Tomo: "Ocean Lover" and SUP Pro
Did you know that X-Wear sells Stand-Up Paddleboards (SUP) and assorted gear? During the summer, we also offer rentals on Cape Cod in Falmouth and Provincetown. Our latest blog below highlights one Hawaiian athlete making waves on her own Stand-Up Paddleboard.
Though originally from Kamakura, Japan, Tomoko “Tomo” Okazaki is as Hawaiian as they come. Tomo has taken to the water like a native, spending many of her days there since first moving to Maui in 1987. She even ends her emails with “Aloha,” a sign that there’s a little (or a lot) of the island culture in her blood.
X-Wear recently caught up with Tomo to discuss her love of outdoor sports. She has been windsurfing for over 30 years, snowboarding for more than 20 years, kite surfing for 17 years and Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP) for 10 years, competing in all of these sports at a high level.
Living in Maui, Tomo was exposed to these new sports during their infancy. “It was a struggle to learn, but that made it super fun and exciting,” she told us. “I really like being a beginner because you struggle, but you find and learn something new every day… Being a beginner at something humbles you and we all need that once in a while. Learning how to kite and SUP was a constantly humbling experience. But if you keep at it, there is always a reward when you least expect it. That’s what keeps me going.”
X-Wear: How were you introduced to SUP and what was it about the sport that drew you in?
Tomo: My friend Laird Hamilton (www.lairdhamilton.com) was one of the early pioneers of SUP. Of course, some Waikiki beach boys back in the day used to stand up and paddle on a board, but the sport we call SUP owes Laird a lot.
Anyway, Laird had his first SUP board shaped by the master (surfer) Gerry Lopez. It was a 12-foot glass board and so heavy duty that I could barely carry it. My friends took me out and that first day the water was super flat and glassy. It was easy and beautiful.
The second time wasn’t so easy. There was a South swell and the waves were breaking overhead. I thought it was just a summer swell so it wouldn’t be too powerful and I’d be able to handle wiping out as long as I stayed away from people. I paddled out and fell right, front and back. I managed to shoot that heavy glass board right into my nose and broke it. Since the waves were super good that day all my buddies continued to surf without knowing that I was laying on the beach with a bloody, broken nose. I had to wait there three hours until I got home.
After that incident I decided to take it slow with baby steps. I learned to paddle and balance. Then I would take on white wash that winter before I started going to the real breaks.
XW: How did you make the transition from a casual Stand-Up Paddleboarder to a competitive one?
Tomo: I am not that competitive, never have been. I did some races like The Maliko Run (in Maui) and Island Crossings, but always for fun.
I travel a lot, write travel stories about SUP and teach at clinics and camps for the Japanese, but I’ve never considered myself a professional. More like an ocean lover. And if I compete, it is mostly because I enjoy the challenge and meeting people, not because I want to win the race.
XW: You’re also a pro-kite surfer. Can you describe your training for kite surfing and SUP and what’s needed to compete at a high level for each?
Tomo: These days, I don’t compete in either of the sports very much, but I can tell you what you need to do because I have competed as a pro-windsurfer and kite surfer for almost 30 years.
You need to ride harder and more than others. Talent helps, but more time in the water and dedication, both mentally and physically, is what is needed. Anyone can be at a world class level if you put your energy into it and you believe in yourself. That’s because kite surfing and SUP is not at the level of professional tennis or football. No matter what, you have to give 120% and that includes what you eat and how you think. And you have to surround yourself with world class top professionals if you want to become one.
XW: As an outdoor athlete, how do you benefit from sunglasses?
Tomo: I used to think I didn’t need them, that they were just for cool people. But for the last 15 years or so I started to feel that my eyes were weakening. Being on the water with the sun’s glare hurts your eyes much more than I expected. When I was learning to kite, I was crashing and getting dragged in the water all the time. With the salt water and constant rubbing, my eyes would really hurt. And being on a sand-blasted beach doesn’t help either so now I wear a good pair of polarized glasses to protect my eyes.
XW: In the summer, you can be found on the water, kite surfing, wind surfing or Stand-Up Paddleboarding. In the winter, you can be found on the mountain, snowboarding. Explain your connection to the outdoors and athletics.
Tomo: To me, being in the water and being on a mountain gives me the exact same feeling: surfing waves of all forms.
SUP allows you to surf tiny waves that a regular surfboard won’t be able to catch. And if you’re downwind paddling, it’s a constant glide like you’re surfing for hours. Kite surfing and windsurfing give you that same experience with wind. Snowboarding is so close to the feeling of surfing that you forget you are on the snow. And you can choose which waves to ride all over the mountain.
Each sport gives you a real sense of freedom and being connected to the planet. And they’ll slap you, figuratively speaking, as soon as you get even a tiny bit of cockiness.