Despite having over seven hundred miles of coastline and a huge swell window for catching waves and swell, the history and surf culture in the country has not had very long to develop and is still very young and emergent. After losing their territory in mainland China during the Chinese civil war in 1949, the opposition to the current Chinese communist party fled to the island of Taiwan. From then, all the way until 1987, suspicions of the sea meant that the government prohibited civilians from accessing the beaches, swimming was illegal and the majority of the coastline was sealed off. These restrictions and beliefs explain much of the attitude and inaccessibility that we have been experiencing on our travels of the island so far. However, since the lifting of this ban surfing on the island seems to have started developing with surf shops sprouting up and creating surf spots in places like Yilan in the North and Taitung in the south. It now seems like a few locals are beginning to take to the water. For the last few years there has even been an international surf competition held in Taitung in collaboration with the WSL helping to give the island more international recognition for its waves. So waves are plenty, we just needed to be patient and wait for the conditions to arrive and search out the best places to surf.
Back in Hualien there was still exploring to be done. As agreed, Una took us on a trip down the coastal road to visit Jici beach, the closest beach to Hualien and known in the area for its surfing. The main route down the east coast is a small road that hugs the coastline offering vast ocean views for the entire journey including a view of Jici beach from the other side of the adjacent cliff top. We stopped here enjoying the views and learnt there was going to be an entrance fee to the famous Jici beach, which was confirmed on arrival a few minutes later. The sandy beach was long and golden, a handful of vans strapped with boards and salty Taiwanese surfers walking around the beach giving the place a colourful surf vibe. All seemed good but for the fenced off beach and serious looking local sitting in the shade demanding the 100$ entrance fee, although this didn’t apply if you were a local. There were no boards to rent but this wasn’t a problem today. Despite over twenty surfers in the small sectioned off ocean, the waves were non-existent, rolling under the surfers in the water and gently flopping on the shoreline. Sadly for us this wasn’t the reception we were expecting and none of us were excited about paying the fee to enter.
Looking for a way past the fences and barbed wire we suggested to Una driving just up the beach to avoid the entry fee and have a swim. She seemed strangely surprised by this, reminding us of the local attitude of only surfing and swimming where you are explicitly allowed to do so. We stopped the car a few hundred metres up the beach and dived into the cooling ocean, escaping the hot sun while Una observed from the rocks.
With the sun dipping low behind the mountains turning the sky over the water into red and orange flames, we began our journey home catching sight of a handful of surfers silhouetted against the sky bobbing up and down in the water beyond the cliff. Opposite, on the other side of the road, a surf shop with boards racked up along its wall waiting to be borrowed. Me, Celia and Elisa, a fellow hostel volunteer, vowed to return on our next day off.
The day off soon arrived and operating on a tight budget we took the hostel’s city bikes and loaded up the baskets, completed with a big bunch of fat, sweet bananas from a lady on the roadside. We headed south out of Hualien ready for our 16km cycle to the surf shop following the coastal road towards Jici beach, prepared to find what we could along the way. The sun was already hot in the sky, and although the ocean was spread out in front of us, no matter how hard we looked, at each hopeful swim spot we were unable to get to the water. It is amazing that despite the ban on entering the water being lifted so long ago, so much beautiful coastline along the east coast is inaccessible, with steep cliffs offering no path down to the water, or equally steep concrete walls and concrete blocks littered over the beach to break the waves and prevent access to the water.
Hot, sweaty and tired, early that afternoon we reached the surf shop. Except for the friendly dog waiting for us by the gate, the place was completely deserted and we could find no one. After snooping around for a few minutes we sat down on a hammock and had lunch overlooking the sea. No surfers and no possibility of surfing the small but rideable waves, we finally found a path leading down to the beach close to a hotel and were able to freshen our tired body’s before the cycle home.
So Hualien was not able to give us the waves we hoped for, with little evidence of any surf culture and beautiful but frustratingly inaccessible beaches it was time to leave the town and head South.
Next stop Taitung!