Surf Nazis Must Die!! Scuba Diving on Okinawa


Beaches as Battlefields?  Dang Surf Nazis....

Beaches as Battlefields? Dang Surf Nazis….

“Slime-sucking Neanderthal! How dare you question my loyalty?” ~Eva, Surf Nazis Must Die, but more likely, the staff at the Kadena Air Base weather office that make up the Sea Conditions for scuba diving on Okinawa in response to anyone who questions such determinations.

“I am the Führer of the beach!” ~Adolf, Surf Nazis Must Die, but more likely, the Officer-in-Charge of the office mentioned above, no doubt nicknamed “Adolf.”  He’s probably short, clearly with a Napoleonic complex.

Surf Nazis weld Too Much Power

Surf Nazis weld Too Much Power

“If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.” ~Katharine Hepburn

“Rules are not necessarily sacred, principles are.” ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

The Intent of the Law should Trump the Letter; Principles are More Important

The Intent of the Law should Trump the Letter; Principles are More Important

I’ve been sulking here, in my condo, since Tuesday, watching through our picture windows overlooking the East China Sea the Japanese scuba dive charter boats come and go all day long to the calm, clear and warm waters of Sunabe, literally our front yard and playground all in one.  Although we have full sets of dive gear, humped across the 10,000 mile journey to Japan in order to use early and often, what we are missing are tanks.

Okinawa 2013, Japanese dive charters at Sunabe

It’s Friday and Great Weather – Look at all those Dive Charters!

You know, those thingies that allow you to breathe underwater and use all that heavy, expensive, and even cool-looking dive gear.

Even Cats Look Cooler in Dive Gear

Even Cats Look Cooler in Dive Gear

Alas, I cannot rent tanks.  At least not from the US-based dive shops on island.  And even if I do rent tanks from any one of the four Japanese dive shops within two blocks of my condo, I’m not “allowed” to enter the water on this beautiful diving day as a SOFA-status dependent.

Why you ask?

A Logical, Unemotional Nazi, but no less a Nazi

A Logical, Unemotional Nazi, but no less a Nazi

Surf Nazis.

And they must die.

Warning Maeda

Maeda Point Warning

Warning Horseshoe

Horseshoe Warning

You see, the military has decided that, like every other dark recess of what used to be our personal lives, that standard rules, regulations and common sense are simply not enough.  That, although we in the United States Military are entrusted to use lethal force in the name of the United States overseas and take lives, such a sacred level of trust simply cannot be extended to recreational activities.  And, even though the organization we work for will not hesitate to put us in severe and prolonged danger, they wish to shield us from anything remotely hazardous outside of normal working hours.  So, even though as certified scuba divers, schooled and tested in all-things dive safety-related, Big Cousin – the military’s fraternal relations to the government’s Big Brother – has decreed that they know better and can dictate our lives in a safer fashion through institution of yet more inane rules.

Onna Point Warnings.  Okay, we get it!!

Onna Point Warnings. Okay, we get it!!

Rules not based on principle.

A Good Idea Gone Wrong as a Rule

A Good Idea Gone Wrong as a Rule

There are “Sea Conditions” on Okinawa, for each coast – East and West.  Now, this is actually a pretty decent idea.  The principle could be sound.  But, “The Bigs Family,” the USG collection of overlords, don’t believe, it appears, it either higher education, or simple logic.  One element of determining Sea Condition is wind speed:  if it is over a certain amount, Danger Will Robison is sounded and not only are the scuba shops barred from renting gear, US personnel on-island are barred from even entering the water.

Okay, it's not this calm, and I didn't take the photo.  But you get the point....

Okay, it’s not this calm, and I didn’t take the photo. But you get the point….

Ludicrous.  Look at this picture taken this morning from my condo of the “dangerous” sea condition!!!  Wow, all those Japanese are surely risking life and limb to go diving today….

