Surfing has always been my driving force in my life, that thing that makes you get up early in the morning, that sport that encourages you to be healthier, faster, stronger, a sport that becomes a lifestyle full of exotic locations, rich experiences and tropical foods. Being a professional surfer, I've been fortunate enough to travel the world and become accustomed to a variety of cultures and all the experiences that proceeds. For me travelling to China was more than just scoring waves, It was about walking away from an experience and being left with something to share.
For a while now I’ve heard China and in particular Hainan Island; a province of China’s southernmost point has endless surfing potential. Hainan, open to the Southern China Sea doesn't exactly have your small island vibe feel, consisting of 1.3 million people and known for its tropical climate, luxury resorts and forested, mountainous interior.
The island and in particular China is quite overwhelming. Lets put it this way, I don't think I made it back to my hotel once without getting confused and lost. At times it felt like someone decided to build a massive “The Sims” city like video game on the beach with implanted palm trees. Getting around and communicating was challenging. Overseas, hand gestures and expressions usually get me through the language barrier, but somehow in China it wasn't giving me any luck.
When I arrived the first thing I did was try and hire a car. Yes, I know I’m not the most organized person! To my surprise driving as a tourist is against the law. All tourists must hire a driver to get around or you can pay to have your license converted and translated which can take several weeks. Hardly ideal and convenient for any holidaying go getter.
Interestingly all western social media, Instagram, Facebook, google etc. are blocked by the government, a country controlling and filtering their citizens.
Getting money exchanged at the bank seemed more like filing for a mortgage on a house. I don't think I have ever signed so many documents for such a basic transaction in my life. I guess the 6 page visa application before arrival wasn’t enough information. I was beginning to understand the word, meaning and spirit of Communism.
After some research I decided to base myself on the south west coast of Hainan after researching Wanning, Riyuewan Bay was the most consistent area to surf. During my stay unfortunately the swell was flat until the very last day where I scored a fun session with storm generated swell off the north coast of Taiwan commuting south past the Philippines towards Hainan.
When the waves finally arrived it was super fun and playful, around the 2-3 foot mark with a light offshore breeze and plenty of rain. My custom eps epoxy fused carbon stringer AMS was surprisingly lively and built up plenty of speed when pumping though the sections. I was surprised to see how developed the local surf community was. So many young aspiring kids, surf hipsters and beginners all getting a piece of the swell on offer. It’s crazy, there was even a “Hainan Surf Team” with a hired western coach training and preparing them for the upcoming Olympic Games. I was surprised to even see a surf community let alone an Olympic program set in place. I guess I know why China always wins the medal tally, their government supports and takes the Olympics seriously which I admire. It was great to see a future for surfing China. I mean I wasn’t even sure there was quality waves in China let alone an Olympic surf program in place!
I’ve always been a huge fan of Chinese food so I was super excited to try all the different cuisine on offered. Turns out Chinese food in China ain’t the Chinese food I was eating in the western world. I’m not saying I didn't enjoy all the foods I ate, but there was so many times I thought I ordered beef or chicken and it turned out to be liver, intestine or something so far off the agenda I was beginning to feel alienated.
One thing I’ve become accustomed to is the difference between holidaying and travelling. The journey isn't always smooth and I’ve become acquainted with enjoying the experience in its entirety, for the good and the bad. For me travelling is about encountering different emotions and, as negative as situations can seem at times, I always walk away from the experience smiling and grateful for the opportunity to embrace a new culture and way of life.
Written By Alexander Maniatis