Rugged looks and a friendly smile are Yusei Ikariyama defining marks. The Amami Oshima-born pro surfer is also a nature-loving environmentalist.
“I owe the joy of surfing to the gifts of nature, and I want to preserve this nature for future generations too.” This desire drives Yusei to commit his days to beach cleaning and environmental conservation activities. He says his motto at all times is to be “in conflict with no one.”
A prime surf spot of Amami Oshima is the stunning Tebiro Beach, home to native coastal plants like sea bindweed, and a rare spawning ground for sea turtles. About ten years ago, however, a plan was hatched to construct a seawall here, called the Tebiro Beach Park Development Project. To preserve the precious nature, Yusei organized an environmental survey, ran a petition campaign, and succeeded in setting up a forum for discussion with the administrators. The project was called off in the end, but not without consideration for the local contractors who expected to take on the construction work. Yusei proposed the installation of an eco-friendly honeycomb gravel grid in the parking lot, and renovating the adjacent changing room facilities. His idea was welcomed and resulted in the call-off. “I wanted a solution that everyone could agree with,” says Yusei. His ultimate aim is a new model of public works that helps to enhance and enrich the nature.
Tebiro Beach connects to one of Amami’s best big-wave locations, Villa Beach. There’s an aging, deteriorating jetty here that is more than half buried in the sand and no longer serves its purpose as a mooring. Yusei envisions removing this jetty and returning the coastline to its natural state.
“With the jetty removed, Villa Beach would be one of Japan’s longest beaches free of man-made structures. I think we’re entering an era where our sense of value is shifting away from development. I’d like to see public funds allocated to the restoration of nature, and the work assigned to local contractors. That kind of system would cause no conflict, it would enrich Amami’s nature, and it would make everyone happy. I’d like to present the opportunity for positive change.”
A fierce debate continues over whether or not to build a seawall in the island’s southeast area of Katoku. Katoku Beach, aka the “Jurassic beach of Amami,” is the only natural beach village left in Amami Oshima. But Kagoshima Prefecture plans to complete the construction of a seawall in fiscal year 2023, and the residents are divided over the issue. By chance, Yusei traced his family’s roots back to Katoku, and this has fanned his desire to safeguard everyone’s future, not through conflict but through discussion.
“I have a whole bunch of ideas. For example, I’d like to convert the closed-down schools in the villages into art and nature facilities for children. I don’t want to be in conflict. What I want to do is make. I want to work together and make positive changes, however small, because that’s the only way to shift to the next stage. If I could have fun during the process, then that’s even better!”
Yusei Ikariyama was born in 1984 in Amami. He made his surfing debut in the first year of middle school and earned Japanese professional surfer certification at the age of 23. He runs Amami’s only surf shop, Can.nen Surf, while dedicating his efforts to environmentalist activities. Yusei is a surfing ambassador of Patagonia.