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Surfing China

Flashback to a four day surf trip to Riyue Bay in southeast Hainan. Big waves, cheap living on the beach, ghost hotels. Surf capital PRC.
2015-05-22 14:49:37
I'm Gydeon Valdes and this is my Endless Summer.

Flashback to like four months ago. I'm chillin in a hotel in Zhengzhou after a gig, and this tourist promo video about Hainan comes on TV.

"Whispering birds and fragrance of fruit"

"Widely known as plant kingdom, and town of southern herbs"

"Let It Go, as the whole world changes. That's the essence of life."

Convinced. Bought a ticket right then.

Hainan is this island in the south of China. Gulf of Tonkin sesh. Surfing has been creeping on a come-up there, with the government and brands like O’Neill, Billabong, and Skull Candy (weeeeaaaaaak) investing millions, hosting annual competitions, and trying to turn this place into China's Hawaii.

China's dime piece surf spot is Riyue Bay, on the south-east coast of Hainan in Wanning (万宁), a.k.a., "ten thousand peace", about 100km from the Sanya airport. Might even be the nicest beach in China, but the water gets fierce -- like, often too dangerous to swim in. Not the biggest waves in the world, for sure, but consistent all year round and not busy.

45km of coastline. Wayyyyyyy chiller than Sanya. Less tourists, cleaner beach, and cheaper. The weather stays in the high 30s during the summer, then dips into the 20s for the rest of the year. Rainy season goes from June–October, but the waves remain.

November–April is prime surf season -- hella swells. Could ride a typhoon all the way to a Zara sweatshop in Bangladesh. Also, this website China Surf Forecast is crucial. They've got surf conditions info on spots all along China's East coast, Hong Kong, and Hainan as well, but Hainan has more surf spots than the whole East coast of China, so, there you go.

Took a three hour flight Shanghai to Sanya (1500–3000 round-trip, depending on season), then cabbed it to Riyue Bay for 300rmb. You COULD take a bus, or a train and a cab, but that's some serious mafan to save like 200rmb. Stayed in this village called Riyuewan. Super chill, except once a day when a few buses of local tourists roll through. That's the time to throw on some Dead and wander the plant kingdom. Schooled these bros on some Barton Hall.

Stayed at Riyue Bay Surf Club, founded by this seriously righteous Gandolf bro Brendan Sheridan from California. Cheap accommodation, kind souls, board rental and lessons, imported beers. Right on the beach...

Place is like Family Mart for surfing. Boards for rent, boards for sale, lessons (400rmb per two hour class), accommodation, people hanging out, cold beer, pizza, mini-ramp...

Got a bed for 50rmb a night. Could have rented a private room on the beach for 120rmb a night, but nah.

Really chill bao'an.

Some people even took me to a ghost hotel. Apparently this was supposed to be a next-level resort, but then just wasn't. Killer views of both sides of the bay from the roof.

Some harmonious brahs helped me wax my board..

Then it was time.

Then all the sudden this snake just blasted through through my sector. Harsh.

Met some other surfers.

After the sesh, the hotel staff was straight killlllllling it on the BBQ. Grillmaster dude is like the fucking Liu Kang of shaokao.

Island fruits all day. Some places make fruit ice cream on the spot for less than 10rmb.

And to end the day, some cold beers.

Stayed for four nights. Place is paradise. The whole trip, including flights and hotel, cost about 4000rmb. If you don't know how to surf, the people at the surf school will drop some knowledge on you. And if you already surf, well, this is about as good as it gets in the PRC brah. Here is just how righteous the surfing here can get.


Getting There: Depending on the season, a flight to Sanya from Shanghai will cost 1500–3000rmb. You can take a cab from there to Riyue Bay, which will require some haggling with the driver. Expect to pay 250–300rmb. You could also fly into Haikou, which is 10km further from Riyue than Sanya, but flights to Haikou are often cheaper than to Sanya (Haikou often has cheap flights to Singapore too). You could also take trains, buses, private cars, or any combination thereof, for less money and increased mafan. Info about that on the Surfing Hainan website.

Where To Stay:

Chill, Cheap, and Grimey Beach Vibes: Riyue Bay Surf Club. Opened by surfers from California, this is the one-stop place to sleep, wax your board, ride halfpipes, chill, and make friends. Beds start at 50rmb per night, private rooms start at 120rmb.

Slightly Nicer: Nanhai Beach Front Hotel is an upgrade from the Surf Club, but still affordable. Rooms start at 180rmb per night and go up to 468rmb for the Sea View Room.

Best Time To Visit: According to the Surfing Hainan website, "One of the best things about Riyue Bay is that there is surf the entire year. For those who want to learn to surf, any time of year is great...Summer is not as consistent or as big as in the winter season." Do check the weather forecast before you head there though, as rain can often linger for weeks. The big competitions happen in November, so that's probably the best time to surf.

FYI, Hainan has special visa rules. Groups of five or more from about 30 countries can visit for 15–21 days without a visa. More about that on Travel China Guide, Article 6, but definitely double check with the tour company if you're coming in from abroad.

Lessons / Surfboard Rental: The surf club has everything. Boards for rent, boards for sale. Lessons are 400rmb per lesson, with discounts available for those who buy in bulk. Full details.

IMPORTANT: There are no ATMs in Riyue Bay, and these hotels only take that red money. Plan accordingly, bring enough cash.

One more thing -- fear the ocean yo!