Opening image: Sam and Takashi in the Basque Country as they discussed ideas for their most recent trip together. Photo Thomas Lodin

“A Longing For A Land I’ve Never Seen”: Sam And Takashi’s European Tour

For those of us who are neither thoroughbred surfers nor young guns who grew up in close contact with the sea as a matter of course, we need to do our jobs, which are the foundation of our existence, and allow our families to live a fulfilling life before embarking on a journey. Rights are given. This report is about the journey of myself and Sam Yoon, who both have two children and are both surfboard shapers.


“I want to go to Hawaii, but I also want to do something else,'' says Sam, a surfboard-making master who lives in Australia. 


"Well, I'd like to go to Europe," I reply. 


"That's great,” says Sam. “It would be great if we could travel while camping like we did in Hawaii." Sam is remembering a trip we took to Maui and Kauai three years ago. At that time, we travelled by van, camped in tents, cooked our own meals using local ingredients as much as possible, and spent the entire day at sea whenever there were waves. When there were no waves, he practiced yoga in the mountains and followed the rhythms of nature in preparation for what was to come. We both agreed that this was the journey we were looking for.


A longing for a land I have never seen before. I want to leave the small island nation of Japan and experience firsthand the size of the world. Start by drawing an outline with a pencil, then test your hand-shaped surfboard in the Atlantic Ocean to your heart's content! A new challenge. We reaffirmed our true feelings deep within our hearts of wanting to test our potential, said goodbye to our wives and children, and set out on a journey.

Only taking one surfboard each on the trip, Sam opted for a 7’7” which he would surf in anything between two and 20 feet. The board was right at home on the offshore reef of south-west France’s Parliamentia. Photo Thomas Lodin

I packed a surfboard I’d shaped and camping gear in my bag and met up with Sam at the airport in Dubai. France, Spain, and Portugal are the countries I want to visit on this trip. I chose Madrid Airport, which is located in the middle, in order to go to the place with the best wind and waves as soon as we arrived.

Up until now, I had only ever checked waves in the Pacific Ocean, but I was surprised to see the height of waves in the Atlantic Ocean in winter. Just like in Hawaii in the winter, the waves remain bright red, indicating large waves. We decided to make the Basque Country – which straddles France and Spain – our first destination. We rented a campervan with a kitchen, toilet, and shower, and our trip began.

The one surfboard I brought on this trip was 8'3”. Actually, I had prepared a 6'3” as well, but I had too much baggage and couldn't fit it on the airline, so it was a one-shot deal. Sam’s one board was 7'7”. He says he should be able to ride up to 20-foot waves on that board. I wonder how far the board he carved himself will be able to pass the big waves in Europe.

Sam surfing into the sunset in the Basque Country. Photo Thomas Lodin

We met up with some of Sam's friends and they took him to a point called Parliamentia where there were big waves. The wave had a wide face, similar to Hawaii’s Sunset, and was perfect for testing the board's performance. Most of the surfers use big-wave guns. Sam rides a surfboard that is shorter than them and nearly 10cm thick. When I tried riding that thick surfboard before, I had trouble adjusting the timing due to the buoyancy, but once I got used to it, I was able to take off as quickly as a big-wave gun, and the shorter board made it easier to manoeuvre. It was overwhelmingly easy.

This time, I incorporated the design concept that Sam came up with into the board I brought. The blanks are kiriflex made from paulownia from Miyazaki Prefecture. I wanted to feel the bend of the wood, so this is a surfboard with original fins carved from a single piece of paulownia wood.

With the waves of Parliamentia, I was able to experience how the outline I had drawn with a pencil entered the water and flowed. I carefully rode each wave to check the flex of the fins and the balance of buoyancy. The compatibility with the fins – which are made as thin as possible compared to the EPS material, which is generally described as hard – made it feel comfortable to ride. However, is it good or bad? To be honest, it's still difficult to express in one word. I had a few serious wipeouts during my trip, and I don't know if it was the board, myself, or both. I don't have an answer yet. Sam teaches us that even if you don't feel good at first, the more you get into it, the better it may become. There are some boards that are like leather products, and the more you use them, the more their flavour comes out.