The Surf Nazis:  Responsible for Kitten Genocide

The Surf Nazis: Responsible for Kitten Genocide

The problem, you see, is that the Surf Nazis do not take into account wind direction, nor do they even bother with any measure of sea state, both of which are much more indicative of wave action and potential hazardous conditions to divers.  Most waves are wind-driven.  Even at very high velocity, winds need fetch in order to transfer energy to the water.  In other words, wind has to act across a large expanse of unbroken water for waves to build to significant and dangerous height.  Okinawa, being a north-south-oriented island, is a natural wind-break for winds from the east and west, which generally means one coast is rather smooth while the other can be somewhat rough.  Since the majority of diving activities are best situated on its western side, when the winds are blowing out of the east for days straight – as they have been, steady and true – there is not only a complete lack of fetch for the winds to act, the winds actually act in a restorative action to flatten the seas on the west coast, where I happen to live.  Hence the calm, perfect dive weather, even though the winds are blowing 20-25mph….

Beautiful Corals at Sunabe

Beautiful Corals at Sunabe

Diving is in my blood, and I have missed it so.  In Pensacola, I traded this particular hobby and lifestyle with another highly addictive one:  skydiving.  Now that skydiving is gone (there is NO jumping on Okinawa), I’m itching to go diving.  And not just for the fun-in-the-sun, outdoor aspect of being on the beach and in the water.  And not even to see the world-renowned and always entertaining “Girly-Show” of Jody putting on and taking off a wet suit (wink-wink; it’s a scene from a James Bond movie, at least the one that plays in my mind).

Burlesque & Scuba Diving Combined!

Burlesque & Scuba Diving Combined!

It is for the magical exploration that every dive brings, especially here in the sub-tropical Pacific.

Large Pacific Octopus at Sunabe

Large Pacific Octopus at Sunabe

Magical Tentacles

Magical Tentacles

Although I learned to dive in the states (Florida), and did much of my early diving in Florida, primarily in the Florida Keys in the 1990s, I truly didn’t “take” to the recreation until my first stint in Okinawa back in 1999-2001.  At the time my Ex decided to get certified, and she quickly became quite a proficient diver and excellent dive buddy.  This shared experience back then probably saved our marriage, or as it were, delayed its inevitable end for another six years.  Diving became a staple of our lives, mainly because of the world-class diving available on Okinawa, waiting just a few steps and few breaths away from the shore.  And thank goodness; many of my more found memories of that relationship (of which I seldom speak) are dive-centric.

Clowning around an Anemone

Clowning around an Anemone

Danny Diving at Sunabe

Danny Diving at Sunabe

Both my children learned to dive here.  Daniel back in 2001 when he was 13, and Naomi in 2005 at the same age.  We were only able to dive just a couple of times as a family before our nuclear family imploded, and I’m not even sure they have been diving since.  That is a real shame when I think back upon the opportunity wasted for everyone.  Such exploits can have exponentially dramatic impacts on young minds with audacious hearts.

Naomi Entering the Water at Sunabe

Naomi Entering the Water at Sunabe

And now I am able to share this enchanted realm and captivating activity with Jody.  Our first dive together was actually just two weeks ago, here, on Okinawa.  Yes, we have been together almost three years now, but the diving in Pensacola is…well…less inspiring.  And cold.  I have been worried about cementing our dive partnership, since I knew that a healthy portion of our leisure lives on Okinawa for the next three years were going to be concentrated on the water, or, more appropriately, what lies beneath.  And apparently we are doing okay.  She’s still alive, not bent, and not just talking to me, she’s smiling!  In my defense (and credit), in our first three dives here I did spot for her a sea turtle, a large octopus out in the open, and her first Pacific sea anemone, complete with a mating pair of aggressive but fun clown fish!  An auspicious start to this chapter of our lives together I must say.  I am eager to continue writing in this regard, but writing on this subject is best done post-dive, and diving we are, at the moment, not.

A more simplified list of Dive Rules....

