So whenever I go surfing — and I think this is true for most surfers — in the back of my mind, I’m waiting for that first wave that makes it worth the paddle out. Ideally, I’ll have plenty of good waves, of course — and simply getting wet is always better than not — but every session needs that moment of, “Wow. OK. That was fun. That provided enough satisfaction even if I don’t catch another wave.” (The actual thought I’d have would be more along the lines of, “Yes!”)
Yesterday was that wave for me. Yes, yes, the whole trip has been fun, interesting and worth it, but yesterday especially delighted me. I woke hungry after the dinner fiasco the night before, ambled downstairs to discover Sammy’s wife (Shao Ling, I think is how you spell her name) had picked up some cabbage dumplings. We sat at the table outside the surf shop with two of their kids, eating dumplings and discussing plans for the day. The sun had arrived earlier and by 7 a.m., beat hot on my bare shoulders.
Sammy loaded the board I’d be using in his van — a 7’3″ epoxy swallowtail, 22″ wide, 2 3/4″ thick — and off we went to Jia Le Shui for my first surf in Taiwan. The drive took us through some farmlands, a nice change from the city and towns, where the buildings loom, the traffic zooms and the people bustle. Surf themes popped up repeatedly — surfboard-shaped signs, sea-decorated buildings. All these mini-metropolises identify as beach towns. Whether by natural connection to the lifestyle or as marketing toward tourists, I’m not sure. But it provides a sense of cultural familiarity, however false that sense may be — and however difficult the language barrier is.
I would love to say we arrived to perfect conditions, but reality offered sloppy waves and more wind than I could ignore. But the sun was out, the water was warm and I came here to surf, so out I went. Jia Le Shui breaks at a rivermouth, which mean cobblestones everywhere — despite being a sandal-wearing surfer, I am a tenderfoot and nearly squealed when stepping my poor feet over the rocks. Survived that first challenge and moved on to the next: how to deal with a lightweight epoxy board in the blasting wind. Took a couple tries to dial in both the board and the waves, but without too much ado, I found myself, in just board shorts, bikini top and rash guard, on a wave in Taiwan. And then another. And another.
When I’m surfing in Humboldt, I don’t think about it being hard, about the wetsuit tempering my ability to paddle. It just is what it is and all that I know. So finding myself freed from the wetsuit and without the threat of cold crashing down on me… I felt like a dog let off the leash. I was a superpaddling machine! And the waves were overhead and I took off as late as possible to fight the wind effect — those sessions at Bunkers paid off — and it was easy. Who knew surfing could be so simple? Granted, these waves weren’t jacking up until after they started breaking, so when I say “easy,” I realize the conditions were also quite forgiving. So I stayed in about an hour-and-a-half before the wind won the battle. Climbing out over the rocks, a gust caught me and I nearly fell over from the force. Also, my knees bruised terribly, unused to being naked against the board, and likewise my inner thighs chafed. So the wetsuit does have some benefits. Which is not to say I missed it. Not at all.
After surfing, Sammy took me to see the southernmost tip of Taiwan.
“Watch for snakes,” he said.
“Yeah, cobras and such.”
More stunning beauty, although I confess living somewhere as beautiful as California’s North Coast has immuned me somewhat to the greenery-meets-ocean expression of nature’s gorgeousness. Still, quite lovely and something always thrilling about being at the edge of a world.
We worked our way back up the coast, stopping for photos as I oohed and ahhed over the color of the water; that crystal clear pale blue bumping up against the white sand continued to amaze me.
Then, the best lunch I’ve had since arriving: a veggie noodle bowl, wilted greens, bok choy and something light and fern-like, fried tofu and some sort of fried basil conglomeration. Super fresh, spicy and filling enough that I fell into a nap after returning back to the shop.
Then, off for session number two. My knees! My thighs! I opted for swimsuit bottoms instead of boardshorts because I figured the shorts would rub right against the worst spots, but then… oh my, I forgot my rash guard! So again, conditions not perfect, yet there I was. Go back or paddle out. I paddled out. Fearing a major wardrobe malfunction, my bikini and I went for it. On the upside, more skin-to-water felt excellent. On the downside, the possibility of international nudity if I wiped out. Just breaking through to the outside felt dangerous as the whitewater tugged my clothing in various directions. I chose a peak to the north of the crowd (“crowd” equaling maybe a dozen surfers), dialed back in and took off left on a steep overhead wave. Success! Down the face, cut right, cut out, back to the peak. Repeat. I caught wave after wave, better shape than the morning, and a long, beautiful one all the way to shore. At that point, bruised knees complaining, wind screaming, I called it good. Again, battling the wind to get back to the car tested my patience, as well as my stability, but once there, all I remembered was how much fun I’d had.
And then, dinner! Hot pot! Single-burner plates sit on the table. You order your veggies and protein, fix up your spices, and they bring a bowl of broth to the burner. It simmers while you add your goodies, then you eat, add more, eat, add more, etc. Plus rice or noodles. So fun! So yummy!
Made a few stops after — I bought some Chinese bruise gel at the pharmacy and we visited a friend of Sammy’s who does surf tours for the Japanese. (More on him later.) Arrived back at the room with all intentions of reading, only to immediately fall asleep for a whole eight hours in a row.
Almost forgot! The best fruit ever:
And now, off to more good times!