The Sleeping Dragon awakes

Matt George
Surfpolitik

Recently, China held its first wavepool competition at the Xing Feng Extreme Sports Center. The Chinese pool is a patent-evasive version of the Kelly Slater wavepool, though the wave breaks more like Surf Snowdonia. It's located 300kms from the waveless Yellow Sea.

The competition was also the Chinese National Surf Championships. Previously, China had run its national titles at Hainan Island in the south of the country, but this was the first time it'd been run in a pool.

Bryan Dickerson from WavePool mag estimates that the Xing Feng Extreme Sports Center is the first of five pools to be built in China.

With this in mind, Matt George winds the clock back to get an insight to the future.

Summer, 1987, The Peoples Republic of China

To call it a delegation was a stretch for me. 

But not for the Peoples Republic of China. That’s where I found myself in the spring of 1987 as the only man to have ever carried a surfboard on the Great Wall of China. One old lady had asked through our translator what I was doing walking around with an airplane wing. I had been invited by the Chinese government to lead an effort to introduce surfing to their country. China’s state run athletic programs, inhumane in their discipline, are designed for global athletic dominance. So I brought some real characters with me. Hawaiian flower Rell Sunn, who was stunning in her gold lame jumpsuit, Willy Morris, a giant in the “Land of the Red Dragon”, Jon Damm, smooth as James Bond and photographer Warren Bolster, the immensely talented misanthrope.

Now mind you, surfing impresario Peter Drouyn, had visited the year previous. But his sojourn was shrouded in the mystery of what prompted his foggy exit. It might have been from the banquets where he would apparently cue Jimi Hendrix and Greenough tube footage and declare, “Comrades! This is what it is like to ride inside a moving sea!”

Delivered in Mandarin, no less. Drouyn having always been thorough in his approaches to life’s challenges and...well, changes.

His attempt at becoming China’s first surfing warlord was a hell of an act to follow. Admittedly, my motivations were far less lofty, though just as earnest. Our delegation was given the Junior Chinese Springboard Diving Squad and expected to turn them into Tom Curren within the week. Still, the kids were cool. Like all kids. Loving the freedom of what translated into “surf frolic” on Hainan Island, hard against the contested waters of the South China Sea.

On the way through the paddies to the surf breaks were overgrown bomb craters left over from the Vietnam War. But the lazy days at the beach were intoxicating to these young Chinese divers. And that seemed like introduction enough of surfing for all of us. Far from the strict discipline of their pool training that one kid described as “agony and sorrow”. With no agony and sorrow, by the time we left, all I was worried about was how long the boards I gave away would last these poor kids. I ended my feature article in Surfer with this:

“So the Father turned and started his walk home with his hand gently on the back of his son’s neck. His son had been in at the beach surfing all week. And all this father could think of as they made their way back through the mud of the rice paddies, was that it was going to take days to get his son’s mind back on the tending of the fields.”

2018, Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia

The REnextop Asian Surfing Tour was in town. 

I was on the lead broadcast and reportedly over 5.4 million Chinese were tuned in watching the contest live. Over the five days of competition we were told that the viewership swelled to just over 17 million. I wondered what the WSL would think of those numbers. I guessed it must be said that the Chinese seem pretty keen on this surfing thing.

The question now is, where is it all leading to? The global dominance in every other aspect on the globe that the Chinese are now maneuvering so deftly for? Will America become a fallen Rome? Australia an oppressed Sparta? Will our grandchildren speak Chinese and shape their backyard boards with dimensions from the Chinese numeration system? 

2020, Hainan Island, Peoples Republic of China 

There was only one man to ask. 

Our great 1976 World Champion and surfing impresario Peter Townend. 

So I got a hold of him and here goes: 

With the generous financial blessings of the Chinese Government, Peter has been coaching China’s developing international surf team. He got the gig right around the time of the Olympic surfing announcement. He was coaching at a Chinese tidal bore surfing contest. Yes, you heard that right. A tidal bore. Anyway, he soon found himself with officials from Beijing’s Bureau of Water Sports. “They looked at me and said, ‘How do we get good at this? And I said, ‘Well, first you’ve got to learn how to swim, mate!’” Peter recalls, “There was no point blowing smoke up their arse.”