There’s a renaissance feel to the Fantastic Acid shaping factory, where Sam had a connection with shaper, Tristan Mausse. Photo Thomas Lodin

I had the opportunity to visit Tristan Mausse, the shaper of Fantastic Acid, who I had wanted to meet someday since I started carving my own boards. We surfed together at his home point. Sam and Tristan exchange boards in the ocean and confirm each other's philosophies. I was the first to get out of the water and watched as two people took off into the waves at the same time. Tristan on a 10-foot gun and Sam on his 7'7”. As I watched them glide as if dancing while sharing the same wave, I couldn't help but change back into my wetsuit and head back out to sea. I also wanted to be a part of that beautiful scene. Seeing this surfing style that is the opposite of contest surfing, I am reminded of the ‘freedom of surfing’. I was convinced that this was the path I wanted to pursue.

Later, at the Fantastic Acid factory, Sam was to carve a board for Tristan. I think it's rare for shapers to take orders from other shapers. By riding the waves with each other's boards and sharing the same wave, they may have developed a feeling that only they could understand. Sam placed the template he had brought from Australia on a new blank, drew an outline, and cut it off with a handsaw. Hand shapers, who can work all over the world as long as they have the materials, looked very cool as both surfers and craftsmen. We silently watched as Sam sawed vertically and rhythmically.

After a while, Tristan also starts shaping in the shaping room next door. A few days ago, they were sharing a wave in the ocean, and the next they were shaping each other's surfboards in the same space. It's been less than three years since I first started shaping, so it was a precious time that I will treasure for the rest of my life. The two looked filled with a sense of accomplishment.

A gifted handshaper, Sam took the opportunity to shape a board in the Fantastic Acid factory. Photo Thomas Lodin

The next morning, when we met up on the beach, there were 3-to-4-foot waves winding around the tube. The swell from offshore collects and digs up on the inside, and if you don't time it quickly, you'll be smashed into the shallow sand. A year ago, I suffered a serious injury that broke my ankle on a similar wave, so I chose my waves as carefully as possible. I got into a few barrels but couldn't make them, but Sam and Tristan were able to catch the waves well and make them. My 8'3” board may not have been suitable for this wave. However, just like with a samurai's sword, I told myself to be one-hearted and focused on matching the rhythm of the waves, and eventually I was able to catch a few good ones.

“My 8'3” board may not have been suitable for this wave,” says Takashi of the French beachbreak above. “However, just like with a samurai's sword, I told myself to be one-hearted and focused on matching the rhythm of the waves, and eventually I was able to catch a few good ones.” Photo Thomas Lodin

Before I lose my concentration, I go up and look at the ocean while biting into an apple. Then Sam was on his knees on the beach. I noticed that something was wrong and approached him, he said, “I felt a surfboard hit me in the stomach... but it's okay,” so I go back into the sea with a peace of mind. Sam entered the sea, but instead of riding the waves, he returned to the shore. I saw him lying slumped on the sand, and I immediately got out of the water, realising this was no accident.

“Are you okay?''

“It's not okay, I almost blacked out when I tried to ride the wave.''

He fell to his knees as he spoke. Sam, who has always been superhuman, starts to lose his energy, feeling like a completely different person. His friend Thomas, who was taking his picture, and Tristan also look into Sam's face with concern. He immediately called an ambulance after receiving advice from a bodyboarder who had come out of the water. “It's best not to move him because he might be bleeding internally.'' He says he's a nurse. Mr. Sam's complexion changes and he begins to fall asleep. Thomas holds his hand to keep him from falling asleep. He barely manages to get out of his wetsuit, change into warm clothes, and wait for the ambulance. How many hours had he waited? Just as the sun was about to set, a 4WD ambulance finally arrived, allowing us to exit the beach.

Staggering up the beach, Sam knew there was something wrong after being hit in the stomach by his board. After emergency surgery the following day, Sam and Takashi continued their surf trip, Sam still with stitches. Photo Thomas Lodin

Shortly after 9pm, I received a call from Sam, who sounded like a different person, saying, “I'm having surgery tomorrow.'' I said, “Please take a good rest today,'' and hung up. The next day, I went to see Sam in the ICU after surgery. He was hit in the stomach so hard that 1.5 litres of blood was removed from internal bleeding. Apparently, the doctor said that if they had reacted a little longer, he wouldn't have survived.

