Peter Drouyn Takes Surfing To China
In 1986 Australian surfer, inventor, and recent gender reassignment patient, Peter Drouyn, tried to establish a surf academy on Hainan Island, China.
After a decade long career in professional surfing - a career that included top-tier victories and contributions such as of man-on-man surfing - Drouyn retired without any tangible rewards for his efforts. In November 1985 he told Tracks, " Look, I've got nothing to show for all this achievement, skill and creativity. I could go and be a tyre fitter or I could stick myself back into something different and see where it goes."
So Drouyn did a course in Asian Studies at Griffith University, and whilst there got the idea of introducing surfing to China. After finishing the course he spent many months ploughing through the red tape that would allow him permission to do so.
Although it was only 24 years ago, China was very different to its current state, and gaining access behind the 'bamboo curtain' was very difficult. Officials were notoriously suspicious of anyone from the West. After Drouyn had convinced Chinese officials that surfing success was in their national interest they granted him access. He had the loftiest of goals, including entering a Chinese team at the 1988 ISA Games.
Drouyn had Chinese officials select thirty of the best young atheletes, shaped a quiver of boards and then flew over to Hainan Island, not even knowing if he was going to get surf. As it happens, Hainan does get surf, although mainly small and onshore. Drouyn stayed a month, training the Chinese groms, with some of them even getting to their feet by the end of his time in China.
The tale of Chinese surfing falls away about here because Drouyn didn't go back and China didn't enter a team in the 1988 ISA Games. Indeed, the 2010 ISA Games were completed this week in Peru and although 32 nations entered, China wasn't one of them.
That's not to say Chinese surfing ground to a halt, however.
A year later, in 1987, an American contingent comprised of Matt George, Willy Morris, John Damm and Rell Sunn went to Hainan. There they found kids playing in the shorebreak on the leftovers of Drouyn's boards. The American's affectionately called the children - some of whom were Drouyn's old pupils - the Thunderdome Kids, in reference to 'Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome', where abandoned children await the return of a hero to rescue them.
Since then a mix of Western expats and curious travellers have slowly spread surfing into China. It has been very slow on the uptake, especially compared to other countries where it instantly flourished, yet on November 6th China will have its first professional surfing competition. Fittingly it will be on Hainan Island where Peter Drouyn - now known as Westerly Windina - first introduced surfing 26 years ago.