'I don't consider myself an old man': Japanese surfer nears 90 and talks of catching waves at 100

“I think age doesn’t matter in surfing,” 12-year-old Iroha Shimabukuro said.

Published: 30th March 2023 05:13 PM  |   Last Updated: 30th March 2023 05:29 PM   |  A+A-

Seiichi Sano, an 89-year-old Japanese man, tries to ride a wave at Katase Nishihama Beach, Thursday, March 30, 2023, in Fujisawa, south of Tokyo. (Photo | AP)

By Associated Press

FUJISAWA, Japan: A busy company owner for the early part of his life, Seiichi Sano began anew at 80 by climbing Mt. Fuji. Apparently not challenged enough by Japan’s highest peak, he almost immediately took up surfing.

Sano turns 90 later this year, and after being recognized by Guinness World Records as the oldest male to surf, he’s ready for other tests.

“Maybe I’ll try bouldering,” he said, suggesting he might do it first in a gym. “Outside it might be a bit dangerous.”

He ruled out bungee-jumping. “Too scary,” he said.

Or maybe he’ll just stick with what he knows.

“I think it would be interesting to try to surf until I’m 100,” Sano said. “I think I take better care of myself when I have goals like this. Even now, I take better care of myself than I did before.”

Sano lives about 20 minutes from Yokohama and gets out most weekends on the black-sand beach near Enoshima, the small island that hosted sailing for the recent Tokyo Olympics, and was the harbor for the 1964 Games.

He said he was inspired by an employee at his local bank, who was always tan and didn’t look like a typical banker. His secret, he said, was surfing. So Sano followed up and found a teacher.

“I don’t consider myself an old man,” he said in his wet suit, board standing alongside. “I have never thought of myself as an old person. I always feel that I can still move forward. I can still do it. I can still enjoy it.”

Enoshima is an area of small waves, which suits Sano. He joined hundreds of other surfers on Thursday, waiting for the larger waves to come. All the surfers were younger, of course. Several were elementary school or junior high age who also work with Sano’s surf instructor, 46-year-old Kazuto Shimizu.

They couldn’t wait to brag about their, so to speak, “great-grandfather.”

“I think age doesn’t matter in surfing,” 12-year-old Iroha Shimabukuro said.

Added her twin sister, Fuka: “He’s more like a family member regardless of age.”

“I think he’s amazing,” said their younger brother, Shua.

Rokka Saito, the other young surfer in the pack of four, summed it up.

“I respect him,” she said.

Sano paddles out and waits for a wave to approach. He catches it and stands, tries to do a few tricks on the board, and often tumbles over into the shallow water at the beach’s edge.

“I can only say that I just enjoy myself and do what I want without stressing out,” he said. “So if you try to be too good at it, or think that you have to do it this way or that way, I think you lose the fun.

“I enjoy being swept up in the wave,” he added. “I am not a good surfer. So I call myself a ‘small-wave surfer’ — out of respect for those who surf well.”

Sano still runs a business that supplies timber to construction companies, and still works 9-to-5 at the job. The surfing is a stress reliever, apparent as he takes a break far from shore and floats on his back with his legs draped over his blue and white board.

“To be honest, I was surprised by his age,” said Shimizu, his instructor. “I was most worried that he would get injured. I did not know how fit he was, physically. So when I heard he was 80, I thought it would be a bit tough to think about whether my own grandfather could surf. I was surprised he was able to do it as well as younger people.”

Sano joked about surfing in the delayed Tokyo Games, held just under two years ago.

“I was hoping to participate in the Tokyo Olympics, not as a competitor but as an old-age demonstrator,” he said.

Sano goes through a serious stretching routine before going out; legs splayed 120 degrees, and hands touching his toes. When he stands, he’s straight as his board — though at 5-feet-4 (1.65 meters), far shorter.

“People often say that surfing is life, itself,” he said. “If I describe it in one word, I think it really applies to me right now.”


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