The Far Far East - Trippin’ in Taiwan.
Straddling the Tropic of Cancer at similar latitudes to Hawaii, Taiwan is a gem in the rough.
Surrounded by raucous neighbours – China, the world’s most populous nation to the west; Japan, beautiful but crowded and considerably colder to the north, and the politically unstable and regularly storm-ravaged Philippines to the south – it’s an often overlooked tropical island, complete with laid-back attitudes, warm weather, boardshorts water, and plenty of waves.
Taiwan has two distinct surf seasons; winter (october to March) when storms off Japan link with high-pressure systems ridging across from China to deliver swell to the east coast (the same storms push west swells to Hawaii), and summer (april to September) when typhoons (average 19 per season) and their accompanying low-pressure swells roll onto the lower east and south coasts. In a nutshell; it’s the east coast for winter, the south for summer.
While I’ve shot many trips throughout Taiwan (I’m now based there) this was the first time I’d taken a group of pros to the east coast. Californians Wingnut Weaver, Mary Osborne, Troy Mothershead and Holly Beck all signed up for a bit o’ road trippin’ to scope out-of-the-way lineups and soak up some culture. And from cave- dwelling monks to red-gobbed grandpas to skateboard-stoked groms, there were plenty of interesting locals within beetelnut spitting distance at every turn.
And the surf? At pretty much every spot we checked there were clean lines and fun waves, in crystal clear water on an ocean shimmering a light cobalt blue. And bugger- all crowds. I’ve surfed this area regularly over the past four years and the majority have been solo sessions. Must say though, it gets to the stage where after a few days of this routine, I head to the one main spot frequented by the locals just to have folks to share waves with. Coming from the crowds of oz, regular solo surfing is not something I’m used to. But I’m letting it grow on me . . . life’s tough.
With a selection of rock-bottomed points, river-mouths, creek openings, and a multitude of cobblestone beachbreaks, there are waves suitable for all craft. And with the mountains so close to the coast the water run-off flushes straight into the ocean, meaning plenty of defined banks. In my van I roll with a 9’6” single-fin, a couple of forgiving shortboards, a SUP and some swim fins . . . and I can pretty much guarantee that on an average week I’ll use the lot, and at a variety of locations.
In certain stretches the mountains are almost right down to the ocean while a two- lane road winds along the ridge between. Villages, palm trees and rice fields chequer the landscape, and on this trip whenever we reached a major town (few and far between) it was time for the crew to check- out the night markets and endless varieties of restaurants . . . and of course, search little back-alley stores for Chinglish T-shirts. Crazy designs, oddly chosen photos, and skewed English abound: delicious Crayon, Happy life road riding and Sexy Boyz Crack king among the many slogans that had us writhing with mirth throughout the trip. Food, shoes, bags, clothes are all insanely cheap, as are hair wash/head massage treatments which will set you back an almighty six bucks a go.
Among the fields and fish farms hugging the coastline are small communities where people do what village locals all over Asia seem to do, either work at 110 miles an hour delivering stuff, collecting stuff, or slogging away in rice paddies knee-deep in mud, or inversely, kick back in the shade and do absolutely sweet FA, and there doesn’t seem to be
Any sexism when it comes to rural work, the load’s spread pretty evenly. another thing both sexes share is beetelnut – from the young zipping through town on scooters at warp speed, to oldies crawling in motorized wheelchairs – many will be masticating a beetelnut (aka binlang) to within an inch of its bright red, fibrous life.
Being keen and curious travellers, the gang just had to give it a go. Mary lasted three chews before almost vomiting over everyone, Holly fared a couple better, Wingnut persevered, not wanting to offend the local hosts while Troy, well, he’s just a grom so he just chewed away wondering what the big deal was. The effect of a good munch on a beetelnut is like having four shots of espresso in a row, only much messier. And so it followed, Troy wouldn’t shut up for about two hours and ran around like a leper searching for a lost arm – only his mouth and teeth looked like he’d been chewing on a tube of lipstick.
Troy on Taiwan.
