Kaohsiung is my favorite city in Taiwan. I lived there for six years, both my sons were born there, and we have many great friends that still live there.
It is the second largest city in Taiwan and the fourth largest port in the world. It is the home of Binlang Boarding, the first core surf shop in the city started by me and my friend Rastafar’Ian’ Sweeney.
Many good times were had in this southern port city that held so many stark contrasts. Giant glass skyscrapers built alongside traditional one story houses.
It was always a laid back city with the mountains to the north and east and the harbor and ocean to the west. You could see whole families on 50cc scooters without helmets and typically the man of the household donning white cotton boxers, tank top and slip on sandals… cigarette dangling from his mouth and perhaps that of his wife’s…and binlang stains around their mouths. At every stop light you would get a collage of spittle that would stain the streets and curbs reddish brown. It got so bad that they banned spitting your binlang on the streets while I lived there.
It became our anthem for lack of better words. Binlang was the symbol of most of what Taiwan was to us. The freedom! It was like the wild west. As a foreigner you pretty much got away with it all.
About 15 minutes by motorcycle or scooter from our house was one of my favorite breaks in the city, directly in front of the Matsu temple. This was the temple dedicated to the sea goddess Matsu that protected the fishermen and sailors from the perils of the Sea.
It was very fitting that we surfed in front of this temple cause it was often a perilous adventure surfing in the city. Dirty water, rebar and concrete pilings under the waves, jettys, fish hooks, and god knows what other kinds of waste. It could get pretty gnarly. You had to pucker up and go for it some days cause it was right in the city and sometimes just too good to pass up.
Most of the year the ocean was dead calm, but during Typhoon season the beaches on the Chijin Island, which served as a natural breakwater for the harbor, would come alive. In the photo above you can see one of the locals getting his morning dip. The little barrels didn’t seem to faze him much, which is rare since most Taiwanese don’t swim.
I surfed out there whenever I could since it was unlike most other waves in the area. It was fast, dumpy, hollow and unpredictable. Most of the waves would close out, but it was the luck of the draw. There were a handful of memorable sessions but was only able to share a few with friends cause most of my friends didn’t believe there were waves in Kaohsiung…or thought I was nuts for surfing in the dirty water. ‘It’s not that bad’ I would tell them.
I got Rene to come out for a surf with me and my friend Alan. I think they were the first two guys I surfed with out there. Rene was the most senior ex-pat I knew of and he was a wealth of information on the surf potential of Taiwan. He knew all the ‘harbas’ around the island.
He knew of most every spot in Southern Taiwan and labeled it either the ‘harba’ or the ‘point’.
Here he is cruisin on a fun day at Matsu’s.
There were both lefts and rights on hand most of the time and they were usually really short fast little rides. Occasionally things would come together and they would start to break at the top of the jetty’s and provide for a solid little line. Here is a pulled back view with an empty wave in the back.
It only broke in the summer time for the most part and so it was really nice rocking up for the dawn patrol at about 7am or so, already about 85 degrees, 80% humidity and no wind and an ocean all to yourself. Here is a shot of Aussie Al ‘laughin’ as he would say.
Kaohsiung will always have a special place in my heart as it is a perfect blend of Taiwanese sophistication and laid back tradition. It is a perfect base to explore the island and still make a decent living. It is definitely one of the most polluted cities in all of South East Asia, but the people are working hard to clean it up and make it a premier destination. With that, the hope of cleaning up the beaches around the city, that hold so much potential.
This is one of the few photos I have of me having fun out there. It was alway a good time and always left with a big smile and sand in every orifice.