China Travel Interview: Surfing Hainan Island

Culture, Travel | by Stephan Larose
Posted: March 4th, 2009 | Updated: November 7th, 2012 | Comments
Did you know that after hitting the Great Wall, you can hit a wall of killer waves on Hainan Island? Surfing Hainan's experts give us the lowdown.
Harbin's Dahai Zhang and California's Brendan Sheridan met in 2007 while surfing one of the world's last easy-to-reach tropical surf spots where you surfers aren't competing for limited waves. In fact, Hainan's beaches were virtually devoid of surfers when the duo founded Surfing Hainan not long after meeting on the island. Now, only a couple of years later, they've teamed up with, China's leading online skate, surf and snowboard community, putting on China's very first surf competition, the 2009 Surfing Hainan Open, where surf pros tore up the waves for top honors while others took lessons from professional longboarder and Endless Summer 2 star, Robert "Wingnut" Weaver. And though Hainan may never make it onto the list of the world's surf attractions beyond boarding, including pretty beaches and monkey islands. As for the surfing, Hainan offers incredibly consistent waves, double overheads, and dense concentrations of surf hotspots, not to mention one of the smallest surfer-to-wave ratios of any quality surf destination on the planet. So is it worth checking out? The answer is an emphatic yes. Listen up as Brendan and his female Chinese protoge, Fu Rong, tell us more. china travel surf surfing hainan sanya

When is the best time of year to come surfing in Hainan? Brandon: There are two surf seasons in Hainan. The fall/winter season brings northeast swells, which bring waves to Hainan's east coast. This season, from November into March, is the most consistent and brings the best waves. From late April into September, we get south swells, which means we get surf in Sanya, in the south of Hainan. These swells aren't as consistent as the fall/winter season, but can still be a lot of fun.

How tall is the tallest wave you've ever seen in Hainan and how big are average waves?
The biggest wave I've ever seen in Hainan has been a double overhead (or a 3.5 m/12 ft face). In the fall/winter season, when we get consistent northeast swells, there are an average of three days of head-high surf per week.
Does China have any other good surfing destinations?
Hong Kong has a big surf scene, although the surf isn't as consistent as in Hainan. There is also surf is Shenzhen, although again, the quality isn't as good as Hainan, and the water isn't as clean. But I've heard of people surfing lots of different spots throughout China, from islands near Shanghai, to beaches in Qingdao.
Taiwan gets better surf than Hainan because it is out in the Pacific, and is better exposed to bigger swells. However, people have been surfing there for generations, and thus the surf spots get a lot more crowded.
china travel surf surfing hainan sanya
When learning, it's best to find a spot where you won't get in the way of other more accomplished surfers. This can be a difficult concept for people to get (as it was for me when I started surfing), but it's rather important not to paddle out to the better spots when you are a beginner. As a beginner, you do not have very good control over your board and the etiquette can take some getting used to. Just as you wouldn't learn to drive on the expressway, you shouldn't learn to surf in a crowded and powerful wave. Pay your dues on a more secluded beach, and then when you reach a good level, you can tackle the better spots. One of the great things about Hainan is that there are a lot of beaches where you can surf on your own. Additionally, Surfing Hainan has found beaches that are quite suitable for learning how to surf.
Is it possible to buy/rent good surfboards in China, or should surfers bring their own?
There are many surfboard factories throughout China now, and the quality can be very good. Additionally, we sell new boards out of our shop here in Dadonghai.
What equipment do you need? For example, are wetsuits necessary?
Wetsuits are needed in the colder months, usually from December into February. Other times of the year, it is recommended to bring rash guards (light lycra tops) which are good for protecting from the sun and from skin irritation from your body rubbing up against the board.
china travel surf surfing hainan sanya
Some fitness is required, but not an extreme level. It's not like running a marathon. The biggest physical challenge is probably dealing with getting used to being in the water. Paddling out through the breaking waves can take a fair amount of energy.
What are the biggest dangers of surfing?
The biggest danger is probably going out into waves too powerful for one's skill level. As the old axiom goes, when it doubt, don't go out.
How long does it take to learn to surf if you have never tried it before? The vast majority of our customers are standing and riding waves within twenty to thirty minutes. Of course, this is just one part of surfing. It is a complex sport that can take a lifetime to master, but for someone who is in decent physical condition, they can expect to be up and riding in a short period of time.
Surfing, hainan
There have definitely been surfers that have camped out here. I'm not sure about the legality of it, and it's probably not the safest thing to do, so I wouldn't necessarily recommend it.
Hebei native Fu Rong has been surfing for over a year now, and her skills are apparently getting quite good.
Fu Rong, tell us a little about the history of surfing in China, has it been around long?
Fu Rong: Ha ha, actually, I don't think there is any history of surfing in China! As I know it, it just started couple years ago in Sanya with Japanese and Taiwanese people. It hasn't really caught on here yet.
How did you first get into surfing, have you got any surf heroes?
Ever since the first time I saw surfing on TV a long time ago I've loved it. I love the sea, I like sports, and I enjoy the feeling of the speeding along the waves very much. So surfing has always been "the dream" for me.
surfing, hainan A year ago, my friends started surfing and it kind of clicked in me that surfing is right at my fingertips, so I thought, just do it! Later, my friends Brendan and Dahai taught me and now, though I can't surf as well as them, I can actually do it, I can fly on the waves! It's even more exciting than I imagined it would be. Surfing isn't just for show, if you want be a good surfer you have to do plenty of practice, you need tons of self-confidence and courage. So, for me, my surf heroes are just all surfers.
What's your favorite surf movie?
My favorite surf movie is Blue Crush, it's also the first surf movie I ever saw.
If you'd like Surfing Hainan to hook you up while you're in Hainan, contact Brendan. If you'd like to do a DIY trip to the area, check below for where to book hotels and flights.
Where to stay:
Surfer Mag put Ctrip at the top of its list for Sanya hotels. Here are a few choice recommendations:
5 star
4 star
3 star
Traveling on a budget? Try:
Sanya Eagle Backpackers Hostel Address: 1206B Haitianhuiyuan building, 96 Yuya Road, Dadonghai district, Sanya 572021, China Phone: (86) 139 7697 7924
Sanya Four Seasons Home Address: Binhai Blvd. (Sanya Bay Blvd.) 2nd Lanhai Garden, Sanya 200057, China
Phone: (86 898) 8829 2800
How to get there:
Ctrip has conveniently indexed flights from all departure cities in China, you can view that list of Sanya flights. During the low season return flights from Beijing can be as low as RMB 920, from Shanghai RMB 760. Hainan can also be reached by train or ferry. Trains leave Guangzhou daily at 10:26pm and arrive in Haikou 12 hours later. Ferries depart from Guangzhou, Beihai and Hai'an. chinese surfer hottie riping it up in China
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