Miracle man survived Hiroshima and found surfing

Shinji Mikamo is an extraordinary man. Most men would never dream of trying something as physical and challenging as the sport of surfing for the first time at his age, but Shinji did. The fact that Shinji successfully surfed his first waves at 79 years old is an amazing story in itself, but there is more to the story, much more. Shinji is a survivor, an inspiration and has a message from which every surfer can learn.

Growing up in Japan, surfing was not on Shinji’s mind. No one in Shinji’s community had heard about surfing. What was on Shinji’s mind was the reality of World War II and living a humble, quiet life. If someone would have predicted Shinji would be riding waves standing up some 60 years later, he would have thought them crazy.

Though they never complained, things were not easy for Shinji’s family. Money was tight and making a living was difficult.

They lived in a neighborhood where the houses were crowded close together in rows, and the Japanese government, concerned about fire hazards, ordered every other house dismantled for safety reasons. The Mikamo’s were ordered to tear down their home. Little did they know their bad dream was about to become a living nightmare.

Hiroshima was, obviously, not the place to be when America dropped the atomic bomb, but that’s where Shinji was. He was standing on his roof taking apart his home when he saw an intense, bright flash less than half a mile away. In an instant, the world around Shinji was forever transformed.

Shinji felt his whole body burning. His skin was melting off his body. He watched his dog catch fire and then disappear. He witnessed people disintegrating right in front of him.

With severe burns over his entire body, Shinji lay in great pain. He was sure he was going to die. His father told him, “You will not die! You will live! You are strong, life can get tougher but you must go on!” Shinji listened to his father’s loving words and took them to heart. His father died a short while thereafter.

There were no medicines or antibiotics to treat people injured in the bombing. After a few days, maggots began eating at Shinji’s flesh. His body was weak but his spirit remained strong. Remembering his father’s words, Shinji was determined to live, and live he did.

Shinji himself was not a soldier in World War II. He was an innocent bystander, a young teen whose life was blown apart. Nevertheless, Shinji blamed no one nor ever held a grudge. Instead, Shinji’s life took on great purpose and meaning. Shinji decided to do everything he could to promote peace and love among all people.

Fast-forward to Aug. 15, 2005, 60 years to the day after Emperor Hirohito signed the declaration of peace. Shinji finds himself on a Southern California beach watching the surfers riding the waves. Freedom came to his mind and an inspiration came to his heart. He imagined himself surfing the waves of freedom to the western shores of America, something he could never dream before.

As the old man walked down the beach with a big blue surfboard, everyone was staring. No one on the beach knew if he actually could stand and surf a wave. But surf he did, and with great style and grace. Standing straight and proud with both hands on his hips, Shinji, at 79 years old, became a surfer. Afterwards, his daughter Akiko translated his words of amazement: “It is a miracle to have lived through Hiroshima and it is now a miracle to have experienced surfing.”

Life is a miracle. Live each day as if it is your first because you never know when it will be your last. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. It’s up to you to make the most of it. Each moment is a miracle that no one should ever take for granted. Just ask Shinji. Aloha.

E-mail surfing experts Michael and Milton Willis at