Urban life

Tribes of Hong Kong: The Surfers

Exploring the city’s subcultures, ANSHEL MA meets Hong Kong surfers Charlie Wong, Mavis Lai and Blakie

It’s hot outside, and the beach beckons, as does the surf – or so I thought. Turns out this isn’t Hong Kong’s surf season. ‘A lot of people think surfing is a summer activity, but really it’s only good when there’s a typhoon – otherwise winter is the best time,’ says Mavis Lai, who gave up her job in London to ride the waves and coach surfing around the world.

As surfers around the world would attest, surfing isn’t a sport; it’s a lifestyle. It’s about having an intimate understanding of the ocean and the weather. It’s about eating well. It’s about living simply and conquering fears.

Big Wave Bay in Shek O is where most surfers congregate in Hong Kong, and conversation inevitably veers to surfing conditions. ‘We share intel about suitable areas to surf in Hong Kong on a given day, as well as information on surfing in places around the world,’ says Lai’s boyfriend, a designer who goes by Blakie, who has been surfing for 17 years and founded 3SoulSurfer, a social club that also promotes surf culture. ‘We discuss surfboard design, too.’

The surfers say they hope surf culture in Hong Kong will improve. They lament that while typhoons create good waves, the public and city officials incorrectly view typhoon surfing as dangerous. They also say beginners here are often not properly taught the rules of surfing. ‘For instance, a single wave is meant to only have one rider at a time, and you have to take turns. This is for everyone’s safety,’ says Lai. Instructors are responsible for passing on these rules, she says, so it’s important to choose a good teacher.

These issues may trouble surfers, but a good wave sends those thoughts away. Charlie Wong, a music student who started surfing five years ago, says the sea has a calming effect. ‘The enjoyment of surfing comes from spending time with others of the same mind and finding relaxation on the waters. It’s a great escape from the troubles of everyday life.’

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