Surfing in China is called 冲浪 and literally translates as “flushing” a wave. If you think of the physical motion of surfing, it sort of makes sense.
Last week, my efforts to seek out a relaxed non-touristy place in Hainan finally led to Sun Moon Bay (日月湾), a beautiful quiet stretch of beach about a two-hour bus ride from Sanya up the East Coast highway. There is amazingly not much development there yet. For now, there are just some restaurants, the surf school, and some abandoned mansions with fishermen and camel squatters.
I survived my first legit attempt at surfing. Most of it consisted of me getting pummeled by waves as I tried to get down the proper rhythm of catching a wave just before it crests, paddling my arms frantically to get in front of it even as I try to balance my body weight on the board. My first few tries resembled a fat baby seal escaping predatory Orcas by trying to flap onto an ice slab. NOT pretty.
I can say with satisfaction that I did stand, however short-lived. I collected whatever little energy I had left and lunged upwards, twisting my hips to get my legs below me, waiting for the board to flip. But it didn’t! I hesitantly straightened and looked at the shore where another beginner surfer, Leo, saw me. I caught his eye, waved smiling like an idiot, lost my balance and fell off the board. The water is very shallow, and waves carve uneven ditches and elevations on the sandy bottom. I landed jarringly on my knee and felt the skin rip open on the rough sand. The cold salt water was both stinging and soothing. I limped out, elated.
That night, some of the surfers, including 小兽 (Little Beast, from Shenzhen) and 大山 (Big Mountain, co-owner of the Hainan surf club), and I celebrated Leo’s (visiting from Jiangsu) 30th bday at the beach bar. Leo ordered several cases of Anchor beer and piles of Chinese BBQ kebabs, which I mostly fed to the club’s puppy named 台风 (Typhoon).
The next morning, I limped down to the lounge, sunglasses on against the glaring sun, regretting every drop of beer and bite of sketchy meat. Little Beast was already awake and laughed upon seeing me.
“Coffee?” he asked.
“There’s coffee around here?” I asked.
Little Beast drove me over to a nearby village of ethnic Chinese Indonesian refugees. These survivors brought with them their love for Java, and to this day, this part of Hainan produces some of China’s best coffee.
As I sipped a piping hot cup of the fragrant black brew and munched on a local steamed white bun stuffed with delicate coconut sugar, Little Beast explained his love for the surf. He’s from Guangdong, graduated from a top school and became an engineer. After a while, he transferred to Indonesia where he tried surfing for the first time and was hooked. Increasingly, he found himself working to live and living to surf. Eventually he asked his job for a month sabbatical to just surf. They refused, so he quit. He’s now in Shenzhen. He started a surf club there with some friends, and the rest is history. In the winters, he and his friends drive down to Hainan for a couple months to catch bigger waves and warmer weather.
“This is freedom, you know? All of my friends my age are married with kids, and they often say to me, what are you doing with your life? Your tanned so dark and you spend all your time chasing waves, don’t you worry you’ll be trapped?” He said, taking another sip of his coffee. “Chinese people are always obsessed with buying houses, buying cars, getting married, having kids, having a respectable job. You tell me, who’s more trapped, me or them?”
I nodded and took another sip of coffee. It tasted of freedom.
You can contact Sophie Lu at firstname.lastname@example.org.