Splash & Dash: Aquathon in Onoura
Added In: Living in Japan › Sports
Rod M. Dupuis
The first time was three years ago. It was ten o’clock in the morning when Chad, Andrew, and I arrived but the sky was dark. Thigh-high waves battered the shore under gray skies that hung above like old, dirty blankets. Bobbing violently amidst the waves were three bright orange inflated cones, each the size of a Volkswagen and spaced about 250m apart. In the cool sand flapped tiny Chunichi Shinbun flags. Along the narrow beach ran a band of wide cement stairs like bleachers. Scattered across the beach were small clusters of Japanese athletes, slick in their black wetsuits and swim caps, mingling and warming up.
This was the site of the 6th annual Aquathon Splash & Dash in Onoura, a 1-kilometre swim along the eastern shore of Ise Bay followed by a 5-kilometre run up and down the stairs along Onoura beach (3 kilometres north of Utsumi). Chad and I had entered the Splash & Dash as a precursor to our main goal: a triathlon. Andrew, a remarkable photographer, had come along to take some shots.
As we looked down upon the scene before us, little pebbles of worry in my gut began to grow. Were we ready? Had we trained enough? Would swimming in the ocean really be that different from swimming in a pool? Would we have enough energy after the swim to run the 5K in the sand? Soon the pebbles felt like boulders.
Fortunately for us, we were both in the second heat. This let us watch the first heat and learn a few of the ropes before diving in ourselves. Just before 11:00am, the fifty or so swimmers waded into the waves. At the bang of the starters’ gun they dove in and began their battle, not only with the waves that crashed into them head-on, but also with the flailing arms and kicking feet of their fellow competitors. We watched, stunned, as a few swimmers who couldn’t finish had to be pulled out of the sea by lifeguards who follow alongside on surfboards. Immediately I decided that I would place myself in the rear of the pack. Passing was not even an issue. For me it was survival. Strictly survival.
At the 20-minute mark, many of the swimmers had emerged and were already in the transition area. There they peeled off their wetsuits, splashed the salt out of their mouths and off their skin, and replaced them both with running shoes, race numbers, and T-shirts. Then into the sand and up the ramp they went, tossing gritty clouds in their wake. We took it all in and filed away what we could.
When our turn came, we did our own wading into the waves and awaited the bang. And though the waves did put up a valiant fight and the sand did it’s best to drag us down, both Chad and I finished our first Splash & Dash with respectable times, free towels, and a feeling of pride that has never quite left us. We achieved our goal that summer of completing a triathlon, but we’ve kept coming back to Onoura. Every year since, the three of us make our way south (Andrew put aside his camera after the first year and became a Splash & Dasher in 2006), and though with each year it becomes less daunting and more fun, the challenge will always pull us back.
This year, 2008, will mark the 9th year of the Splash & Dash and the 4th time for me to compete in it. Unfortunately, by the time you read this, both Andrew and Chad will have returned to their homelands, which means I’ll be fighting the waves on my own. On June 29, it would be wonderful to see a few Avenues readers out there in the waves, choking up seawater with me. If you can make it, look for me. I’m not hard to spot—I’m the pale one without a wetsuit.
For more information, or to register, visit the Aichi Triathlon Union’s website at http://homepage2.nifty.com/tri-aichi/ (Japanese only)