Before I arrived in Taiwan I of course inquired about the surf and was met with, ‘there are no waves in Taiwan’. Upon arrival I was told that the best bet for surf would be in the southern town of Kenting. I arrived in the middle of typhoon season and was pleasantly surprised when I made my first trek down the coast.
Sites like this were not uncommon when the swell was up, but as a newcomer and traveling solo, odd as it sounds, you look for someone to share the good times with…and perhaps a more mellow paddle out without serious consequences…at least till you get warmed up. I try to avoid hospitals.
One of my first documented surf sessions in Taiwan I met an ex-pat that went by the name of Duggar. I drove into the small beach town of Kenting and saw some fun little waves breaking just off the main road and decided to weave through the crowds on the beach to get one of my first solo sessions in. As I proceeded to catch wave after wave with my girlfriend ‘now wife’ snapping shots a dude paddles out on a foam BZ board and just full on spreads the Aloha spirit in perfect pidgin. He is super friendly and then paddles way out past me and proceeds to take off on some of the best waves that day. I was digging through my old photos cause I can picture him in my mind’s eye that day taking off on some of these waves and am convinced I have some shots of him somewhere. He would paddle for a wave once or twice and then pop up to a squat to hold his board steady as he dropped in…you know those things bend quite a bit in good surf. As he hit the trough he would stand up and do a real casual like bottom turn and then proceed to cruise on out weaving back and forth and eventually making it to the shoulder where he’d kick out and go for some more.
You can just get a glimpse of him off to the right in this shot of me on my third bottom turn as it wound its way to the inside section. He sent me an email the other day in comment to the post on J-Shui and so I have to give him props for being the pioneer that he is. You would never miss his van either which he lived in from time to time. You can see that he had his faithful board strapped to the side wherever he went.
This little spot I had discovered was in the town of Nanwan and led me to an even better wave, a right hander that broke right in front of a nuclear power plant run off…kind of gross, but the water was pretty warm as a result and kept the reef nice and healthy. When the swell was too big everywhere else, this was the spot.
This became one of my favorite spots when it was working. It was very fickle and was much less consistent than J-shui. The bonus was that there was practically no paddle out because of the rip that was created just to the left of the wave and crystal clear warm water. Since it was reef it also held the potential for head dips now and then.
We would generally all go to J-Shui and if it looked like J-Shit we would drive just around the bend to get some smaller cleaner waves all to ourselves. As the years went on and because it was right in town it wasn’t easy to hide how much fun we were having. Aside from a few of the locals like A-Shang, Dato, Hiroaki, and A-Lang not many people were on it when it was good.
We had our little thing going with the local crew and the expat crew trading waves and then stories over beers late into the evenings. Here is shot of some of us after a good day.
We would sometimes hang out on the bluff just chillin with cold beers in hand for two maybe three sessions a day.
Surfing really started to catch on while I was there. In one year it went from our crew to twenty people in the lineup many of them very new to it. We all had our fair share of close calls and run ins with skegs which sometimes resulted in stitches to the head like our buddy Al. He was back in about an hour with a bandage and cold beer though.
The locals really loved this wave and a diehard crew formed that was on it whenever the waves were halfway decent. This crew later grew into A-lang surf with guys like Take who was living up in Taichung and one of the first traveling locals I had met down south. As guys like Toume aka Hiroaki began taking his surf tours from Japan to Nanwan, things began to get a little sticky. Localism set in and the urge to protect what we had. Toume, who was Japanese, ran the first surf shop in southern Taiwan and was and still is one of the best surfers on the island. He shapes his own boards and now has moved his shop from Kenting to Hengchuen to avoid some of the localism that began way back when he started bringing his tours to what came to be known as ‘Local Special Point’.
He and his tours were essentially banned from the wave at one point, which was not an entirely bad thing since it improved the safety and crowds for a time. Later the locals would start bringing their own bus loads of surfers to the spot…but that is another story for another time.
The history of surfing in Taiwan is long and rich and has come in waves starting with the military guys back in the 60’s or maybe earlier. Localism has certainly become a hot issue recently as the sport has grown so massively so quickly, but that aside, the wave was really the focus as it was one of my first introductions to surfing in this exotic to me locale. The expression of freedom and good times had always trumped whatever politics arose.
Our crew always gave and received the proper respect and so we rarely if ever had these issues. Although, you might want to ask Andoni about his Proper Surf Etiquette manual he wrote after many frustrating sessions at Nanwan. Maybe we can turn that into a pdf for download. These days I’d bring a helmet…just to be safe from the longboarders that don’t know how to turn. Is that still a problem?
The best thing about most places is that when it is really going off the crowds are usually right. Nanwan is a great wave when its on and the sweet memories of all the empty days we’ve had all to ourselves is priceless. I don’t have any guilt writing in detail about this wave since it is hard to miss and probably the most well known wave in southern Taiwan along with Jialoshui.
Nanwan was what got us excited about exploring beyond J-Shui and led to many more adventures and new discoveries. Just looking around on big days would get you thinking of all the potential to be had.
Check out the Nanwan video here and catch a glimpse of the crew from the A-Lang Surf Club to Neil, Duggar, The Meystro, Red and others.
Next post on Taiwan I will have to show some fun days in Kaohsiung with the old school veteran Rene and Aussie Al. Yes, even Kaohsiung got decent surf on its day.