China -- maybe you've heard of it? This emerging world power seems to be a bigger player in international affairs that anyone could have predicted.
Apparently, driving cars isn't the only thing the Chinese want these days. Now, there's a bit of an interest in action sports, and the International Surfing Association has been fostering a relationship between the Chinese and surfing for some time.
For the first time ever, a ISA event will run hand in hand with an ASP contest as the Hainan Wanning Riyue Bay International Surfing Festival Presented by Quiksilver. The first contest of this fest will be the ISA China Cup, a team event featuring the top eight nations based on the 2011 ISA World Surfing Games. And the US Team happens to boast Cory Lopez and Chris Ward.
Lopez, who fell of the ASP World Tour in 2007, has had several near misses at requalifying. In 2011, he had an injury wildcard for a handful of World Tour events and also did a dizzying amount of 6-star and Primes around the world, competing in about double the amount of events he did while a World Tour regular. In a June interview, Lopez admitted that it was tough, especially being away from his young family so much. In August, the Floridian competed in a historic Billabong Pro Tahiti and caught some Teahupoo man-eaters in one of the year's heaviest sessions.
Lopez had some results, but failed to requalify, despite a heartbreaking number of heats where he took third place by a fraction. He finished 2010 at the No. 49 slot on the ASP's One World Ranking. In 2009, he represented the US at the ISA World Games in Costa Rica.
San Clemente's Chris Ward has been quiet since falling off the World Tour in 2008. He did make the finals of the Volcom Pipeline Pro last year, though.
Lopez said today that he's very excited to check out China.
"I've never been there, so I am really looking forward to going. Now I just hope we catch a swell."
Also slated to compete for their respective nations are Dion Atkinson for Australia and former Womens World Champ, Sofia Mulanovich for Peru.
The idea is to overlap the events, seemingly to give surfers two opportunities for the cost of getting to China. The Hainan Classic is a 4-star mens event, January 11-14 with a $95,000 purse, already expected to draw such notables as Mitch Crews and a strong Australian contingent, as well as Californians Nathanial Curran and Ward. This will be interesting as China has no surf culture to speak of.
"This will be a unique and different start to the year: a series of ground-breaking events that are happening because of the joint efforts of the ISA and Womei Media," said ISA President Fernando Aguerre, who initiated the idea for the ISA China Cup. "I can't wait for the horn to blow for the first heat."
This is not the ASP's first trip to China. The Chinese tourism folks are pushing the island of Hainan as a major tourism destination and hope that surfing will help. In October, Chelsea Williams won the SWATCH Girls Pro and Lindsay Steinriede won the ASP Women's World Longboard title. These dual events were both held on Hainan Island, where this new festival will be held.
Two-time ASP North American Womens Longboard champ, Cori Shumacher, of California, boycotted the China event, even if it was one of only two events on the Womens tour, citing the Chinese government's practices of putting economic interests over human rights.
The surf was plenty contestable, but it was definitely suited more for a longboard. The live crowd was a bit lighter than expected.