SURFING SOAPBOX: Wild times in Japan

EDITOR’S NOTE: James Pribram recently spent nine days in Japan and participated in a traditional paddle-out ceremony with other noted surfers and celebrities to memorialize dolphins killed for food in what is called the “killing bay" near Osaka.


Here’s the truth about what happened in Japan. I was scared, for my life and my freedom. I feared being locked up in a foreign country.

The night before our flight out, we had gotten word that the police were planning on charging us with conspiracy to disrupt international trade.


Our group was isolated for more than a week in a hotel in Osaka. There were conspiracy theories flying around that made us suspicious of everyone and everything. After the second paddle-out, we all separated in different directions, changed plane tickets and hoped for the best.

Getting through the last iron gate of security at the airport wasn’t good enough for me; I was sweating in my shoes and it wasn’t until my flight took off and was in the air that I finally relaxed, having a Ketel [One] on the rocks.

The real heroes of the trip were Dave Rastovich, his wife, Hannah, Hayden Panettiere, Isabel Lucas and Peter Heller. These five literally risked it all when they paddled out two days after the first paddle-out. Personally I felt the local fishermen who kill these dolphins and pilot whales (and who are rumored to be tied to the Japanese mafia) were sending us a message. Now I don’t know if that is true or not, but it certainly didn’t make anyone in our group feel better.

The “killing bay" was filled the morning after the initial paddle-out with 20-25 pilot whales that would soon be slaughtered.


You can always tell a person by the look in their eyes and this one fisherman in particular almost had invisible eyes, which meant to me he had no soul. No remorse. No guilt. Nothing. And when he jumped in my face I knew he was provoking me. My only regret is that I didn’t just knock him smooth out.

But I knew better and it doesn’t really fit in with my beliefs. Sometimes in situations like this you feel like you can never win. However, I don’t think it will discourage me, or keep me from trying.


JAMES PRIBRAM is a Laguna Beach native, professional surfer and founder of the Aloha School of Surfing. He can be reached at