Wed, Jan 14, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Chilling out in Waiao

A convenient train ride from Taipei, Yilan County’s Jiaosi Township and Waiao offer surfing and hot springs

By Dana Ter  /  Staff reporter

In this file photo, a professional surfer rides a wave at the Chinese Taipei Surfing Association’s third annual surfing competition in Waiao.

Photo Courtesy of Rising Sun Surf Inn

Stepping off Waiao (外澳) train station in Yilan County (宜蘭) and looking across the only road that runs through the town, if you’re vigilant, you’ll notice a small, beat-up orange sign in the shape of a surfboard with the words Surfing Hostel.

An hour bus ride from Taipei City Hall Bus Station (市府轉運站) to Jiaosi Township (礁溪), followed by a 12-minute train ride northbound to Waiao, transports you to a world where the skyline consists of mountain ranges instead of skyscrapers.

When I first visited this black sandy beach two and a half years ago with two other New Yorkers, we (rather stupidly) thought we had discovered an uninhabited surf spot. Back then, it seemed as if the only form of civilization was a small surf shop next to the train station where we rented our boards. After a few trips — and some notable hitchhiking memories including a time when I was convinced I was going to get my organs harvested — back to Waiao, the quiet beach town has somewhat transformed into a small, tightly-knit expat surf community.

THE INN

At the center of the seaside buzz is the Rising Sun Surf Inn. It’s easy enough to find — just follow the beat-up orange sign and it will lead you to a small surf school-board rental-food and drink-hostel overlooking the ocean.

It also stands in stark contrast to the stretch of minimalistic, snazzy-looking boutique hotels with strange-sounding names further along the coastline. Some, like Play Hotel, are modern-vineyard style, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and others, such as Dr’s Cave, are more Grecian.

Rising Sun is as bright and cheery as its name sounds. Colorful boards for rent are stacked outside the inn next to an outhouse where surfers rinse off.

Inside, the stereo plays Led Zeppelin, and surfers — guys with blond hair and tattoos as well as Taiwanese guys and girls with nice tans — chat, sip Chinese tea and strum guitars at the bar and on the window-side couch.

The inn is run by Garrett Ball who hails from California and Sophia Yang (楊菲菲). The friends who stop by to visit tend to help maintain the inn, whether it’s by sweeping the floors or filling the refrigerator with IPAs and other brews.

Rising Sun is the type of place that attracts backpackers and wandering souls who crave adventure and live on adrenaline. During my visit, my friend bumped into an acquaintance he had last seen while hitchhiking across the border from Thailand to Malaysia.

The close group of surfer-musician friends who frequent the inn are always finding ways to bring the community together and expand their reach. Last October, Rising Sun helped organize Waiao’s first Art & Music Festival. In addition to live music, there were arts and crafts displays and a percentage of the profits went to helping stray animals in Taiwan. Although it’s still the middle of winter, Ball is already planning Waiao’s first annual Seafood, Blues & Brews Festival on May 2 and May 3.

THE SURF

If all goes well with the festival planning, the beach will be hopping in May. However on most winter days, Waiao is largely deserted, making it ideal for surfing. Wetsuits — which you can rent along with surfboards at Rising Sun — are a must, although the water temperature in Waiao is surprisingly warm during the winter months. This will come as a nice surprise for people used to surfing in California and Australia where the water is freezing even during summer.

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