The Sunabe Seawall in Okinawa, Japan is well-known by people worldwide for a number of reasons. Snorkeling is one of them. The coral reef is alive and well, there’s usually plenty of fish, and the water temperature is comfortable. Combine this with easy access to the water, plenty of parking, and a large variety of restaurants, Sunabe is a great place to spend a day snorkeling with friends or family.
What Sea Life Can I Expect to See?
Here’s a list of fish commonly seen along the seawall:
- Parrot fish
- Black-banded sea krait
- Puffer fish
- Needle fish
- Unicorn fish
- Trigger fish
- Trumpet fish
- Surgeon fish
- Oriental sweetlips
- Cornet fish
How are the Crowds at the Seawall?
In the summertime, when the weather is nice and water is flat, there’s always someone in the water along the seawall. Whether it’s scuba divers, paddle boarders, swimmers, or other snorkelers. However, it never gets unmanageable or to a point where it feels crowded. The seawall is 1.4 miles long; plenty of room to spread out!
In the wintertime, there are fewer people. During this time of year, it’s mostly scuba divers.
What’s the Water Condition Like?
Many locals who don’t get in the water often, will tell you that snorkeling and swimming isn’t possible in the winter: “It’s too cold.” This just isn’t true. If you have a 3/2 or 4/3 wetsuit while snorkeling, you’ll be fine! And if you’ve just arrived from a cold part of the world, you might even feel ok in just a swimsuit.
In the summertime, you can easily snorkel in a swimsuit!
Tides: Entering and Exiting the Water
I recommend snorkeling the seawall at mid-tide moving toward high tide.
Most of the entrance/exit spots on the seawall are right in front of large amounts of shallow reef. So, if it’s a lower tide when you’re going out or coming in, you’ll have a long, uncomfortable walk on the reef.
Though I frequently see snorkelers and divers entering/exiting the water at low tide, I prefer to avoid walking on the reef to avoid stepping on sea urchins or cutting my feet or booties on the reef.
Here’s a good place to check the tide before you enter the water:surf-forecast.com
If you’re going to be in the water often in Okinawa, here is a useful tide app: Tides
If you happen to arrive during low tide and don’t want to walk on the reef, the South part of the seawall is a great place to enter.
Where Do I Enter the Water From?
There are a total of 18 staircases along the seawall where you can enter the water from. Depending on where you enter and what the tide level is, when you enter, will determine if and how far of walk you have on the reef.
Personally, I like to avoid walking on the reef as much as possible. It’s uncomfortable, it takes a while, it’s easy to slip and fall (ouch!), ton’s tons of sea urchin, and walking on the reef damages it.
For these reasons, I mostly enter the water at medium to high tide or if it’s low tide, I enter from the southern end of the seawall, which puts you in water that is deep enough to swim, regardless of the tide level.
Here are two pictures of the southern end of the seawall. As you can see, it’s a nice easy entrance to the water, regardless of the tide.
As you go North along the seawall, it’s get’s trickier to enter the water on lower tide levels. The picture below was taken at a medium/low tide (around 2.5 feet). As you can see, there’s a fairly decent walk on the reef. Not my cup of tea.
Here are a few maps I created, which shows all the water entry points along the seawall:
When entering the water anywhere along the seawall, take it slow on the steps; they are VERY slippery. Whether the step is submerged underwater or slightly damp, it’s as slippery as ice. I’ve seen many people fall!
Where Do I Park?
Sunabe’s seawall is about 1.4 miles long and there is free parking along most of it. The south/central part of the seawall is your best bet for finding parking. Parking along the northern, central south end (in Minato), can be hard to find. It fills up quickly, regardless of the time.
Are There Public Restrooms?
There are only two public bathrooms on the seawall, which I’ve marked on the maps above: the south end, in Minato, and the central part of the seawall. They are bare-bones bathrooms; nothing fancy and can sometimes be gross. Especially the morning after a weekend night; lots of drinking going on in the neighborhood.
San-A around the corner is your best bet, if you need something clean: San-A Hamagawa – Google Maps.
How do I get changed in public (the towel change)?
Sometimes I get in the water after work, which means I need to get changed into my wetsuit or trunks in public. And even when I come to the seawall already dressed in trunks, I prefer to change out of my trunks after. This means getting changed in public.
What most people do is what’s called the “Towel Change.” You tie a large towel around your wasted, while you change in and out of your clothes. Here are a couple of helpful videos, if you aren’t familiar:
What Things Do I Need to Bring?
- Booties – Booties aren’t completely necessary if you won’t be walking on the reef. However, it’s probably wise to have them anyway, just in case you find yourself on top of the reef.
- Fins – You don’t need anything fancy. Anything will do. Just make sure to try them on with your booties on to make sure everything fits.
- Mask – Very important so you can see all the underwater magic.
- Anti-fog gel – Go to any of the dive shops and they’ll have something you can purchase. The gel/cream helps prevent your mask from fogging up, which can be a huge pain in the rear.
- Wetsuit or Rash Guard – Even when the water is warm, I recommend not going in with something to protect your body from the sun and sea life. Personally, it just feels more comfortable having a small layer to protect me from the harsh Okinawa elements. They also make rashguards with hoods, which is a great way to protect your neck and head from getting sunburned.
- Sunscreen – The sun in Okinawa is strong! Wear more than you think and reapply more often than you usually do.
- Towel – Buy something large if you’ll be towel changing.
- Water – Make sure you’re hydrated well before entering the water and after. It’s also helpful to bring a big jug of water to rinse off all the saltwater. There’s nothing more annoying than salty feeling skin sitting in Okinawa traffic.
Other Important Things to Know and Remember
Don’t Snorkel Alone
Okinawa sea conditions change fast and it’s important someone is always watching your back and vice versa. Plus, it’s always more fun to share good experiences with others.
Always Watch the Ocean
If you’re in or near the water, always stay aware and pay attention. Even on calm days, a swell or wave can come out of nowhere. Conditions are always changing, so keep your eyes on the water at all times.
Be Aware of Your Location
It’s very easy to get so distracted by all the underwater life, that you forget to orientate yourself by land. When you first get in the water, find a landmark that you’ll remember. And once you start snorkeling, take a glance up now and then to make sure you’re not getting too far away from shore or too far down shore.
Drink plenty of water before you even get to the seawall and make sure to take breaks. In the summertime in Okinawa, it’s very easy to get dehydrated. And just because you’re in the water, doesn’t mean you’re hydrated. Drink up!
Check the Tide
Respect the Fisherman
The seawall is a very popular place for locals to fish; especially at the southern end of the seawall, where there are two, small concrete piers. Be mindful of their lines and be sure to give them plenty of space. It’s just common courtesy; and who wants to get hooked by a lure? Even on the most crowded days, there’s plenty of space to spread out along the seawall.
The UV rays are powerful in Okinawa. And don’t be fooled by cloudy skies, which won’t offer you protection. Make sure it’s waterproof and apply heavily and reapply often.
Snorkel in Morning
From my experience, there’s usually more fish activity in the morning. Also, the winds are most likely to be calm, which means calmer waters, which means easy swimming and clear waters.
It’s generally a good idea to give space to sea life. Don’t try to touch sea life, especially if you aren’t familiar with the poisonous specious. Give them their space, and they’ll give you yours.