A more simplified list of Dive Rules….

I also became a PADI Divemaster here back in 2001, and now I am enrolled in a PADI Instructor Development Course (IDC), where if all goes well, I’ll be a fully certified Open Water Scuba Instructor (OWSI) by the end of October.  And then my playground here will become my classroom everywhere…there is a beach.  And I will work where I love, and will truly be able to say that I love my work.

Me Diving Sunabe, 2006

Me Diving Sunabe, 2006

But first we gotta get those Sea Conditions changed.

SeaCond_fbu1

And those Surf Nazis?  They gotta die.

Surf Nazis should be replaced by the much more permissive Scuba Kitty

Surf Nazis should be replaced by the much more permissive Scuba Kitty

Surf Nazis Must Die

Surf Nazis Must Die

Nostalgic Okinawa


Japanese Style Nostalgia - The Colonel is HUGE Here!

Japanese Style Nostalgia – The Colonel is HUGE Here!

“You can’t have a better tomorrow if you are thinking about yesterday all the time.” ~Charles F. Ketting “Nostalgia, a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.” ~Adapted from Everybody’s Free (to wear sunscreen), by Mary Schmich

Trust me on the Sunscreen

Trust me on the Sunscreen

We now are firmly planted on Sunabe Seawall, with roots just now reaching out to grasp the soul-enriching nutrients of the sea which blankets us with life.  This is where I desire and desired to be, and which I longer for Jody to experience and understand, for countless, assorted and wondrous reasons which only commence making sense when savored firsthand.  While this fraction of Okinawa – the Miyagi neighborhood of the town of Chatan Cho (as much as I can determine how property parcels here are arranged) – remains magical in numerous ways, it has also changed…as all things do.  Better in some regards and at a nostalgic loss in others profound.

Sunabe Seawall...of Yesteryear

Sunabe Seawall…of Yesteryear

SpongeBob on Sunabe Seawall

SpongeBob on Sunabe Seawall

Graffiti in Okinawa is of an utterly different sort, basis, and aim than that which I would think most people would associate with and within the United States.  At many locations on Okinawa, in widely dispersed locales, graffiti is frankly not frowned upon by the resident peoples nor the controlling authorities.  Although I’m not convinced it is directly or openly encouraged, nonetheless it is abundant and displayed proudly, mostly along the large seawalls that can be found bordering the island’s lengthy intersection with the sea. For example, in the northern city of Nago, there are numerous pleas and portrayals of the return of dolphins, which in the past were brutally slaughtered to near localized extinction.  On the way to Mama-san beach on the east side of the Island, there is a large array of happy and colorful graffiti along the seawalls there.  And, of course, there is Sunabe, which in the past had the most eclectic if not eccentric collection of painted public art that could be seen island-wide.

Dolphins aren't the only things Nago apparently wants back....

Dolphins aren’t the only things Nago apparently wants back….

What’s peculiar about these particular paintings is that having lived on the seawall previously for almost two years, and before that having spent an awful lot of time along the seawall, primarily diving, many times late at night (midnight dives under full moons are creepily amazing here!), I never once saw painting-in-progress, or even a single person with a spray-paint can loitering about the area.  And believe me, while the canvas was permanent, the artistic displays changed often, especially with peoples of all backgrounds celebrating birthdays graphically on concrete and stone every week of the year.  The idea of spontaneous art appearing randomly made every walk or run along the seawall something of a joyous anticipation:  what new glyph would have to be deciphered since as it does in Japan so many concepts are lost-in-translation?  I always cherished this element of the Sunabe Seawall, and looked forward to my return here to act in part sociologist and in part archaeologist, ready to intervene with my own personalized understanding of the marked messages left for all to consider.

Dudes Open for Interpretation

Dudes Open for Interpretation

But then there is also the ocean.  Or, more appropriately, the East China Sea (the Pacific abuts the island on its eastern side, the side where I am not residing).  Graffiti is only one dimension of the seawall which makes it so exclusively unique.

