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Stormrider Guide to surfing Taiwan


Taiwan surf at Jialeshuei, John Callahan/SurfExplore


+ SE typhoon & NE monsoon swells - No world-class breaks
+ Large tropical island - Suffocating summer heat
+ Powerful beachbreaks & left points - Densely populated Taipei
+ Cheap, easy access from Asia - Risk of destructive typhoons

Surfing in Taiwan has a long history and surf arrives from a generous 225¼ swell window hitting all sides of the island. US soldiers were the first to ride the north coast beach of Jin Shan in 1965 and local pioneers like Mao Guh and his brothers ignored the government ban on access to the ocean, to take up surfing and open the first surf shop. With the lifting of Martial Law in 1987, surfing clubs popped up across the island and the R.O.C Surfing Association estimates that there could be 30,000 people riding waves across Taiwan. This is no surprise as the seasonal monsoons bring consistent waist to headhigh waves and a pair of boardshorts will do for all but the depths of winter, making Taiwan an increasingly alluring tropical destination.

When to Go

Taiwan sits smack dab in the middle of Typhoon Alley and the biggest swells of 8-12ft usually occur from July to October. Category 1-3 storms can appear in less than 24hrs, while super-typhoons Cat 4 and 5 usually take days to wind up, with potential for destruction, depending on the stormÕs track. Any violent storm activity in the western Pacific can create some waves, but consistency varies greatly, year to year. In the summer, knee to waist high is the average surf height pushed in by the SW monsoon winds without any typhoon activity. The most consistent surf is generated in winter from NE monsoon winds, which bring chest to headhigh waves almost everyday with potential 8-10ft peaks. North and east Taiwan has many spots that pick up even a sniff of swell (Yilan, Hualian) while the southern region has a myriad of breaks that need a bit of a look around to find (Taitung). Tides are semi-diurnal with diurnal inequality, but hardly reach more than 1m.

Surf Spots

Baishawan is a north-facing, white sand beach with easy access from Taipei on the train/bus system. Often flat through summer, then cold and windy in winter it lacks power and shape, attracting kiteboarders, windsurfers and hang gliders. A much better bet is the high tide reefbreak called Wedding Plaza, a little further east. Jin Shan aka Green Bay or Golden Mountain is super popular in summer with huge crowds of clueless beginners hitting the various peaks between the north end left over boulders and the middle jetty. Also check Wan-Li. The eroding golden sands of Fulong Beach are split by the large Shuangshi rivermouth, which often floods the end of the access bridge. Weak, shifting peaks when small can transform into some decent walls at headhigh plus. Surfing closer to the harbour wall will cut the E wind. Dashi, aka Honeymoon Bay, benefits from clean water and some good, but unreliable sandbanks. Favours rights toward the southern end and is often the best option in the area. Gets crowded and a few rogue locals have been known to be aggressive to foreigners. Just north of Toucheng is Wushi, a decent black sand beach with south end jetties and some decent rights in winter NEÕers. Gets crowded because it has the best waves along the heavily armoured coast. Miles of sandy shoredump and rocky coast leads down to Hualien and 17km further south is Gongs, an inconsistent low to mid tide outside reef peak, that handles some size and N winds. Paddle from harbour jetty when big and plan exit away from shoreline tetrapods in front of peak. Jici is the sandiest beach in rocky Hualien, with average, often sloppy peaks in the southern corner. May pick up some power in a SE swell, but readily closes out. Serviced by Hualien Surf shop and thereÕs a school for beginners. The coast road overlooks a stretch of rocky reefs down to and beyond Fongbin, a rivermouth beach that sucks in the swell and holds some good form, with powerful peaks hitting the ever-shifting black sandbars. Catching classic Bashien Dong lefts, at Eight Fairy Cave, will convince visitors of the power of Taiwanese surf. ItÕs a long, boulder pointbreak that lines up great walling lefts on big NE swells, combined with NW winds. Usually soft shoulders outside and the odd short peeler on the rocky inside, before the heavy shorepound. The rivermouth can create intense rips and some rights to the north. South of Three Fairy Platform is Cheng Gong an epic left reef/point, breaking close to shore, but only on typhoon Category 4 or 5 from the E-SE or large NE. N or even NE winds are not a problem here. Sharp rocks and dead coral shelf, plus rips and speedy lip line make this an experts only break. Donghe Rivermouth is extremely consistent and a swell-magnet, picking up all available seasonal swell onto shifting, river sculpted sandbars. There are two main peaks, either side of the rivermouth offering long walls with plenty of open face to dissect, plus some short barrel sections. It can hold a lot of swell and maintains good shape even on the bigger days. Wave quality is often the best on the island, so itÕs not the best place for beginners, especially as crowds are increasing, fed by a few new local surf shops nearby and visiting rippers looking to film and showcase TaiwanÕs surf. Further south the number of sandy beaches and reefbreaks increases, but the swell is less consistent. The wide beach at ✪Jialeshuei may be TaiwanÕs most reliable spot. Facing SE, Nanwan, aka Binglang Beach, stands out as a shapely right reefbreak with nice curves and a sculpted face, but only on low-mid tide and S-SW swells. If the sand mix is just right, barrels are a given when itÕs bigger, which should help clear the water of weekend learner crowds. Summer typhoons should awaken a number of other reefs in the bay (Banana Bay, Windmills, Houbihu Harbour and Point) where the barrels and the coral reef are sharper. In Kaohsiung, go to Sunyatsen Beach facing the university for a short, bodyboard style shorebreak thatÕs a low consistency break in the rare summer SW swells. ItÕs easy to fly out to the 64 tiny Penghu Islands, but only go when a good S swell is running. Sanshuei is one of those picture-perfect beaches, ready to catch the occasional SE-SW summer swells, but a greater tidal range cuts surf time. Back on the heavily populated and usually flat NW coast of Taiwan, Chu Nan, needs a big winter N swell to create a slow, mushy, beginners beachbreak thatÕs protected from NE winds by the harbour wall, just avoid lower tides.


