Back in August 2008 (I was 43 yrs young at the time) I had been on an 18 day business trip, representing the university, to mainland China, Hong Kong and finishing with a 3 day whistle stop tour of Taiwan.
Things had been absolutely mental for the first 2 weeks of the trip, with nonstop back to back meetings and social events that usually meant being in my suit for 12 hours straight every day, having to eat copious amounts of who knows what (never anything other than delicious…well.. apart from salt dried donkey dick) and drinking equally vast quantities of ‘Baijiu’ (consistency of semen, taste of hot coals! ) and surviving on about 5 hours sleep per night.
The thing that surprised me more than anything about the Chinese (I had taught them in the UK for 18 years and found them to be mainly quiet, studious and serious) was that they drink a lot and really enjoy trying to get ‘distinguished’ (I use the term loosely in my case) visitors pissed. Trying, in vain, to show them they couldn’t also added to my over all fatigue!
The last few days of the trip, in particular, had been really hard, a very heavy work load and stacks of travelling, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Southern Taiwan in a 48 hour period, and with 2 full days left to go in Taipei for many meetings I was reaching breaking point. I’d had enough, enough of the travelling, enough of the 5 star hotels, enough of having to be nice to strangers all day and most of the night, enough of being away from my family, enough of my colleague who’d been travelling with me. In summary a total, utter GUT’S FULL!
I needed some space, some me time what I really needed was to get smothered by Mother Ocean, even if only for a few minutes..
This all-consuming need to get away hit me good an’ proper as were in the train heading for Taipei, topped off by the knowledge that Typhoon ‘Jangmi’ had hit the island a day or two before we arrived and that I knew, from following it on the Net, that it was going off all down the East Coast. I decided, as the train pulled into Taoyuan Station on the western side of the island, that I could take no more and made an on the spot decision, announcing to my colleague that I wanted him to take my luggage to our hotel and that I would catch up with him before morning, I got up and left him, in astonishment and trepidation (he wasn’t a confident traveler), on the train. I got off, hailed a taxi and after experiencing some difficulty (he spoke no English and I no Mandarin) explaining to the poor driver that I wanted to go to a beach on the East side of his country, we set off for somewhere!
We ended up at a sea side town called Su-oa (Shoaow on Wannasurf) about a 3 hour drive away. I can’t remember what I paid the driver, (probably in the order of two months wages for him) thanked him in the only Mandarin I knew and walked, hurriedly, down to the beach in my suit, sweating my bits off and absolutely gagging to get in the sea.
I approached an old man who was sitting guru like on the sand with a beaten up old longboard at his side, and after a lengthy process of gesticulation, drawing images in the sand and lots of miming got him to understand that I was looking for a surf shop where I could rent a board etc. He laughed a lot during my attempts at communication (I admired him for this as most people would have run like f***) but he fell into hysterical convulsions when he realised what I was asking! When he’d recovered and regained some breath he made it clear I was out of luck, but witnessing my huge disappointment, I think my bottom lip started twitching, he offered me a loan of his old mal.
This act of human kindness brought a tear to my eye and a massive grin to my chops, I accepted graciously, stripped down to my kegs, legged it to the water’s edge and paddled out, leaving him with my wallet, passport and laptop as a deposit! I couldn’t have cared less if he had gotten up and legged it before I was at the glistening shoreline.
The pay off for my fool-hardiness was scoring an hour or so in the suckiest, heaviest, rippiest right and left breaking river mouth waves I’ve ever surfed!!
So good are the memories to this day that if I never surfed again it would be OK. Looking back, the joy of getting in the sea was amplified by the need I had endured leading up to that moment.
Overhead, clean and barrelling, the 9ft+ log was old and heavy but got me in plenty early, I had some absolute screamers.
I even managed a couple of proper long in and out barrels, and took a couple of sincerely mean kickings as payment to Neptune for the privilege.
This wave gave you no time even on the mal, a couple of locals had it nailed on toothpicks and found it highly amusing that I was trying to ride it on an old mal, but after a few really heavy bottom dredging smack downs I managed to nail a cracking right hander, popped up as I free fell onto the face held the line and managed a few decent drawn out carves and off the lips, after this they accepted this weird ‘Guay Lo’ and offered me a few nice waves and more than a few that they obviously knew I wouldn’t make but wanted to test my commitment, I obliged by providing all the comedy moments joyfully.
Two waves are truly into my memory forever, almost identical:
I watched the approaching swell line take shape turning from a long, bay wide, 2ft ruler straight, languid, ripple into a rapidly rising A framed, hollow bottomed bomb. I started my paddle early and dug deep to get plenty of planing speed, this set me up for an early ish safe take off, popping up just before the thing started to pitch, the locals could see the possibilities before I could and started hooting; it reared, getting steeper and steeper then jacked from shoulder high to tidily over my head, I could see the obvious line the board was planing on and the crystal blue mixed with sparkling sandy fragments starting to reach out in front and above me as if trying to grab my head and drive it into the sand and gravel bottom. I ducked, crouched slightly, the board so solid it stayed stable, I was in!! The exit door looked like it was going to shut and slam me, but it didn’t, the wave must have rolled over a deeper section of bottom because it opened up enough to let me know I was going to come out, I shifted my position, instinct more than skill here, slightly forward and felt the old board accelerate and take me down and out and up and over the back of the wave!!
Astonishing, probably no more than 2 seconds but the absolute best tube ride of my life!!! The locals cheered and paddled over to high five me, I had a bout of happy hysterical laughter and not long after had to leave the water to carry on to Taipei.
When I returned the board to its owner, I thanked him, openly, for his kindness and secretly for not legging it with my gear, changed back and took him for dinner in a nearby dumpling bar where the old guy, who couldn’t speak English, told me via the owner who translated, that I was very brave, as many foreigners wouldn’t surf the spot, when I asked why he (the old man) mimed a shark attack and lots of them!!!!! I don’t know if it’s true or not!
After dinner I jumped in to a taxi, caught another train and caught up with my colleague in our 5 star Taipei hotel, knocked back half a dozen Singapore slings and turned in for the night, refreshed and ready to take on the following two days with wanton abandon!!
What a life!!! WHAT A FANTASTIC LIFE!! You just never know what’s around the next corner, if you just stay open minded to the world and its inhabitants, as someone famous probably once said “Respect is there to be lost”
Forever stoked, Doc!!!
Foot Note: [I discovered much later that there weren’t any confirmed reports of shark attacks at Su-ao, but on May 14th, 1997, a Great White was caught – at just under 7 metres in length and weighing in at 2,500 kg, it is the largest specimen ever caught. https://ourplnt.com/largest-great-white-sharks-ever-recorded/#The_Taiwan_Shark_(1997)] EEK!!!