New-fad water sport in Japan gains in popularity, and accidents

Courtesy of Rage On
A participant in a SUP trial class, left, learns how to paddle.

As the popularity of the new water sport known as stand-up paddleboarding grows throughout the nation, so have the related accidents.

Ranging from collisions with boats to being swept out to sea, the incidences have prompted the Japan Coast Guard to urge participants to be cautious, including wearing life jackets.

In stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP, the paddler stands on a board similar to a surfboard and uses a single paddle to propel themselves on the water. The beginner-friendly sport has gained a wide base of enthusiasts, from children to the elderly.

At Rage On, a sporting goods store in Uchinada, Ishikawa Prefecture, SUP boards have been selling well for the past five or six years, and a trial class held on the weekend draws about 10 people per day.

But there are caveats. “SUPs can easily be taken a kilometer offshore,” Rage On manager Makoto Mitsui said. “A beginner can lose control in a wind speed of 3 meters per second.”

The JCG said there were 32 SUP-related accidents reported in 2019, a number that grew to 66 in 2020 and 68 in 2021. As many as 90% were caused when the paddler became unable to return to shore on their own. Many of the cases were due to inadequate preparation and knowledge of weather and sea conditions.

Last month, a couple in their 40s went out to sea from the city of Noto Island in Nanao, Ishikawa Prefecture, on SUPs to go fishing, but became stranded on offshore rocks and could not get back. At the time, there were wind gusts up to 10 mps and it was raining.

In September last year in Fukui Prefecture, a woman on a SUP was killed in a collision with a fishing boat.

Prompted by the rash of accidents, the JCG took the lead in forming a SUP safety promotion project team with related organizations on March 15. The team compiled a safety pamphlet and implemented other measures.

“We want the paddlers to be well aware of the weather and sea conditions before heading out,” a JCG official in charge said. “We will soon provide guidance to instructors and SUP retailers as well.”

Yoshiaki Fukuda, president of the Yokohama-based Stand Up Paddleboard Association said, “One cause of accidents is that a beginner will buy a board online and then get started without receiving any help from an instructor.

“We want people to enjoy the sport safely by listening to safety instructions at actual SUP stores or picking up knowledge and skills at trial classes.”