When filmmaker Zhao Ke’er was asked to travel to Hainan Province to record a Chinese surfer taking on waves in the South China Sea, little did she know an epic journey was about to unfold.
Thanks to a crowdfunding effort by 396 people, Creation Film would soon be tracking Zhao Alan’s surfing odyssey all the way from China’s Hainan Province to Indonesia – charting his triumphs, struggles and relationships.
A fisherman's son with a love for the ocean
Zhao Alan hails from a family of fishermen in the Chinese coastal city of Fangchenggang in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
“I went fishing a lot with my parents when growing up,” Zhao explained. “I have special feelings for the ocean, I dream to live on a beautiful coast in the future.”
The first child in his big family to go to college, Zhao started his Hainan journey at a university in the city of Sanya in 2010, majoring in physical education.
By 2011, visitors were flooding to scenic spots in the seaside city and a number of tourism-related businesses had sprung up.
Zhao didn’t go home that summer holiday. Instead, he found a part-time job at a beach club in Yalong Bay. He met different kinds of people who came for fun or business. He then tried surfing – not a popular sport in China at the time.
He still vividly remembers standing up on the surfboard for the first time, the thrill and achievement as he lurched forward with the water flowing beneath his feet. The dream of chasing waves made his’s heart ache with longing.
A running leopard in the waves
Zhao caught the eye of the surfing community when he took on huge waves in Bali, Indonesia for the first time. Images shot during that surf trip made a big splash with fellow surfers.
Qu Lei, Zhao’s old friend and owner of a surf club in Bali, was among the first batch of surfers in China. Zhao describes Qu as “a real surfer.”
Qu likes to quote the line “We have nothing but happiness, to which we toast.” Reflecting on the kind of life he wants, Qu said, “I don’t want a life without any surprises. I need some exciting moments to cherish when I am old.”
And his first impressions of Zhao? “Wow! This guy’s so cool. Surfing the waves, he reminds me of a running leopard.”
Young Chinese surfer targets world
Zhao Alan began a dream surf trip to Mentawai Islands in Indonesia in July 2016. Mentawai is considered to have some of the best surfing spots on the planet with consistent waves and warm water.
Surfing in Mentawai Islands is very dangerous. “It’s over if you get trapped inside. Just once and you’re done,” said Zhao. And the water isn’t just good for surfing – sharks like it too.
But he insisted the challenge would improve his skills as he prepared to join the Chinese national surfing team.
Zhao said the trip to Mentawai was a little bit unreal, adding that his vision of the future has become clear since discovering surfing. “It makes me feel good knowing what I need to do in my life.”
Surfer for life
He joined the Chinese national surfing team in March 2017. A training center for the team was completed in Wanning City, Hainan Province at the same time. Now 10 Chinese surfers, including Zhao, are training in Riyue Bay, as they prepare for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020.
Hainan Province was the birthplace of his dream to chase waves. It now welcomes him back as a national team surfer, with an even brighter and clearer dream.
“I’ve felt so close to the wild ocean since I’ve surfed, it's so happy and I’m stoked when I finish every wave,” Zhao grinned. “I feel free and peaceful when I sit in the lineup, it's always good to be with nature.”
“Surfing means a lot to me, extreme sport, exercise, travel, making friends, lifestyle.... I will keep surfing for the rest of my life!”