It seems the ideology of stoke is spreading fast in China. According to a recent article in the South China Morning Post the coolest thing to have on Weibo or We Chat (The Chinese equivalent of we chat and Twitter) is a photo of yourself surfing. The recent explosion in popularity has been attributed, in part, to the international travel restrictions imposed by COVID-19. With nowhere else to go, thousands of Chinese are heading to Hainan for the holidays and weekends and learning to surf is a number one priority. A good coach can command the equivalent of US$180 for a ninety-minute lesson. Those sort of figures might see Ozi surf instructors flocking to Hainan for a lucrative travel adventure when travel bans are lifted.

Located to the south-east of China in the hotly disputed South China Sea, Hainan enjoys a tropical climate, consistent waves and the occasional typhoon-inspired swell. Up until recently, the WSL  held a regular QS event there. Curiously, the Chinese also have their own term for surfing. They call it chong lang, which according to the article in the South China Post, means interactive at a deeper level.

A recent reality TV show featuring a Chinese pin-up boy learning to surf in Hainan has also contributed to the boom – particularly among women. Many young Chinese women have embraced fitness culture and see riding waves as a healthy pursuit. And while the Chinese didn’t make the cut for the Olympics the skills of the local crew are rapidly improving and they already have their own surf stars.

Monica Guo making an elegant, one-footed advance to the nose.

Nimble longboarder Monica Guo is now part of the Chinese national team after abandoning her life on the mainland to pursue surfing on Hainan. Guo charmingly suggests her radical decision to turn her back on parental expectations and chase waves was inspired by the Hollywood film ‘Blue Crush’.  In 2018 she became the first Chinese surfer from any division to win a heat in the ISA games and given China’s population of almost 1.4 billion, Guo obviously only needs a small percentage of local followers to become a big deal on a global scale. 

Of course Guo is not the first wave rider with Chinese heritage to make it big. Many of Hawaii’s best surfers have Chinese backgrounds and The Ho’s – Michael, Mason, Coco, and the recently deceased Derek Ho (world champion 1993) – all have Chinese lineage. Indonesian legend Rizal Tanjung is also part Chinese.

Will we see a legitimate push from home-grown Chinese surfers? Once surf culture takes root then performance levels ultimately improve, and right now that’s happening in Hainan. Already some of the young Hainan surfers are evolving at a rapid rate and with such a big population one has to assume that at some point China will toss up some genuine talent.