XICHONG, China—one of the world’s largest population centers was spared the worst when Typhoon Mangkhut swept through Hong Kong and the cities of the Pearl River Delta four days ago, but not this village in a remote peninsula that has become a destination for something still novel in China: surfing.
When the storm hit the village, called Xichong, it created sea surges that dismantled sea walls upon which dozens of small shops, cafes and guest cottages stood. Wind gusts that reached 100 miles per hour shredded scores of coniferous trees that studded the scenic, crescent-shaped cove facing the South China Sea.
A brick guardhouse where loudspeakers once warned surfers of dangerous conditions had toppled onto the beach from a bank overlooking the sea, still intact but its foundation washed away. A large chunk of pink wall—neon hues being the color of choice here —was hurled back to where the surf breaks on the beach, a reminder of the awesome power of a turbulent sea.
In a matter of hours, the typhoon destroyed a beachfront repurposed in recent years as a laid-back retreat from the urban bustle of Shenzhen, a center of global trade, investment and technology with 13 million residents.
“Too horrible to look at,” said Xia Bing, who owns concessions along a section of the beach that until Sunday included a cafe called Brother, changing facilities for swimmers and surfers, and a handful of bungalows for overnight guests — all now a twisted mangle of debris and broken branches. Accessories like air-conditioners and a television simply disappeared.
“It was like this when we got back,” he said. “Nothing left.”
Typhoon Mangkhut cut a far more catastrophic swath through the Philippines, where scores were killed in floods and landslides, but it also exacted a considerable toll in China. The storm hammered Hong Kong and Macau on Sunday morning, before moving into the mainland, where at least five people were killed, according to latest government figures cited by the state-run news agency Xinhua on Tuesday. One person is still missing.
In Shenzhen, which abuts Hong Kong, nearly 12,000 trees were knocked over in the city, according to municipal officials, and workers continued to clear roads and highways in the days following.
The recovery in Xichong — a two-hour drive east from Shenzhen’s city center, when fallen limbs have not blocked the roads — could take far longer.
Xichong lies within a national park at the end of the Dapeng Peninsula, which extends into the South China Sea. The area’s remoteness and natural beauty are what began luring surfers and backpackers. Now, the beach is divided into four sections, all owned by the Xichong Beach Company, a private enterprise created to capitalize on a growing tourist market.
Surfing culture is still relatively new to China, but has begun to win adherents. Hainan, the island southwest of here that is known as the Chinese Hawaii, is the undisputed capital of Chinese surfing, with beaches like those at Riyue Bay hosting international competitions.
The surfing guide Magic Seaweed notes that in Guangdong Province, where Xichong is, “spots are few and far between,” but it goes on to explain that at Xichong and another beach nearby “good longboard waves peel lazily down some rivermouth sculpted sandbars.”
Yang Xue, 28, owns a surfing school and hostel in Xichong called Offshore Wind. Admittedly biased, she said that in the summer the beach had “the best waves in China.” The accommodations at Offshore Wind were not luxurious, though that is not what attracts people to Xichong.
“The surf community in China is still really small,” a surfer who identified himself only as Jun wrote on Vice China, describing how he came to take up residence in Xichong. “It’s so small that every time I meet a new surfer, it turns out we already have, like, 20 to 30 mutual friends. That helps it feel like a real community. No one is aggressive in the water.”
He compared the mood here with Shenzhen, where “people are constantly overstimulated, staring at their phones on the subway, craning their necks downward to watch some imported soap opera.”
Ms. Yang employed 20 people. Many of them gathered again on Tuesday to help begin the arduous task of clearing debris. Chain saws buzzed through fallen limbs and trees, but repairing the damage to some of the buildings and the sea wall will be more difficult and expensive.
Most of those helping Tuesday were dressed for surfing — T-shirts and flip-flops — and the damp on their clothes made it clear that some had recently taken breaks from their work. Adversity had not seemed to affect the spirit of the place.
“It’s O.K.,” Ms. Yang said when offered condolences for the damage. “We are still here.”
The damage extended the length of the beach, which remains closed to visitors, though locals still waded in and two fishermen’s boats came ashore as the sun set Tuesday, hauling a decent catch, including two large sea bass.
The shops here had no insurance, Ms. Yang and other owners said, so they are relying for assistance on the company that operates the beach concession or the local government.
Echo Huo, a worker at a new surf shop, moved here in April because she wanted to learn to surf. She previously worked at a cafe in Dali, far inland in Yunnan Province. She does not take lessons, but paddles out when off work. More seasoned surfers generously offer pointers.
Winds sheared off the shop’s corrugated roof, which in turn sliced into a neighboring shop. The exterior wall disappeared, leaving a precipitous drop from the bank to the sand below. Everything in and around the shop was virtually destroyed.
China’s building codes and zoning laws are often so vaguely written and loosely enforced that they can cause confusion in the best of times. No one in the storm’s aftermath could say for certain whether the spot would—or could—be rebuilt the way it had been.
“We don’t know if they will let us rebuild or not,” she said. “We haven’t received any official notice from the company or the government yet.”
Asked what she would do in the meantime, she shrugged, while making it clear she had no plans to leave. “We wait,” she said.
Source: The New York Times