Chen was hooked instantly. “The first time I took off successfully it was so peaceful — I felt like I was standing on a cloud flying over the sea. I loved that feeling.”
The marketing executive has traded in his well-paid Taipei job to become an organic rice farmer. He now balances the needs of his Taitung-based firm “Surfer Rice” with regular trips to the nearby ocean.
As the wave of surfing enterprise continues to build strength, others have jumped on board. Amis Aboriginal Hana Lee runs brisk business at her Dulan-based surf shop, where she also offers surfing lessons.
“I’m a surfer and a housekeeper,” Lee says proudly. “I’m happy, it’s fantastic — I’m so excited when I can do a new trick or stunt, it’s even better than making money,” she says.
Three months pregnant with her second child, Lee continues to surf with her long-board and is resolved to carry on while she can. Her determination has cost her in the past, however, and a deep crimson scar — from encountering a bluebottle jellyfish — cuts across the top of her right arm. And even bigger foes may be lurking. Last November, a 4.5-meter-long Great White Shark was caught near Taitung’s increasingly popular Surf Comp.
However, most surfers remain indifferent to potential perils. “I haven’t given up,” says Lee, “I just chase smaller waves now.”
Baybay Niu (鈕臻琳), the only officially-sponsored Taiwanese female surfer who lives in Taitung’s unofficial surfing Mecca, Donghe, also has no plans to quit.
The 38-year-old, who has been surfing for 11 years, regularly competes against men at international events representing Taiwan. She says her goal now is to help grow local talent in Taitung.
“Kids here were brought up with the ocean and I’m teaching a lot of Aboriginal children to surf so that they will start earlier than me and become world class surfers,” she says.