Stab Magazine | Unlikely Surf Scene: Hong Kong

Unlikely Surf Scene: Hong Kong

Lineups full of girls!

Words by stab

Isn’t there just something about waves in unlikely places that taps your inner-adventurist? Sure, there’s plenty of familiar surf destinations that you’ve seen on the webcast or in surf films. But it’s the less obvious locations that stir the most curiosity: Italy, Russia, India, Taiwan… Hong Kong. HK? Yeah! An engaging read was just published by the South China Morning Post about the genesis and evolution of Hong Kong’s surf scene.

Now, surfing’s nothing new there. Anthony Hownam-Meek was president of the Hong Kong Surf Club from 1978 to 1982: “Back then the surfing scene was tiny – the club never had more than 13 members,” he tells the the SCMP. “Only two girls surfed but more came for the ambience and privacy for nude sunbathing. We’d skive off school to bodyboard at Big Wave Bay as teenagers. The teacher would say: ‘There’s a signal three tomorrow, so gentlemen I assume you’ll be ill as usual?’”

It was raw back then. In the early ’80s, the corpses of illegal immigrants who’d died trying to reach Hong Kong from China would occasionally float into the lineup. Surfers would also make the most of the swell that typhoons would bring, much to the ire of local authorities. “I had a letter published in the SCMP about 1979 arguing that it was illogical to red-flag surfing at beaches when it was rough, concluding, ‘do you really expect surfers to wait for a nice calm day to go surfing?’” Anthony recalls. He also became the HK link for Surfer mag: “I made weekly reports on wave conditions. In return I got weekly reports from everywhere else in the world.”

The surf scene in HK has taken an interesting evolutionary trajectory. Kenny Howe, an American who went to Hong Kong 16 years ago, tells the SCMP: “In 1999, locals wore the China special one-piece swimsuit. No one wore bikinis, no one tanned. Now it’s all about surf fashion, bikinis, tans, tattoos, and mobs in the water trying to surf on a weekend. I’ve counted up to 80 people at once in the water.”

58972326 594ec0eb3b o

Big Wave Bay doesn’t live up to its name, but there’s certainly fun to be had. Photo: Jesse Warren

“Every second logo you see on a T-shirt or backpack is surf-related,” says long-time local Sam Pleitgen. “It’s hip and marketable, and everyone wants to be in on it. I’m asked by more and more people how and where they can learn to surf.”

There’s even an O’Neill store at the MTR bus stop, where you’ll board to go surf Big Wave Bay and Shek O.

So, what sucks about surfing in Hong Kong? Well, for starters, the waves are fickle and far from world-class. And aside from some anxiety over a shark sighting off Lantau this month, marine pollution and waste are a constant problem. There’s also the dangerous dynamic present in any lineup where the sport is still relatively young: “A momentary lapse of concentration once cost me 17 stitches and a shattered nose,” Sam told the SCMP. “About a month later, the surgeon who administered the stitches, himself a surfer, was taken into surgery having been partially scalped by a surfboard fin.”

But, aside from some real user-friendly waves when conditions are right (and certainly better than nothing if you happen to be stationed in HK for work), upside is, the lineup is full of girls, like locals Cathy Ho and Rei Chan Wai. “Eat healthy, go to bed early, rise early, catch waves, repeat,” says Cathy, who quit her office job to be a lifeguard and surf through summer, using winter to chase waves around the world.

Lantau Island, Shek O, Big Wave Bay and Tai Long Wan in Sai Kung are the spots you wanna aim for. If surf camps are your thing, Surf Hong Kong ( do ‘em well, as does Treasure Island Surf Camp on Pui O Beach, Lantau. “Most of my sign-ups are young girls,” says surf instructor Antony Dickson.

A culture shock on land, a lineup full of girls, and some exotic scenery? Time your trip with a summer typhoon and Hong Kong might be worth surfing for novelty factor alone.


Tai Long Wan gets lit. Photo: Becky Fox /


Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up


Most Recent

Latin Americans Have an Undeniable Affinity for the Tube

Directional ambidexterity can be quite fun.

Apr 13, 2021

Did We Just See The Best Performance Since John John At Margaret River In 2017?

What the data says about Newcastle.

Apr 12, 2021

Stab Podcast: Will Italo’s Airs Be Relevant in 10 Years?

Let's discuss, on Stab CUSP.

Apr 12, 2021

Micky Clarke Moves With Disciplined Aggression

Emo Micky finds an outlet on CH 11 TV.

Apr 11, 2021

Click or Miss: Is Vlogging Harder Than It Looks?

Click or Miss Vol 23.

Apr 11, 2021

The End Of The Dark Ages On Reunion Island

After fifteen years of chaos, shark attacks, and surf bans, a recently-launched project looks to…

Apr 11, 2021

A Tasteful Waltz With Unpredictable Backwash

Mason Ho and Sheldon Paison put their dancing shoes on.

Apr 11, 2021

Weekend Misc: How Do You Know When to End Your Session?

An argument for ending on a high note.

Apr 10, 2021

Former Supreme Head Brendon Babenzien Leans Into Surf

Click to see 'Noah's' line + their latest Vans Vault collab.

Apr 10, 2021

Italo Ferreira And Carissa Moore Are The Champions

Medina's claim, though.

Apr 10, 2021

The WSL Reveals New Events For The 2021 Season

Including an event in Mexico for the first time in 15 years.

Apr 10, 2021

Stab Podcast: “There Hadn’t Been A Shark Attack In 15 Years.”

Kirra at its best, upcoming Stab projects, and witnessing a shark attack.

Apr 10, 2021

Is There Anything Better Than A Solid Beach Break?

Joao Chumbino, Samuel Pupo, and Mateus Herdy explore sand bottomed greatness.

Apr 9, 2021

This Was A 10

Carissa Moore’s internet-disrupting air and other highlights from Day 4 in Newcastle.

Apr 9, 2021

Shane Dorian On Dealing With Injuries, Stepping Back From Jaws, And The Future Of Surfing

"Ever since I got really into big waves, I always planned on not being into…

Apr 9, 2021

Ain’t That Swell Wreaks Havoc On Newcastle

Ryan Callinan's risotto will solve 99.99% of the world's problems.

Apr 8, 2021

Morgan Cibilic Just Surprised Everyone

Including, but not limited to, John John Florence. Notes from Day 3 in Newcastle.

Apr 8, 2021

Mick Fanning On The Best Kirra Ever (?) And That Mitch Parkinson Drop In

"I wouldn’t hear the end of it if I said it was the 'Best Kirra…

Apr 8, 2021