Can we continue our journey together? What if the surgery doesn't go well? I calmed down my negative emotions by taking a few breaths. Thomas was so concerned about me that he let me stay at his house. If it hadn't been for my buddy’s injury, staying at a Frenchman's house might not have happened in my life. As I was worried about Sam, who was in the hospital, he greeted me with his French-style gentlemanly demeanour. I feel like the warm hospitality and behaviour of the French people I met through Sam helped me improve my interpersonal skills.

On the third day after the surgery, I received a message from Sam saying, “Onigiri and miso soup please.'' Feeling happy, I cooked some rice in the hospital parking lot and gave him rice balls and miso soup. He was discharged from the hospital the next day and said, “Let's continue our trip as planned!'' Are you really okay in your heart? Though I thought so, I prioritised his feelings and resumed my journey. It takes a full day to reach north-western Spain from France. In the evening in the Galicia region, the beautiful small waves that I love were breaking.

(Left) After Takashi headed back to Japan, Sam stayed on, waiting for a big North Atlantic swell on the island of Madeira. (Right) Madeira, a slice of Europe out in the middle of the Atlantic. Photos Dom Crowley

When you ride a wave on a surfboard that has sufficient buoyancy even on small waves without power, you will be happy to see how much fun you can have. Relax as much as possible in the most powerful sections of the wave to maximise the energy of the wave. A very pleasant moment while riding the waves. You can enjoy the riding of the board, which has been carved with the aim of enjoying everything from big waves to small waves. How lucky am I? As I rode the waves in the beautiful sunset, I was filled with the joy of being able to resume my journey and the feeling of being so glad that Sam was alive. When I got out of the water, he was cooking me a warm stew in the camper. He toasted the joy of his journey with a little red wine.

Sam, who returned to surfing the day after arriving in Portugal, still has three wounds on his stomach that have been stitched up, but was he really okay? He was riding powerful waves that made me think. As I was crossing the waves, I heard him laughing and saying, “The thread that was sewn on me broke,'' and all I could do was laugh bitterly. I can't stop him. I was relieved that I had no choice but to enjoy being with him as my travel buddy until the end. We returned the rented campervan in Madrid to head to our final destination – Madeira Island. The distance was approximately 4000km, the same as a round trip from Miyazaki to Hokkaido.

I learned about the existence of Madeira Island from a photo displayed in Kamakura, and when I visited Madeira Island as the final destination of my trip, we searched for a campsite using Google Maps and my wild instincts. There have been times when I set up a tent in the dark and woke up in the morning to see over 100 goats passing right in front of me, and when I opened the tent zipper, there was a cow right there. Every morning, I look forward to making coffee over a gasoline burner and enjoying a latte made with oat milk and manuka honey.

Staying in a tent teaches you about phenomena that you don't usually pay attention to, such as the path of the wind, the angle at which the sun rises, and the direction in which the moon sets. For the first time in a while, I experienced the pleasure of waking up thinking of the waves, and I felt a sense of fulfillment. By feeling the rhythm of nature as much as possible, wouldn't we be better able to tune in to the rhythm of the waves?

Sam with a drawn out, long-rail turn at Jardim de Mar. Photo Dom Crowley

Point Jardim de Mar in that photo didn't have enough undulations. With a strong swell forecast for the next few days, we had to decide whether to extend our stay or not. Just like at the beginning of the journey, we check with our wives. Sam, who had been talking about possibly extending his stay before he left, decided to extend it. But when I heard that my dog was in a critical condition, I couldn't bring myself to enjoy the trip, and I thought that I would regret not being there for my family when it was going through a difficult time, rather than not being able to ride the amazing waves. I decided to return home.

I was already satisfied with the idea of being away from home for a month and traveling around Europe. It took me four days just to return to Miyazaki from Madeira Island, and I realised that I had travelled quite far. When I met my dog and family who had desperately tried to survive and waited for me, I was able to deeply appreciate the meaning of the trip.

Then, I received a call from Sam, who had made a superhuman comeback and told me that he had surfed a beautiful big wave at Jardim de Mar. I was as happy as if it were my own.

Opening image: Sam and Takashi in the Basque Country as they discussed ideas for their most recent trip together. Photo Thomas Lodin


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