The world's top women longboarders return to China this week for the 2012 Swatch Girls Pro ASP Women's World Longboard Championships. Hosted for the second year in a row at Riyuewan Bay near the city of Wanning on Hainan Island, China's only tropical locale, the event is serving to promote surf culture to the Chinese while also offering a world class venue for some of the planet's premier female surf athletes.
Among those competing are Americans Jen Smith, Kassia Meador, Kelia Moniz and defending world champion Lindsay Steinriede.
"I was really excited to come back and defend my title here in Hainan." Steinriede told USA Today Sports. "I think it lives up to its name as the Hawaii of China, with the beautiful beaches, ocean and surf."
Hainan Island lies off China's southern coast, between the Leizhou Peninsula to the north and Vietnam to the west. At over 12,000 square miles, it is roughly three times the area of Hawaii's big island, yet has only just begun to attract international tourists thanks largely to a Chinese government-backed development plan initiated in 2010.
With the support of the government and title sponsor Swatch, the ASP, surfing's official sanctioning body, opted to hold its first-ever event in China last year with the intent to expose the sport to a new market.
"This event is incredibly important for surfing and the ASP. Many people aren't aware that there is some great surfing here in China and so it's important for us to nurture and develop that," said ASP Contest Director Dane Jordan.
Not everyone is happy about China hosting a professional event. Californian Cori Schumacher, a three-time women's longboarding world champion, is in the second year of an ASP World Tour boycott because of human and women's rights issues in China.
"I have deep political and personal reservations with being a part of any sort of benefit to a country that actively engages in human rights violations, specifically those in violation of women." Schumacher said in a press statement last year.
Yet, for current champ Steinriede, the opportunity to showcase women's surfing in China is the best way to actually make an impact.
"I think that if we can start to show that we are strong women and make a name for ourselves, then hopefully we can inspire other women in China, and it's amazing to see these young, strong Chinese women being the driving force bringing surf culture to China," said Steinriede.
Local wild card Darci Lui, 26, is one such ambassador. She moved to Hainan from the mainland five years ago, took up surfing and is now competing among the world's best.
"For me I feel so proud to even surf the same spot as these girls, let alone compete against them," Lui said. "I've been getting so much encouragement form the local community and it feels amazing to fly the flag for China here. The sport is young here, but it's growing day-by-day. I just hope to inspire as many surfers as I can in our local scene."
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