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The Ultimate Guide to Surfing Hong Kong

Neon lights, skyscrapers, and dim sum might spring to mind when you think of Hong Kong, a bustling urban metropolis home to 8 million people. 

I grew up in the city, and my life was certainly characterized by the hustle and bustle of city life.

But, my childhood was shaped more by Hong Kong’s tropical rainforests and easy access to pristine beaches with warm waters - features you might associate more closely with a place like Indonesia. 

Hong Kong offers this unique luxury - the opportunity to live in a large modern city with a thriving economy, vibrant culture, and excellent public transportation, all the while being a stone’s throw from its beautiful nature. 

On top of this, Hong Kong is home to multiple surfing breaks and an established surf culture. Although the waves might not compare to those of the Mentawais or Bali, the opportunity to surf within a massive urban metropolis is an experience unlike any other. 

Hong Kong Surf Guide

Waves in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is technically an archipelago of 234 islands, home to 450 miles of coastline across more than 100 beaches. While there’s no shortage of coastline,

Hong Kong is only home to a few quality surf breaks, largely due to its location on the Pearl River delta.

Thus, only the south and southeast-facing beaches pick up swell from the South China Sea. Further, the many outlying islands serve as natural barriers, restricting surfable waves to a select few beaches. 

If you’re visiting Hong Kong in the winter, you’re in luck - the NE monsoon swell, from November to March, is pretty consistent.

The greatest days to surf, however, are during the typhoon season (late summer into fall), which always produces a few days of epic surf each year. 

Hong Kong’s surf scene revolves around a few popular beach breaks. And, with a population of 8 million people, and surfing growing in popularity, it’s no shock that the most popular breaks can get overwhelmingly crowded, especially when it’s firing.

However, if you’re in the know, you might just be able to find yourself in an empty lineup surfing pristine waves. 

Hong Kong Surf Culture

Surfing was introduced to Hong Kong by American soldiers in the 1960s and has since exploded in popularity. 

Initially, the local scene was grungy and underground, with the most popular breaks dominated by an intimidating crew of locals.

More recently, though, surfing has entered the mainstream in Hong Kong and has become more accessible than ever, especially for learners.

Throughout the territory, there are a few prominent beginner breaks with established surf schools, perfect for anyone hoping to get into the sport. On top of this, all of Hong Kong’s major breaks are accessible via public transportation, and many offer cheap board and wetsuit rentals. 

Regardless, it’s important to proceed with caution, whether you are a beginner or an expert. The surf scene here pays no homage to any semblance of surf etiquette.

Don’t be surprised if you get snaked or dropped in on - there is no such thing as a surf lineup in Hong Kong.

With such a limited number of waves and such large crowds, HK surfers take what they can get, which often means you’ll be sharing waves with one or more surfers. 

Gear Needed to Surf In Hong Kong

For most of the year, you won’t need anything more than a pair of board shorts and a rash guard - Hong Kong is tropical and the air and water are warm in all but the dead of winter. 

But, winter does see the most consistent swell, so chances are, you’ll be paddling out in some cooler weather.

Personally, I’ve surfed and swam plenty of times in the winter without a wetsuit, and I was comfortable.

That being said, I’m used to surfing in freezing temperatures and 30-something-degree water, so you’ll probably prefer to wear a thin wetsuit

If it’s extremely cold (for Hong Kong, this means temperatures in the 50s and 60s), you might opt for a 3/2 spring wetsuit. But for the rest of the year, you likely won’t need one at all, especially during typhoon season in the late summer and fall.

As for your surfboard, a fish or a longboard will probably be best for most of the year.

When it gets bigger, though, especially during typhoon season, you’ll likely have more fun on a shortboard to best take advantage of the swell. 

The Best Waves in Hong Kong

Spot 1: Big Wave Bay 

Aptly named Big Wave Bay, located on the southeast edge of Hong Kong island, is far and away the city’s most famous surf break.

This is largely because of how accessible it is - it’s a 15-minute drive from the city, and is also accessible by public bus.

The beach is also home to numerous restaurants and cafes as well as cheap board rentals - $50HKD per day (less than $8 US dollars), with wetsuits going for $20HKD (less than $3 US dollars). 

There was a time when Big Wave Bay was truly considered an excellent surf break, after a group of local surfers banded together to build a man-made sandbar for the waves to break off of. 

Unfortunately, in 2018, Super Typhoon Mangkhut (equivalent to a category 5 hurricane) devastated Hong Kong’s coastline.

The storm destroyed much of the beach and flattened the sandbar. Since, Big Wave Bay is, on most days, a closeout with few makeable sections. 

Regardless of the state of the waves on most days, Big Wave Bay is far and away Hong Kong’s most crowded break. When it’s on (look for a E/NE swell), don’t expect less than 50 people in the water at a time. 

It can be discouraging to think about Big Wave Bay, given the current state of the wave and the high crowd factor. Still, just the right winds from the northwest can turn would-be closeouts into solid peeling waves, making the post-surf noodles all the tastier. 

Spot 2: Shek O Beach 

Shek O is a white sand beach located right down the coast from Big Wave Bay.

It’s home to multiple peaks with both left and right waves, and compared to the typical closeouts of Big Wave Bay, offers much better potential to score good waves.

But, given that it’s a little more sheltered, it needs a much more substantial swell, so it’s usually limited to the biggest days of winter, and of course, typhoon swells.

It also has fewer options for board rentals - although you still shouldn’t have any issues renting gear from the various kiosks along the beach.

Given that Shek O doesn’t have quite the reputation for surfing as Big Wave Bay, it is usually much less crowded (though it still gets pretty packed on a good day), and it’s probably my favorite break on the island. 