Surfer Awaiting His Wave

Surfer Awaiting His Wave

Okinawa lacks, in almost all regions, sand beaches that make places like Pensacola or Miami so wonderful to so many people.  I’m not sure many people ever stop and think about this, but why is this so?  The reasoning is especially important to scuba divers and fishermen because it involves the presence and health of coral reefs.

Mama-san Beach - reefs and rural directions

Mama-san Beach – reefs and rural directions

South Florida has terrific beaches, with coarse, large-grain sand.  The main drawback is that the nature and makeup of this sand – crushed shells primarily – make it an extremely efficient heat-sink, and it gets brutally hot in the summertime.  The west coast and panhandle of Florida have very fine while sand made mostly of silica, much described as “sugar.”  But why is there sand on the beaches in Miami and Pensacola, and NOT in the Florida Keys?  Reefs.  The present of a coral reef acts as a wave-break, diminishing the aquatic power of the ocean long before it reaches the shoreline.  And without wave action to grind rock and shell, sand cannot and is not produced.  The areas of the Florida Keys with terrific offshore reefs therefore lack, in large part, any semblance of nice, sandy beaches.  However, the contrary is true for much of the rest of Florida peninsula, especially on its west coast and up into its panhandle.  There is little to no reef in these whereabouts, and what reef is there is sparse and low-profile soft corals growing on simple limestone ledges.  This limited underwater relief allows the energy embedded in waves to break upon shore, where it acts to grind large bites into ever smaller bits, resulting in a sandy refuge for pale-white, overweight Canadians.  No offense intended ‘eh; I dated a Canadian…ONCE.

Sea Creatures Adorned the Sunable Seawall

Sea Creatures Adorned the Sunable Seawall

The vast majority of Okinawa is ringed by coral reef, located almost immediately off the shoreline.  This is exactly the case at Sunabe, which makes this particular place one of the premier dive sites on the island, second in popularity only to a place called Maeda Point.  Stay tuned for detailed blogs on the island’s individual dive sites – once the weather allows for my return to the seas here (3rd tropical storm in as many weeks so far)!  The entry points along the seawall are eased by stairs and protected by breakwaters, and the reef at high tide is easily within 10-25 yards from shore.  In probably 100 yards, you find yourself in 70-80 feet of water, with a high-profile shelf-reef running generally north and south, and islands of life found more distant in the sand.  Found here are many of the sea critters topping most divers’ bucket lists:  night stand table-sized anemones with multiples of resident clown fish; cuttlefish displaying their tentacle-enhanced light shows in the day but mostly by night; territorial lionfish

Fire Fish in Okinawa's Blue

Fire Fish in Okinawa’s Blue

that seem to hover gracefully in the water, only consciously moving when a camera is stuck in their face; large octopi hunting just after sundown; eels of all kinds, along with the similar-looking but air-breathing reptiles the sea snakes; slipper and spiny lobster; along with a wide assortment of nudibranchs, sea slugs, flamingo tongues, scorpion fish, cone shells, and even a somewhat rare frogfish or two!

Tidal Pools of Okinawa's Sunabe Seawall

Tidal Pools of Okinawa’s Sunabe Seawall

One of my favorite nostalgic memories of Sunabe involves my daughter Naomi.  In 2004 my family settled a block off the seawall in a 3rd floor apartment, just a block or two from where I presently live.  Her bedroom had a window from which she could spy the sea, an earthly element she had taken to, as they say, like a fish takes to water.  At the time she was almost 12, her brother already 16.  I had no qualms about them heading off on adventures in the sea, secure both in their ability to swim, coupled with well-taught sound judgment and well-informed decision-making skills (or so every parent hopes).  Although I had been ordered on a no-notice, eight month deployment to Iraq, I was able to spend an early birthday with my daughter, which centered to a large extent on explorations of the sea.  As such, she received a medium size specimen tank, along with some accoutrements large and small that could be employed to secure sea creatures for humane capture and temporary display. I turned my children loose on nature.  Okinawa offers perhaps the safest environment for childrearing…at least in terms of terrestrial threat, and certainly that of fellow man.  And although the seas carry their own inherent dangers here, I had no issue with their examination of the tidal pools on fair-weather days.  What did I expect her to bring home?  Perhaps if she was lucky a fish or two; more likely, however, she would capture a sea cucumber, starfish, or one of the similarly slower moving creatures.

