February ’06: Found In Translation – Deciphering Taiwan’s Endless Surf Potential

posted by / Magazine / December 23, 2005


Joe and Peter have a Sunset flashback at “Thrunters”
I can see him coming from a mile away — it’s pretty easy to notice a man wearing a bright, orange jumpsuit. He walks straight toward the lineup where Peter Mendia and Dan Malloy are surfing, and reaches into his utility belt. As he passes my staked-out photo position on the dry lava reef, he pulls out a silver whistle and blows it at the top of his lungs. He then pauses briefly to catch his breath, shakes his index finger at the ocean, and yells, “No, No !”

This slender man is obviously concerned. With every awkward but purposeful step toward the shelfing left where Peter and Dan are trading barrels, he proves he is clearly on a mission. As he gets closer to the water’s edge, he blows his whistle once more, and then unleashes the only apparent English warning he knows: “Danger. Danger !”

Severely abbreviated dialogue is something we’re used to by now. English generally works in the international business world of Taipei, but in this part of Taiwan, communication with the locals is reduced to a comical series of Neanderthal grunts and rudimentary hand signals. On our second full day on the island, Peter Mendia, Joe Curren, Teasha Burkman and myself were able to negotiate a week-long rental car contract with exactly zero understood words transpiring between both parties — just emphatic pointing and gesturing to the calendar, imaginary driving scenarios played out in silent skits, numbers written down and scratched out, and cash exchanged. We would have made Bert Convy a very proud man.

Why, exactly, are we in Taiwan, boards in tow, trying to find waves worth playing charades for? Well, I’ll give you a couple of hints. It has nothing to do with the fact that eight boats are parked at Macaroni’s right now. It also has nothing to do with the “Made in Taiwan” tag on your boardshorts — this is no surf product manufacturing business trip.

No, this trip is about simple curiosity. I had been tracking this region for quite some time and couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out why anybody I knew or heard of had surfed in Taiwan. I mean, just look at the place on a map: it’s smack dab in the middle of Typhoon Alley, for crying out loud. That’s when the trip transformed from conjecture into a real itinerary, and led to another important question: where do we go once we get there?

We don’t have much time to figure it out now, because as soon as we arrive, Typhoon Khanun is due to power up from a Category 1 to a Category 3 tempest in less than 24 hours. As it continues its diagonal trek toward mainland China (and eventually shanghais Shanghai), we want to intercept the resulting swell as it brushes past us.

Leaving the confines of our resort-town base camp, we abandon a bizarre, Blade Runner scooter world and drive into the past. The east and west coasts of Taiwan are a geographic yin and yang. Like an elongated version of the Los Angeles to San Diego I-5 corridor, the west coast is basically one solid city from Taipei in the far north all the way down to Kaosching at the very bottom. On our initial bus ride down the western half, we experienced a seven-hour, near-gridlock crawl; an endless conveyor belt of cement, internal combustion engines and rebar. No wonder Taiwan is second only to Bangladesh in population density. But because of historical access problems created by a steep, central mountain range, the east coast is much, much less developed.


Pigdogs are no longer just a delicacy at the street market. Dan Malloy
It’s with understandable relief, then, that our eastern-bound journey offers open roads and empty lineups. It’s also comforting to see clear signs of a short-period typhoon swell pick up in front of our eyes. Starting with waist-high sets, the swell seems to grow with every mile driven. Our only problem is that we have no idea where we’re going. A map isn’t much help because it only makes us snicker. Although we want to be serious about looking for potential set-ups, all we can focus on are the names of some of the coastal towns: Longdong South, Bashiendong, Donghe, Wanggong, Dong-ao and, the hands-down winner, Little Ding-Dong Science Park. I mean, seriously: how are you supposed to get anywhere when the only thing your co-pilots can say is, “Donger need food.”

So, we simply resort to the ancient technique of looking out the window and trying to find good waves. This strategy seems simple enough until we actually try it; during a certain stretch of coast we find ourselves stopping every five minutes because there’s so much potential — offshore reefs, shorebreaks, cobblestone points, harbor jetties — there’s so much to look at that we start to realize we’re wasting time and losing light. As Joe finally says, putting a personal tongue-in-cheek twist on the Frankenreiter Manifest, “Wake me when we find Sandspit.”

We take Joe’s sage advice to heart and drive until we find a setup that basically screams at us to stop. Passing under a tunnel, we look back at the coast in time to see uniform plumes smoking along the edge of a near-shore island. This undeniable red flag makes us bee-line for the nearest exit.CONTINUED…

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

Leave a Reply