Surfing in Hainan

China's beaches are angling to become the next global surf destination

As high season in Hainan returns, Blessing Waung sidesteps the tourist traps of Sanya and heads to the island’s lesser-known beaches to find out whether surfing can really take off in China

The past 12 months have been a breakout year for China as a surf destination, with Hainan hosting a series of high-profile competitions. But while the hoards head to Sanya, the lesser-known area of Wanning is the place to catch the best waves. Compared to the packed beach resorts elsewhere on the island, this quiet stretch of sand is an idyllic place to hang out, drink from a coconut, and surf. Pristine beaches are impeccably manicured, with no litter in sight.

Hainan has long been a holiday choice for the moneyed, but with the introduction of surfing and the arrival of its more laid-back aficionados, the island is becoming more accessible for smaller budgets. An hour and a half away from Sanya, Wanning is the widely feted and recently crowned capital of surf in China; in the past ten years, the population has boomed from 200,000 to nearly half a million. Granted, with the recent interest in the area, construction is underway for a handful of grand resorts, but the beach still has the low-slung, insouciant feel of a surfing village somewhere off the Peruvian coast.

Ten years ago, surf boards had never been seen in Hainan. Local surfer Zhang Yinhai, known to local surfers simply as Da Hai, first spotted Japanese and Taiwanese tourists surfing in Hainan more than seven years ago. He was one of the first generation to bring surfing to the island. Now, international brands are banking on the Chinese market picking up on this fledging new trend and marketing accordingly.

In October, Wanning’s Riyuewan, or Sun and Moon Bay, played host to the Swatch Girls Pro China world longboarding championship, the first Association of Surfing Professionals tour event ever to take place in China. This month sees the fourth annual Billabong Surfing Hainan Open, the largest annual surf competition in China (from Saturday 3- Sunday 4), and January brings Quiksilver to host the first ASP men’s championship.

Riyuewan and other myriad, yet-to-be-named coves have perfect waves for beginners, easy to paddle into and smooth for riding out. For experts, the waves might be a bit small, but they are perfectly serviceable for longboards. Peak season lasts from now until March.

The most efficient way to arrange surf lessons and tours is through Surfing Hainan (info@surfinghainan.com), the most established tour guide on the island. An eclectic group of surfers from the United States, Argentina and Inner Mongolia, make weekly expeditions to Wanning. As the area develops, they are increasingly protective of their secret spots.

These surf points aren’t yet on any maps and have spur-of-the-moment, off-beat monikers like Windemere, Houhai, and Gourou ‘Dog Meat’ Bay (named after Chinese surfer Darci Liu’s dog, whose sausage-like body the rocks resemble).

Justin Tiller, owner of the popular backpacker spot Sanya Raintree Backpacker Hostel and one of Surfing Hainan’s laid-back instructors, plans to open an affordable alternative in Wanning within the next year. Alongside other local surfers in the area, he hopes that as Wanning expands, the appreciation for nature and relaxation will spread to a wider Chinese market.

Getting there

Shanghai Airlines and Juneyao Airlines fly from Shanghai to Sanya from 1,600RMB return. (Getting from Sanya to Wanning is a 1.5-hour bus ride). Visit www.ctrip.com or call +400 619 9999.

Where to stay


For all-inclusive comfort, Le Meridien Shimei Bay Beach Resort & Spa has private villas with individual swimming pools, as well as its own stretch of private beach and longboard rentals. Rooms from 1,540RMB/night. Shimei Bay, Wanning, Hainan (+898 6252 8888). Or, for a cheaper option, stay at the Sun Moon Bay Hotel with clean, airy rooms overlooking the water starting at 360RMB/night. Liji Town, Wanning, Hainan (+898 6258 5509).

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