Big wave surfer Jamie Sterling on riding waves in China

Travel | by Aimee Groom
Posted: September 30th, 2010 | Updated: July 25th, 2012 | Comments
Jamie Sterling Professional surfer four top surfers to head East earlier this month, taking on Hangzhou's Qiantang River tidal bore, a.k.a. the "Silver Dragon". An insane wave that surges up the river, it's been drawing the crowds since the days of the Tang Dynasty, and since 2008, surfers like Jamie have been taking the opportunity to introduce their sport to the Chinese nation. Jamie grew up on Hawaii's famous North Shore, learning to carve it up under the tutelage of all time great Ronnie Burns. He's got a passion for big waves (and when we say big, we mean BIG) and these days spends his time traveling the world, seeking out the biggest rushes around. The Silver Dragon may not qualify for "big wave" surfing but with an average height of around 2-3 meters and a record height of 8.9 meters, it's not too shoddy either! We talk to Jamie about his epic ride, the Surfing China event and what the future holds for China's wannabe wave riders.>>> China Travel: This is your second time coming to Hangzhou, do you notice any difference in the spirit of the event since last time? Jamie Sterling: Yes, I definitely notice more people who are aware of the surfers, of us riding the wave, and I also see a bigger turnout at the festival where the action sports retailers are posted up. I see more of a following this year than last year and then of course, you know people have been watching the wave for thousands of years and now they know that we surf it during this time of year so we've seen a bigger turnout on the banks and the sidewalks and that. Overall people are getting more used to it. China Travel: Do you feel like people are starting to understand what surfing is all about? Jamie: I think they are just now becoming aware of it, but I don't think they really understand what the dynamics are, the full gist of it. I think they know what surfing is but they don't know exactly what a turn is or what a a maneuver is, or an off-the-lip or a cutback but I think that'll come next year. You know, every year they become more experienced in what we're doing. China Travel: So it's going to gradually build up? Jamie: Yeah, it's gonna gradually build up and I'm really happy to be here at the infant stages; the beginning stages of surf culture in China and actions sports here. It's always nice to be a part of something from the beginning and watch it blossom. Jamie Sterling and Rusty Long 2009 China Travel: How did you get involved in this event in the first place? Jamie: Rusty Long, who came last year and the first year, invited me to be his partner last year. Surfing the river is a partner thing, you need to access it by a Jet Ski so this time Mikala Jones is my partner and last year it was Rusty. This year he couldn't make it so I replaced Rusty with Mikala. It has to be a cool partner/teamwork thing on the river to actually catch a wave out here. China Travel: So how does surfing a tidal bore wave like this differ from a wave in the ocean? Jamie: Well, the main difference is that we're surfing in fresh water. The other difference is that it's just one wave, but this wave goes for miles. I mean, we were surfing today for nearly two hours non-stop which is pretty cool. Regular surfing is in salt water usually and you can have a million waves a day. I mean you catch, per session, 20-50 waves depending on how good you are and also, each ride in the ocean is much shorter. You get up on a wave and the average wave is like four to five seconds, then it's over and you have to paddle back out and get another one. So this one, it's much longer, but it's just one wave. Jamie Sterling hangzhou silver dragon 2010 Also the dynamics of getting on this wave in the river are similar to tow-in surfing, which is another form of surfing. It's what we use to get into big wave surfing, using a Jet Ski which is what we're doing on the river so we've adapted that technique to ride the river and harness the waves. China Travel: So how far did you guys surf today? Jamie: I don't know exactly distance-wise but I can tell you it was like two hours. (At this point, Mikala, Jamie's tow in partner tells us it was about five kilometers) China Travel: Was that the same as yesterday or did you go further yesterday? Jamie: We went further yesterday, about eight kilometers. China Travel: How about the distance you covered in those rides, how many days' worth of regular surfing would that be? Jamie: (Laughing) Oh wow, yeah a lot... about a year's worth of surfing in one day. A year's worth of surfing in two hours in fact. China Travel: That's pretty intense—how are your legs feeling? Jamie: Yeah, my back leg is full of blood right now. I'm looking forward to one of those Chinese massages! China Travel: What do you think that surfing as a sport and lifestyle has to offer to China? [pullquote]I guarantee there will be some Chinese surfers coming out of China soon and I'm looking forward to surfing with them.[/pullquote]Jamie: I think that the river surfing, it's more of a novelty thing. It's not something that's going to make people from overseas or traveling come here to surf the river, and future Chinese surfers probably won't surf it either. It's going to go to the sea where regular surfing is and China does get some good waves, like in Hainan island. It is sporadic, as it's mainly from typhoons and those aren't every day but you do have them at least a half dozen times a year and for the people that can surf the typhoon swells on Hainan and in other places along the coast of China, it'll pick up. I guarantee there will be some Chinese surfers coming out of China soon and I'm looking forward to surfing with them. China Travel: Have you surfed anywhere else in China? Jamie: No, I'd like to go to Hainan though. I've been reading up on it and I'm looking forward to making a trip out there.

Jamie Sterling China Travel: Compared to the kinds of places you're usually riding, with crystal clear waters, palm trees and nice beaches, how does surfing down a river through an industrial city in China compare? Jamie: It's a great contrast to what I'm usually surfing in definitely. It's a trip, y'know... you're zooming down the wave on the river and look over and see a fifty-floor building to your left and then also, there's the crowd on the sidewalk watching you. You can actually hear them cheering you on and actually feel the energy of the people. That kind of runs through you and gets you even more adrenalized to ride the wave and you almost feel like the energy of the people is flowing through you, and flowing through the wave and it's just a full circle; it channels it all and gives you this burst of energy. China Travel: You were saying before that you think China will soon be producing surfers... how long do you think it's going to take for them to really reach a competitive level? [pullquote]you almost feel like the energy of the people is flowing through you, and flowing through the wave and it's just a full circle; it channels it all and gives you this burst of energy.[/pullquote]Jamie: I think in the next two years I can probably come back and be surfing with Chinese people. Maybe even another year if people are already dabbling with it now and they can get  some consistency. There's also stand-up paddling which is another form of surfing and a great cross-training tool. I recommend they do some stand-up paddling to improve their balance and overall strength—it kind of lets them appreciate the ocean more... you can stand up paddle even when there are no waves. That's the beautiful thing about it, you can do it all year long. So if people can do that and be on the typhoon swells when they are there, it will allow Chinese surfers to progress, maybe not to professional level but at least to a level where they can have fun with it and I could surf with them, and that would be a beautiful thing. China Travel: You travel over the world. What is the one thing you would never leave home without? Jamie Sterling, Silver Dragon, Hangzhou, Qiantang tidal bore 2009 Jamie: Oh well, (laughing) I guess if I was going to any spot where there was a body of water, it'd probably be a surfboard! China Travel: Ha, yes, good answer. OK, next question. If you had to describe your China experience in three words, what would they be? Jamie: Hmmm, my China experience is... an abundance of food, really good massages and really nice tea. China Travel: Have you sampled the Longjing tea here and visited the tea fields around Hangzhou? It's pretty famous in China. Jamie: No, I haven't had the chance. I always bring some fresh tea home with me though. It's one of the souvenirs I bring back for friends for presents and stuff, and for myself. China Travel: And how about describing yourself in three words? Jamie: Myself in three words? Happy and open-minded. China Travel: Do you think you'll be coming back again next year? Jamie: Yeah, for sure, if I'm invited! Find out more about on Jamie and his travels on his blog, and click the link for more China Travel content on surfing in China.

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