dominant swell N -E N -E N -E N -SW N -SE N -E
swell size (ft) 4-5 2-3 1-2 3 3-4 4-5
consistency (%) 80 50 30 60 70 80
dominant wind N -NE NE -E S -SW S -SW N -E N -E
average force F5 F4-F5 F4 F4 F4-F5 F4-F5
consistency (%) 64 51 40 38 74 91
water temp (C) 23 24 27 29 28 25
wetsuit springsuit boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts

Travel Information

Large differences in temperature and rainfall occur from north to south. Kenting has a warm tropical climate with rich and fertile vegetation. There is little change between seasons. Summer weather is cooled by the afternoon sea breeze and the cold wet winter NE winds that hit northern Taiwan are often blocked by the central mountains. A springsuit is enough for winter, even for the few weeks in Jan and Feb when air temps may dip to 10¡C in morning offshores. Boardshorts from April to Nov and then some. Up north in winter may be as much as 6¼C cooler, requiring a steamer for a few months.

Lodging and Food
Dorm rooms for $10/night and $20-30 in hotels in off-season, but typhoon season is high summer season. Plenty of ÒSurf HousesÓ in Nanwan, backpacker style ($15). Motels and hotels price range is $45 to $120/p/n. surfingtaiwan.com do premium guided surf trips from Taitung county plus multi-activity and cultural tours (fr $750/p/dbl/6n). Similar deals from surftaiwan.com (fr $949/p/dbl/6n) with east and south coast options. Food is $3-10 per meal.

Nature and Culture
A steep central mountain range means the east coast is much less developed than the overcrowded west coast, which makes Taiwan second only to Bangladesh in population density. Lots of sightseeing near Taipei like museums, temples (Shihtoushan Buddhist) and waterfalls (Wulai). Tamsui Grass skiing resort near Baishawan. Many mountain peaks reach 3000m+, try hiking near Chushan or rafting on Hsiukuluan River (east coast). Kenting National Park protects some beautiful forests.