And so, in pure Aussie fashion, Peter was off and running. Back and forth to Hainan Island to train the Chinese national 'squad' on the same beaches Drouyn and I found ourselves on so long ago.

Soon realising it would take years and years, the Chinese Government, impatient for Olympic Gold, tried to convince some Chinese/American surfers to switch flags. “The government gave me a million dollars to go and find those people”, said Peter. “But there was one condition: You cannot have dual citizenship - ever.” 

That put the kybosh on the thing. Still, Peter did find one surfer who considered the jump. With government backing and free reign to accept enormous Chinese sponsorships, the deal would be worth untold millions. 

The surfer eventually backed out. That is how much the guy dug his family’s hard-won American citizenship. 

(Any Aussie takers out there willing to trade dog’s eyes for dim sum?)

Peter bravely admits that China has no chance of qualifying for Tokyo next year. “There’s never been a beach culture in China,” he says, “Surfing is, at its core, about fun. Not the merciless intensity that China trains its other athletes.”

Still, Peter remains hopeful as he eyes the L.A. Olympics in 2028. And here is where wave machines will come into play as more than just kiddie pools for Jackson Dorian. Secretive as always, China is rumored to have installed such a “wave simulation” apparatus on Hainan Island and allegedly has plans for many more. Peter prays that the 2028 Summer Games will be in a pool. 

Which opens up a whole new train of thought. Do other surfers hope we face off with the Olympic Chinese in a wave pool? Exit polls at Kelly’s wave ranch indicate that most surfers under 14 years old are an enthusiastic yes, while the adult set are mostly undecided. And both groups agree that if it need be so, it can only take place on a wave like Kelly’s. Chinese or not, other wave pools are just too short an experience to decide anything.  

Either way it looks like the Chinese are serious about finally entering surfing’s competitive sphere. The question remains if they will ever be able to do this in a biosphere. The thing about the possibility of wave pool competitions is that it suits the  brutal training philosophies of the Chinese to a tee.

Where it is possible that the great, natural sport of surfing will become a display of discipline, repetition and consistency. The three hallmarks of any competitive success within the Chinese culture. 

What the hell, I thought, it’s worth a try. 

Mick Fanning brought home three titles using the same formula. 

// MATT GEORGE

Comments

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 1:29pm

Perhaps the least inspirational surf related story I’ve ever read. Failing on every level. From the situation where surfers are conceptualised and created in order to facilitate competition and supremacist ideology, to the fact that one of the people responsible for the initial debasement of surfing as a commercial activity is still out there , unashamedly peddling the imminent death of surf joy through overcrowding .

It’s a shit show from start to finish.

The secular interpretation of surfing would be fine if they didn’t fuck it all for the rest of us.

Dave Drinkwater's picture
Dave Drinkwater's picture
Dave Drinkwater commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 3:02pm

Nailed it.

Halibut's picture
Halibut's picture
Halibut commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 11:04am

I disagree Blowin. I reckon it's good. Everybody is so into the whole pro surfing thing. Well, the Chinese are eventually going to give them pro-surfing like they would'nt believe! Surfing for the judging panels, the exposure, the points, the promotion, the money. The pursuit of the ever expanding repertoire of high performance athleticism, the mechanics of surfing raised to the high performance criteria. It's such a perfect fit for a nation raised on the ideals of discipline and the pursuit of excellence through relentless and unselfish toil.
You wanted pro surfing? You got it! I hope they whoop everyone's arse

in the future, everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 11:06am

No , I haven’t wanted pro surfing since I was old enough to realise that the externality of commercial surfing was more crowds and less joy.

Great surfing- yes.

Pro surfing- no.

It’s not just possible to have the former without the latter , that was the status quo from the moment the first person rode a wave until the relatively recent past.

