South Of The Sea. Surfing China's Hainan Island.
In search of happy endings on China’s Hainan Island with Joe Blair and friends - from The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 19, Number 4.
Story By | Mark Anders
The pockmarked concrete road we’re following is befouled with landmines of horse and cow shit, sun-bleached weeds growing through the cracks. It’s bordered on the right by neat rows of coconut palms, a gentle arc of smooth tan sand, and the shockingly blue South China Sea. Nearby, local women sit cross-legged in the grass hand-tying massive fishing nets. If they notice us, they’re not letting on.
Lining the other side of the road are a dozen white-tiled villas. Or almost villas. We’re taking a shortcut through the grounds of a large beach resort that never was, much like the unfinished construction projects you see dotting the Mexican coast. Maybe the developers ran out of money. Perhaps they had problems navigating the communist bureaucracy. Probably both.
Nearby there are three massive rainwater-filled swimming pools with wall-to-wall bright green algae, a parking lot packed with shoulder-high brown grass, and the husk of a five-story hotel presiding silently over the empty left-point break—it’s the kind of property any surfer would kill to own.
Long, clean lines pinwheel around the rocky headland, but it’s only waist-high. We’re hoping the beachbreak on the other side of the point is more exposed to the swell and will yield some punchier peaks. So we’re hiking. The morning air has a chill, but the water will be warm.
As for those unfinished villas, some are occupied by squatters from town, mostly fishermen. One is decked out with mismatched windows and doors, an A/C window unit, and a satellite dish. The rest are occupied by animals. There’s the horse villa with hay spilling over the front entryway. There’s the pig villa, owned by a family of swine that regularly patrols the beach. As we pass one structure with a load of brightly colored laundry drying on the lines, I notice a large rooster crossing the road to meet us. I think nothing of it, until suddenly, his head feathers rise in attack mode. Then he squawks loudly and lunges at me. I jump back and the rooster lunges again, driving his beak into the tail of the board. My friends Christophe and Yohheii laugh their asses off as I defend myself.
“Maybe this rooster doesn’t like American surfers?” deadpans Christophe, a French expatriate and our Chinese translator. “Maybe he is a French-China rooster?”
Finally, I swing my board like a golf club. It connects solidly and the rooster hurtles backward to the curb. But he hasn’t had enough, stabbing at me once more.
I laugh, now at a safe distance.
When my friend, San Diego shaper Joe Blair, invited me to come along with him to the Chinese island of Hainan, surly poultry was the furthest thing from my mind. Actually, waves were too. Over the last couple years he’s raved to me about his past surf trips here, but I’ve always been dubious. Joe, now 62, is prone to hyperbole. He’s like a balmy great uncle who forgets which tall tales he’s already told you. I’d heard the Hainan yarn many times before replete with the empty, head-high surf five-days-a-week, cheap good food, a karaoke bar at a nearby five-star resort with hot Filipino singers who let Joe get up on stage and jam on the guitar. Oh, and, of course, the six-dollar massages. Happily married, and not much of a musician myself, I was most interested in the island’s empty lineups and surf potential, but I never imagined I’d actually be here one day.
Originally this trip was to be a sort of a scouting mission for Joe’s friend Fred Hohenadel, a longtime surfer from St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. He’d been to Hainan a few years earlier and turned Joe onto the place. Fred loves the island and was considering producing a long-distance coastal SUP race there. So he asked us to meet with one of his associates in Hainan to do recon for the possible event. But when some local logistics didn’t come together as he’d anticipated, Fred pulled the plug on the project and suggested instead that Joe and I hook up with Christophe, and just go and enjoy some surf exploration.
Situated in the country’s southernmost region in the South China Sea between Mainland China and Vietnam, the island of Hainan (literally translated South of the Sea) occupies 21,076 square miles and is about the size, and roughly the shape, of the state of West Virginia.
As for waves, during the fall and winter season from November to March, northeast wind swells arrive on Hainan’s east coast, while in the summer time, from April to September, most of the surf comes from the south to the southern beaches around the city of Sanya. Of course, occasional typhoon swells bring the largest surf but those are tough to predict and generally produce windy and unruly surf. So, Joe chose a 16-day window for our trip during the first half of December—“That way we’re guaranteed to get waves,” he told me. “It’ll be right in the heat of battle.”…
For the complete story, checkout The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 19, Number 4. On sale now at surfersjournal.com Or, better yet, SUBSCRIBE to The Journal and have and a full year or two sent to your door.
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