Surf Trips

Surfing South Korea

by Robb on August 13, 2007

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.

Korean Temple

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.

Korean Farmer

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.

Surfing South Korea

By Robb Bailey

Every surfer dreams of waking up in the morning to tropical breezes, perfect waves, and an empty lineup. Every surfer also has the task of choosing the perfect destination to fulfill their idea of surfing perfection.

In recent years the Mentawai region of the Indonesian island chain has become the ultimate proving grounds for both top pros and amateurs alike. Almost a rite of passage in the surfing world, this island-checkered paradise is only accessible by boat for most.

The majority of Americans making the journey choose to book a two week boat trip to accommodate their travel and comfort needs, ranging from affordable to outrageous. Heck, these days some luxury catamarans and yachts even book surf trips to the Mentawai’s.

Southern California FCS rep Jeremy Shields ventured on his first Indonesia trip in September of last year. He took his fiancee, South Coast’s own Heather Lamb, on a boat trip organized by Steve Arms, “Big Wave” Dave Semen, Pete Sterling, and a few other Southern Californians.

What would you have planned differently on your travels to or from the boat?

Yeah, our itinerary was pretty brutal. From the moment we walked out our front door to the moment I stroked into my first wave, it took 56 hours. Four layovers, one of which lasted eight hours in an empty, sleeping Singapore airport definitely made our group pretty travel worn. If your itinerary is shaping up to look like you signed up for the gold ticket south-east Asia tour, go a day early and spend some time in Singapore. It’s really impressive how clean that city is run.

How long did it take to get from the mainland to surfable spots?

Our Crossing took us ten hours during the middle of the night. I took top bunk and about 4 Dramamine pills. I almost rolled off that bunk 20 times that night! I’d wake up mid-flight and grab the metal bed post just before crashing to the ground. All part of the experience (laughs)…

What type of gear do you recommend taking to protect from the elements?

I’ve found that Head Hunters (sunscreen) with the brown tint has offered up the most sun protection on my trips. I’ve seen guys get burned through their sunscreen with other brands. A couple guys made mince meat out of their feet on the surgeon’s table (reef) at Lance’s. I don’t like wearing them but if you can’t keep off the reef, booties will save your precious little piggies.

When you took your boards out of the bag for the first time in Indo, were any of them dinged?

It’s pretty much the luck of the draw and someone always pulls the short straw. Luckily, this trip my gear made it unscathed. I even threw in my Firewire with no extra padding and that board made it over just fine.

Best wave you caught in Indo? Describe where, how it happened.

Macaroni’s is the wave were goofy footers can really get their groove on.

We had it 2 to 3 foot overhead on the sets and Brad Gerlach and Dane Ward were out there giving an absolute clinic! Trading off waves with the Ger was pretty surreal. He’d paddle past the guys who were already sitting deep and go sit way up the point. I’d turn on one and ask, “Brad you going on this one?” and he’d say “No, you’ve been waiting, it’s your turn.” He was a total gentleman. As for a specific wave, I think it’s time I go refresh my memory!

Worst injury on your boat while you were there?

I’d have to say it was my good friend Dave Semen from Huntington Beach. I think because it’s so crowded in HB, he likes to catch all the inside ones that everyone lets go. He loves sitting on the inside and he just can’t stand wearing booties.

Man… that combination does not bode well in Indo. His feet were annihilated! Every session we went out he came in with a few more cuts. It looked like Edward Scissor-hands was trying to put on his socks. By the end of the trip he could hardly walk and he had wads of toilet paper wrapped with duck tape about 2 inches thick on both feet, but he just kept charging.

What type of shape were you in when you left for your trip? Did this help/harm you?

I was in the best shape of my life….I had been on a strict diet of Hodad’s burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches for a solid year in preparation for this trip. (laughs) You just kind of rise to the occasion when you get to a place where the waves are perfect.

You’re about to get married. Will you charge as hard on your next trip now that you’re about to tie the knot?

All this talk about surfing Indo again, now I’m ready to book my next trip… so I’ll let you know when I get back!

How did your fiancee Heather surf while you were there?

Heather never ceases to amaze me. She has got more courage than a lot of guys who venture out there. Green Bush has got to be one of the most critical waves down there and even knowing that, it still didn’t deter her from paddling out. It’s always great being with her no matter where we’re at but to see her surf places where some people wouldn’t dare is totally impressive.

Thinking of booking an Indo trip? Great articles you should read before you go:

http://www.transworldsurf.com/surf/article/0,19929,419854,00.html

http://www.transworldsurf.com/surf/features/article/0,19929,574363,00.html