vol.02 Surfrider Foundation Japan, DirectorHiromi Matsubara

>> Japanese here

Surfrider Foundation is a powerful international organization networking enthusiastic surfers committed to protect and enjoy the ocean, waves and beaches. Hiromi, the director of Surfrider Foundation Japan, and a soul mate of mine have been conducting consistent research on radiation contamination after the March 11th Fukushima catastrophe. I have to say, after interviewing her over skype from Costa Rica where I currently live, I felt great ease and gained positive feelings regarding the ocean contamination. Listen to what she has to say.

Q. You have been conducting contamination research of the ocean since 3.11. Can you please tell us about that?

We are measuring ocean water and underwater soil in around 5 surf points along the coast of Pacific side of Japan, from Fukushima to Chiba. Volunteer surfers collect water and soil samples and send them to research institute to measure Cesium 134 and 137. We are NOT a specialist in this, but rather do the research from a surfer point of view.

Q. And the result?

As you may be surprised, we have NEVER got any high results! So much radiation has been put out to the ocean on March 11th, 2011, so our guess was that the ocean is more or less contaminated. We assume that this is because the water is diluted. Having said that, some of the samples collected around the river mouth in Miyagi and Ibaraki prefecture has shown results as high as 10Bq/l.

Of course a more precise research conducted by specialist may find different results. If you dig deep down the underwater soil, there might be a chance to find radioactive substance such as Strontium. Also hotspots may be found somewhere in the ocean. But we do not have the capability to do a thorough research. Actually, no scientist have grasped the contamination of the ocean so far.

Our intention is NOT to tell the surfers whether they should surf or not. We are just doing our best to continue the research, and providing them objective factual data so that they can refer to it, and decide on their own.

When we first started to collect data, there was not a welcome feeling. The locals worried that if we found out bad results, people will react accordingly, even overreact. Some people would say "Why can you just care about surfing when we are still suffering even to rebuild our entire lives?" We didn't know what to say to them. We were torn.

But after 3 years, we came to a conclusion. All we can do is to focus on our stand point, and continue doing what we can do, what we think we should do.

Q.So how are you taking the results?

There is no right or wrong about this matter. Everyone has different opinions and boundaries. People who moved out from Chiba might think I'm crazy still surfing here. But then people surfing in Chiba thinks it's safe. Each surfers have different basis. After all, we are all different.

Q. Even in Costa Rica, people are worried about the ocean water, and some people refrain from eating fish.

For more than 4.5 billion years, ocean has survived while repeating constant changes. Ocean has that kind of tremendous regenerating power. Sure, there may be a possibility that contamination reach the other side of the Pacific, but looking back at the history, similar things have happened including things that media intentionally did not cover. Yet ocean still circulates the water as nothing has happened. You see, water does not accumulate things as soil does. It is constantly moving and changing, so it might come, but it also goes away.

This is my intuition, and not based on scientific evidence though. The radioactive substance might be there, but the question is "Then, what are you going to do about it?" You can worry about it every day and be stressed about it, but I believe nature is much tougher and stronger than we think it is. It's only humans who tries to control it and panic. Our life is about 80 years, and the nature exists much longer.

I am very positive and optimistic. Ocean dilutes and diffuses things, and that's how they have survived for all these years. Ocean is damaged, but much stronger, and will recover itself. The destruction is on our side. Human beings are strangling themselves.

Q. You are surfing in Chiba, Japan, about 250km from Fukushima. How do you feel about that?

For the first 3,4 months, I didn't surf. I was afraid of the contamination, and also there was a self-restraint mood. But I cannot live without surfing. I just cannot maintain a good balance in life. So rather worrying about it, I decided to go in the water and get purified. From the data we are collecting now, I don't believe we will be exposed to radiation. We don't gulp down ocean water. Also the air dose of radioactivity is much lower above the ocean than the land. Therefore, low level radiation is not the issue.

Fukushima nuclear energy plant is still not settled, contamination water is leaking, and the media is not telling the trust. I don't believe that they can shut down in 40 years either. But I made my own benchmark and I go in the water following my own decision. After all, it's everybody's own decision.

Regarding fish, I refrain from eating it. Maybe once a month, but I rethink when buying fish. I always check where it comes from.

Q. How are you taking all this as a surfer?

This kind of thing should never ever happen. We just have to learn from the past, and do better in the future. When I think what I can do for my part, there is not much. But it's an ongoing thing we have to face, so all I can do is carry on what we are doing, and continue doing it.

Q. Is there any websites/news sources you refer to?

I'm always checking the contaminated water leakage, but other than that, I've stopped searching for information. It is easy to get sucked in, and there is no point in becoming a geek. I think it's good if you have a purpose in finding the right information you need, but I no longer want to just collect information and pass it on to others. Rather, I want to take time to listen my friends in the local affected areas.

Q. Any messages to the surfers out there?

I don't tell anyone to surf or not. I just hope that this incident will lead to more surfers thinking holistically and globally about environmental matters. Radioactive matters are a recent thing, but there are many other things to be concerned such as chemicals and pesticides. If you are a surfer, you'd better think of, let's say, what you eat. It's a chance to raise your awareness, and live more consciously.

Surfers all share the beauty of ocean. If Japanese surfers are seen as "tribes with responsible lifestyles" then we are more respected in the society, and the movement will grow. I personally don't see myself as a role model, but I hope some of the people take this chance as a huge opportunity to grow towards more sustainable ways of living.

Q. Can you tell us about your plan from now on?

As Surfrider Foundation Japan, we will continue doing our research. We hope that someday, the data we are obtaining in the grassroots level will be useful for rebuilding new systems and measurements in societies. People abroad send comments to us saying "Why don't you get more involved in Anti-Nuclear movements?" but that is not our mission. We will do our best in our own way and keep on doing it.

Personally, I cannot live without ocean, so will keep on surfing! In the long run, I am not worried. I am aware that a lot of people are very anxious about this case, but please don't get caught in every day random shocking news. People should do the best in their own ground. Let's take this opportunity to rethink about our whole lifestyle. That is my message.