Go There: Southeast Taiwan
The Green Face Of China
Where: Taiwan is in the tropical western Pacific Ocean, 110 miles off mainland China’s southeastern coast, between the Philippines and Japan.
What: At the same latitude as Hawaii, Taiwan is a large, lung-shaped island that offers several powerful points, river mouths, reefs, and beachbreaks to the surfer who lucks into a solid typhoon swell or a Pacific groundswell. An industrialized, developed country but a bit of an Asian surfing backwater, Taiwan has traditionally existed in the shadow of Japan and the Philippines, but the quality of southern and eastern Taiwan’s waves has slowly begun to reveal itself to the world.
When: May to October, when the West Pac typhoon season roars to life, is your best window for scoring solid Taiwanese surf. Within those months, September to October is prime time. Taiwan averages 19 annual typhoons. The biggest downside to typhoons is their proclivity to limit passenger flights to Taiwan, and if a typhoon is a certain distance from the island, entering the water is illegal, even if the waves are glassy and perfect! Winter (November to March) can dish up North Pacific groundswell and easterly windswell.
Why: Because Taiwan’s waves can be surprisingly good and consistent, and there are a great variety of surf spots for all abilities. Plus, the island is easy and cheap to reach from almost anywhere, its scenery is beautiful, the ocean water is warm, the surf is uncrowded, the food is tasty, the locals are friendly, and you’ve probably never been to Taiwan. (Bali-bound airport layovers in Taipei don’t count.)
How: You can fly to either Kaohsiung International Airport (KHH) or Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport (TPE)—both are somewhat equidistant to the primary surf zones of the south and east coasts. It might be cheaper to fly to TPE, however. You can find reasonably priced fares with China Airlines or EVA Airways. Upon arrival, US citizens are issued a 30-day visa. Once there, you can either rent a car or take the high-speed train along the coast. Renting a car is preferable for mobility, but the train is a lot cheaper and safer than trying to drive everywhere (driving is done on the left).
Places to stay: Check out the T’ai-tung Surf Shop and Hostel ($14–$85/night per person, depending on the room), which is centrally located to access the south and east coasts; you can also surf and party in downtown T’ai-tung, which is 40 minutes from the hostel. Down in Nanwan you can stay at Fu Dog Surf (fudogsurf.com.tw). In the main Kenting area, Hawaii Style Inn ($21–$138/night) is within walking distance to the waves at Da Wan. Near the consistent Jialeshuei Beach is Sweet Hale Inn ($31–$179/night); details are at hawaiithings.com.
Places to eat: There are heaps of places serving traditional and tasty Taiwanese dishes like baozi, which is a bun stuffed with meat or vegetarian fillings. In T’ai-tung, check out Yi-Jia for a long menu of excellent local cuisine. Donghelian Seaview Café is a good option for those seeking a bit more Westernized grub like steak and spaghetti. Kenting’s best pizza can be eaten at The Rock Garden in Jialeshuei. For epic seafood, head to the Houbihu Fishing Harbor.
Babes and bros: Many Taiwanese love to party, and the high-tech metropolis of Taipei is the obvious choice if you’re after some bustling nightlife. You’re in luck if you like Asian women, because Taiwan is holding, obviously. But since Taipei is nowhere near Taiwan’s main surf areas, you can indulge in what T’ai-tung, P’ing-tung, and Kao-hsiung have, namely an abundance of dance clubs, karaoke bars, and nightclubs…and lots of babes and bros to meet.
Crowd factor: Surfing is booming in Taiwan, due in part from the high-speed rail that connects Taipei to the south in only a couple of hours. But most Taiwanese won’t go surfing if the waves are pumping—you’ll be more likely to find expats and visiting Japanese, Australians, or even Americans in the water. Still, Taiwan is far from being crowded, and you can easily surf alone or with just your friends on any given day.
Stuff to bring: Since the waves normally don’t get huge, your average shortboard will do just fine. An egg, longboard, or fish can come in handy, too. Taiwan is balmy year-round, and during the main surf season it can be rainy, so bring a raincoat along with your finest pair of boardshorts and usual tropical island attire. Reef booties are useful when entering and exiting the water. The sun can be brutal, so sunscreen and a white long-sleeved rashguard can save you from a lot of discomfort. Taiwan has several surf shops in case you forget wax or break a leash or something.
If the surf is flat:If you want red teeth, chew some of Taiwan’s famed betel nut. If you like spending some time in nature, Taiwan has eight national parks for you to explore (mind the insects). Kenting National Park is epic. Take the boat out to Green Island and indulge in its natural saltwater hot springs, caves, and historical villages. There’s a ton of stuff to check out up in Taipei City, the heartbeat of the island.
More information: There’s a lot of information available online. Click over to surftaiwan.com, kentingsurfshop.com.tw, and go2taiwan.net. For something more tangible, grab a copy of Lonely Planet’s Taiwan.—Mike Kew
-Put at least one set of your fins inside your board bag so that if your suitcase doesn’t show up, at least your board will be ready to rip.
-Pack some non-melting snacks like trail mix (without chocolates, etc.), fruit bars, or even oatmeal (just add hot water to a coffee cup). They come in handy on layovers or when the airlines decide not to feed you.
-No noise-cancelling headphones? Try some in ear buds (the ones that actually fit tight into your ear canal). They’re less expensive, block a ton of peripheral sound, take up less space, and don’t need batteries.