Surfer girls ride the wave to the Chinese island of Hainan
BELLA LIU’S The family were dismayed when they returned home inland after a year in Hainan, a southern island province. She had several scars and a deep tan. “My mother thought I had become a drug trafficker working across the border from Vietnam,” Ms. Liu explains. In fact, the former dietitian had taken to surfing full time. But it was almost as shocking. “I fed you for 20 years, and you just wanna float offshore?” She remembers saying her mother.
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Ms. Liu is now a surf instructor in Houhai Bay on the south coast of the island. Small tattoos, including that of a seashell, adorn her muscular arms (body art is another taboo in the eyes of townspeople). Yet surfing has changed her “inside and out,” she says. It is not the only one to seek its benefits. Most of his clients are women, many of whom are willing to go against the grain by diving into it.
Hainan’s palm-lined beaches and mild winters have long attracted domestic tourists. But even a decade ago, there weren’t many surfing enthusiasts. When an American expat held a surfing contest there in 2008, only two of the 30 or so participants were Chinese. Today, Riyue Bay, north of Houhai, is home to the National Surfing Team Academy, established after the International Olympic Committee accepted surfing as an Olympic sport in 2016. is not qualified for the Tokyo games, which start on July 23 and where surfing will make its Olympic debut.) The local government is now keen to make Hainan a global surfing destination. Its waves are said to be the most reliable in China for good surfing.
There was a time when cars loaded with boards were pulled over by police and surfers lectured about the dangers of their hobby. Now, the official endorsement is getting more and more people to try the sport. The pandemic too. This forced many Chinese who would normally have vacationed abroad to stay put. Between January and May, Hainan received 11% more visitors than the same period in 2019. Surfing also gained momentum last year when “Summer Surf Shop”, a variety show filmed in the Riyue Bay, began airing on iQiyi, a Netflix-type channel. site.
On a recent weekday in Houhai Bay, dozens of bikini-clad novices, their faces streaked with colorful sunscreen, wobbled on boards in knee-deep water. Many come for a single session, hiring coaches who double as photographers for social media-worthy snaps. But dedicated surfers are also increasing in number. Everyone “loves nature and the spirit of freedom,” explains Ms. Liu, the ex-dietician. Darci Liu (no relationship), China’s first professional surfer, organizes retreats for women who want to enjoy the sport. “Surfing has shown me a bigger world,” she says, a world in which “I don’t have to have pale skin or children of a certain age.” In March, she launched Hainan’s first female surf tournament. Expect more and more of them to ride the wave. ■
This article appeared in the China section of the print edition under the headline “Mother Ocean”