High Hero aka Kaohsiung

Kaohsiung Pano

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.

Binlang Boarding

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.

Contrasts

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.

Spittle

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.

Matsu

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.

Set

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.

Old dude

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.

Cruising

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.

Rene

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.

Nice line

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.

Aussie Al

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.

Going Orf

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.

Racin

Binlang Boarding

3 thoughts on “High Hero aka Kaohsiung

  1. Hey mate! now that brings back memories! What a great morning that surf was out in front of Mastu temple. Can still remember picking you up and cruising, looking for the best break to pick up the typhoon swell that had hit our then home town before heading of to work. No doubt about it, you never knew what you where going to paddle into or roll into after a close out cleaned you up. You know what, all the great surfs we had in Taiwan, all the great waves, this was definately one of the best due to it being in Kaoshuing which as you said, not many of the crew where willing to do. Plus that photo would have to be one of my all time favourites, it’s not a great wave, but having the Evergreen ship in the background just says it all! Kaoshuing and challenging waters. The photo where I’m about to duck dives was also a challenge, the wave looks great in the back ground but what was going through my head concerning what I will hit when I duck dive was a different story. Anyway mate, great read, great times. Stay cool mate and keep laughin’!

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  2. I must say that I was really stoked to read this especially since I just moved to Kaohsiung with my wife a month ago. I am anxious to surf the next typhoon and find a local spot I can rely on. I’ve been exploring surf spots every chance I get and thanks to you I went to look at Matsu’s just to get an idea of how to get there next time the surf comes. So I wanted to ask you when I surf here, are there things under the water that I’d have to dodge and look out for? Thanks for any insight you can offer, as I wouldn’t want to get impaled and I’ve heard other stories about weird objects in the water here. Obviously you lived to tell this story, but I like to be safe and know what I will be getting into. So I hope to enjoy Matsu’s like you did someday. My wife and love it here! Thanks for sharing the good read!

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    1. Thanks Keith. I do recall there being a piece of rebar that would get exposed on the inside when the waves would suck out a bit in front of the temple. It was on the north end between the two jetties that are on either side of the temple. I think many of the other jetties had more to contend with, which is one reason why we just stuck with that beach. The waves were also best there most of the time. When it got big, the north end by the cliff could get pretty fun too. I remember a couple good days where the right was doing its thing…but that’s right in front of the ‘lifeguard’ HQ, so they might give you some trouble if the waves are good. Worth checking north of the jetties when the swell is big since the outer bars could start working and I’m sure there are little nooks by the University too. That was where I first surfed when I got to town. Holds a bigger swell. Buy yourself a good pair of earplugs, or just swab them with alcohol afterwards and you should be fine. The water quality was always a bit suspect, but we always had it to ourselves. Enjoy!!

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