Surfing South Korea
Words: Shayne McIntyre
Photos: Shannon and Shayne McIntyre
Shayne on the search surfing South Korea
Asia has long been on the surfer’s map when it comes to finding epic waves. From Indonesia’s machine-like barrels, to the Phillipines remote coral reefs, to even a decent sandbar in Japan on its day, collectively the “Far East” has the best surf in the world. However being surfed and photographed consistently for the last 40 years these spots have become widely known and when you show up to one of these perfect waves and 50 of your best friends are already there – to me the sense of adventure and discovery is left lacking. It’s this dilemma that’s inspired us to be more creative, take some calculated risks, and go somewhere that’s not known for surf at all…at least we’d have it to ourselves. And surprisingly there are still places on the planet, in this case- Asia, that have amazing waves with hardly a soul to ride them…which brought us to the seldom visited country of Korea.
Historically dubbed the “Hermit Kingdom” by surrounding nations – we were unable to explore North Korea because of their strict communist ideals where they believe keeping foreigners out and Koreans in the best policy- and most of it’s citizens have no idea of the outside world other than what their government tells them. South Korea on the other hand has opened it’s doors cautiously to the world and were more than welcoming to a couple of curious surfers – most just wondered why we were there…
Hanging with the local crew
We met up with supersized Korean-American Derek Sung, who is the unofficial diplomat of surfing South Korea. Derek, along with his girlfriend Youna, and around 40 other Koreans make up the entire surfing contingent in the country and they all know each other. Growing up surfing in Los Angeles, Derek has experienced the best and worst parts of an established surf culture and has concern for Koreas future surfers- that they learn the best parts, and leave out the other bits – like localism, greediness, and bad vibes.
Shannon with a Haenyo diver
The Haenyo are an amazing group of spearfishing water women in South Korea
With no waves in sight we had been closely tracking the swell reports to see what day the surf would arrive – when out of no where a large purple blob appeared on the screen one morning. This was a serious typhoon- 30 foot swells had formed overnight in the Pacific letting us know we were going to get some pumping surf for the next week- and when we ran down the street to check the waves, it was already going off – We all felt the same way – coming all the way to Korea for a unique surfing experience was well worth it.
Beautiful typhoon rights
What was a shot in the dark had become one of the best surf trips we had ever been on. To travel in a land as beautiful and intriguing as Korea is one thing, it’s another to score real waves, and this trip had become unreal…to good to be true – but there it was… right behind a squid shack.
Korea never ceased to fascinate us. How could a place so cool be so little visited and understood. This trip inspired me about so many other places out there that I don’t know, that I’ve never given thought to visit or learn about. So before you book your next trip to Costa Rica or Indo, check the swell charts, see where a typhoon’s heading and go somewhere without a surf map.
Traveling family style. Shannon, Banyan, & Shayne
Check out Shayne and Shannon’s surf travel show “On Surfari” on Fuel TV. Also, Shannon is a featured artist in the South Coast Art & Culture section of the site.