The east coast of Taiwan was a surprise. I took off without many expectations because I really had no idea where I was going – we just trusted that Moonwalker was to take us somewhere that was actually surfable and worth the trip . . . and boy did he ever. After an amazing drive through the mountains, I was happy to find a rad little town, 7/11 and beetelnut equipped, ready for us to spend the next week in.
The way the coast ran, it looked as though there’d be left pointbreak after left pointbreak, but I think we scored a different swell direction that didn’t cater to those specific line-ups. Instead we surfed an epic rivermouth with some nice, clean two to three-foot a-framers, with an amazing backdrop of lushly covered mountains behind the cobblestone shoreline. Backdrops were a big part of the uniqueness of surfing in Taiwan, exemplified by our second favourite spot which wrapped around a mini harbor with dense jungle on the hillsides above. The very inside of the harbor provided epic sessions of tip-time and some classy black and white photos. And there were perfect waist-high peelers reeling off a rocky reef – really there could be no better wave for logging.
Around the corner, a few hundred yards north was another good longboard wave, a bit mushier with more of a San Onofre feel, but great fun. Another hundred yards north of that was a nugget of a lefthander that broke while hugging the rock line of the beach. Holly and I scored it for over two hours by ourselves, trading off head-high lefts and throwing buckets, her on her shortboard while I rode a quad.
One great aspect of this trip was that we got the chance to witness, and even be accepted into, such a different culture to ours. The Taiwanese seem to be pretty happy and contented people and the surf crew, which I was surprised existed, was very surf-stoked and welcomed us with open arms.
One particular night we were invited to a BBQ at a local surf shop and café, and not only were we eating some of the best dinner of our lives cooked on a massive barbie, we also got to hang out with some truly rad people who love the sport and live the dream - Taiwanese style.
The culture outside of the surf world was also fascinating. every quaint seaside village has a 7/11. A lot of food can be found at 7/11s in Taiwan, and they’re stocked so completely differently - rice cakes, hard-boiled eggs, dried tuna sticks (Wingnut’s favorite) line the shelves. But besides hit-and-runs between surf sessions, we ate some truly awesome meals; beef noodle dishes, tasty meaty pastries, chicken, fish, fresh sushi . . . a massive selection.
All in all, one hell of a memorable surf trip with some super-fun waves and it was just really refreshing to be in a culture where surfing is so new.
Attempts at cultural assimilation aside, the emphasis of this trip was waveriding and an aneurysm a day seemed on the cards as the crew vacillated over the options at hand. Life’s rough when you’re deciding between a sheltered a-frame,
A rivermouth, a point, a beach break . . . and that was within 10 minutes drive of the accommodation. Long story short, all spots were surfed and many sessions relished. Sure, there are no G-land, Jaws or Mavericks set-ups in the vicinity, but frankly, nobody remotely gave a damn.
As surfers, no matter what our situation in life, a core part of us lives just to surf, and is there anything better than exploring a new line-up in a strange sea? To this end, Taiwan is a tantalising oriental option. Maybe the last words are best left to an old mate from the Sunshine Coast, Jimmy o’keefe the editor of worldprosurfers.com, who departed Taiwan just before Wingnut and co. arrived . . .
“I spent a month on the east Coast and it didn’t get under four feet. every morning was Groundhog day. Please lord, not again, not another day of surfing a different un-crowded point, reef or beachbreak. not another day of eating sashimi fresh off a fishing boat for $4 a plate, not another freakin’ day of sitting under palm trees – in hysterics at how bizarrely incredible this place is, not another day of meeting the friendliest locals this side of Fiji . . . I am still traumatized by the experience. I thoroughly recommend you don’t go, you’ll never be able to adjust to the misery of western life ever again.”
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Way over on the other side of the Pacific, Chris Klopf organised a four month stay in Central America to experience the transition from winter to summer and the two very different swell directions the seasons bring. Chris has been at this surf photography caper for over 40 years and contributing to PLB since we started and we reckon this batch of images is as good as he’s done – and that’s a big call.
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