artists     stories    image-search     news    contact

Fukushima Surfers 

© Laura Liverani/Prospekt

“I lost everything, except my surfing”
-Koji Suzuki, surfer

Until a decade ago the Fukushima coast was a surfers’s paradise, ranking among the best surfing spots in Japan. That all changed on 11 March 2011, when Japan was hit by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake which generated the most devastating tsunami in the country’s history. When the waves hit the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, they triggered a triple nuclear melt-down, the world’s worst nuclear incident since Chernobyl. Today the Fukushima coast still shows the signs of the disaster and the slow recovery: wasteland and construction sites, cement seawalls and wavebreakers, monitors displaying radiation levels, tainted land bags.

It is said that the surfers where the first ones to go back to the Fukushima beaches. Some dived in the off- limits waters within weeks of the meltdown, despite potentially dangerous radiation levels. Now it is officially safe to go into the waters around the Fukushima Daichi, according to both government surveys and several local groups. These include surfer groups, who independently monitor radiation at the beaches. And surfing is making a comeback in Fukushima.

Beaches around Iwaki, around 40 km from the Fukushima Daichi plant, reopened to the public within two years after the disaster. Beaches closer to the nuclear site, such as Kitaizumi in Minamisoma, 30 km away from the damaged plant, only opened again in 2019, after a massive effort of decontamination that left tainted soil in plastic bags stuck alongside rice fields nearby. Most people who surf the Fukushima waves are locals, while some come from as far as Tokyo to find less crowded waters. In the wake of the 2020 Olympics, surfing associations are helping attract tourism in the Fukushima area, and hope to host international surfing competitions soon.

2021 was not only the 10th anniversary of the disaster, but also the year when surfing made its Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games to showcase Fukushima’s recovery. Yet, despite government efforts to renew its image, the nuclear crisis is far from over. Today Japan plans to release around 1 million tons of tritium-tainted water stored in tanks at the plant site into the ocean. The plan has not only raised questions with some of Japan’s neighbours, but has also alerted the local surfers concerned about increased risks and safety.

click to view the complete set of images in the archive

Institute Artist is redefining how stories are produced and told. Representing auteur-driven storytellers, we bring together talent across commercials, photography, fine art, and film. Founded by Matt Shonfeld and Frank Evers. Institute Artists multi-platform production expertise, and established global relationships in entertainment, fine art, and journalism make for unmatched reach and cross-pollination of creative work. Institute Artist has been a leading advocate of the power of underrepresented talent and is fully committed to bringing these authentic voices to our clients by helping them tell compelling and entertaining stories that better connect with their audiences.