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We Sent a Surfer to Test Out the Indoor Surfing Place

Surfing — "surfing" — without leaving Shanghai.
Last updated: 2020-05-29
Photos: Brandon McGhee
"Tested" is our column where we check out goods and services that might be helpful. We see if they're worth your time and money so you don't have to.
Yes, you can go surfing in Shanghai.

No, there won't be any swells, no curling waves and definitely no chance of seeing a tube. There’s no wave face. You don’t get to practice your paddle or your pumping technique. You ride on a simulator that shoots out whitewash at a consistent speed. And the water flows towards you, not from behind.

You do get to carve the board a little. You also get soaked in water when you fall off.

Otherwise, this particular activity bears little resemblance to actual surfing.

So rather: yes, you can go “flowboarding” in Shanghai. It’s a bit like wakeboarding, similar to snowboarding, and looks like sliding on water with a skateboard. This hybrid water sport has been evolving since the 80s in the US. In 2015, a Chinese company called Flywave started to manufacture the surfing simulators in China.

So it's not exactly surfing. But it's the closest you can get without leaving the city. And it's fun!

Ukong Surfing was one of the first to open in Shanghai — in 2019. It's a new development. Ukong isn't the only place though. There's also Headwind Surfing and IGOsurfing.

We went for Ukong because it's the one we've seen the most on WeChat Moments. The place itself is about an hour from downtown, inside the Pujiang Country Park in southern Minhang, far away from the hustle and bustle. Out there, the sky is clear and the buildings are low — it's already an experience.

Each session on the simulator is 30 minutes, priced at 199rmb, which includes a nice hot shower afterwards. I also got a coach from their Dianping page for the first-timer rate of 99rmb. The guy was really friendly, but he didn’t teach anything substantial and didn’t explain the techniques very clearly. It was still good to have him helping — I couldn’t have even gotten my board into the water without him.

I surf. I go to Hainan on the weekends. I've got a board there. But for this, I had to start off rookie-style, holding onto a rope to keep my balance, with the coach, on the other end of the rope, slowly giving slack so I could get my board down to the water.

The rushing water covered everything. Then, suddenly, I was in the current. The water moved fast and strong but it was coming right towards my face. It was completely different from surfing or skating. It was weird, like I was stuck halfway down a slope.

I managed to stand upright and balance. Although, I had to keep mumbling to myself: breathe, relax, get your body weight down, keep your core activated. The jitteriness reminded me of my first surf, when I was also riding a tiny whitewash, on a shallow sand break and on a foam board. It pushed all those pesky problems of the world out of my mind. It was fun.

Then I fell. After about 20 seconds on Ukong's simulator, I wiped out and was flushed towards the back wall, upside-down in the water.

I was glad I didn’t pack a bikini. That would have been…gnarly.

After several attempts on the simulator, the initial thrill from getting my balance started to wear off. I was a little bored and tired of falling backwards. It didn’t hurt, but my neck started to feel sore and stiff.

The 30-minute session was more than enough.

I decided to bodyboard insteead.

Meanwhile, the coach was enthusiastically telling me that after 10 sessions I would be able to do some cool tricks. All I could think about was actual surfing. Soul surfing. Even on a bad day. In salty water, on a surfboard, with actual swells and breaking waves.

To be fair, I wasn’t complaining. There’s never a good reason to not go surfing, indoor or outdoor. A bad day surfing flowboarding is still better than a good day of…I don’t know, sitting in front of an office desk?

I don’t need 10 sessions on the simulator. Maybe you do. You won’t know until you experience it the first time.

Worst case scenario, you hate indoor surfing. But you still get to enjoy the park. Prepare a picnic and make it a decent day trip. There’s also a basketball court and a gorgeous skate bowl just behind the surfing venue - all free of charge.

If you’ve never been on a surf simulator before, better get a coach first - holding on to the rope gives you an easier start.

Remember to pack a bath towel, toiletries, and a pair of slippers — the hot water from the shower was really nice, but the place only provides hair dryers.

Make a reservation too, just in case they get busier during summer season. Search for their WeChat mini program: youkongchonglang(有空冲浪), or purchase your entry tickets from their English website.

Ukong Surfing is at 4859 Shendu Lu, near Puxing Gong Lu. Click here to see the full listing.