Tidal pools Implore Exploration

Tidal pools Implore Exploration

I was shocked one afternoon when Naomi arrives excitedly back at home with a creature in her carrying tank.  What was they grayish mass filling a full third of the portable habitat?  An octopus, mind you, and a sizeable one at that! “Dad, look what I caught!” Naomi excitedly proclaims.

Okay, this isn't the one she caught...but she saw it in the Tampa Aquarium!

Okay, this isn’t the one she caught…but she saw it in the Tampa Aquarium!

I was really speechless.  “You’re kidding!” was about all I could respond with at the time. I’m sure we were both equally amazed at our new pet, although not as much as our cat Tora was (she was entranced, albeit for quite different reasons!).  While I was astonished that she was merely able to capture such an elusive and intelligent cephalopod, I’m sure my daughter was equally surprised at her opportunity to bind so closely with such an elusive marine biological contingent of nature.  Octopi are one of the more extraordinary creatures undersea; I like to think of them as the cats of the water-world, for all the same reasons cats have been held in such high esteem throughout culture and through time. “Can we keep him?” she asks quizzically. “Well, only for the afternoon, Honey.  That guy needs oxygen to breath, and I’m not sure how much is in that tank.  Besides, he has hardly anything to hide in or behind, and he’s probably very stressed being here.  But let’s enjoy him now, and then we all can return him to his home tonight after dinner.”

Old Sunabe Seawall

Old Sunabe Seawall

We took many photos of her catch, but alas they are not in my digital photo-stream, most likely a victim of my divorce and division of property split and lost.  I yearn for those pictures as I write, and I won’t lie:  I lament their demise, along with moments shared with my children such as these….  I, like many, nostalgically long for the past, the version of what once was but is no longer.  This idea of tying the past, perhaps more idolized, to the present, perhaps in hopes of easing our way, is at the very nature of the human condition.  Recycling the past is almost impossible to avoid as we live our lives and constantly are forced to leave the past behind and create, hopefully, a better, fuller, richer and more satisfying future.

I do have photos of Naomi receiving her gifts!

I do have photos of Naomi receiving her gifts!

Non-Evil Birthday Graffiti

Non-Evil Birthday Graffiti

The seawall has grown, changed, and become modernized, directly analogous to all the personal changes we all experience in the passage of time.  Left behind are the fond memories of my children exploring this oceanic playground, along with the graffiti which one adorned this place.  The seawall’s very structure, like the basic underlying foundation of my person, has been rebuilt and strengthened, able to withstand better the tests of time and stormy conditions.  Esthetically, the seawall is much improved, offering far better amenities, accessibility, and general appearance.  I would like to think of both of us as aging gracefully with time.

Fish Clowning Around on the Sunabe Seawall

Fish Clowning Around on the Sunabe Seawall

Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson:  You find the present tense and the past perfect.  Impossible to avoid, it is however neither harmful when embraced appropriately.  The loving and fond reminiscences of this bygone space can easily be retrieved from disposed memory, wiped off, painted over and recycled to embrace once again anew.  And although the Sunabe Seawall can never be overvalued, I will attempt to do just that starting today, writing as I will so often, surveying the seawall and its constant neighbor the sea from the looking glass of nostalgic soul and contemporary home. The Sunabe Seawall is dead…. Long live the Sunabe Seawall!

The Recycled Seawall; Still Worth It

The Recycled Seawall; Still Worth It