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2019-08-15 14:18:17  + video 

HAINAN, South China — For Darci Liu, life has always been about challenging public perceptions and making waves.

Growing up in central China’s rural, landlocked Hubei province — some 1,000 kilometers from the ocean — she took her family by surprise when she announced she was moving to Hainan to surf less than a year after learning how to swim. Within just a few years, she became China’s first professionally sponsored surfer.

But in 2015, after cresting with the world’s surfing elite and creating a path for China’s future surfers, Liu abruptly retired from the sport. “I never actually planned to say, ‘I’m going to retire in 2015,’” Liu tells Sixth Tone. “I wanted to build a deeper connection to the ocean.”

Darci Liu explains why she retired from professional surfing in 2015 to focus on ocean conservation. By Daniel Holmes/Sixth Tone

Her decision to protect the coasts came at a time when awareness was growing about the state of China’s seas. An extensive 2015 study showed that China could be responsible for up to 3.5 million metric tons of the 8 million metric tons of plastic that pollute the ocean annually. And according to a report from Ocean Conservancy, 84% of China’s plastic leakage — a factor in oceanic pollution — comes from waste that has not been collected.

Liu hopes to change all that. Through organizing workshops, beach cleanups, and social media campaigns, the surfer has her eyes on mobilizing people to protect China’s coasts and keep the seas clean.

“I think what is the most important for us is to try to do our best,” Liu says.

Editor: Hannah Lund.

(Header image: Darci Liu holds her surfboard in the ocean, Houhai Village, Hainan province, July 2019. Daniel Holmes/Sixth Tone)