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I have long been drawn to the idea of riding down the mountains to meet the waves that I had surfed on the same day. So for the past decade I’ve scoured the entire Hokkaido coastline to find the perfect line. Surfing and snowboarding on the same day, while uncommon, is not unheard of in Hokkaido. However, finding the perfect place to achieve this dream day takes a fair bit of planning and a certain amount of luck.
I had driven around the island at least a dozen times, and made repeat visits to locations that I thought might bring together the right conditions. After spending an inordinate amount of time on Google Earth, I was now armed with a huge photographic archive of locations as well as topographic maps of the entire island. I had honed it down to six potential locations where I thought that we would be able to ski and surf in one day.
With the help of professional riders Richie Carroll and Ben Comber, I spent the entire winter constantly checking conditions and waiting for the winds and snow to line up perfectly. With an inkling that the coming week might just produce the ideal conditions, we loaded the car with all the camping, surfing and snowboarding equipment we could squeeze in and set off for what would become a true winter adventure.
After a long day of driving and searching for the location we had pinpointed, we finally arrived at the trail-head. It was time to leave the car, load up our backpacks with enough gear, food and supplies for three nights in the snow. Slowly we headed off, snowshoes on our feet and 20kg on our backs.
We arrived at our selected site and stood atop a flattened plateau of snow overlooking the ocean just some 50 metres from our tent. We joked that it would be the ultimate beach campsite if only it was about 40 degrees warmer. The waves were small, but looked fun and after all the hiking Richie wasted no time suiting up and paddling out into the four degree water. However, the initial shock of the cold water hitting his body almost had Richie rushing back to the car.
From the beach Ben and I stood boot deep in snow, watching Richie tuck into a few small peeling waves. We quickly downed cameras, suited up and followed him into the water. When I duck-dived my first wave the cold was almost indescribable. An instant ice-cream headache ensued and Ben and I cast doubtful glances at each other – no wonder Richie had made such a fuss when he hit the water. We paddled into a few more waves and made the effort to try to keep our heads above water as much as possible. I remember yelling to Ben: ‘No more duck diving, if I do, I’ll pass out’.
Before rigor mortis set into my limbs, I headed back to the beach. I crunched my way across the snow covered rocks back to our gear and dressed urgently, cladding myself with every layer I had. Ben returned shortly after with blue lips and a fear in his eyes that said he might never be warm again.
Ben and I decided that the best way to get warm quickly was a brisk hike and to ride a few lines back down to camp. We set off quickly, leaving Richie to catch up if he didn’t become a floating human iceberg. The snow cover looked good and we picked a nice ridgeline. Looking back down we could see Richie, now back at camp, almost visibly shivering even from this distance. We dropped into a couple of great runs with Ben sending his half frozen body over a small cliff with encouraging yelps from below as Richie watched on.
Returning to camp we were pumped. A fun surf session followed by some great powder turns right above the ocean side campsite – this day was proving hard to beat. But Richie was less excited – he was seriously cold and ended up leaving us to set up the campsite and climbed fully dressed into a sleeping bag in an attempt to get warm again.
However, even Richie had to admit after dinner that life was as good as it could be. We sat around the roaring fire, hugging glasses of whisky and talking about what possibilities lay ahead for us the next day. We crept into our tents as the fire extinguished itself into the snow and fell asleep with dreams of snow and the sound of surf.
Waking late to the sound of seagulls, I dragged the zip of the tent open and slipped my feet into my semi-frozen snowboard boots. The sun was just powering up behind the clouds and it looked promising. The milky blue sky looked likely to clear as the warmth of the day was burning off the straggling snow clouds. We kickstarted ourselves with a quick breakfast of coffee and noodles, then hurriedly checking our gear and started loading our bags.
Saddling up with our reduced weight packs, we set off on a scouting mission with the hope of some perfect ocean front turns. We ferreted our way through an almost impenetrable forest, climbed high along ridgelines leading us into the mountains from the beach. Our exploration was difficult and at times irritating, as we would make it so far, only to be met with a rock band picketed by walls of gnarled silver birch twisted into aggressive shapes by the prevailing ocean gales. The light of the day faded casting a shadow across our plans… We had managed a full day of hiking and were yet to line up for one turn. Returning to the tent we settled into a more sombre and seemingly much colder evening.
Armed with the knowledge from our scouting mission, we set off earlier the next day; we searched a great deal further and hiked higher into the coastal peaks trying to get a glimpse of what we could see on our topographic maps. Eventually, cresting a small peak, I scrambled through some shrubs to look out upon one of the most incredible landscapes I have ever seen. Magnificent rocks surging from the ocean and forming a beautiful double bay with steep snow-covered terrain falling away to the ocean. I couldn’t believe my eyes, somewhere deep in my gut I knew it existed – but this was it, we’d discovered what we quickly renamed “Miracle Bay”.
Richie and Ben pushed through the bushes behind me and their scratched faces lit up with amazement as they looked down at what we’d found. The rest of the afternoon was just pure fun. We rode lines to the beach, skidding all the way to the water’s edge. Each of us scouted and rode our own ridgeline and found great snow with perfect turns, all the while watching the waves we’d ridden earlier crash onto the rocky shoreline below.
It was a miracle to get consecutive days of perfect weather and a miracle to find the right combination of snow and terrain. That miracle was underpinned by a great deal of hard work over a long time and our snow camping trip had come very close to satisfying my desire to realise a dream of true snow surf synergy… But for me, the adventure never ends and the search through the pristine wilderness of Hokkaido has only just begun.
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