The unique ocean downwind race in Japan with a total prize of €6000

Only 30 brave paddles can line up for the KANAKA Okinawa O2Y Summer Race, held on the challenging waters of Okinawa, Japan, on June 26. This prestigious 30 km downwind race, curated by Takuji Araki, a stalwart in the paddleboarding community and a keen promoter of cultural legacy, transcends traditional sport. As racers traverse the historical waterways once navigated by the ancient Ryukyu seafarers, they not only embrace a physical challenge but also connect with a lineage of maritime heritage that shaped the Pacific Rim. With the race celebrating its 10th anniversary, a total prize of €6000 will be distributed among the winners.

Dear Takuji, the uniqueness of the KANAKA Okinawa O2Y summer race is quite apparent on your website. You’re committee/ race director of the KANAKA Okinawa O2Y summer race. Most paddlers probably know you as the father of one of the most shining SUP stars, Shrimpy (aka Shuri Araki). Could you share more about your personal journey with paddleboarding and how it intertwines with your role in this event?

I have experienced Open Ocean surfski/prone paddling and Surf-Lifesaving since I was young. In particular, I have participated in the Molokai-to-Oahu (Hawaii) crossing race a total of 36 times and have sailed across the deep ocean in a historical Okinawan fishing boat. I’m currently focusing on coaching my son, but paddling has always been my most important lifestyle. Since I entered my 30s, I have been living in Hawaii and volunteered for an ancient canoe project called “Hokule’a”. I went on a 6-month voyage from Hawaii to Japan, navigating using only the stars and the sun without using modern technology. I felt firsthand the history of human ancestors crossing the ocean and spreading to the Pacific Rim.

The O2Y race carries a significant historical heritage. Can you enlighten us about the story of the Ryukyu waterman crossing and its inspiration behind the race?

Okinawa has a very deep history and was once home to the Ryukyu Dynasty. They had their own language, different from modern Japanese. Since then, Okinawa’s watermen have been using sailing and paddling to travel freely across distant islands while catching fish. After World War II, Okinawa was placed under US administration for 20 years under the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951. Historically, an invisible border was established at 27 degrees north latitude, the venue for the O2Y race, and many families and maritime cultures were forcibly separated. We ocean paddlers are goodwill ambassadors that connect islands, past and future. This is the hope and value of O2Y event and what makes it so unique, I guess.

The 30 km long ocean race sounds challenging. Who should consider signing up for this adrenaline-pumping event?

We load the paddlers and boards onto the boat at the starting point in Okinawa, set off, travel about 30 minutes into the point where the wind is blowing straight, and jump into the open ocean. There are no buoys along the way, and the goal is when you reach the beach of Yoron Island. All paddlers will be surrounded by safety boats to ensure everyone does not spread out over a wide area. All boat captains are tuna fishermen who have been familiar with this area for decades. We welcome all paddlers who get goosebumps, excitement, or tingles from hearing this story. Last January, we held a qualifying event for domestic athletes, so please take a look at it. (with English subtitles)

What preparations should participants make for the race, considering the ocean conditions and the weather?

When the rainy season ends at the end of June every year, seasonal winds from the south blow on this island. This is a straight downwind race with wind speeds of approximately 10M and swells of approximately 2m. The temperature will be over 30 degrees, and it will be very hot, so heat protection and hydration are extremely important. You will need to prepare accommodation or rent a car on both islands. Participants are required to arrive in Okinawa at least one week in advance and participate in simulation training and orientation on June 26th (Wednesday). In the simulation training, participants actually travel by boat to the middle of the channel and paddle for approximately 3-4km as practice. Rental boards are limited, but it’s possible.

With the race celebrating its 10th anniversary, are you expecting international racers on the podium?

Up until now, our family has been volunteering to run the DW race in Okinawa. This year marks the 10th anniversary. We are now able to give out a prize of 1 million yen (€6000). We would be honored to have top paddlers from around the world join us. The total capacity is 30 paddlers with permission from the Japan Coast Guard.

Will Shrimpy be competing and also fulfilling his duties as an assistant organizer?

Shuri was born and raised on the main island of Okinawa as the grandson of a fisherman. From an early age, he trained his wild survival skills by swimming and diving in the ocean. Every year since he was 8 years old he competed in our downwind race and was always trained among older adults. Of course, he will be participating this time as well, but he is also an assistant organizer, so I hope he will do his best even though it is a difficult job.

It’s a touching scene to witness Japanese racers bow toward the sea at the end of a race. Can you explain the significance of this tradition?

This is an act that shows respect not only to all athletes but also to the organizers, the ocean, and the earth. In Japan, we have the words “Samurai” and “Bushido.” It’s a serious fight that puts your life on the line, and you never forget to respect everything including the opponent you fought against. We compete in all kinds of races not as athletes, but as samurai. That is what it means to be respectful.

Japan is quite a journey for many. What can international athletes explore in the region before or after the race?

Okinawa is said to be Japan’s Hawaii. It is an island where both a tourist metropolis and a world heritage site of great nature coexist. After the race, please be sure to ask us how to visit the castle ruins where Okinawa’s deep history remains, or visit the spiritual spots of Yoron where myths remain. Of course, if you bring an inflatable SUP, you can explore the beautiful coral reefs and surf as much as you like. There are also many fancy streets where you can even go night shopping. See you in the summer!

For more information:

TotalSUP page

Event website

Facebook page


Photos by the courtesy of: Takuji Araki

About the Author

Dóra Hegedűs

Dora is a female grandmaster SUP racer who joined the world of paddling in 2019 and quickly developed an irrepressible passion for the sport. Originally from Hungary, Dora now resides in Aarhus, Denmark, and despite her affinity for flat waters, she loves to participate in international races and is dedicated to making SUP racing an inclusive sport for women over 50 - a vibrant age where, as Dora believes, life truly begins to sparkle with fun and excitement. Fluent in Hungarian, English, Italian, French, and (soon) Danish, she is a polyglot. In her professional life, Dora is a business coach and therapist.