Armed with a clapped-out Jin Bei van, a two-man tent and a couple of kites, the sun was shining as we set out from beautiful Xiamen in China's Fujian Province. It was the October holidays (Chinese National Day) and we'd spent the last few days soaking up the substantial charms of what is surely China's most chilled out seaside city—with clean beaches and palm-lined waterfront promenades, a handful of decent western-style restaurants and some of the friendliest folk I've encountered, Xiamen jumped swiftly to the top of my list of most livable cities in the PRC.
There were four of us altogether. Refugees from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai, we were seeking sun, sea and sand and most importantly, wind. Allow me to explain... Due to its geographical position, delightful beaches and year-round sea breezes, Xiamen is slowly becoming known as one of the best destinations for surfing and snowboarding is a recent import to Chinese waters.
There's a long way to go for action sports in China to reach the standards seen elsewhere, but when it come to kitesurfing, things are alive and kicking in Xiamen. Two clubs now service a growing community of adrenalin junkies who like nothing better than the thrill of speeding across the waves on a board pulled by a power kite up of to 16 sq m (172 sq ft).
Our buddies at 59Fly kite club in Xiamen had been doing a spot of exploring earlier in the year and discovered some stellar beaches further down the coast to the south, and it was to these that we were headed.
Our traveling party consisted of two guys (Flo and Max, both experienced kitesurfers), myself (a novice with several days of kiting scattered over the last three years and totaling an ability to very nearly stand up on the board) and Marie, Max's girlfriend, who preferred to document the action with a camera rather than through first-hand experience.
Fujian Road Trip to Liu'ao
Our destination was a town called Liu'ao (Liù'áo, 六鳌). Situated at the butt of a peninsula two hours drive to the south, Internet research had yielded little information other than the fact that this old Song Dynasty town was now home to wind farms and some rather interesting looking rocks.
In this kind of situation, having a Chinese driving license is a godsend, as you can trundle about getting lost at will without having to negotiate back country public transport. One problem with driving in China when you don't read Chinese though, is the road signs (and even if you do read characters, from what I've seen, it doesn't always help, especially when you get outside of the major conurbations). A GPS is a must. Ideally, your GPS has the most up-to-date maps possible, and even then, you may quickly find yourself off the map.
Sure enough, just after leaving Xiamen Island we quickly found ourselves crossing what appeared to be a non-existent bridge. Though there was a more direct and faster route along the highway, we elected to go via the coast road that snaked around and brought us back so close to Xiamen Island you could almost have swum back. It had been clear back in Xiamen that the local government had twigged onto the attractions of living by the sea and here there was a massive new development taking shape that, judging from the billboards, would reach new heights of luxury. As we rounded the headland, things began to get a little more scenic, with rocky outcrops of granite (Fujian is a major player in China's stone industry, with quarries and lorries loaded with granite and marble slabs a common sight), green hillsides and the province's distinctive red earth.
Volcanic rock formations along the coast of Fujian, south of Xiamen Our first stop was the National Littoral Volcanic Park (Zhāngzhōu Bīnhǎi Huǒshān Dìmào Guójiā Dìzhì Gōngyuán, 漳州滨海火山地貌国家地质公园), discovered by chance thanks to our Googlemaps photo function. RMB 10 got us into the park and access to a beach that culminated in a swathe of black rock that looked to have been pushed up to the earth through a giant, hexagonal potato masher, set against the blue sky and the crashing of the sea.
It's a similar phenomenon to that found on Ireland's famous Giant's Causeway, though on a smaller scale, and it's significantly less well known. There were a handful of Chinese tourists clambering around on the rocks and, as we climbed the short path up to a grassy viewing point, our white faces became as much of an attraction as the rocks themselves.
There were more geological sites scattered throughout the area, but after one or two wild goose-chases following signs that led nowhere, we gave up and pressed on southward. We reached the Liu'ao Peninsula around early-afternoon and proceeded to take our time exploring the three, wide bays that line its eastern coast to find the best kitesurfing spots.
Each bay was bordered by an outer zone of farmland dotted with bent-over figures, hand-sowing seeds or balancing two precariously full watering cans on a yoke across one shoulder. Between the farms and several of the beaches were pools of water lined with plastic, in which small water wheels spinning frantically kept the water in motion. We thought at first these might be for fish, but seeing no sign of splashing or scales, we decided they were more likely some kind of desalination or irrigation pools. And towering over it all, were the endless windmills that line the coast (the area is home to at least five windfarms) emitting a gentle buzz, their blades turning gracefully to the sea breeze.
The beaches themselves were spectacular; wide stretches of sand in shades sloped gently towards incoming waves that broke in quick succession as they neared the shore. Unseen chemicals aside, the water is clear and blue-green, and though there is some trash that gets washed up with the high tide, it's mostly fishing paraphernalia: bamboo poles, bits of nets, driftwood and remnants of the fishing traps that can be seen floating in bands across the water a hundred or so meters out to sea. Occasional upright wooden poles stand in straight lines of varying heights bisecting the beach and running perpendicular into the water like the world's most ineffectual groynes. We'd have to take care to avoid these when we got our kites into the water but first thing was first. We needed to find a place to stay.
To be continued... Kitesurfing in Fujian: Camping Out & Flying High (Part II) Kitesurfing in Fujian: Offshore in Xiamen (Part III) China Travel Interview: Waiting for the wind with Xiamen kitesurf instructor David Zhai