The opening ceremony for last year's Hainan Riyue Bay International Surfing Festival was a pretty elaborate affair. You had dramatic modern dance, teams representing the strongest surfing nations, Chinese luminaries, sand from beaches around the world, patriotic flag waving, tons of media, and keynote speakers.
You really wouldn't expect anything less from a Fernando Aguerre production.
Aguerre is the long-standing president of the International Surfing Association and the loudest voice of trying to make surfing a more recognized sport around the world, specifically to get it into the Olympics. The festival was the first time an ISA event was run in conjunction with an ASP event, no doubt the brainchild of Aguerre. And it happened in China.
And now the pageantry is about to commence again.
"In early 2011 I approached the ASP about organizing an ASP event in China, as a back to back to the ISA China Cup (a national team event.) My idea was to bring together the two key components of surfing competition in one event: An ISA National Team event, and a professional tour event," explains Aguerre, "At the ISA, we are happy to be working again with the ASP, in making history for a better surfing future in China. Millions of people were exposed to surfing for the first time at our event in 2012. We expect to share our dream with even more people. The ISA approached the ASP to sign up for an ASP event license for China because I know that by working together we can accelerate the development of the sport of surfing here."
There were certainly some voices of doubt about bringing competition to China last year. The ASP's first inroads into this Asian nation was a womens longboard event. And who wants to go surf a contest at a longboard wave? But the late Sean Collins had done a good bit of research, even going to China himself, and recommended this spot. Riyue Bay came through, and at it's best in 2011 offered long racy, rippable, three to four-foot lefts.
"I went last year (for the related ASP event) expecting the waves to be terrible because that area looks totally blocked for swell. But it was actually really sick," said Gabe Kling from the airport en route to Asia.
"There are three left points right by our hotel, two of them are actually better than the comp site, but that's still sick. The one out the back of the site was seriously like a Snapper Rocks left last year. I was watching people get three barrels on one wave and I ended up breaking two boards there. The other left is super rippable. So I'm really pumped to go back and get some fun waves and compete. The forecast is looking promising too! Who would've thought that China had surf?" he laughed, "I thought we got lucky last year but apparently it is kind of consistent this time of year so we will see."
The ISA event is the China Cup, a team event featuring men, women, and junior competitions but ultimately crowning one country. This year, there are eight teams -- Peru, Brazil, France, Hawaii, Japan, Portugal and the USA Last year, Heath Joske won the Mens and Australia took the overall gold medal. The ASP event was a pretty standard 4-star. Irishman Glenn Hall took the win and went on to qualify for the ASP World Tour this year.
The U.S. team might as well roll up with the Floridian flag. Returning again to anchor the team is former Tour star Cory Lopez with Gabe Kling as his wingman. The grom of the squad is 17-year-old Cam Richards from Garden City Beach, South Carolina. It's not exactly Florida, but he spends some time there. Chris Waring and the team's two women, Erica Hosseini and Demi Boelsterli, are all California kids.
Who would've thought that China had surf?Gabe Kling, on scoring in Hainan
As usual, Hawaii has it's own crew, which includes Kaipo Jaquias and Sunny Garcia who bought Hawaii the ISA World Masters last summer.
All of the aforementioned shredders will be competing in the ASP event. That's kind of the idea -- get 'em there with the promise of some nice points to start out the year and then they'll surf the ISA event out of national pride.
"The ISA has had stars and future stars in its events for many years. For example, Tom Curren was the first ISA World Junior Champion in 1980, which launched his well-publicized and successful pro career. Gabriel Medina, Jordy Smith, and Julian Wilson are just a few examples of surfers that have all been ISA Champions at a young age and have gone on to become highly successful professional surfers. Many of them will surf in ISA World Surfing Games in the coming years," explained Aguerre.
"With the successful development of the ISA World Masters, champions like Layne Beachley, Sunny Garcia, and Tom Curren are all excited about participating for their countries as members of their National Teams in the ISA's annual Championship. We expect for a continued increase of the World Tour surfers to compete in the ISA World Masters, this year and many more years."
And it is a big decision to head to China for a these top shelfers, considering the Hainan Classic runs Jan. 28-30 and the Volcom Pipe Pro, a heavyweight five-star runs Jan. 27- Feb. 8.
"I think we have a good shot at winning the China Cup this year. It's going to be fun either way," added Kling, "I am actually just staying for the 4-star right after the contest. It runs during the Pipe so I had to choose, and I'm already there. So, kind of bummed I'm missing Pipe, but I had such a great time in China last year."