Matthew Tanaka braves the waves


Graphic illustration by Inaaya Yousuf and Eileen Zhu

Sophomore Matthew Tanaka can be found rising at dawn to catch waves on his longboard.

Valerie Shu, Design Editor

 On the weekends, sophomore Matthew Tanaka can be found rising from bed at dawn to catch waves on his longboard. Only a brief 30 minute drive away, his favorite spots include Manresa State and 38th Avenue Beach. 

At the age of seven, Tanaka learned to surf from his mother when his family moved from San Jose to Santa Cruz, a coastal town where the sport’s popularity allowed him to be fully immersed in the sport as he joined his middle school’s surf team. 

“My mother had been surfing in Japan for more than 20 years, and she wanted to teach me her passions,” Tanaka said. 

It took Tanaka a few years to successfully grab a wave for the first time, as surfing requires both strength and experience. Being relatively light also meant that he was more easily affected by powerful waves. The first steps of paddling out to meet a wave required endurance and strong arm muscles, which Tanaka had developed from learning to swim at a young age. Once the wave’s surge passed under, standing up on the board with proper form was also challenging: standing too close to the front of the board would make him fall, and being too close to the back would add too much weight and allow the wave to pass. 

“It’s all about finding that middle ground,” Tanaka said. “Even now, I sometimes screw up because I get so panicked when I get a wave.” 

Tanaka had most of his surfing-related injuries, like being slammed into the sand and losing his breath, when he was young and inexperienced. In one competition, he was stuck in a rip current and pulled too far out into the water, but fortunately paddled back to shore unscathed. Facing no shortage of trials with competitions, Tanaka was also once forced to compete with a shortboard on short notice despite only having experience with longboards. 

Tanaka participated in a few local competitions as a middle schooler, but his surfing career came to a pause when he moved to Japan at the beginning of seventh grade. Unable to surf there because of the poor wave quality, Tanaka was homesick and missed surfing. When Tanaka’s family moved back to San Jose in the summer before his 9th grade year, he was able to dive back in and reconnect with his past.

“I was pretty surprised when I found out that he surfs,” sophomore Abhiram Bhavaraju said. “He’s the first person I’ve met who does it and I was really impressed.”

 Now, surfing not only gives Tanaka enjoyment but is also a way for him to stay in touch with his childhood.   

“Surfing just lets me relive old memories and experiences,” Tanaka said. “It makes me feel like I’m 10 years old in Santa Cruz again.”