The idea that a new wave of crowds would be artificially created off a base driven by profit motive and the propaganda imperative of racial supremacists makes me want to vomit.

The fuckers enabling this disgrace should be forevermore banished to a crowded , piss tainted wave pool . No more ocean for them.

jayet-010's picture
jayet-010's picture
jayet-010 commented Tuesday, 19 May 2020 at 9:53am

What is the point of pro surfing? What does it do for me, other than ever more crowded line-ups? Why should I care about these over-entitled kids who add so little to society?

Better surfing? Better tech?

I'm not sure the price is worth it.

Fatso's picture
Fatso's picture
Fatso commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 11:05am

Couldn't be bothered reading it TBH. But Halibut....you been smoking mate??? "It's such a perfect fit for a nation raised on the ideals of discipline and the pursuit of excellence through relentless and unselfish toil." - and the corporatised use of performance enhancing substances!

Vunerable's picture
Vunerable's picture
Vunerable commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 11:17am

Sun Yangs looking for a job.

garyg1412's picture
garyg1412's picture
garyg1412 commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 11:37am

"High" Performance surfing coach.

Solitude's picture
Solitude's picture
Solitude commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 11:18am

This is not surfing. This is something else. The end.

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 11:30am

Why the fuck is Peter Townend encouraging the Chinese to embrace surfing? Why does the world need more surfers?
He should be embarrassed at how much of an old kook he is.
I’m feeling like VicLocal getting angry at the internet.

gsco's picture
gsco's picture
gsco commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 11:38am

I came back from a month of surfing and travelling southern China late January, just before the travel restrictions (by only a few days). This is the 2nd time I've been there.

Having surfed across the Pacific and Indian oceans, to be honest the surf isn't good enough and the natural environment isn't clean enough in China to recommend it as a surf trip destination. But there is waves.

Surfing is just starting to take off all across the top of the South China Sea, in many more places than just Hainan, although Hainan seems to have the best waves (excluding Taiwan of course).

The situation in China reminds me of that in Taiwan when I first went there back in 2001. China currently has the seeds sprouting of a genuine beach and surfing culture of stoke for the pure joy of surfing, and this has been the case for about a decade or so now. The Chinese government's focus on the development of a surfing team for the Olympics is quite separated from this ground-up surfing culture just starting to develop across the beaches of southern China.

There are currently a number of cultural and other, including environmental, barriers to the development of a fully fledged surfing culture across southern China. Anyone who has had the curiosity to investigate the beaches across the top of the south China sea will have to admit that these beaches have "been put to other uses" and as a result, most of what were once beautiful, white sand, palm-tree lined beach paradises have been close to irreversibly damaged from an environmental perspective. These other uses include nuclear power plants, extensive over fishing, aquaculture and fish farming, hotel construction and other development on an absolutely massive and unfathomable scale, large and small scale shipping and ocean transportation ports, etc.

I'm actually hoping that a surfing culture does develop across the top of the South China sea in quite a large scale and contributes to restoring these beaches and overall environments back to something resembling their original natural, untouched beauty.

JackStance's picture
JackStance's picture
JackStance commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 11:53am

Thats a really good point.

But I'm cynical.

Breath. Murdoch's empire will one day fail to control our minds.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 12:22pm

Yeah ....put that in the same basket as the forlorn hope that financial empowerment opens up their system of governance.

I’ve seen the Chinese approach to coastal care in Bali and sadly hold no real fantasies that any form of hippie surfer led environmentalist revolution is likely . If anything it’ll just expand their footprint of destruction to include the rest of the planet’s surfable coastline.

The Shaper's picture
The Shaper's picture
The Shaper commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 12:13pm

the reason the PT and others are courting China is the same reason that anyone else has.
Financial opportunity offered by developing an untapped market.

