There's a Tiny Surf Paradise On the Edge of One of China's Biggest Cities

Shredding with the beach boys and surfer girls of Shenzhen's Xichong beach.

by Jun; photos by Chen Yu Xiao; translated by Felicia Huang
22 January 2018, 4:12am

This article originally appeared in VICE China.

My beach life happened by total chance. When I first moved to Xichong, a small shore town on China's southeastern coast not too far from the bustling city of Shenzhen, I had only a bag and a few changes of clothes. But in no time, I had acquired a surfboard, two motorcycles, a bed, and a serious addition to "blue opium," or surfing to the rest of the world.

Xichong is only two hours from downtown Shenzhen, a flashy city of 11 million that's the electronics manufacturing capital of the world. Shenzhen is all glass skyscrapers, crowded subways, and dense apartment buildings full of people from other parts of China looking for a better life. But drive for two hours and the landscape totally changes. Xichong beach is located on the tip of a peninsula that juts out into the Daya Bay. It's a sleepy place. Backpackers camp on the beach. Surfers crowd the waves every morning, and again late at night.

For locals like me, the waves dictate our lives. We paddle out before the breakfast carts open up, and are out there again well after the men and women who run the late-night snack spots fall asleep. When it's high tide and the waves are good, the shore is full of surfers heading out. And when it's low, everyone is either at work or back in bed, catching some more shut-eye before starting their day again.

The surf community in China is still really small. It's so small that every time I meet a new surfer, it turns out we already have like 20 to 30 mutual friends. This helps it feel like a real community. No one is aggressive in the water and even on crowded days surfers are happy to let someone else, regardless of their skill, catch a wave on the next set. The only real rule here is no dropping in on another surfer's wave, but that's sort of a standard worldwide, isn't it?

The ocean has a way of teaching you patience. In Shenzhen, people are constantly overstimulated, staring at their phones on the subway, craning their necks downward to watch some imported soap opera. But out in the water it's just you, the ocean, the sky, and the person floating beside you. There's no phone, no internet, no distractions.

I started collecting a lot of photos from Xichong Beach. There's really nothing better looking than a surfer with their board. That image of a man standing on the beach, board under their arm, gazing at the surf has to be one of the coolest things ever. And it feels as good as it looks. When I walk up into the water, board in hand, my entire body feels like I drank too much cough syrup. I'm filled with an excitement that's like unwrapping a present.

I think every surfer should have at least one photo of themselves holding a board. It’s just like when you're in a relationship—you need at least one picture of the two of you together. These images are part of a story that will come back to you in your later years, like pieces of a puzzle.