Surfing South Korea

Korea is a place of natural beauty. Outside of the city is a landscape filled with small mountains and thick forests, something one rarely sees while maintaining a majority of their hours in one of the many metropolitan areas. A short bus ride from Eastern Seoul brings you to the East coast. South of Sokcho (속초),  about a 45 min drive along the beautiful beach filled coastline is a small RI “settlement” called Ingu (인구).

Upon arriving to Ingu, it’s clear the area has been under economic hardship for some time. Most of its residents are part of the local fishing and farming community that makes up most of the East Coast. Many of the buildings seemed to be hastily built several decades ago. Paint is peeling off the wall. The lack of hypnotic neon signs is odd, but the air blowing off the coast is very refreshing. With the recent boom of the local surf industry, there is still hope for this area. Although there was an initial reaction of surprise and distrust amongst the locals, they have now embraced the new surfer community and welcomed their presence and monetary contributions to the area.

Around Bamboo Beach (죽도해수욕장), a new community of young Koreans buying up old seaside houses and transforming them into surfing based businesses has developed.  Some of the more creative ventures have moved old shipping containers and turned them into places of business. Surf Garden is a great place to hang out and get a drink. The owner, Garden Kim is responsible for the genesis of the surfing scene in Ingu. He spent years abroad and brought his knowledge and passions back to eastern Korea to share. It’s a great place to hang out, have a drink, and enjoy the beautiful view of the beach.

When it comes to surfing, many people tend to think of Hawaii, or a number of other places that are sunny, hot, covered with white sandy beaches and palm trees. However, a good surfing spot has nothing to do with any of these. It’s all about the waves, and the Eastern coast of Korea is a perfect place for first time surfers to perfect their basic skills. The best local spot for renting a surfboard and getting a lesson is Surfer 911. With a board rental and lesson costing 45,000 won it’s a great way to get started on a surfing safari.  Surfing  is not too tough to pull off.  A 30 min lesson supplied from Surfer 911 is enough to get anyone started. The lesson was in Korean, so keep that in mind if you decide to go. Surfing consists of balancing on the board, paddling, and standing up. That’s the sequence of learning in order of increasing difficulty. Hailing from the landlocked Midwest of the USA did not repress my learning ability too much. Anyone with a decent athletic ability would be able to learn in a few hours.

You can tell that something is new when people have no idea that it exists in their own country.  Unawareness has been the most common reaction I’ve received when telling people about surfing in Korea.  Although it is a newer activity, I have no doubt it will grow fast, just as skiing and snowboarding have done in the past decades. I would highly recommend anyone who is interested in learning how to surf, or someone who has been doing it for years to check out the area. To quote the surfing legend  Kelly Slater, “The joy of surfing is so many things combined, from the physical exertion of it, to the challenge of it, to the mental side of the sport.”