Christened the “beautiful island” (Ilha Formosa) by Portuguese sailors, Taiwan lives up to the name today despite a turbulent political history.
Christened the “beautiful island” (Ilha Formosa) by Portuguese sailors, Taiwan lives up to the name today despite a turbulent political history. With its lush tropical forests, soaring, mist-shrouded mountains and sleepy fishing villages, Taiwan’s east coast looks more like an outer island of Hawaii than its Chinese near-neighbour. And while Taiwan rarely gets big waves there is plenty of quality to be found in season (October- May). Light crowds, fun waves and friendly vibes make Taiwan an epic destination for surfers who want a potent culture hits between waves. Pack a fish, a twinnie, a longboard or all three if you can find an airline to transport them.
Among the country’s many enticements are a food scene as good – same say better – than anywhere in Asia. Regional food competes with delicious Japanese, Korean, Indonesian and a plethora of mouth-watering snack food. There is a proud and colourful indigenous culture, a lively blend of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism religions and a fascinating history that in still unfolding. The Taiwanese pride themselves on their friendly and helpful nature, crime is rare and travellers are made to feel at home. Although wave riding was introduced back in the sixties, the surf scene remains small and there are enough breaks to spread everyone out. Taiwan is an easy place to travel and it blends western influences and authentic traditions seamlessly.
There are two main surf seasons. The east coast is the main prize. It’s open to a wide band of ground swell, starts to turn on in October, peaks in December/January and can kick on into May. Additionally, it grooms short fetch wind swells so there’s usually waves of some sort to be found. The south coast is much fickler but can pump on its day. It’s generally best in late summer and Autumn (July-October) when typhoons stir up the swell. Taiwan is the heart of an active typhoon region and averages 20 tropical bangers annually. Knowledgeable surfers can find pumping waves at many spots when the typhoons are on. Most days though you’re surfing playful waves in warm water and friendly company. Wetsuits are virtually obsolete -the coldest the water reaches is a balmy 23C. While many waves are easy to see from the coastal roads, local knowledge is invaluable for scoring them in their prime.
ChengGong (aka: Palm Tree Point)
A long coiling left point break which wraps around a palm-tree lined point, ChengGong is considered one of Taiwan’s best waves. Catching it on can be tricky as it is often blown out in the winter months by the predominant wind. It breaks along a shallow reef and offers up barrel sections on its day. Find it one and half hours north of Taitung, near the town which bears its name on the middle of the east coast. It’s said to handle typhoon swells up to around eight-foot.
There are plenty of waves on the north coast too but their proximity to the capital, Taipei (population 7.4 million) make it more susceptible to crowding. Wedding Park (aka Green Ball) is a quality righthand reef break which can offer up heavy barrels. Super tide dependent its can pump on the low and be dead flat on the high. Getting in and out over the rocky coastline can be tricky and it’s worth watching the locals do it to avoid kook slamming. Offshore in an east wind and open to swells from the north east, its best in winter or in typhoons.
Taiwan has all kinds of waves for all kinds of surfers. Down on the south coast there are plenty of gentle beginner waves which can transform into more serious quality when the swell arrives. Sheliao on its day, is a sight to behold. This sand bottom left is the longest wave in Taiwan and can throw up nice barrels between rippable sections. Works in moderate west swells or large south west swells if you manage to catch this wave on you’ll want to surf it all day long.
Taiwan’s aborigines (Formosan) settled the island around 5000 years ago and lived largely in isolation until the 17th century. Their rich cultural heritage has endured despite many challenges and hardships and is celebrated in the arts, food and music. Today most Taiwanese are Han Chinese descendants who immigrated in 18th Century and again in the 1940s when communism took hold of China. Officially called The Republic of China, Taiwan still lays claim to all of China. Despite the political tension, Taiwan is a safe and peaceful country with some of the friendliest people in Asia. Mandarin is the official language, though many young people in cities and tourist areas speak English.
The Taiwanese love their food – either snacking on delicious street food or socialising with friends in a vibrant restaurant strip. For surfers hunting down a quick post-surf chow, steamed wantons are hard to beat. They pump them out from small bakeries everywhere and three or four will keep you going all day. The restaurant scene is amazing: regional Chinese food competes with enticing indigenous, Japanese, Korean, Indonesian and a plethora of world food. Expresso coffee and good beer are increasingly easy to find. The capital of Taipei is a foodie heaven famous for a night market with ten streets devoted to mouth-watering snacks.
Fascinating, in a word. Ornate temples dot the country servicing a pantheon of over 300 gods, demons and spirits. Some need to be praised, others subdued. Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism are all mixed together without a problem. There is a case to be made that Taiwan is a better place to see and experience Chinese culture because so much of it was intentionally destroyed during the devastating cultural revolution. The younger generation of Taiwanese are becoming increasingly westernized but ancient traditions, superstitions and philosophies linger.
Taiwan has a reputation as a manufacturing hub and for its bustling capital, Taipei. But outside the big cities its surprisingly green and mountainous and untouched by urban sprawl. Around 50% of the island is protected land or forest and hiking, climbing and cycle touring are all becoming popular. Most strikingly Taiwan stands tall. With 286 peaks above 3000 metres, it has the largest number and density of high mountains in the world (according to their own press). There are scenic gorges to check out, friendly monkeys to observe and plenty of natural hot spas to soak in. While many surf breaks are silty with river run off and black sand; others, particularly on the south coast, are crystal clear and good for diving.
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