Surf’s up in China as sport catches on

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Surf’s up in China as sport catches on

HOUHAI BEACH, China - Clutching her surfboard, Guo Shujuan strolls down a beach on southern China’s Hainan Island and glides into waves that pound a shoreline littered with rubbish and broken bottles. Surf’s up, Chinese style.

China may have one of the world’s longest coastlines, but surfing has barely made a ripple in a country where a deep tan is a badge of the peasantry, water pollution is rife and outdoor sports are still coming into their own. But Guo, a 23-year-old tour guide from the city of Guilin, embodies the potential of the sport in the Asian giant, which has a rising generation of millions of thrill-seeking youths.

“Two years ago I had never even heard of surfing in China,” the cocoa-skinned Guo, who took up the sport a year ago, said after a session in the waves. “But once I tried it, I thought, wow, how cool.”

In the great surfers’ tradition of seeking out undiscovered breaks, China may be one of the final frontiers, and its potential lies largely in Hainan, a tropical island province being massively developed for tourism. Most of the credit for launching Hainan’s fledgling surf scene goes to Brendan Sheridan, a 30-year-old American. An amateur surfer from California who previously taught English in China, Sheridan most recently worked at a Philadelphia bank processing electronic payments. Intrigued by the thought of China’s surf potential, he quit his job three years ago and came to Hainan, where he eventually started Surfing Hainan, which organizes lessons and day trips to the island’s breaks. Hainan was Sheridan’s choice because he felt it had China’s best surf. It also has yet to attract large crowds, which can deter surfers from visiting an area.

But it hasn’t quite “caught on like wildfire,” Sheridan admits. The lack of a Chinese beach sport tradition means Sheridan must first teach many of his aspiring surfers to swim. And he sees little sign yet that Hainan locals are taking to the sport. Another hurdle is the environment. China is among the world’s most polluted countries and its coastlines are no exception, discouraging water sports. But Angela Wang, a business consultant from Beijing who declared herself “addicted” after her first lesson under Sheridan, expressed hope that surfing could be a catalyst for cleaner beaches.

“If you want to have fun with nature, you need to be friends with it,” she said. AFP

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