China is not you average surf destination. Most people relate the PRC (People's Republic of China) to industrial sweat shops & yum cha. I too was one of the skeptics until last week when I along with Mark Matthews & Rob Bain descended on beautiful Hainan Island to take part in the 2010 Wanning International Surfing Festival & compete in the O'Neill Surfing Hainan Open.
It crossed my mind a couple of times that the pain of filling in visa forms and standing in cues at the consulate might just out weigh the reward of swell, surf and sunshine. I was very relieved and extremely excited that my rare state of pessimism hadn't jinxed us as we were greeted with consistent 3 foot lefts peeling into Riyuewan Bay, kissed with sunshine and airbrushed with offshores. The sight of almost perfection was enough to transform the three of us into groms & started a surf prep frenzy of FCS fins and board shorts to see who would be the first into the brine to ride a wave in the South China Sea.
Hainan Island is two flights from Sydney then a 45 min coach from Sanya Airport to Wanning County. It being a surf destination in its infancy you are limited to a couple of options for a roof over your head and a bed to sleep in. Le Meridian Hotel, Shimei Bay (where we were lucky enough to stay) is a 5 star dream that you never want to wake from. Built on the sand with a river mouth left for a view it has the most comfortable beds on the planet, a world class gym, 4 restaurants, awesome staff and a karaoke room, what more could you ask for! Option B, The 21 Hotel is your typical salty dog surf lodging, totally comfortable but stereotypically China. It will save your pocket $220 per night and comes with the perk of being first into the lineup at Riyuewan every morning for free. The cool thing about this new surf destination apart from tropical water is its consistency. The few locals I spoke to bragged of head high waves and offshore trades every week between Nov & April.
The following 6 days were a surreal surf adventure that danced between banquets with Government officials, media scrums, autograph signings, fun competition and exploring the palm lined, surf ridden coast of Hainan Island. The Chinese Government have Wanning County spotlighted as its tropical getaway oasis and with O'Neill's support of Mark Matthews, Rob Bain and myself there to give it surf credibility along with direction to grow tourism organically always keeping the environment & specifically the ocean at mind.
I may have won the race for the first wave of the trip but eventually lost the heat going down to Bainy & Matthews in the Semi's. Mark went on to win the Pro short board division & Bainy took out "Wingnut" (Endless Summer 2) to stand atop the podium for the Pro longboard bragging rights. 45 locals & working expat's from around the globe competed in 5 divisions, over 3 days. The festival & event truly embraced the surfing spirit, a celebration of good times in the ocean with friends and memories I will never forget.
Hainan Island in China might not be the new Bali but its lineups are deserted and its ready to be explored!