspect is of the utmost importance.
So, we ran our heats. Everyone was jumping wildly and wave riding in spectacular fashion. It was no banner day in terms of waves or optimal conditions for this level of pro windsurfing, where we push the limits for what is possible and expect the best performance from ourselves and each other. Even so, the event served the fans of this Omaezaki Japan Cup. It gave them validation for the years of hard work and sacrifice that it took to resurrect this event. I am so thankful to be back here, thankful to the passionate windsurfers who create these gatherings, and commit to making them happen. This family congregation is the perfect starting point for a unified IWT/PWA tour. It was a place where we reconnected with the roots of the beautiful tradition of windsurfing competition. It’s my hope that for the rest of this year, this tour carries with it the spirit that thrives in Omaezaki.
A word about my own equipment: I ride the same gear wherever I go. Partly, that is because if I need wildly different gear for a particular location, I am probably not seriously considering going there. I hope to venture outside my comfort zone this year and travel to new places. Perhaps I’ll visit Sylt this year! Already I have been working with Flikka to develop a board for smaller, less powerful, surf which would be perfect for the conditions we had in Japan! I don’t really value utility as much as other pros. You can see that in how my quiver of sails and boards is often lighter, smaller than the quivers of others, who might be carrying everything from a 75-105 liter range of boards - not to mention the extensive quiver of double-redundant sails. Anyways, I need fun to feel engaged, and I’m really happy that I was able to get a tool that’s both fun and effective from Flikka! The length of this board is 215cm, which is short even for me, and its fuller outline combined with alternative contours created something playful, refreshing, stylized.
I actually really enjoy small wave surfing and windsurfing, I just want that fun-factor to remain constant, though it takes on a different form. Under the board were a pair of prototype Quad fins from Black Project, designed for Phillip Koster. These “onshore” fins have a really springy quality that matches my style and board nicely. I love watching Phillip sail because he's this big guy that dances on the water like a ballerina bear. He’s so light on his feet, both sensitive and reactive. It's the link I use to translate what I love to do in offshores to the onshore conditions we find on tour-stops like Omaezaki. So riding those fins gave me quite a bit of confidence to go for a Taka on a really tricky section, as well as the liveliness to stick it despite the sketch landing. I also paired this setup with the right sail, using a 4.5 Superfreak throughout the competition. It’s the first time I’ve used a Superfreak in an event, though I’ve been free-sailing on them for a few years now. I am probably one of the sillier riders on tour, in terms of the things I like to do on the wave, and that freedom from convention is the primary virtue of the Superfreak. I must’ve known, through E.S.P., that there’d be light winds because I brought my 4.5 in to local Maui artist, Judie Vivian, to have a wonderful tiger painted on the very fabric of the sail along with my ancestral Japanese surname. ‘Takagi’ means “High Tree” family. There are many Takagi cousins of mine living in Kobe, and here in America there’s my Obaasan, who immigrated in the 1960’s. Until that time she was practicing the Shinto faith. She once confessed to me that her initial encounter with the Judeo/Christian tradition came from watching the film, “The Ten Commandments” with Charlton Heston. An anecdotal reminder that we choose our stories, even our religious beliefs, in odd ways often influenced by art, aesthetics, affinity and fascination.
For me, I look at the way in which many cultures, and notably the Shinto, use animal spirits to embody natural phenomena. The tiger‘s form, and its slow, measured, confident pace is sometimes associated with the movement of broad, sweeping rivers flowing into the sea. Like a river, time, entropy, and destiny are all quietly fulfilled in the way a tiger silently stalks and attacks his prey in the twilight hours of the dimly illuminated jungle. As a far flung fringe element of the Takagi family partaking in a destiny that inevitably leads back to an ancestral country, I have a strong resonance with the movement of a tiger.