This week, the historic first-ever ASP World Tour event in China will begin on the island of Hainan. The Swatch Girls Pro China, which is the second and final stop in the Women's Longboard World Tour, brings together the Top 32 female longboarders on the planet and will see the crowning of the 2011 World Champ by event's end. The girls landed in China yesterday. Here's a firsthand account through the eyes of competitors Kassia Meador (photos), Leah Dawson, and current Women's Longboard No. 1 Lindsay Steinriede.
From the moment we stepped out of the Sanya Airport, we have been surrounded by nothing but happy, smiling faces. We were greeted at the airport and shuttled to a gorgeous resort we will call home for the next week. Out the back door of our room sits a private infinity pool surrounded by tropical trees as far as the eyes can see. Out the front door we find a pathway that leads out to beautiful beach with a lagoon running through to the ocean, surrounded by hills of trees. It's a short walk up the beach to a little left pointbreak.
There hasn't been much in terms of waves, but when you're sitting out there with just your friends and fellow competitors, and finally realize you are actually surfing in China (Yes, China!), I can safely say, size doesn't matter. Well, I shouldn’t get too far ahead of myself, as we are hoping to get some surf over the next few days of the event.
But speaking of size, everything the Chinese people have done for us so far has been on a very large scale. This morning we were all taken over to the contest area for the opening ceremony, which had a huge turn out. There was gigantic balloons flying in the sky all over the beach. There was a huge stage with hundreds of chairs set out and hundreds of people around as well.
We were greeted by more smiling faces as we made our way toward our seats. What took place next was nothing short of spectacular. The ceremony opened with the "Passionate Beach" dance where women in exotic costumes took to the stage dancing, only to be upstaged by shirtless men maneuvering around the stage dancing with shortboards in hand.
Next came welcoming and inspiring speeches from the Mayor of Wanning and Brodie Carr, CEO of ASP. This was of course followed by a bikini show, and then an introduction for us surfers.
All jokes aside, I must say it was quite an honor to be standing up there with my fellow surfers in front of such a large crowd, realizing how much effort and thought was put into our event. Then to close the ceremony there was a final performance involving explosions of color-powdered fireworks, confetti, and pigeons being let out of cages. Need I say more?
Forty-foot posters. One hundred and fifty volunteers. We are quickly realizing we are experiencing history in the making. When the World Longboard Tour competitors were told back in France in July that we were all getting a paid trip to China to compete in a second contest to determine our 2011 World Champion, I am sure none of us anticipated the five-star rockstar week we are now enjoying.
Thirty-two of the best female longboarders from all over the globe trekked for days to arrive in a Chinese paradise none of us knew existed four months ago. Now, thanks to the support of the Chinese government and the incredibly supportive representatives of Swatch, we, along with a big gang of media and the ASP, are now well aware of the South China Sea's special island Hainan. For many of us, it is our first time to China, our first time in a communist country, and our first time staying in a hotel that has our own private pools for each room.
I flew over from Hawaii, with the four other competitors from the magical islands. As we were passing through Guangzhou Airport in South China, I said to the girls, "I have a feeling we are going to be treated like royalty." Sure enough, the moment we walked out of baggage claim in Sanya, the largest city on Hainan, "royalty" undermines our welcome. We, along with every single athlete, judge, and media worker were welcomed by a group of cheering Chinese volunteers. During nearly every step we have taken, we have been smiled at by the local people, who portray the kind of excitement you see on the faces of surf fanatics when they see Kelly Slater in person for the first time.But these people have never seen surfing before. They have no idea what we do on waves. Yet their energy is vibrant and welcoming, showing their excitement to have professionals in this sport come to their home. Every single person here, foreign or local, has a smile on their face, because it is something fresh and new, for all of us. Quite a lesson of life perspective if you ask me…
Whether the projected swell arrives for the event or not, there is no shortage of gratitude among this group of people. For heavens sake, the government constructed the first surf clubhouse on Hainan just two weeks ago so that the infrastructure to allow surfing to grow into Chinese culture would be ready and waiting for the spectators of the Swatch Pro. It may take many years for surfing to infiltrate the daily lives of the Chinese, as free time hardly exists, for anyone at any age. I've heard the phrase many times, "if you can walk, then you work" in regards to the Chinese lifestyle. Situations are clearly different in the Chinese reality, but there is no doubt that after this week, "surfing" and "China" will now be words heard together.
For us competitors, good result or not, no one will go home without a smile. This is a trip of a lifetime, an experience all of us know we have to pinch ourselves to assure that it is real. For those who have never considered China as a surf haven with blue water and long left-hand pointbreaks, consider it now.