Haikou - Between the waves, surfing lovers in Wanning City, south China's Hainan Province, can easily spot a familiar “Q” character on many of the surfboards – the sign stands for Chiba Hidenobu, a surfing buff who came all the way from Japan to the tropical island for its excellent sea rhythm.
Chiba Hidenobu, 61, who hails from Japan's Sendai, also the country's renowned surfing resort, has been “taming” the turbulent sea on his surfboard since he was 18.
In 2010, he decided to settle down in Hainan, bending to the local warm climate and clean waters.
Running a surfing club in Wanning, he now teaches newbies, maintains broken surfboards, and sells wetsuits. He has witnessed the fledgling surfing career of the once sleepy city over the years.
“It was a facelift. It must be difficult to imagine that when I first came to the city, I had to rely on farm tractors to go to some remote places,” he recalled.
At that time, surfing was a niche market. One would hardly call it a business, since the majority regarded the sport as an obscure hobby.
Though lacking support facilities, Wanning boasts one of the best natural conditions for revelling in the rush of the sea.
“The clean seawater has an average annual temperature of around 26.5°C.
Long, undulating and strong waves have a high frequency of ups and downs. The average annual wave height can log 1.5m to 2m, making the nearby waters very rare in the world for its premium point breaks and beach breaks,“ the Japanese said.
Wanning has waves all year round and is a suitable starting point for surfing trainees, he added.
“I visited China for the first time in 2007 and my first must-see place was Hainan. It was winter in Japan, so when I stepped out of the plane, the hot sea wind kissed me softly. I was like: 'How marvellous! Finally, I'm in the warm and charming southern China!'”
Chiba Hidenobu had been to Hawaii, Australia and the like, the world's renowned places surf-wise, but none can rival the rise and fall of Wanning's sea.
In 2010, he read news about Hainan building itself into a top international tourist destination and he told himself to embrace the golden opportunity on the tropical island.
Over the years, Wanning has seized the opportunity to develop its signature sports tourism, centred on surfing and other aquatic sports.
During the week-long Spring Festival holiday this year, the local Riyue Bay, which means “sun and moon bay” in Chinese, received about 115 500 tourists for its recreational surfing experiences.
Currently, Wanning, now dubbed China's surfing capital, is building its “surfing town” themed on the sport.
Chiba Hidenobu is also considering opening an art coffee shop in the city and introducing a Japanese diving brand.
“The construction of the Hainan Free Trade Port is in full swing, and I'd like to ride high on the new wave to bring my own surfboard brand in China to Japanese consumers, while helping more Chinese learn about our country's high-tech diving suits,” he said, showing confidence in the rosy prospects of Hainan.