The surf mogils are to blame for the current popularity of the sport. They/we sold off our exclusive shares in "the waves" years ago in return for financial gain ...........most of us have not shared in of course.......... but I feel the lesson may be that we should be careful what we wish for in relation to China. Their motives are not pure, they are 100% communist, we forget that to our own peril. """That picture of Kelly's technology ....stolen....should say it all"""" ..........They want their people focused on anything other than politics or Government. Sport is the perfect vehicle. Now that Surfing is in the Olympics lets see if the world surfing associations can resist the big big dollars.........sadly I think not. Be careful what you wish for.

MidWestMonger's picture
MidWestMonger's picture
MidWestMonger commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 12:51pm

What does 'Secretive as always, China is rumored to have installed such a “wave simulation” apparatus on Hainan Island and allegedly has plans for many more.' supposed to mean?
Wave pools or something else?
Satellite google search 'Gangmen Harbor, Lingshui Li Autonomous County", they're making a decent little sand point dredging their harbor.
I remember staying at Pasta Point and the kettles in the rooms had stickers with chinese writing. It translated to 'do not cook the crab in kettle' as they were eating the rock crabs they saw, even though it was a 5 star buffet joint.

Nickerless's picture
Nickerless's picture
Nickerless commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 1:27pm

yeah let's just teach the country with the highest population how to surf that seems like a great idea PT!

Bob Sacamano's picture
Bob Sacamano's picture
Bob Sacamano commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 1:43pm

Welcome comrades!

Surely they can accelerate their development to be ready for Teahupo'o
in 2024?

gsco's picture
gsco's picture
gsco commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 1:51pm

They'll need a pretty big wave pool..

Westofthelake's picture
Westofthelake's picture
Westofthelake commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 2:00pm

Geez their wave pool looks more like a tidal bore from the Qiantang River, except it's bigger in the river, but still has that same bog brown colour to enjoy.

ringmaster's picture
ringmaster's picture
ringmaster commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 2:02pm

Fuck I'm glad I'm near the end of my surfing life as opposed to being close to the start of it.

Surfing in 2020 can be summed up as: crowds, crowds, crowds,crowds, crowds, crowds etc etc until the fucken cows come home.

bipola's picture
bipola's picture
bipola commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 2:03pm

they will do it, they are going to take over the world, they need to put their population somewhere

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 2:40pm

And you thought it was crowded now...............gawd some bastards would sell there grand mothers for a quick buck..

simba

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 3:18pm

Simba -Crowds.... Imagine if Drouyn succeded in 1986....
Peter Drouyn / Rearview Mirror Article

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 3:32pm

Yes Udo Drouyn would have done the same thing 34 years ago if he could have.....funny now that he has gone full circle so to speak......
https://www.swellnet.com/news/rearview-mirror/2010/10/29/peter-drouyn-ta...

simba

GuySmiley's picture
GuySmiley's picture
GuySmiley commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 5:23pm

That wave pool was a shock, I mean haven’t they stolen then IP and blue prints of every wave pool around the world yet?

Coaster's picture
Coaster's picture
Coaster commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 10:28pm

“Extreme sports centre”. Slight exaggeration.

tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter commented Monday, 18 May 2020 at 10:48pm

If Bondi Rescue is anything to go by, I can't see them dominating the lineup anytime soon.

mowgli's picture
mowgli's picture
mowgli commented Tuesday, 19 May 2020 at 10:00am

Everything Blowin said.

“Life is a long lesson in humility.”

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Tuesday, 19 May 2020 at 6:41pm

hang abouts, that's a pool in 1987 in the pic

mikehunt207's picture
mikehunt207's picture
mikehunt207 commented Tuesday, 19 May 2020 at 8:25pm

Peter Townsend has been selling out surfing his whole life, what a disgrace you are PT, first the USA and now China, should take the Chinese citizenship offer and never come back. First world champion is questionable IMO too.

frog's picture
frog's picture
frog commented Tuesday, 19 May 2020 at 8:54pm

Shit surf is shitty.

Crowded shit surf is shittier.

Maybe China people not like shit time.

Surfers like freedom and be rebel.

Sent CCP best of Captain Goodvibes as culture training manual for China surf boy and surf girl.

