I love. Taiwan. As someone who spends a large chunk of their free time participating in various physical activities, including trail running, triathlons, road racing, and open water swims, I find there is always something available to do. Since moving to Taiwan two years ago, I ran my first marathon and subsequently my first ultra marathon, as well as participated in some open water swims and triathlons. It is great to always have events available to set your sights on; to be able to make goals to work towards. It’s fun, and it allows me the joy of guilt-free Saturday night beers. Win win! There are some world class trail runs offered throughout the year (see www.beast.run) , and wonderfully organized half-marathons and marathons all throughout Taiwan, almost every weekend of the year. And, when the whole country is only 394km top to bottom, everything is accessible! As a Canadian who hasn’t seen even a small fraction of my own country, this stands in large contrast to what I am used to, in the best way possible.
In December of 2018, my girlfriend at the time and I signed up for something a little different. A friend of hers, Andy, who runs a stand up paddle(SUP) lesson and rental company at Sun Moon Lake, invited us to join him and a large group of SUP’ers on a special adventure: stand up paddling 15km across the South China Sea, from Dapeng Bay, in Donggang Township, to XiaLiuqiu, also known as Lambai Island. At this point I had recently run my first marathon so, even though I had only SUP’d once in my whole life, I figured, how hard could it be? So, when my girlfriend pitched the idea to me, I was all for it. The notion of SUP’ing 15km across the open water scared the hell out of me. At the same time, I felt a strong sense of anticipation and adventure, and really looked forward to the experience. I should add: when my girlfriend brought the idea up, she asked if I wanted to be in the race group or the recreation group, to which I swiftly and nonchalantly replied that, of course, I would like to be in the race group.
Soon, the weekend of the event was upon us. After finishing work on Friday, we drove to the Changhua High Speed Rail station, making sure to remember our silicon collapsible cups, grabbed a couple of “One Glass”s, and hopped on the train heading South to Zuoying station. 2 glasses of wine later we were already at Zuoying station, the stress of the week’s happenings washed away and the excitement and eagerness for what was to come really starting to set in. We checked in at the hostel, went and grabbed one more drink for good measure, and then called it a night. We would need our rest for the long day ahead.
All too soon, it was 4:00am, aka time to wake up. After having the earliest breakfast burger of my life, the three of us: my girlfriend, Andy and I were on our way to Donggang harbor. We were among the first to make it to the black sands of Dapeng Bay, allowing me time to process what I was about to do. Looking out across the water, I wasn’t even able to see the island that I was supposedly going to paddle to. I thought, what’s the worst that can happen? There will be a guide boat and tons of other SUP’ers around me the whole time, this will be fun.
A couple of coffees and about an hour later, the SUP’ers had arrived in full and the air was thick with anticipation. Everyone went to line their boards up at the water’s edge. Drones, GoPro’s and selfie sticks were out in full force. After several group shots and a little speech explaining the event and the rules(none of which I understood), the recreation group was off! Watching more than 50 people run with their boards headlong into the oncoming waves was wildly exciting, and also hilarious. The recreation group was a mixed bag: young, old, very athletic, not-so athletic. Some people brought large coolers which they could put on their board and take refreshments from along the way- I personally loved this idea. Others brought lawn chairs which they would later open up on their board and sit on while paddling. So, technically, they were LCP’ers, Lawn Chair Paddlers, rather than SUP’ers. In any case, of this varied batch of adventurous souls, some people had an easier time of getting through the break and onto their boards than others. Just as quickly as the group ran and jumped into the water, random things started floating back to the shore, their owners chasing frantically behind them. Single flip flops, coolers, tilley hats and coffee mugs all came rushing back to shore with each crashing wave. Eventually, though, the recreation group was a big batch of dots in the distance, and they were well and truly off.
30 minutes later, the recreation group was no longer visible. The cacophony and chaos of their departure was at this point a fading memory and all that remained was a fully saturated feeling of anticipation and anxiousness to get going. 7 of us waited at the edge of the water, subtly eyeing each other and sizing up our competition. After all, this was the “race group”. I quickly realized being a part of this group was a mistake on several fronts. First of all, a small group is way less fun! I wanted to be out there in between the guy with the cooler filled with beers on one side, and the guy sitting on his lawn chair, on his board, with a waterproof bluetooth speaker blasting some classic Taiwanese tunes, on the other side. Moreover, I found out that every person in this group, except for me, were actual competitive SUP’ers (imagine that! Actual SUP racers joining the race group). One of them, in fact, was THE TOP stand up paddler in all of Taiwan. As someone who had paddled once in my life, I truly did not belong in this group. I yearned for that group of clumsy tilley hat and sandal-wearing weekend warriors, kilometers ahead and out of sight. Nevertheless, there I stood, with my borrowed board and my GoPro headcam and my residual hangover, waiting for the signal to go.
Finally, it was our turn. The organizer shouted something loudly into the microphone with wild excitement, which I can only assume meant “Go go go!!” and we were off. I was in the middle of the group and so was fully aware of how slow even my running was compared to these guys, who by all accounts were flat-out bolting the 50 feet from the starting line on the sand to the water. Before my board even touched the water, I prepared myself for a long, solitary journey to Lambai Island.
Again, to my surprise, my haphazard planning and strategizing worked and, 2 hours later, I had somehow caught up to the recreation group (although by then the race group with which I started was already feet up, soaking in some rays on the beach at Lambai island). Seeing people again raised my spirits and renewed my drive, and soon enough the island was in sight. I tried to soak in every moment of the experience as I neared the island, aware of the fact that I probably wouldn’t be doing something like this too many times in my life. It was with sore shoulders and a smile on my face that I paddled into the harbor at Lambai island, heading in the direction of the throng of people and stand up paddleboards awaiting at the beach. 14.74km and about 3 hours later, I came crashing into the shore, invigorated, thirsty for a beer, sunburnt, and grateful. It goes without saying that I came dead last in my ‘race group’, but you can bet I had more remaining energy to have fun than the rest of my competitors.
Xialiuqiu/Lambai island is probably my favourite place in Taiwan. It is a small, quaint island- one that takes about 30 minutes to scoot around in its entirety. There are several nice beaches all around the island, and you are guaranteed to see big, beautiful sea turtles by just snorkeling off the beach. These graceful and friendly creatures are everywhere around the island and there is something so magical about them. After a tasty post-race dinner consisting of fresh caught seafood, stir fried vegetables, noodles, more seafood, and a couple of big Taiwan beers, we headed to the beach to hang out with our favourite sea buddies.
In a way, stand up paddling across the South China Sea to Xialiuqiu was a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience; at the same time, these types of events are available to take part in every weekend here in Taiwan. Whether it be road-running, trail-running, cycling, swimming, surfing, SUP’ing, or Lawn Chair Paddling- you name it- it’s all available to you. There is a different and, in my opinion, more compelling reward that comes out of physically involved adventures; getting out there and challenging yourself, rather than just going to look at and see places. I hope I have inspired some of you to get out there and find an adventure while you’re here in Taiwan. And, if I may offer one simple piece of advice for this event: join the recreation group.
Videography & Event info- Discover Lamay 探索拉美
Aerial Photography – Fansen Sup Club #范森SUP教學俱樂部
小琉球sup 海享划島On The Sea