Surfing at Big Wave Bay. Photo by Tom Booth
Hong Kong isn’t known as much of a place for surfing — it doesn’t even come close to Bali or Australia, or even Montreal, which has a year-round standing wave that has been called “one of the best in the world.” But if there are waves, there will be surfers, and depending on the beach and the time of year, Hong Kong’s got plenty of both. I recently met with Ken Choi, the organizer of a local surfing cup, to talk about Hong Kong’s surf scene.
Is Hong Kong a good place to surf?
Everybody thinks that Hong Kong has no good surfing, it’s just a big city, but that’s not true. In wintertime, from November to April, I’m able to surf three times a week. Of course we can’t compare it to Bali, Australia or Hawaii, places like that, but it’s surfable. We’re lucky compared to people in Thailand, where you can only surf for a couple of months a year during the monsoon, or Singapore, where there’s nowhere to surf at all.
How many surfers are there here?
Let’s say keen surfers, yeah? By keen surfers I mean people who go once a week at least. We have a few hundred. They go every week. Because we don’t have that many beaches here, you run into them. Even if you don’t know their name, you’ll see them on the water and be like, hey, I know this guy.
If you’re talking about occasional surfers who own a surfboard at home and go once every two months, there are so many. Thousands and thousands of them. In the past years, there have been more and more surfers. A lot of people think surfing is cool, it’s coming back, but when they try they realize it’s actually really hard. It’s hard to chase a wave, it’s hard to go up, they almost drown when they can’t breathe in the white water. So they give up.
Others, once they get up on a wave, they stand on the whitewash, they feel the momentum of the wave, they go, “Wahhh! This is my sport.”
So where’s the best place to catch a break?
Tai Long Wan is the best. Okay, there’s a little bit of hiking through Sai Kung Country Park, an hour walk from Wong Shek Pier, but the good thing about it is that it’s open sea, so you get a good consistent swell when the wind blows northeast. For me, the best thing about it is that there’s not too many people. Say you go to Big Wave Bay near Shek O, it’s like such a small beach, the breaking point is so small, and you have 50 people there queueing up. It’s so easy to have a collision. That’s not nice.
In Hong Kong we really have two seasons: winter [with northerly winds] and summer [with southerly winds]. Here we get wind swell, there’s nothing like Bali or other places where you have reef break. In the winter, when the northeast wind blows, we have two choices, Big Wave Bay or Tai Long Wan. In the summer we have other options, like Pui O and Cheung Sha on Lantau. But they’re only good when the wind blows southwest, so if there’s good surf on Lantau, there’s nothing at Tai Long Wan. It all depends on the swell and the wind directions.
Tai Long Wan
I’ve heard that the best surf is found at a few hidden places that surfers don’t want anyone else to know about.
Nah. There’s some spots that people call secret spots, but they’re not really that much of a secret. Some people go to Tap Mun, to surf near the rocks because there’s sometimes really good breaks there, and people also go to this place on Lantau between Pui O and Cheung Sha where there’s a really nice point break. There’s no road access, but you can paddle there in 15 or 20 minutes. You also need to be able to catch the right swell in the right direction. But people are lazy and they don’t like to do that.
Where do Hong Kong surfers go when they want to get out of town?
Usually they go to Bali, or if they want something cheaper, they go to Taiwan, which is really good in the winter. The coast is long and you can drive hours and hours and come across so many places where you can surf. Besides that, wintertime is good on the east coast of Hainan Island. But it’s really only Japanese, Taiwanese and Hong Kong people that go — surfing isn’t really big there. You need to bring extra equipment because if you break something, there’s no surf shops where you can replace it.
There’s a lot of surf slang in English. What about in Cantonese? Is there an equivalent to “Bitchin’ wave, dude”?
Usually we speak Cantonese to each other, but when we’re talking about tricks or other surf things, like a floater or a top turnover, we don’t have a Chinese word for those, so we just use English.
How long have you been surfing?
I’ve been surfing for 20 years, but it’s really only been my top priority for maybe six years. In the 80s I windsurfed and in the 90s I did wakeboarding, but because you can’t focus on too many different sports at the same time, I only focused on one or two. Now my focus is on surfing.
If you’re a surfer you just feel good. It’s hard to explain. If you have a lot of pressure at work, or from family or whatever, you surf and you forget about everything. If you surf in the morning, come to work in the afternoon or at lunchtime, you just feel good.
Another version of this interview was originally published on CNNGo.