Day One: Taipei
In the distance, you can hear a rumble. From the ground up, they make their presence known. It’s 11 a.m. and the steady drumbeat of engines turning marks the arrival of the crew at our namesake eatery, located within our restaurant and surf shop in Taipei. We’re meeting before setting out on a nine-day journey from the northern coast of Taiwan to the southern tip and back. Most of us are riding motorcycles and a small crew will be cruising in a VW T3 Vanagon while we surf, camp, and pick up a few friends and strangers along the way.
News had leaked that a bunch of us were going on this trip and we were met with a small crowd to send us off. After eating breakfast with the crew, we set out north, but as fate would have it, we didn’t even make it out of the city before the little red Yamaha started choking out. It wasn’t breathing well. Luckily, we still had a few of the guys from the gathering riding with us. Alex, from 1996 Customs, helped us replace the carburetor and we got Red breathing right again. Although we didn’t get on the road until after five, it gave us a chance to connect with some of the new folks that decided to ride with us.
At this point, the clouds were looking downright ominous and the sun was making a fast break toward the horizon, setting the sky ablaze along the way. We were running out of time so our plans to tour the north shore of Taiwan got scrapped. We ended up taking a detour through the mountain roads, headed straight to Yilan. The dark clouds had only resulted in light rain and a little mist. Seeing that mist settle in the valleys with a view of the harbor lights in Yilan made the detour worth it. Sometimes, it’s the route you don’t take that makes the trip.
After a couple of pit stops along the way, we finally made it to Yilan around 9 p.m. We took a break at a local spot for some food and drink, hoping to refuel for the next day. We didn’t get a chance to surf or scope any of the local spots, but the views from the misty mountain road made it all worth it. We’d become acquainted with the new bikes and the open road that was waiting for us. Day one was a good one.
We clocked in a good night’s rest and slept in until seven, had a cup of coffee, a pork bao, and we were off. After leaving Wood White House (the hostel we stayed in) we headed out for our first spot check of the trip and decided to just spend the morning surfing. It wasn’t huge, and the high tide was making for some fat waves but it was going well enough. We figured it wasn’t going to be any better at any of the other breaks and we were all frothing anyway. It could have been knee-high wind chop and we still would have paddled out. The lineup, known as Twin Lions (on account of the two huge lion statues that protect the beach), produced some really fun surf and, needless to say, we were stoked we decided to stick around.
After a bowl of pho, we began making our way down south in search of more surf. We had two spots we were looking to scope, and swooped in at a beach called Qingshui, which, roughly translated, means “clear water” or “clean water.” It was a beautiful black-sand beach, but the water did seem cleaner than most of the water in the area anyway. We didn’t end up sticking around, as the wind began to blow onshore.
We rode another hour-and-a-half south through the mountains, south of Yilan. It started raining again early in the afternoon but cleared up once we got through the other side of the tunnel. Once we were through, we stopped in Nan’ao and found a spot to settle in for the rest of the day. The view was breathtaking, familiar, and mysterious. Rocky, and complete with a river mouth running through the cliffs, it was a sight to behold: a family of giant, concrete tetrapods perched through the land.
There isn’t a beach in Taiwan that doesn’t contain those large concrete tetrapods; here in Taiwan, it seems as if there’s a constant struggle between humans and nature. With Taiwan’s history of manufacturing, it’s natural that there’s a yearning to control the land and protect what they’ve built. Typhoons and earthquakes are a very real threat, and the thought of what might happen if Mother Nature squares up and lands a direct hit on these treasured islands is terrifying.
Dawn broke at Nanao to reveal head-high, glassy lines, marching toward the lineup. We unzipped our tents and raced to the surf. The tide was right and the wind was blowing lightly offshore. It’s a dream waking up to waves like this.
After surfing, Xiao Yi, the camp master, hooked up the pour-over coffee and we devoured breakfast.
After breakfast, we broke down camp and combed through the beach, sifting through the sand for plastic and other debris. The overall haul was four bags of trash. We could have stayed there all day cleaning, but we would have needed a dump truck. To be sure, it’s unimaginable the amount of trash that washes up on these beaches.
Following the cleanup, we stopped at 7-eleven for a quick bite before hitting the road again. The boys didn’t want to stop for lunch until we reached Hualien, about two hours further south. 7-eleven is like a whole different world out here, offering an array of items and perks that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. Here, they’ll warm up your food and offer a huge instant ramen selection. To boot, their coffee game is on point, and it’s safe to say that all other 7-elevens could take note of what’s underfoot in Taiwan.
Later in the afternoon, we checked a handful of standout spots on the way to Hualien but came up dry. We would end up surfing a peak called Double Bridge, and I’ll let you take a guess why they call it that. Another rocky river mouth lineup, this wave had a habit of rolling in slow only to stand up and flex right before making its way to the shore and some seriously heavy rocks. It was definitely a pretty gnarly spot for the uninitiated.
After a long day on the road and in the water, we were all hankering for some well-deserved shut-eye. We were staying at a place called Sawali Surf, which proved to be nice little pad conveniently situated across from Double Bridge. All in all, everyone—even the bikes and camera equipment—was ready for a recharge.
Morning broke on the fourth day of the trip to cold and rainy weather, along with victory at sea conditions. There was no chance of getting a session in with this mess. There wasn’t a rush to get out of bed, and we didn’t end up leaving Sawali until around 10.
We weren’t the only ones dragging this morning. The fabled Red wasn’t really feeling it either and crapped out about 100 meters down the road, forcing us to tow the bike to Taitung to get worked on properly. All in all, it proved to be a pretty uneventful day, complete with a four-hour trip through pelting rain as we continued to head south toward Taitung.
