Can you imagine a place where you can ski, snowboard AND surf? On the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan, the world of snow sports and surfing collide… and it does not disappoint! I fell head over heels for Hokkaido! It was complete with snow-covered wilderness, silent birch forests, winding rivers, Shinto shrines, powder-covered mountains, natural hot springs at every turn, oceans to both east and west, and the richness of Japanese culture everywhere!
I’ve always wanted to go to a place where I could surf and snowboard on the same trip, and Japan was the perfect destination for this and getting there was easy with All Nippon Airways. I planned my trip from Honolulu, Hawaii to Sapporo, Japan seamlessly through ANA’s Japan Travel Planner site. I flew Economy Class on my way over and was very pleasantly surprised by the comfort and service. They also had a vegan in-flight food option, which I was really excited about! And surfboards fly free, yay!
After two easy flights to arrive in the northern island of Japan, my friend Lucia and I found ourselves in the little town of Niseko – a popular ski and snowboard destination that boasts some of the best powder in the world! Niseko is also the home of legendary Taro Tamai, an iconic Japanese snowboarder who invented snow-surf riding, an alternative genre of snowboarding. Snow surfers ride snowboards shaped exclusively for using the rails to turn and maneuver as if riding a wave on the snow. The board combines certain elements of a surfboard, snowboard, and skateboard.
We were so excited to get on the mountain and start riding that we went straight to Taro Tamai’s Gentemstick shop to demo some of these boards. , since Niseko is the home of legendary Taro Tamai, who brought snow-surf riding to Japan, and Tamai continues to bring surf style to the mountains with his nature-inspired snowboard shapes.
Upon arrival, it was snowing, and we couldn’t believe our luck to get fresh powder in March! With four mountain resorts all connected, we joyfully explored the beautiful runs and soaked in the views of the glorious Mount Yōtei. We snow-surfed on our rad boards until our legs gave out. We even got to take a few runs with the Gentemstick crew, and their snow-surf style blew our minds!
The snow kept falling over the next couple days, so we decided to have a go in the back-country — my first time! My new friend Shino is an expert guide at the Powder Company Niseko, so she readied us with avalanche beacons and led us back into some of the most glorious powder turns of our lives. My smile could not get any bigger! We had so much fun that day that we signed up for another Powder Company adventure — hiking into the backcountry with snowshoes to ride down some untouched mountain faces. We got our cardio in on the way up, and I adored the feeling of getting farther and farther into the wild mountains. Our guides led us to some magical places!
After years of dreaming of a snow + surf trip, when Shino offered to take us out on the water, we had to give it a go (even if it meant dipping in freezing water – 6 C / 42 F degrees to be exact!). We journeyed north5 hours from Niseko to Kushiro, a town along Hokkaido’s northeastern coast to ride the waves.
Putting on a wetsuit in the frigid air was a whole new challenge, but once I was in the water, the waves were amazing and the icy ocean made me feel delightfully vital! I have to say… the small crew of locals were much warmer than the water! They would call out for each other’s waves and truly made us feel welcome to enjoy their waters. Shino and I even rode a few waves together. I couldn’t believe how magical it was to surf with snow-covered peaks in the background!
As if riding the mountains and surfing wasn’t enough of a treat, Hokkaido has another secret. The hot springs—they’re everywhere! ‘Onsens’ as they are called in Japan, are a normal part of Hokkaido lifestyle, especially because the area is full of them. Either first thing in the morning or after a long day, locals go to bathe and soak in the healing waters of the natural mineral hot springs. The steamy pools quickly soothed our stiff bodies from all the fun we’d been having. Most had an outside pool where we could watch the snow fall or enjoy the contrast of the cool air and decadent hot waters.
On top of all the fun activities and natural beauty of the area, the kind Hokkaido people and Japanese culture mesmerized me. Every meal blew my mind with the freshness and flavors of each ingredient, as well as the presentation of each dish! The attention to detail with which they carried out even the smallest of tasks showed a deep awareness and pride in everything they do. From how food is prepared, to how they waxed their snowboards meticulously, and to the systematic and timely public transportation, nothing gets overlooked! There is an underlying respect for others in the way people interact, even strangers. Never hurried, everything is done with such presence and care. It was even something I noticed while flying ANA,—a genuine feeling of kindness and hospitality I hope some of the Japanese style rubs off on me!
This trip was truly one for the bucket list. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience in Japan. The region of Hokkaido provides the best mountains for snow sports and great waves for surfing! I highly recommend it for both adventure seekers and the culture hungry travelers!