It's been a while since we last posted in our Surf Destinations series. I guess we all know surf travel wasn't on the cards in the last year. However, dreaming away to our next surf trip will not hurt anyone. It might help lift your spirits on a gloomy late-winter's day. When thinking of surf destinations, Taiwan might not the first country to pop into your head. Rachael shared her experience of travelling to this unusual surf destination. Did she find the hidden gem of surfing?
For years and years, I have been dreaming of visiting the tropics. Instagram is a wonderful thing but it also makes me green-eyed with envy as I see people surfing longboards on beautiful small, clean waves - and without being covered in neoprene! I practically start drooling over pictures of fresh fruit, and coconut palm trees. I was desperate to experience this, and so, after much research and um-ing and ah-ing over different countries, my partner Ben and I settled on a more unusual surf destination: Taiwan. Claiming uncrowded breaks, warm temperatures, a beautiful coastline, friendly people and post-typhoon season small swells, we booked our flights in anticipation.
We had two weeks in Taiwan, but only the first week of our holiday was planned out. From Taipei, we would get a train down the East Rift Valley to Taitung, and from there, hop in a taxi to a small town on the Pacific coast called Dulan.
With a picture firmly in my mind of blue skies, palm trees, gentle breezes and perfect small surf, it was thoroughly shattered on arrival at the Pacific coast. Palm trees, yes, but bent over and swaying in strong winds. Grey skies. Driftwood piled at the top of the shingle, reminding me of my last visit to the Pacific coast (Tofino, Vancouver Island, which greeted me with similar weather on my arrival - and with a little rain!). I looked at Ben, grimacing. We flew all the way here for this?!
Alas, nothing can be done about the weather, and we enjoyed exploring the beautiful area as the typhoon weather steadily made its way further out into the Pacific. Dulan has a lot to offer, with an artist's community and brewery based in the Old Sugar Factory, some lovely coastal and inland walking, indigenous culture and lots of yummy places to eat local noodle delicacies!
Our surf hopes were broken by other disappointments at the hostel we stayed at, but focussing solely now on the bright side, we did manage two surfs during our stay in Dulan. Our first was at the super point break at Jinzun Harbour. Point breaks are steadily appealing to me more and more, and I felt so lucky being able to surf at a break which was getting set up for various World Surf League competitions in the following weeks (including the Women's Longboard Championships). Sheltered from the wind, and with the sun shining in full glory, I paddled out, sticking to the inside as overhead waves peeled round the end of the harbour, attempting to catch smaller waves as they reformed further in. The break was not too busy, and lots of smiles from the locals made it a really relaxed atmosphere.
And the view. I gazed in awe at the beautiful grey sands of Jinzun beach, backed by large mountains covered in lush green trees. It was absolutely stunning, and definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever been fortunate to surf at.
Our second surf was at Dulan beach, on the first day where the waves looked inviting rather than pulverising. Once we found the sandbanks and worked out the currents, I really enjoyed catching some long waves, but only in the whitewash, as the waves out the back were still a little big for my confidence. Nonetheless, it was an excellent learning experience, and I am finally starting to feel confidence in my own knowledge and understanding of beach breaks. Plus, we were the only people in the water. I'm sure there aren't many tropical surf spots that can boast that.
All in all, Taiwan did provide the palm trees, fresh fruit, uncrowded surf breaks and sunshine that I had wished for. I surfed warm water without head to toe neoprene for the first time. Most of the travellers we met were stopping off there for a short time, between their travels in the Philippines, Indonesia and so forth, and so for them Taiwan was not quite the surf disappointment we found it to be, as all our hopes were pinned on this one Pacific coast. With our changing climate, we cannot now rely in the seasons, as the typhoon season extended into our time there.
Somewhere out there are the small, clean, uncrowded tropical waves that I dream of. My search to find them will continue. But for now, we are both happy to be back near our North Wales spots, neoprene at the ready.