As we went, it was clear that the day offered us some much-needed respite after two days of camping and surfing. The last three days had been a great chance to hang out and surf with new people. We’ve been fortunate to score some waves in the first few days—truth be told the swells are few and far between this time of year—and we made the most of what he had.
Our crew had shrunk a little bit and after the next day, we’d be down to the core group. However, we were certain to make new friends and connect with some old ones in the next week, all the while sniffing out sessions along the way.
It’s never easy rising early when it’s cold, drizzly, and gloomy. The cold soaks into your bones and those first few duck-dives of a morning session don’t always go down easy. However, we got started around seven, sucked back some coffee with our breakfast, and drove about 45 minutes north to a spot called Chenggong, a left-hand point break with a really shallow reef bottom. It was absolutely pumping. Some sets were double overhead. The boys were ripping and the conditions proved to be so prime that a few of us stayed out for more than three hours. Totally worth getting out of bed early.
After scarfing down lunch and having a few drinks, we said our goodbyes to a couple of the guys who had to make it back to Taipei for the weekend.
The squad was starting to dwindle but our spirits were still super high, especially after the morning surf. We were headed to Jinzun Harbor but ended up surfing a spot known as Little Harbor, perched just around the corner. As the sun began to make its way toward the horizon, the temperature dropped and a bitter cold took root. The air was freezing and with the wind chill, it was downright bone-chilling. We were all frozen to our core as we made our way out of the water. Someone heard that we could find hot showers at Jinzun but that turned out not to be true. Which was a bummer.
As the sun set, we considered camping at Jinzun but decided against it at the last minute. It was just too damn cold and too damn windy to rough it again. We opted to spend the night at a bed and breakfast just down the road in Donghe. Tomorrow, we would head south to Kenting.
The sun finally came out to reveal a still-pulsing swell, but we had work to do and needed to make our way to Kenting, a four-hour drive south. We took yet another beautiful ride along sharp cliffs and through mountain roads, but today was dry and we had the sun shining on our backs. You can be 101-years old and that feeling of riding through the countryside on a crisp afternoon will never escape you.
We pulled into Kenting and immediately checked the surf at Nanwan. If the conditions align, this locale could morph into a running right-hand point break. I call it Taiwan Malibu. Unfortunately, the forces weren’t aligning and it was more akin to Lake Kenting than Taiwan Malibu. So we decided to take a break and eat lunch and try to figure out what to do between waves.
We hit up some friends to see what was up and they invited us to go snorkeling at a secret reef. It was a truly beautiful setting, bubbling over with life. The water was clear and the visibility perfect. The fish were mesmerizing and you could find every shade of color imaginable cruising through the waters. We were so thankful to have local friends show us their secret getaways. This was what it was all about.
The next day, we’d be off to uncover a few new spots. If there was no swell, we’d head back up to Taitung. With any luck, the swell from last week would still linger and we’d make our way back up to Taipei by Tuesday.
Lazy Sundays are the best Sundays. We woke up early to surf and to capture some drone footage near the southernmost point of Taiwan but the winds were howling at 20 knots and spoiled any plans we had. We decided to link up with a couple friends and chew the fat and see what was good. By afternoon, we’d searched high and low for swell but didn’t have any luck and decided to end our Kenting stay a day early. So once again we said our goodbyes and made our way back up the coast, but this time we took the scenic road that snaked its way along the coast instead of driving through the mountains again.
We made a pit stop to pick up the Red Bike and it was sounding better than ever. It was funny but it felt really good to have her back with us.
We woke to find the Donghe river mouth in fine form. Head-high lines were sewn down the coast, with some plus-sized sets and strong offshore puffs. We relished in the super fun A-frame that kept a nice shape and a few barrels, similar to Trestles back home. It was a really fun session with only our crew out. We soaked in the water for nearly three hours, surfing until our arms felt too heavy to paddle.
After surfing, Xiao Yi cooked breakfast and coffee for the whole squad. It was a breakfast sandwich with fried eggs, pork, and onions, and it made for a perfect after-surf meal. After breakfast, we needed to break down camp pretty quickly. It was getting late and we had a five- to six-hour drive ahead of us to Yilan. We traveled up the coast flanked by crystal blue water on one side and emerald-green mountains on the other. I’ve heard from some of my Taiwanese friends that a lot of Taiwanese people don’t think their country is beautiful. I’ve driven through many coastlines and the east coast of Taiwan, for me, ranks up there with the Oregon coast, Big Sur, and even the Na Pali Coast.
On the last day of the trip everyone was slow to get going today. It’s not often you get to travel with a group of great guys, meet so many different and amazing people along the way, and get into so many adventures. We were always on the hunt, looking for a destination or place to call home, but the journey itself became home. In the end, it proved to be the very thing we are all longing for.
The road had been home to us for nine days. The sea had cast its spell; whenever there were waves, we went looking. Points manifested perfection and friends opened their arms. The shore was a place we could lay our heads while we weren’t on the road. The driftwood was as our sofa, the sand our beds, the campfire our TV. And the stories we shared with each other our social media. Being disconnected from our common comforts forced us to adjust to our environment, which changed every day. It taught us that we could be more free without the things that typically provided us with convenience.
The empty beaches were a place we could find solitude while still connecting with each other and building our own little family. People came and went along the way, but our family grew bigger and stronger as the days went on. This short period allowed us to grow together and become a close unit.
Back in the hustle and bustle of Taipei, it felt strange to think that some of us had to be on calls at 9 a.m., in a meeting at noon, or in front of a computer all day, forced to make decisions about budgets and marketing plans. These things have to happen because the world as we know would not run without the hustle, but being on the road for a while gave us another perspective and a better understanding of balance. Without one we wouldn’t appreciate the other.