Article

Surf City, China?

Will Hainan be your next surf destination?

| posted on April 24, 2013

Riyue Bay in Hainan, far less crowded than most waves of its caliber. How long will that last in China? Photo: ISA/Munoz

The World Surf Cities Network (WSCN)—a fledgling, tourism-focused organization based in Spain—is flirting with the idea of adding Hainan, a tropical island province off China’s south coast, to its list of world-class surf destinations. The other nine members are frothing, wave-stoked surf cultures such as the Gold Coast, Durban, and Hossegor. But what about Hainan? Well, sure, a handful of low-key pro events have been held there over the last few years, but not only is it off the radar of most surf trippers, it doesn’t even support a significant local surfing population.

But Chinese leaders are falling all over themselves in a push to transform Hainan, often called “The Hawaii of the East” for its resemblance to its Western counterpart in climate, latitude, and exports (pineapple, sugar cane, coffee), into an international tourist draw. Chinese president Xi Jinping visited the island earlier this month and reminded everybody that Hainan’s economic hopes pretty much live and die based on its appeal as a vacation hotspot. The port city of Sanya already boasts a handful of shiny new luxury resorts, including a Ritz-Carlton, all built in the last year.

The WSCN is meanwhile whispering into the ears of Chinese officials with promises that if Hainan joins as a Surf City, surf industry dollars will cascade into the province, providing another rich vein of tourism gold for Hainan to mine.

The push to add Hainan to the WSCN, and this should come as no shock, is mostly coming from Gold Coast, Australia’s representative in the organization. “Our objective is to set up a relationship with Hainan Province and link the Gold Coast and the broader surf industry to the emerging Chinese surfing market,” Ian Eddie, professor of Accounting and Gold Coast WSCN chairman, told China Central Television in a bit of corpo-speak.

Eddie also noted that partly because of China’s emerging middle class with cash and leisure time to burn, “Within the next decade there is potential for the world’s wave-riding population to grow by an additional 20 million people [and] if this growth rate is sustained, then by the mid-2040s there will be something like 100 million surfers globally.”

Woah.

For hundreds of years Western capital has salivated at the prospect of peddling its wares to the enormous Chinese market, especially during times of economic stagnation. To a surf industry that seems to be absolutely wallowing in stagnancy at the moment, tapping into China’s mushrooming middle-class ocean of income would be a massive boon to boardshort sellers, flip-flop makers, and mass-produced surfboard factories.

But 20 million additional surfers globally over the next decade? If that’s true, get ready to bump more shoulders in more lineups. Everywhere.

  • Chudtastic

    Oh geeze, let’s blow out another place and add more surfers while they’re at it.

    Wheee…

    “China’s mushrooming middle-class ocean of income would be a massive boon to boardshort sellers, flip-flop makers, and mass-produced surfboard factories”

  • Been there

    Been there… Sucks

  • Debs Tellis

    Factories here in Guangzhou making all those goods for export, it would be interesting to see if the locals could pull off that surf culture & really get into it… I know of an Aussie guy down there on Hainan teaching surfing….. Interesting times in China. They are buying up luxury cars & boats…

  • Daniel

    This guy knows jack about Chinese culture. We all get it, let’s sell more shorts. Problem is, this is a whole different cup of tea. Good luck.

  • Charles

    I think you guys are completly missing the point here.

    Further enhacing Hainan as a tourist goldmine for surfers will finally establish the desperatly needed regulation and protection of the environment. If surfers expand and gain influence in this area, there will be a growth of local civil society, NGOs and capable people making a stand against China’s devasting (non-existent) environmental policies.

  • DB

    I lived there for a month (although I had planned to live there indefinitely) about two years ago hoping to find flawless, uncrowded surf and an old hawaii lifestyle. It sucks. The people suck, the water quality sucks and the waves are mushy garbage that have moments where they are fairly decent. The reefs that are there are all dead from too much dynamite fishing and pollution. Honestly, it would be a travesty if this was considered a world class surf destination.

    As an illustration, I have some friends who live in china and went to hainan for years. Then they went to the phillipines and havent bothered going back to Hainan since.

  • Greaaaat

    So reading between the lines – build the surf industry in China and then create massive chinese surf tourism in the goldy, and then screw it up for everyone else who just wants to surf there and doesn’t want their money. the greed of a few screwing it up for everyone else, again.

  • sean

    I don’t know why the big urge to “spread the word” of surfing is so important. This may sound negative, but, if people are so lost that they need others to point them in the right direction, they’ll probably never be found anyhow. Go find it yourself. Think for yourself. BE YOURSELF. This world surf city thinb is probably full of a bunch of yuppie kooks, that are taking it upon themselves to Stoke the un-stoked. It’s like bible thumpers knocking on your door, insisting that their god will show the way. But really, their god needs some cash :)

  • Pat

    The World Surf Cities Network is laughable. They have nothing in Hawaii or Indonesia, they have 2 cities in east Australia but none in West Australia.

  • Paul

    Yeah sure, send em all over to China. Perhaps it will thin out my spot a little. A word to the wise however – the surf industry may be salivating over chinese but the rest of us should definitely try to slow things down if you want your kids and grand kids to be able to get a wave in the future. All the surf industry cares about is money. One billion people is a large market but a nightmare in the water.

  • Paul

    Yeah sure, send em all over to China. Perhaps it will thin out my spot a little. A word to the wise however – the surf industry may be salivating over chinese but the rest of us should definitely try to slow things down if you want your kids and grand kids to be able to get a wave in the future. All the surf industry cares about is money. One billion people is a large market but a nightmare in the water competing for waves worldwide.

  • Frankston

    If they knew anything about China they would know that most Chinese are not into the water and sun. Just go to the beach and see what they are wearing and how far they venture into the water.
    As for a massive boon for boardshort sellers and flip-flop makers. They call them shower shoes and middle class China has too much fasion sense to wear board shorts in public.
    Now Hainan, its a bit of a shit hole and the majority of tourists are from Northern China, somewhere that has abosolutely no beach culture and winters that last 6 months. Good luck getting them surfing.

  • http://www//;captainjohnmorrisretzlaff.com John Morris Retzlaff

    I have been fortunate enough to sail and surf a lot of different parts of the world ,and if promoting another spot with a surf city title floats your boat then you will get drawn to spots like surfers paradise in OZ, which would be a spot last on my list for a place to surf in Paradise.Is what would really help the surf world is if a well to do surfer or surf mag bought out an airline and stopped charging outrageous prices to take your stick with you.

  • http://surfcrazy.com surfcrazy

    Thinks the import of goods to china, garments surfboards etc will not happen. China is flooding the world with such merchandise. Over the years I have been approached by Chinese factories to buy surfboards, sup, paddles garments on and on. The surfing industry is already there… check your garment tags.

  • waldrorf

    Totally support spreading the love of riding waves!!

  • bob

    Sanya was one of the stops for the volvo cup round the world regatta, why not a great surf destination. This should be considered one of the stops for the world tour, as we promote the good will Duke Kahanomoku embarked upon in the last century.

  • atm

    good place,been there 5times….went to philippines and that place sucked real bad,people are thieves there+some kidnappers took some surfers for hostage n asked 2million dollars to set them free,thats your phillippine ,asshole place..just stay home,and let me have my hainan empty waves,thanx.