When 19-year-old Zhang Chao decided to take a break from university, the digital media major planned to use the short break to work and travel before returning to school.
But after spending a summer volunteering at a surf shop in Sanya, the capital of China’s Hainan province, everything changed.
“I really liked surfing and never went back to school,” Zhang recalled.
It was nine years ago. Today, he is the proud founder of three Chinese surf brands – Shaka Surf Club, Goofydog Surf Shop and Tempo Restaurant and Bar.
In recent years, more and more Chinese are embracing surfing like Zhang.
“Surfing has been a growing trend in China for the past two years. It’s partly due to the efforts that surfers and surf clubs like us have put into the scene over the past decade. But it’s also because of the pandemic,” says the surfer.
“As outdoor activities are favored (amidst Covid restrictions), many people are heading to the beach and taking up surfing… People are also becoming less work-oriented and looking for an alternative lifestyle that they enjoy.”
Chinese photographer and yoga practitioner Tina Tang agrees.
“Surfing gives you a sense of freedom because we’re always looking at our smartphones and always sitting at a desk so our minds are always busy. So you just bring your board and go to the ocean and you can forget about everything,” says Tang.
According to state media, Chinese cities with thriving surf scenes have seen increased tourism spending in the first half of 2022.
Wanning in Hainan province, for example, recorded 46.46% more tourism sales during that period. Guangdong’s Huizhou tourism industry saw a 190% increase.
The increased popularity of China’s surfing scene has contributed to this growth, according to the report.
“Not every town is blessed with the necessary conditions for surfing. But with these favorable wave conditions, surfing helps diversify a city’s tourism industry and enrich its lifestyle. The surfing community is more than just surfing,” says Zhang, who organizes expos and beach parties at his own surf club and restaurant.
He says his grounds also attract many who aren’t surfers, but come for the calm views and seaside atmosphere.
“Surfing is about freedom and happiness – and that’s what the younger generations are looking for these days. That’s why surfing is becoming an increasingly popular activity for these younger generations,” says Zhang.
Here are some of the beaches around China that Zhang recommends for different types of surfers.
About 80 kilometers from the tourist hotspot of Sanya, Riyue Bay (literally Sun and Moon Bay) in Wanning City is a top destination for local and international surfers.
With year-round warm temperatures and consistent waves, Riyue Bay is home to some of the country’s biggest surfing competitions as well as the training center for China’s national surfing team.
“Riyue Bay is a great hub for surfers. While there are surf clubs and lodges in the area, more experienced surfers could also easily access some nearby beaches for more challenging wave conditions,” says Zhang.
Two of China’s most developed surfing provinces are Hainan and Guangdong.
While many in Guangdong may head to Shenzhen’s Xichong Beach for its convenience, those looking for a day trip away from the city should head to Huizhou’s Shuangyue Bay.
“People always come here for good seafood or sea culture, and for surfing now – it’s very new,” says photographer and surfer Tang.
The crescent-shaped bay, which stretches over eight kilometers in length, is full of beaches and hotels.
Besides surfing, there are many other water sports along the beach.
Zhang recommends heading to the western end of the bay – Shizidao (Lion Rock) – for better waves.
One of Zhang’s favorite longline surfing beaches is Nanyan Bay, about a 30-minute drive north of Riyue Bay.
“From the shore to where you could start surfing, you would need to paddle about 20 minutes. That is why it is less popular than other beaches. But if you are willing to make an extra effort, the beach has great wave energy,” says Zhang.
Zhang says Hainan, in general, has many world-class surfing spots.
Surf season peaks from November to March with a good swell every three to four days.
In the summer, Hainan is also prone to typhoons – which can be another opportunity to surf bigger waves for Zhang and other experienced surfers who will catch the bigger waves that roll in before the storm hits.
“Because of its name, local surfers call Liu’ao the Los Angeles of China,” Zhang says. “It really is an amazing place to surf.”
A small peninsula in Fujian province, Liu’ao is a quaint fishing town with a population of less than 30,000.
“Apart from a few good quality waves, Liu’ao Beach is surrounded by nature. It is less touched by people and it is nice to take a walk along the beach and the hill nearby,” says Zhang.
There is also an old city wall in the city that was built in 1388 and can be traced back to the Ming Dynasty.
Qingdao, located in eastern Shandong province, is famous for its Tsingdao beer and German-style architecture.
“We often say it’s the only surf spot in China that you can access by subway. I haven’t tried, but I’d like to take my board to the subway, get off and get to the beach,” Zhang says.
“It is also one of the coldest surfing beaches in China. You could be freezing even if you wear a hat and gloves to surf.”
Most surfers in this port city head to Shilaoren Beach, a three-kilometer stretch of sand near some of the most valuable pieces of land in the central business district.
While you can surf all year round in Qingdao, winter can get cold as temperatures often drop below freezing. That’s why most people – with the exception of die-hards – surf from May to October.