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The birth of an Asian surf culture

Winds of change are sweeping through the surf scene in Asia, and they're blowing from Japan right down to Indonesia. Asians are learning to surf—and they're enjoying it. Where once the famous breaks of the region were the domain of travelling board riders from Australia, the USA and Europe, now you're more likely to see local Asians in there get¬ting the best waves and making the smoothest moves. They're also striking out on their own, finding new beaks in their immediate localities, and building their own unique surfing sub-cultures.

It's a trend that's been growing for some time. It goes right back to the 1960s, when surfing first rose to mass popularity in Western countries. The classic surfing film of the time, Endless Summer, tracked the exploits of a band of dedicated Californian surfers who travelled the world in search of perfect waves. The movie created a lifestyle, and built a dream shared by most surf¬ers: to travel far from the material world and find a remote, tropical paradise where perfect waves rolled endlessly onto a white, palm-fringed beach.

"Surf explorers" set out across the world in pursuit of this dream — and in Asia they found it, in places like Bali, Nias, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Surf magazines spread tales of these places, and surfers started flocking here, not just for the waves but to settle in to an idyllic, hedonistic lifestyle. In places like Japan, Micronesia, Vietnam and the Philippines, there were young surfers amongst the US military forces rationed in these countries, and in their spare time surfers went hunting for waves — and often the locals in these surfing areas — most of whom regarded the ocean as a source of food rather than a means for pleasure — saw the surfers as amusing eccentrics with an odd pastime. But some of the younger people were fascinated, and picked up discarded boards or tagged along with the strange foreigners, eager to try out what they were doing. The foreigners were usually keen to encourage these aspiring wave riders, and taught them the basics of the sport. For many of these kids, it was a big step: throughout most of Asia the ocean is tradition¬ally held in awe, something to be feared and avoided, not flirted with. But surfing — the exhilarating feeling of riding waves — and the relaxed', easy, natural lifestyle that goes with it, has a deep, irresistible appeal for many people who come into contact with it. Many young Asians tried it —and many of them liked it.

So since the early 1960s, they've been taking to the waves. At first the numbers were very small —usually kids hanging around in the main surfing areas visited by foreign¬ers. But the growth of Asian econo¬mies and the impact of international mass media brought changes in life¬style. Young Asians suddenly had leisure time, and the money to enjoy it. They started adopting Western life¬styles, and recreational activities were high on their list of interests.

Not surprisingly, the first coun¬try where surfing really entered local culture was Japan — the first Asian country to become seriously affluent. Meanwhile, in Bali a generation of local beach kids had matured, and some of them had persevered to be¬come world-class surfers. In almost every way Japan and Bali are at the extreme ends of Asia, but in their pas¬sion for surfing they're united.

Now, all over Asia, surfing is growing rapidly in popularity, and surfing commu¬nities are emerging with their own distinct traits. There's talk of establishing a regional competition circuit. Many new breaks are being discovered, surf shops and surf resorts are opening and the sport is set to move into the mainstream. The fol¬lowing is our guide to all the places in Asia, large and small, where surfers are making waves.

Getting on top. Over the past few years Asia's best surfers have been edging closer and closer to the top ranks of professional surfing. Indonesia's leading surfer, Rizal Tanjung (shown here with his former blond highlights), shows the athletic flexibility, aggression and sense of balance that's welled to perform radical manoeuvres on the fast and powerful waves of the various professional circuits

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