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.”
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.