By the time most people reach the age of 36, they've settled into a traditional life - marriage, at least one child, a nine-to-five job and perhaps a 30-year mortgage. But that's not the life Chen Ping wants at that age. At least not just yet. For now, she's happy catching waves as a surfer and hostel owner. It's a path she could not have foreseen taking just two years ago, before she and a friend went to Bali, Indonesia. While there, the native of landlocked Hunan province was introduced to surfing. She instantly fell in love and has not looked back. She has quit her job with the railway bureau in Guangzhou, and now lives in Shenzhen where she owns her own surfing business, called Secret Spot, and two small hostels in the scenic Xichong area along the city's eastern coast.
When and why did you start to surf?
I started surfing during a trip to Bali in 2010. Two young Australian men were staying at the same hotel as us and they went out every morning at 5.30. I was curious about it, so they took me to the beach and showed me their amazing surfing skills. I immediately fell in love with the sport and thought, "Wow, it's so cool standing on top of waves". I took three surfing lessons in Bali to learn the basics, but it was far from enough. The first thing you need to learn about surfing is how to protect your head when you fall off the surfboard - always cover your head with both hands. A problem for me at the time was that I couldn't swim, so I took a swimming class after I returned to Shenzhen. Bali is really a paradise for surfers, as it features various types of waves for both beginners and professionals. My belly, face and whole body were bruised from my first summer of surfing, but I enjoyed it all. I'm extremely happy whenever I catch a wave and stay on top of it as long as I can - the feeling is awesome. I started to learn this summer how to avoid getting hurt, and I can stay out in the water all day.
Why did you want dedicate yourself to surfing and start a business?
It's very difficult to find enough time to surf if you work nine-to-five at an office and live far away from the beach. A friend of mine is an IT technician who used to take leave to go surfing whenever there were good waves. My friend later decided to quit so he would have enough time to surf. I did the same. I'm lucky because I earned some money through real estate speculation in the past. It began with a small, 50,000-yuan apartment in Hunan province, and I earned 100,000 yuan (HK$123,000) by selling it. The money came so fast that my family and I realised that it was a good business opportunity. The profits from investing enabled me to quit my job and dedicate myself to surfing. To make a living while surfing, I bought and rent out two homes close to the beach in Xichong, and I turned them into hostels with 12 guest rooms. Thanks to a lot of surfers and holidaymakers, business has been quite good without advertising.
Who are the people who want to surf in Shenzhen?
All kinds of people love to surf, from local residents to foreigners and from IT technicians to pilots. My boyfriend, an American who teaches English in downtown Shenzhen, surfs with me every weekend. A lot of his foreign friends from Switzerland, Brazil and many other countries also come to surf. It's a big party on the water. But there are not many young Chinese girls who like to surf as they try to stay white and don't like getting a tan. Actually, waves at the local beaches are not that good, so we travel to the Philippines and Indonesia to surf during the holidays. We will also go to Hainan province to watch an international surfing competition later this month.
How do surfers who live downtown know if there are big waves on any given day?
The website Magicseaweed.com offers free weather forecasts on beaches across the world for surfers, including predictions of when big waves are coming. The beaches in Xichong are always crowded in the summer when there are good waves. Sometimes Hong Kong surfers also join us.
Is there a growing number of mainlanders who are starting to surf?
Yes, as [they] become familiar with the sport while travelling abroad or by seeing it on television or online. I'm sure more middle-class people will join the sport as they get more money and are able to afford it.
What are your future plans for your business?
I plan to rent one more house in the same neighbourhood [as the other hostels] and turn it to a hostel next summer. We will also open a small surfing school next to the beach, offering classes. People will also be able to rent surfing gear. And there will be a café. As many surfers are foreigners who live in Shenzhen, I'm also learning how to cook authentic western-style cuisine. A former English teacher who cooks very well is now staying at our hostel to write a book, and he teaches me cooking and plants western herbs for dishes. I have seen how surfing changes many people's lives, and it's a pleasure to promote the sport among Shenzhen people.
Chen spoke to Fiona Tam