Surfing the South China Sea, early 1980s

In the early 80s, your blog correspondent worked in a Vietnamese boat people refugee processing center on Galang Island, near Singapore (marked X on the image below). We would work three months in the camp and get two weeks downtime. I’d beeline straight home to Bali and go surfing.

I kept a surfboard in the camp there. Friday afternoons, I’d take the boat service (there are bridges now) to Tanjung Pinang on Bintan Island and for the weekend scour the east side of Bintan Island for surf. That’s the side exposed to the South China Sea.

bintan island

I can tell you this with some degree of confidence. Even though they do have surf contests in Malaysia, there’s a reason you don’t see ads for South China Sea surf charters and surf resorts. I did indeed go surfing a couple times, but in murky brown stiff onshore wind-swell crap. Still, it was wet and salty and foamy.

I also had an opportunity to travel on a relief-aid ship to the Natuna Islands, circled in the map. Beautiful gorgeous turquoise reefs, and at night phosphorescence bright enough to read by, but nary a wave did I see. Of course, that was only for a week, and maybe there was no swell.

Below is an shot of one of the Paracel Islands, between Vietnam and China, and which they are arguing over. Looks intriguing, but I bet ya it’s crap surf:


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2 Responses to Surfing the South China Sea, early 1980s

  1. Even though as you say, in that area the surf is mostly wind swell and crap, it can from time to time get ok to good and, I kinda enjoy the novelty of surfing obscure places- not noted for their quality- but just being able to ride waves in these unique places is a reward all it’s own. That is a love of surfing, and a benefit. We connect with the lands and the seas of the places we surf in a way most visiting folks are not able to. Thanks for the willingness to bring this aspect of surfing out into the world.

  2. That is very true. East coast Bintan was a lovely isolated place, palms and beaches and granite boulders, until the Singapore hotels moved in…

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