We're in there somewhere.
Traveling to Japan gave me the opportunity to live two experiences; Tokyo and the PWA world tour.
The Tokyo experience started the second we stepped off the plane, into the subway and tried to wrap our jetlagged brains around a subway map that looked like a plate of spaghetti. Emerging outside somewhat close to where we were supposed to be, the first thing I noticed was how everything felt animated. Bought to life by a dancing kalediscope of lights and sound and weird cartoon characters. In complete contrast, the foot traffic flowed in orderly silence. It creates a strange atmosphere, chaotic and serene at the same time.
Stepping inside its clear the city wasn't designed for basketball players. Going out to eat usually meant ducking under the doorway, squeezing past the punters at the bar then wedging myself into what appeared to be a child's table and chair set. It was worth it though. The food was amazing, especially given our limited vocab (hello, thank-you, goodbye) meant ordering involved alot of pointing and gesturing before being bought something completely different than you wanted.
Usually its the people that make travelling so memorable and Japan was no exception. Impeccably polite and ready to help, they never showed any frustration towards our butchered attempts at their language and customs. However they love their rules. The best example was the time it took us close to an hour to get inside the hotel pool. With the help of an english speaking translator we learned we needed to adhere to following procedure; wear 'outside shoes' to the lobby, wear sandals from the lobby to the changing room, wear inside shoes from the changing room to the pool, take inside shoes off before the pool, shower, apply bright pink swim cap, look confused at the giant sign saying no swimming in the pool, swim. We didn't end up swimming much.
Even though we spent the majority of the time lost and confused, I loved being somewhere so different than I had ever been before.
I have never seen another windsurf event come even close to the scale of the PWA Japan. By all accounts the event location Tsukihama beach is normally relatively quiet. Day one was already busy with people, taking photos, wanting autographs and milling through the markets stalls that stretched at least a kilometer each side of the event site. By the weekend it was as crowded as any Tokyo street, making getting to the water was interesting. Picture trying walking your windsurf gear through a mosh pit.The famous pro's who had their faces in the information booklets had to hide in the tents, emerging would get them an endless stream of photos and autographs that wouldn't let up for hours. Even my mate Josh who doesn't windsurf was getting roped in by hundreds of excitable fans. At the closing ceremony the organizers revealed that 300,000 spectators had come through the gates. Pretty different to what we're used to in NZ!
The organisation was also incredible. My gear was whisked away the second I got off the plane and was waiting for me at the storage tents three days later. We stayed in a beautiful hotel with buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner. They even organised a separate hotel close to the event site just so we had somewhere to hang out during the day! We were invited to two massive functions in the central city. We genuinely were treated like rockstars.
Unfortunately we didn't get much wind at all. When we finally got racing I was stoked to make it through my first heat. It set up a battle to make the quarter finals with fellow kiwi and close friend Laurence Carey. However I pushed the line too hard and was disqualified for going over early. That was it for the event, but it did put me in 41st place out of 64 which I was okay with. The one thing I found difficult was the pressure of waiting for the wind. You have to be ready to go in 15 mins time, but you could also not race at all that day. Also with such limited opportunities there was no sense of building into the event - you get one chance and that's it.
On a positive note the downtime gave me a chance to hang out and get to know some of the PWA riders. It really helped that Laurence already knows everyone and he was really good at introducing me. It's a funny atmosphere because these guys travel the world together then have to go out on the water and go to war. The vibe is best summed up by the ping pong tournament we organised. It started of light and fun but by the final few rounds people where screaming and protesting, lost in their competitive nature!
Overall it was an awesome experience, the biggest thing I learned was the need to contend with all the pressure that the PWA format produces and still sail to their potential.