Greetings From China

Fresh off the boat in China
We're in China on a surf trip and I can't believe it.

Not, like, Hong Kong China ... or Chinese Taipei ... but China. Central China, heart of the world's oldest, most populated civilization. Over a thousand miles of coast, one point three billion people, and not one of 'em surfs.

Me, Pat Gudauskas, Ola Eleogram and Flindt are wandering the coastal islands of this astonishing nation, doing what seems the most natural thing in the world to us - hunting for waves - and being totally blown away almost every time we turn a corner. Not by waves, not yet, but by humans.

The looks we're getting are amazing. Double-takes. Slack-jawed gazes. Little kids pointing and giggling then hiding their faces. Men grinning and nodding and bringing their families over to look at our board bags piled up at transport terminals. Teenage girls peeping around corners at Pat and Ola. What have they heard about Westerners? Are we good or bad, smart or dumb, idle rich or just weird?

But that's not what they're thinking at all. In China, we don't even count.

Waiting for swell we wander the streets of this town; a tiny town by Chinese standards, just {{{80}}},000 people. In China a small town is a million people, a regional center four to six million, a major city (like greater Shanghai, the place we arrived for this mission) 22 million. Shanghai is a city half the size of Orange County with the population of all southern California, and strangely it didn't even feel crowded; just busy. Maybe it's feng shui, but the structure of this tiny coastal town in which we've ended up feels impeccably graceful. Everything is laid out formally and evenly, with big broad beautifully finished streets along which people wander as if there are no cars - and there aren't, not really. 79 cabs in the whole place, a bunch of electric motor scooters, a few rickshaws, and a lot of pushbikes. The thin traffic hurtles around the pedestrians and pedallers, tooting horns, only occasionally obeying the brand-new traffic signals. In amongst it are the people you sense have been here since waaay before traffic signals were invented, here or anywhere else in the world: Fishermen waiting for the fall fishing season to start; ladies in side alleys running sewing machines over shirts and sheets for sale in small streetside stalls; young men dozing at fruit and vegie stands; building workers who've been at it since 5:30 am having a midday nap in some shade.

And everything done in twos. Nobody does any task alone here. Even the taxis seem to travel in pairs. At the beaches we are greeted by two, three, five or more gatekeepers, nut-brown from the sun, looking almost Polynesian. We pay our 15 yuan apiece (around $2) and check it, beach by beach - long sandy stretches, granite headlands topped with Buddhist temples. Tiny warm beachbreaks lap the sands; evidence of bigger swells in the cliff erosion and dune patterns. Have people surfed here, we ask the keepers. A Westerner, once, before the typhoon season, they tell us, looking at us, wondering. What will they think in a day or so, if a swell comes and we go out and ride?

Stay tuned for a future issue of SURFING for the complete story from Nick Carroll and all the photos from photographer Jeff Flindt!

CLICK HERE for Nick Carroll’s report #2 from China.CLICK HERE for Nick Carroll’s report #3 from China.