More older people taking up surfing in Japan

More older people taking up surfing in Japan
PHOTO: Japan News/ANN

More and more older people are taking up surfing, a sport that intrigued them in younger days and which they have more time for now that their children are grown and their work schedules are less busy.

Experts say surfing can help older people improve their body strength, but advise them not to overreach.

Along the Kugenuma coast in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, 61-year-old Koji Miyata battled the waves amid a crowd of surfers in mid-August. Hiroto Okawa, 59, who runs a surfing school, watched and made signals. Miyata paddled with both hands and jumped up onto the board.

"I still lose my balance a lot, but it's fun when I can ride a wave," said Miyata, who is self-employed.

He first became interested in surfing around 30 years ago, but was busy with work and raising his children, so he never took it up seriously. Now his two children are over 30 years old and he can work at his own pace, so he began surfing again last year.

According to the Nippon Surfing Association, which conducts skill tests and organises competitions for amateurs, it had only 26 members aged 59 or older registered for short board competitions in fiscal 2010. However, the number grew to 121 in fiscal 2015. Surfing enthusiasts in Japan are said to number 2 million, and older surfers are believed to be increasing.

"Since about three years ago, we've noticed a number of new older people who say they were interested in surfing when they were young," Okawa said.

Association Chairman Atsushi Sakai, 56, said, "The image of surfing has always been a young person riding a big wave, but people now understand the fun older people can have riding small waves for a long time."

Some municipalities are even using surfing to promote public health. The Takanabe town government in Miyazaki Prefecture began a surfing class in 2012 for people aged 65 and older and for people with disabilities. A local nonprofit organisation took over the programme this year.

In 2013 the Shimoda city government in Shizuoka Prefecture also opened a surfing class for seniors. Since last year, it also runs a class for stand-up paddle boarding.

Kunimasa Inada, 51, the vice director of the Katsuura orthopedic clinic in Katsuura, Chiba Prefecture, says surfing strengthens the core muscles. Inada himself has surfed for about 30 years and conducts medical research on surfing.

According to Inada, surfers spend about half their time lying on their stomach on the board and use both hands to paddle in the water. Keeping their balance as the board is rocked by waves helps strengthen the core muscles and can prevent back pain.

"Being in an unusual environment out in the ocean can also provide mental stimulation," Inada said.

However, older people often find their bodies are not as strong as when they were young. It is important to do plenty of warm-up exercises and stay out of the ocean when waves are too high.

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