A NEW generation is preparing to invade the shores of Vietnam's China Beach in October where US servicemen once headed for a bit of R and R to escape from the nearby horrors of the Vietnam War. But this time they will have surf boards tucked under their arms and the dress will be day-glo rather than fatigue green. For the first time an international surf contest is to be held on this infamous beach. It was here during the war that dare-devil surfers were deposited by helicopters 200 metres out to sea for the ride of their lives, a stunt captured in the film Apocalypse Now. Today, news of the contest, to be held from October 7 to 10, is spreading fast. A contingent of the world's top surfers, including world champion Kelly Slater, former champions and top surfers from America, Australia, South Africa and Europe, have all signed up to ride waves which swell up to six metres during the typhoon season. According to the executive director of the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP), Graham Cassidy, the idea of coming to a new surfing frontier is pulling in the world's top names. The event would put Asia on the surfing map. Graham added: ''ASP is striving to build an Asian leg. Japan has been part of the world tour for 12 years, but it has been the only Asian country to have a major event even though you have classic surf in the Philippines, Taiwan and even parts of China, here in Vietnam and all over Indonesia. ''Surfing has been a big sport throughout Asia for more than 15 years and there are big surfing populations in communities from southern China to Sri Lanka, but it's only now that those countries are financially endowed enough to think beyond survival, spending money and energy on things like surfing. ''Asia's had golf tournaments and tennis tournaments, but they're part of the mainstream of sport. Now Asia is breaking out of the Third World shackle.'' THE idea for a surf contest in Da Nang originated in Hong Kong about a year ago when a few guys were having a beer and talking about the old days in Vietnam. Bruce Aitkin, director of the Hong Kong promotions company Sports Asia, was there. He worked as a civilian during the war from 1969 to 1971 about 100 kilometres from China Beach at a marine army base. As he sat at a small bar on part of the huge stretch of beach 20 years later he commented that it had hardly changed - ''There were just a lot more guys in green wandering around''. He was there to organise the logistics of pulling off the international event in a country still crawling out of isolation. While he is used to doing business in Vietnam after staging marathons in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, he admitted that doing business in the country could be tough. ''It's more difficult, it takes more patience. Everything will be done here, but it will be done in a local way. The transportation will be local - whatever is available. It will work, but I think people will have to be a bit tolerant. ''While the Vietnamese Government has given the event its full support, dealing with them takes a bit of patience because international sports and international sports promotion is relatively new here and both sides are learning the ropes.'' According to Dr Doan Thanh Lam, manager in charge of international relations for the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture, Information and Sport, the Da Nang China Beach surf contest has the support of senior government officials. The fact that Vietnam is a long way behind Western countries used to hosting such affairs events is going to create a unique surfing event - one that harks back to the 60s beach culture, which appeals to the head of the ASP. ''I think the worst thing you could do would be to come to a place like this and go berserk with the razzamataz. What we're going to do is fit the event in with the very mellow style of the place. ''We'll use the very simple, on-beach facilities to run the event from. It'll have the look of what surfing events used to be like in the 60s - when it was a marquee, six chairs, a couple of tables and a megaphone. ''It will be a little more sophisticated this time because we'll have the computer judging system. But we're not going to come in here and put a circus on the beach.'' Making it more than just another contest will be a beach concert. While some names of the 60s and 70s are being looked at in America to headline the bill, Hong Kong bands HUH?! plus Andy Ingkavet and Hot Sauce and maybe more from the Radio Free Hong Kongstable will add an Asian flavour. WHILE this contest will be a world qualifying series event this year - the equivalent of the tennis satellite circuit - next year the world surfing body hopes to make it part of the 12 world championship contests. ''There are big points on the line here, people's careers are at stake, so we're not going to be able to turn a blind eye to an unprofessionally staged and managed event,'' said Graham. ''But the promoters have long experience in Vietnam and official response so far has been very positive.'' The American economic embargo has played a big part in holding the contest back from being a top ranking event from the start. While the Australian company Quick Silver has backed the contest and more sponsorship announcements are expected later this month, the blocking of big-name American companies has caused headaches for the organisers. Dr Lam said the lifting of the embargo would help to encourage and promote sport. ''Sport has a part to play in the future of Vietnam. It can promote friendship and understanding with other countries.'' But there are those who still feel that it would be wrong to forgive and forget, especially some Vietnam veterans, as the ASP has found. ''In America and to a lesser extent in Australia we've had some negative feedback from veteran groups. ''We've had hate mail in the US saying that the Vietnam War still has a diabolical stigma attached to it and sports, particularly American-based sports, shouldn't have anything to do with Vietnam,'' said Graham. But this sort of controversy is not new to the surfing body, which refused to follow the lead of other sports and pull out of countries such as South Africa in the early 80s. And while Graham said he could sympathise with these feelings, having lost two close school friends in the war himself, he sees surfing playing a trail-blazing role. ''I think this professional event will help obliterate the past in some people's minds. ''That's not to say people don't have long memories and aren't justified in having long memories about what happened during the war, but this is a turning point for this part of the world.''