Maybe CCP not want surf now.

Frogg

djizzah's picture
djizzah's picture
djizzah commented Thursday, 21 May 2020 at 7:25pm

Kind of over China in any shape or form, whether it be be cruelty to animals, slavery, totalitarian doctrinaire enslavement usurping democracy through economics, environment degradation, virus inception and spread through clandestine secrecy and blatant lying, they can get fucked

Bungan33's picture
Bungan33's picture
Bungan33 commented Friday, 22 May 2020 at 3:41pm

As velocityJohno said...if that wave pool pic is 1987 then Kelly seems to have stolen the Chinese IP.....

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Friday, 22 May 2020 at 4:19pm

If the Chinese really did get serious about surfing I imagine there’d be some fairly major artificial reef building. Things could get interesting aye.

grumpy's picture
grumpy's picture
grumpy commented Saturday, 23 May 2020 at 9:26am

Last winter i stayed at kuta because my son wanted to go to go to waterbom for his birthday , hadnt stayed there for 20 years . I got up for my 6 am surf but when i got to the beach i was blown out 200 to 300 chinese and russians doing learn to surf all wearing lifejackets and being pushed in by a local , as they got to their feet someone would snap a photo of them "surfing" . 7 guys with meter long telephoto lens's , 6 blowfly drones filming it all as well . 5 half drowned chinese being cared for lying on the beach. I was a little shocked to say the least it was 6 in the morning and lessons went all day . Kuta suxs its a factory that produces hundreds of kooks a day that should have never surfed . Theres too many surfers already and now this crap . China sux im over them playing games with the world and as for PT he has always been a fuckwit and still is

Santosha's picture
Santosha's picture
Santosha commented Sunday, 24 May 2020 at 7:58am

Wsl’s living ken doll , Erik Grogan or whatever his name is , will be frothing at the gills at the prospect of 100 million new chinese learners taking up surfing and travelling the world . You thought the Japanese and brazzo’s were adding to crowded lineups, wait a few years for the mass tourism of chinese surfers , you can see it now , surely . Yeah PT doesn’t give a shit about the old soul surfer enviro cause he’s done and had it all , can’t surf anymore , so fuck the rest of ya’s coming on from here on in . Second half of last century to now has been nothing but surfers trying to promote surfing to tell the world how great it is and how the surfers life is the ideal existence to be dreamed of... well it’s now coming to fruition with saturation levels that will go way beyond being anything pleasant . I surfed snapper for hours in the 70’s with a handful of guys , sometimes none, I look at it now and think I won the lottery being born in the best time possible . Now the thing to do in your twilight years is take up surf journalism , like Jarratt .. and make life sweeter by reminiscing about those halcyon years and all the surfers of my era who had the cream . Yeah we had it all and now it’s getting totally fucked over by sheer numbers . We all know it , the chinese surfers will blow out exponentially over the years ahead , just like the brazzo’s did . If you wanna make money in the next few decades , think of one small thing all the chinese surf masses will want and you too can become the next fat fuck surf mogul swimming in mountains of cash .

tango's picture
tango's picture
tango commented Sunday, 24 May 2020 at 9:58pm

Any promotion of surfing is a sell-out in my opinion. With crowding the way it is and the direct negative relationship between crowds and enjoying going surfing, any reason for getting people involved is adding to the ruination. I'm fine if people discover surfing for themselves and their family and pursue it, but to actually promote participation in any shape or form means you don't get it or you're deriving a personal benefit (income, cash, lifestyle, whatever). The common theme across the two is that you sure don't give a rats about surfing for surfing's sake.

Patate's picture
Patate's picture
Patate commented Tuesday, 26 May 2020 at 4:51am

Should we let it happening and only be whinging that the PT of this world are selling out our sport and life style?

Sure you guys have some (ethical) ideas to push them out the f*** out?

Many places have been invaded in the last century and indigenous pushed out. - are we gonna let it happen to your breaks? (For avoidance of doubt I see the invasion being caused by marketing and greed not by a specific country or culture)