The official launch of the series, which continues into October as the southwest monsoon surf pounds the west coast, came at the Surf House Phuket on the Patong beachfront last Saturday (June 23). Present in a strong show of support from officials were Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Phuket Office Director Kanokkittika Kritwutikon and Patong Mayor Chalermluck Kebsup.
Ms Kanokkittika explained that the TAT, as a major sponsor of the series, strongly supported the move for the surfing contests as they provided sports tourism as another form of tourism attraction for the region and helped to encourage more local people to engage in water sports.
In addition to the Pearl of the Andaman Surfing Championships in Patong this weekend, the Phuket Surf Series this year includes the regular Kamala Go Surfing 14th Contest (July 7-8); the Kalim Reef Surfer Surfing Contest (Aug 3-5); and the Surin Beach Surfing Contest (Sept 22-23) – but also the new Khao Lak Surfing Contest to be held at Pakarang Beach on Oct 26-28.
But the big drawcard is the RAST REnextop Asian Surfing Tour event to be held at Patong Beach on July 18-21.
“We’ve got surfers from all over Asia to take part in the event,” explained Tim Hain, Media and Event Development of the Asia Surfing Cooperative, which has helped organise major international surfing contests in Phuket since the Quiksilver event in 2009.
“We’ll be bringing surfers from Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and I think even from Myanmar, and from a couple of other countries probably like Australia and the Philippines,” he added.
Mr Hain explained that the ASC for years had been deeply involved in organising the Asia Surfing Tour and the associated major surfing events in Phuket as part of the tour, but this year was involved in only a facilitatory role with Chinese event company REnextop, headed by CEO Lillian Chen, who was in Patong in person for the launch last Saturday.
The previously ASC-organised “Asia Surfing Championship Tour” is now the “REnextop Asian Surfing Tour”, or just “Rast”, but to local surfers it just means better competition and a chance to surf throughout Asia – and they’re stepping up.
The first Rast event this year, at Kuta Beach, Bali, on May 2-5, saw a total of 105 competitors from nine countries – Australia, China, Hawaii, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Russia and the USA – join in the four-day competition.
The event was broadcast live each day by Freshair Broadcasting, with more than 17 million viewers alone in China via the Yi Zhibo platform. The final day logged in 5.32 million viewers and Facebook alone saw 30,000 viewers on the final day as well.
“I think it [Rast] gives them an opportunity to meet surfers from different areas so they can swap stories, make some connection – maybe they get to travel to some places,” Mr Hain told The Phuket News.
“The level of surfing here is not world class yet – it is still developing – so it gives them a chance to meet surfers who are both above and below their ability and let them compare themselves and see what’s possible.
“These people are travelling to the Thai people’s country to experience their waves, a different kind of feeling, a different kind of wave, a more exotic location, so I think it makes locals proud to be able to welcome these people. It gives them an opportunity to make new friends and it gives them a chance to pit themselves in competition with surfers other than their local people, as they compete with their local surfers all the time,” he said.
Regarding the development of youth surfing in Thailand, Mr Hain rated the progress in the sport and its broader benefits as “excellent”.
“You are getting more and more kids whose parents are giving them the opportunity to surf. Surfing used to be a taboo thing – “oh you might drown”, and all that kind of thing – and children more often than not are just told to stay away from the water, but with surfing they become surf aware,” he explained.
“It gives them the opportunity to lose their fear of the ocean, to participate in the sport under the watchful eye of people who have been surfing all their lives. It takes the fear factor out of it a little and it shows that surfing is not just some crazy sport by a bunch of boys getting drunk and stuff,” Mr Hain said.
“There is actually a career path to surfing – you can be a surfer, become a surfing instructor, be a surf guide, you can own your own surf shop and if you’re good enough you can be a professional surfer and actually get paid for this as a living.
“And from all this it improves the economy of the local areas that we go to, because sometimes the areas we go to, like in the Philippines and other places, are still developing. They’re still in their infancy. These events gives them the chance to set up guesthouses, restaurants, bars and whatever else can cater to surfers and it gives them a whole new market,” he added.
But to be back in Phuket among the “monsoon waves”, Mr Hain noted happily, “Overall, we’re just happy to be here again. We were last here in 2012 and we’re really happy to be back and we hope this continues onward into the future.”