There’s nothing we like more at Lodestars Anthology than a fascinating story from a far-flung corner of the world. Mao Guh, the first Taiwanese surfer, has had his story captured in images by London-based photographer Jorge Luis Dieguez, and we are delighted to share it here.
During the 50s and 60s, Mao Gu’s father (Jeff being his English name) worked with the US Army based in the north of Taiwan. Mao used to follow his father on business travels, giving him an extra hand and during one of those trips he saw US soldiers surfing off the north coast of Taiwan. He had never seen anything like it, and, recalling his first sighting, he remembered the surprise he felt all those years ago:
‘Woowww…what is that? I’d never seen that before. It was a very long time ago, I was 13 years old, it was around, I forget, 1960…and one of the soldiers asked me if I wanted to try. My father asked me ‘You want to try? Ok, come on!’ he said to me.
No leash, a little bit of wax (on the board) nothing you know, those boards were pretty heavy for a beginner and really big.
One wipeout, come in again, another wipeout, come in again. I tried several times and I told my father ‘I got one stand up! One stand up!’ and he said: ‘OK, OK, come on!’
Mao continued surfing for five years in the same place, using a board that his father had purchased from one of the soldiers that he first began surfing with. During those five years Mao only surfed with American soldiers.
Although his health has now deteriorated, Mao still remembers the reluctant attitudes towards the sea and the reactions towards surfing that Taiwanese and Chinese societies held at the time.
‘Chinese people thought I was crazy, the sea is really strong in Taiwan you know, and there used to be sharks in the water, but not anymore. No people in the water, only me. For a few years I used to surf alone until I moved to Ylan county (in the northeast of Taiwan), where I brought my family and taught them how to surf and we started travelling and surfing throughout Taiwan. In the winters we went to the southeast and in the summers we would come back north.’
In 1969, after 10 years of surfing, Mao founded his surf shop (the first in Taiwan) and started shaping boards, a technique he learnt from his Japanese master. Mao has travelled the world in search of the most renowned waves and has lived in Hawaii for three years, but, due to an operation, no longer surfs or shapes boards. Along with his wife and son, he still runs the Jeff Surf Shop, and, taking after his father, Mao’s son is now a well respected surf instructor. As for Mao, he continues to be a living legend of surfing in Taiwan, and is admired across the country.