photo: Naki

PHOTO: NAKI                                           @NAKISURF

Before you go off for an international trip, you may hear about what to eat, where to go, what to see, the traditions, the taboos, handy phrases that might help and other testimonies of that nature. And when it came to Japan, the consensus was nothing but praise and encouragement. But what I wasn't prepared for was the culture and overall nature of it's people. The Japanese were without doubt the kindest and most polite individuals I've yet to come across. It didn't matter if you were in a 7-11 or at a sit-down restaurant, checking into a hotel or hailing a cab downtown. These people had a patience and respectfulness that has comparatively fallen to the wayside here in America. This was my experience in Japan and I think we could all take a page out of their book.

With the Vans Duct Tape Invitational kicking things off in only a matter of days and the prospect of embarking on a bucket-list adventure, I got exactly zero hours of sleep on the flight. Stepping out into Tokyo and seeing familiar faces start to show up, I was equally delirious and delighted.

photo: Jimmi Wilson

PHOTO: JIMMY WILSON                     @JIMMICANE

PHOTO: LUKI OKEEFE                                 @LUCRECIA

My official first (whole) day in Japan fell on Halloween. We’d settled into our cute little bite-sized hotel rooms, gone for a free surf, seen our first glimpse of the incredible Mount Fuji, had an instant ramen from the corner Family Mart, and by that afternoon had pulled everything together for that night’s party in Tokyo. After some last minute costume shopping in Fujisawa, we all loaded up onto our beloved shuttle bus- fully dressed up, some even unrecognizable! Dancing and trading wigs until the clock struck midnight, I couldn't help but draw parallels to Cinderella hurrying back to her carriage before it turned back into a pumpkin. We moved swiftly through the streets in a herd. Somehow in the chaotic shuffle that is Shibuya (look up Shibuya Crossing and you will understand) I lost the herd and had a complete panic attack. That is a longer story… but let’s just say the kindness of strangers and a $200 taxi ride brought me back to the hotel safe and sound. 

PHOTO: LUKI OKEEFE                                @LUCRECIA

PHOTO: JIMMY WILSON                                 @JIMMICANE

The DUCT TAPE was on! A festival of surfing and skating was finally underway and Kugenuma was lit up with energy and excitement. One of the things that stood out to me was the dedication of free surfers to the north and south of the contest site. If you saw a crowd like that at a beach break in California, you'd laugh and keep driving. But these surfers had no qualms about being in a shoulder to shoulder lineup, all paddling for the same knee high sets. The crowd on the beach was also like nothing I’d seen at a DTI and you could tell they were truly invested in the heats and the competitors. It was a sight to see and wildly entertaining considering the tame conditions. Behind the beach there were vendors, food trucks, vintage boards to borrow, live bands and a skaters' playground.


PHOTO: LUKI OKEEFE                              @LUCRECIA

With semis and finals finalized, it was down to handful of ladies and gents in the mix. The conditions hadn't changed much, but there were certain heats where it really did turn on! The left shaping up with a bit of offshore allowing for longer rides all the way to the sand. Plenty of party waves were shared, sometimes with up to 3 on a board. There was no denying everyone was having a hell good time. It finally came down to the final four. For the men- (4) Justin Quintal (record holding DTI champ), (3) Kani Stewart a standout Hawaiian who has been a roll this year, (2) Kai Takayama who placed second in Portugal earlier this year, and taking the win- San Clemente’s Andy Nieblas. Andy put on display several mind-boggling nose rides and nimble, technical abilities. His performance in mini lefts likely stemming from growing up on Doho. We couldn’t have been more thrilled for our hometown hero. For the gals- (4) the ever graceful Sierra Lerback, (3) previous winner of New York DTI Kirra Seale, (2) myself! Hallie Rohr, which would mark my second time in the final since last year in China, and winning the division- Queen Honolua Blomfield. I watched Hono perch tens and pull out switch nose rides as I paddled out and it was safe to say my mind was blown. One of the highlights of this lady final was the refreshing absence of "aggro", catty, competitive vibes. We even got a three girl party wave in the final 20 seconds!

PHOTO: JIMMY WILSON                          @JIMMICANE

PHOTO: JIMMY WILSON                           @JIMMICANE 
PHOTO: JIMMY WILSON                     @JIMMICANE

The Duct Tape was a whirlwind of surf, sushi, skateboards, sake, shuttle buses and so many amazing people. The first ever Expression session and Paddle race took place the day after the finals. This was a true spectacle. All the competitors took over the lineup for huge party waves, bizarre tricks and an entire hour of entertainment. The paddle race was as hilarious but a bit more cut-throat with $1000 on the line. Expression session winners were Andy Nieblas and Hallie Rohr :) The Paddle champs were Kevin Skvarna and Rosie Jaffurs 



PHOTO: LUKI OKEEFE                               @LUCRECIA

Check out day is always sad. Accrued with what is basically a 5-day hangover and lots of packing up, we said farewell to the invitees (most of whom we might not see for ages). There is a special bond now that it’s been a co-ed event for exactly a year now. We really have become like a family. While most headed off to the airport, Makala, Andy and I were lucky enough to have an extra week to explore Japan. 


PHOTO: NAKI                                  @NAKISURF

PHOTO: NAKI                               @NAKISURF

Thanks to the hospitality of Axxe Wetsuits Japan and Naki, we took a trip south to Izu. In the early morning hours, half asleep in the backseat, I would get glimpses of a phenomenal coastline. Four hours later, we pulled up to an empty beach. Air temperatures so cold and water so warm, that in the morning the ocean is actually steaming. We checked into a beach-front room and took out a variety of Catch Surf boards to pull into the close-outs. 

After days of surfing, swimming in clean, beautiful water, steaming in the natural hot spring sauna and having incredible meals... our trip was nearing an end. We were enjoying our last night in Izu on the beach under the moon. A bonfire and fireworks, sashimi grade seafood and fire-grilled vegetables. Lots of beer and sake too with our friends Naki and Nackie!

PHOTO: NAKI                                         @NAKISURF

We drove back to Fujisawa in time for a final day at Kugenuma for the Hobie Beach Party. It was an all day event, which included two expression sessions where three of us (myself, Makala Smith and Andy) had 20 minutes to mess around. It was probably the first time in my life where people were lining up for autographs and photos! Taking a break from the beach, we wandered over to Enoshima which was very captivating and a perfect spot for last minute souvenirs.

Japan, you were incredible! We'd like to thank everyone especially- the team from Axxe, Naki, Kiyomo, Joel Tudor and the Vans team for accommodating us all along the way! Legends- Jimmy Wilson, Luki O'keefe and Naki for photos! Arigato and see you again soon :)