She dropped everything to become a surfer — the inspiring story of Monica Guo

Posted - News Posted for China News, World Surfing News.

Photo: Songsong

Photo: Songsong

When Monica Guo told her family that she was leaving her job and city to become a surfer, they thought she was crazy.

Why leave the comfortable life with her family in China’s interior to head to the coast and pursue Surfing? After all, professional surfers were virtually non-existent in China and one would be hard-pressed to find a surf shop to buy a bar of wax, let alone a board to ride on.

Monica has a life motto that played a large part in that decision: “Don’t be afraid to change.”

Embracing change is exactly what she did. Fast forward ten years and at 31 years of age, she now finds herself in a place previously unimaginable. She’s a member of the Chinese National Surfing Team, has represented her country in an ISA World Championship, and is a role model for young surfers in China, trailblazing a path for a relatively unknown sport.

How did all of this come to be? Here’s the inspirational story of Monica Guo.

Monica grew up in Yangshuo, located in the Guangxi province of southern China, far away from the coast.

“I grew up in the mountains and rivers, but the ocean was a complete mystery for me,” Monica explained. “I had never seen the ocean when I was young.”

One unsuspecting day in high school, Monica’s life as she knew it took a drastic turn.

“One day at school I saw the surf movie ‘Blue Crush.’ I was inspired. I had always wanted to go to the ocean and I saw how Surfing had the power to make a girl strong and independent. I went to the coast to Hong Kong, borrowed a board, and stood up on my first wave.”

“Surfing made me feel special. I felt that longboarding was so beautiful, the elegance that you are able to display with your whole body while riding the wave. I was so comfortable riding waves, with the whole world around me it was true freedom.”

“I completely changed as a person. I used to be a pretty, city girl worried about wearing makeup, and suddenly I couldn’t care less about that life. I just wanted to surf.”

Monica Guo China Longboard Surf

Despite receiving little support from her family back home, Monica Guo continued to surf, eventually becoming one of the top women longboarders in the country. Photo: Songsong

After getting a dose of the surf bug, Monica decided that she had seen enough. In 2009 she quit her job, packed her bags, and moved to Hainan Island, a region of China with a nascent, but blossoming surf scene.

“No one will want to marry you” was among the countless pleas her mother and father made to keep her at home.

While an outsider may be inspired by Monica’s brave decision to change the course of her life, her decision was not well received by her family or Chinese society as a whole.

“My family was extremely opposed to giving up my life to become a surfer,” said Monica.

“You will be too dark” and “no one will want to marry you” were among the countless pleas her mother and father made to keep her at home.

“In China it is preferred to have light skin because having dark skin is associated with being of a poor social class, being a farmer. It is thought that no one wants to marry a dark, surfer girl. The traditional way of thinking in China places women lower than men, and those people are just not accepting of a girl doing a sport like Surfing.”

“Additionally, many people in China fear the ocean. We are not raised with the culture of going in the sea and learning to respect it. People think that the ocean is dangerous, like it’s a monster.”

Despite all the criticism, Monica never lost sight of her goals and knew that surfing was the key to her leading a happy life. Through hard work and determination, she is steadily becoming one of the standout female surfers in all of China.

“After competing in my first event at the 2011 WSL Longboard Championships, I made it a goal of mine to learn how to ride the nose. I tried again and again for six months, and finally, I was able to do it. Slowly but surely I started becoming one of the elite longboarders in my country.”

In 2013, something changed. Monica placed first in the largest national surfing contest, grabbing not only the attention of the top surfers in the country, but also that of her family.

“When I won my first title in 2013 my parents started realizing that I was doing something with my life. They saw me changing, becoming a better person, and they embraced who I had become. Through surfing I was able to show my parents that I was at peace and had found balance in my life.”

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Monica puts on the contest jersey for the first time in an ISA World Championship, making history as the first Chinese competitor to win an ISA heat across any discipline of Surfing. Photo: ISA / Tim Hain

In 2018, at 31 years of age, Monica’s surfing career came to a fever pitch when she was asked to represent her country at the 2018 ISA World Longboard Surfing Championship, held in her backyard at Riyue Bay on China’s Hainan Island.

“It was like a dream! I came out of the water and heard the announcement that I had passed in first place.”

Monica competed among 71 of the world’s best longboarders hailing from 22 nations, going head to head against top surfers such as WSL longboard champions Honolua Blomfield (HAW) and Tory Gilkerson (USA).

Coming in as an underdog from a small surfing nation such as China, Monica put on a dazzling performance right off the bat and achieved a huge milestone for Chinese surfing by becoming the first Chinese surfer to win a heat in any ISA World Championship.

“It was like a dream! I came out of the water and heard the announcement that I had passed in first place. I was so surprised. Surfing is such a young sport in China, and I was proud that I achieved such a large accomplishment and inspired others to have dreams of their own.”

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Nothing but good vibes and high fives from host Team China at the 2018 ISA World Longboard Surfing Championship. Photo: ISA / Tim Hain

After building an impressive career of her own, inspiring the future generation of Surfing in China is exactly what has been on Monica’s mind. Since 2013, Monica has been holding yearly surf camps free of charge for young girls from all corners of China. For three days Monica takes 14 girls, hand-picked based on their desire to surf, to Hainan to learn how to ride waves and share the empowerment and passion that Surfing has blessed her life with.

“When I first started surfing, many times I was surfing by myself or with a few boys. It was lonely. In China girls are not as respected as boys, so to earn respect in a sport like surfing, we must work extra hard as women. Through my surf camps these girls learn that they are capable of anything, and they learn to overcome their fears. Together we all become stronger.”

“The inclusion of Surfing in the Olympics has given the next generation of youth in China a dream to chase.”

The success that Monica has experienced in Surfing is something that has been mirrored by the whole of the sport across China. After Surfing’s inclusion on the Sports Program of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in August of 2016, China has dedicated more resources and support to develop Surfing, assembling their first National Surfing Teams and sending their first team to compete in the ISA World Surfing Games.

“The inclusion of Surfing in the Olympics has given the next generation of youth in China a dream to chase.”

“Receiving acceptance and support from the government is a huge step for the sport that is providing countless opportunities to our surfers, such as coaching and the chance to compete in elite competitions abroad.”

Nowadays Monica still lives in Hainan, constantly working on her Surfing skills and training with the National Team.

Best of all, Monica has found a new partner to share the joy of Surfing with in her local waves. Monica’s father, Yunlian, has picked up a passion for the sport, intrigued by the accomplishments of his daughter. The same father that criticized Monica for getting too tan to marry now schedules visits to Hainan twice a year to surf and share some waves and laughter with his daughter.

Monica doesn’t forget to remind her father of the motto that she has used to make decisions in her life thus far. ‘Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to change.’

Monica’s father rides a wave in Hainan, China.