Swimming and snorkeling has always been a part of my life in Okinawa. For me, it’s not just a hobby or something to do on a sunny day. It’s a part of my soul.
Diving into the ocean is like bursting through another universe. I leave the world behind. As the cool salty water encapsulates my body, I instantly become free. I am an observer with blank thoughts and primitive emotions. I feel the coldness of the depths and the warmth of the surface. I am curious and amazed at the abundance of life. I am soothed by the endless infinity of blue. And, I am afraid of the unknown and unseen.
When I get out and step onto land, the water dripping off my body is like shedding away my old skin, leaving me free of the negativity and stress that had been attached to me. A new skin that is innocent and free. It is the perfect way to start the day and why I love morning swims.
But morning swims have not always been a part of my life. Growing up in New Jersey, trips to the beach were limited to a few times during summer vacations. I remember the vast expanses of sand with hordes of people sitting under beach parasols. The sea was murky and uninviting. When wading at the water’s edge, I couldn’t even see my feet. Trying to be brave and going a bit further out, crabs would bite at my toes and rip currents threatened to pull me away from the safety of the shore. It was not pleasurable. Back then, the sea was not my friend.
But these negative feelings toward the ocean disappeared during my first trip to Okinawa, when my uncle took me and my brother out to the reef to snorkel on his tiny fishing boat. I remember being hypnotized by all the amazing colors and shapes. It was like staring at a painting of nature. As I swam further out, the vastness of blue was mesmerizing and mysterious. I was addicted. I was only 17, but that day changed me.
My grandfather would tell me stories of the sea. He had the eyes of a fisherman and you could hear the sound of the sea in his voice. Listening to his stories instilled a deeper sense of curiosity and connection to the sea within me.
I can honestly say the ocean played a big part in my decision to return and live in Okinawa. If my mother’s home had been in the city, I am pretty sure that my first experience visiting Okinawa would have been different. Meeting my Okinawan family still would have been life-changing, but the fact that they lived and breathed the sea — a sea that was the most beautiful I had ever seen — was a compelling factor that made me want to stay here.
When I first began living in Okinawa, I spent countless hours in the ocean. My friends also enjoyed the water, so we used to snorkel, kayak, and camp on the beach. We made several camping trips up to the northern part of Okinawa and even to the outer Islands. We would strap 4 kayaks to the roof of one van and pack all our gear inside. Those days were filled with memorable moments. There is nothing like spending an entire day discovering the sea’s magic. At night, the sound of the waves became part of our dreams.
I also worked on the beach as a lifeguard at one of the resorts here in Onna-son. In the mornings, before work, I usually would swim under this tiny foot bridge that connected two sea jetties. I would jump in and instantly be greeted by a school of tiny fish that congregated there. Being alone with these tiny fish friends under the early morning rays of sun was intoxicating.
Even after becoming a father, Komaki and I would take our kids to the beach. They were introduced to the sea from the time they were in the womb and have been swimming ever since.
I have also been fortunate to swim in many places around the world. I love the blueness of the Aegean Sea, the awesomeness of the waters surrounding Hawaii, and the exotic feeling of swimming in South East Asia. But, I will always be partial to the sea surrounding Okinawa, especially the sea here at Cape Maeda — our home.