Like Big Wave Bay, it’s reasonably easy to access via public transportation and is relatively close to the city center. It also has great amenities - public showers along the beach, and plenty of restaurants to satisfy your post-surfing hunger. 

Look for a significant (chest to head) E/NE swell and W/NW winds. As for typhoon season, Shek O is usually good up until a few hours before the Hong Kong Observatory hoists the T-8 signal. If you time it right, you could score some huge waves. 

Spot 3: Tai Long Wan 

It’s no secret that Tai Long Wan has the best waves in Hong Kong. On top of this, it’s extremely isolated, meaning you could actually score an empty lineup. 

It also makes a compelling case for itself as the most beautiful beach in Hong Kong. Located within a country park, Tai Long Wan boasts a white sandy beach surrounded by lush forests and mountains rising dramatically from the turquoise water. It’s a scene you might expect from a tropical paradise - perhaps an untouched atoll in the Pacific Ocean - rather than a beach just a few miles from a bustling city. 

Although it’s a few short miles from the city, getting to Tai Long Wan is a mission in itself.

You can take a speedboat from the Sai Kung pier directly to the beach, though the boat doesn’t run when there’s significant swell.

If that’s the case, you’ll have to take a bus, then a taxi, and then hike for an hour to the village while carrying your board.

Personally, I prefer to hike in and camp on the beach - there are shops in the village that offer camping rentals. And, there’s also a surf school that offers board rentals if you don’t want to hike in with your surfboard. 

While it’s certainly less accessible than Hong Kong’s other surf breaks, the reward is well worth the trek. Consistent swell from the east, especially in the winter, provides long stretches of chest-to-head high conditions.

When it’s on, there might not be a better place to surf in the South China region.

Look for a sizable E swell and N/NW winds to take advantage of the various left and right peaks up and down the beach.

And if you get lucky at low tide, it can get hollow, especially with size (up to 8 feet before it starts maxing out).

And, you’ll rarely have to worry about crowds - Tai Long Wan offers the unparalleled chance to surf pristine waves by yourself, an underrated luxury in Hong Kong. 

Spot 4: Cheung Sha Beach 

Cheung Sha Beach, located on Hong Kong’s largest island, Lantau, is probably the best beginner break in the territory. It’s home to soft, forgiving waves, consistent (albiet small) swell during the summer months, and multiple surf schools and board rental options. 

Cheung Sha Beach is nearly two miles long - and there are peaks spread up and down the beach, so it isn’t hard to find waves for yourself.

The catch is that it’s pretty far from the city center - you’ll have to take a ferry and a bus from Central Pier to get there.

While it’s not as hard to access as Tai Long Wan, it’s certainly a trek compared to Big Wave Bay and Shek O. 

Look for a S/SW swell and N wind, and bring your longboard, especially in the summer.

While summer is the best season to surf, the waves are generally pretty small and don’t often get above waist-high.

When it does get big (head high or above), Cheung Sha can have a pretty nasty shorebreak, especially at high tide.

Nevertheless, these bigger days are rare and Cheung Sha usually has great conditions for learning. 

You also might have noticed a theme so far - no matter where you surf in Hong Kong, you’ll be able to grab some good food afterward.

Cheung Sha is no exception: restaurants up and down the beach offer a satisfying mix of local and Western cuisine to cure your hunger after a long day of surfing. 

Spot 5: Pui O Beach 

Neighboring Cheung Sha Beach is Pui O - another great spot to learn how to surf. It’s a short ferry or bus from Mui Wo Pier (which itself is a quick ferry trip from the city). 

In many ways, this break is almost identical to Cheung Sha - it’s a sandy beach break with soft peaks up and down the beach, nurturing gentle conditions for beginners. It also needs the same south swell to break, with the best conditions during the summer months. However, it does tend to be a little smaller than Cheung Sha, so it can be a great alernative on bigger days. 

It also tends to be far less crowded than Cheung Sha - so if you are willing to sacrifice a little bit of size (and if you’re willing to travel a few minutes longer), this is probably the break for you.

There’s also a surf school that offers beginner lessons and equipment rentals throughout the year, so you won’t have to worry about lugging your gear all the way from home. 

What To Do In Hong Kong When the Waves Are Flat

Days with solid surf are rare in Hong Kong. Luckily, you shouldn’t have any trouble occupying your time if the waves are flat.

The city is world-famous for its cuisine, nightlife, and sightseeing. Less well known, but even better in my opinion are the country parks offering dramatic and stunning hikes and the chance to indulge in nature. 

If you’re a hardcore outdoorsy type, check out the Hong Kong Trail, an epic 50-kilometer hike that traverses Hong Kong island from west to east, starting at its highest point, Victoria Peak, and finishing at none other than Big Wave Bay.

Whether you choose to thru-hike it in a day, or take it in sections, you’ll experience unparalleled views of the city, exciting encounters with wildlife (I’ve seen boars, cobras, and massive spiders along the trail), and beautiful waterfalls to cool off under. 

If that’s not exactly your idea of fun, check out Lan Kwai Fong - a vibrant district within the city center home to an abundance of bars, speakeasies, and clubs. 

The Bottom Line: Surfing in the Hong Kong

While I wouldn’t recommend traveling to Hong Kong for the sole purpose of surfing, it is possible to find solid waves if you ever find yourself in the city.

But perhaps Hong Kong’s greatest attribute - from a surfing sense - is its location in Southeast Asia, just a quick flight from Taiwan, Indonesia, or the Phillippines.

So if you are on the lookout for world-class waves, consider a trip to one of these more prominent surf destinations.

But, you never know, with a bit of luck, you could find yourself among waves that rival the world’s best in the waters of Hong Kong.


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