I tried my hand at surfing for the first time in 2010. Jeffreys Bay, better known as J’Bay, is famous for its perfect barrels and its annual surf competition. I’ve been practicing paddling out and standing on our coffee table since I was 18 so it was cool to finally take beginner lessons. Two days of basic lessons followed by a year’s gap before I repeated the beginner game in Newquay, Cornwall. One day of surfing foamies followed by 3 years’ hiatus.
Last year I was in Busan to learn sailing and I happened to catch the last part of the Busan Surf Competition. The “waves” made me laugh. I come from a country where you grow up being dumped by waves and almost drown on a regular basis. They call THIS the sea? WAVES? Seriously… Korea is not known for its waves, that’s for damn sure. North Korea, maybe. South Korea? Typhoon time, sure. But then you’re not allowed to surf. In fact, they have cancelled the Annual Mayor’s Cup International Surfing Championship in the past because “the waves were too big” ??? Check out this cool blog on surfing in the DMZ.
I decided to enter this year’s competition (entry cost 40,000 won) because I reckon even a beginner like me can surf Korea’s teeny tiny waves! If you want to learn how to surf in Pohang (in English) you need to contact these guys. However, if you already have some basic skills that you want to build on and you only need to rent a board, you can go to Surfer City or Green Room (naver 서핑 포항). These shops are both located in Yeongilman, past the industrial park and the harbour. I have rented boards from both shops and I got a better deal at Green Room but Son Young Ik, who runs it, is often away and Surfer City is usually open (expect to pay anywhere between 20,000-25,000 won for 2-4 hours’ board rental) . If you become a member of the KSA this will drop to 10,000 won. If you have your own board and a car, you can obviously go anywhere and Guryonpo is a good spot for bigger waves.
We had a few big waves around full moon two weeks ago and I got a bit cheeky. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up with a broken foam-top rental board. Young Ik is super laid back and was nice enough not to charge me, but I’m now known as that girl who broke a board. WORSE! The waygookin girl (the only one) who broke a board. Ah well, shit happens! That’s how you learn, right?! Haha.
Korea surf culture is still in its infancy but it is growing very quickly. Foreigners like to complain that Koreans follow no safety rules or etiquette when they surf. They also like to bitch about too many people at “their” spot. I would hate for Koreans to learn this negative, greedy, clique-y attitude to a resource that belongs to no one and everyone at the same time. No one owns the sea, you can’t own a surf spot.
Currently Korean surf culture is still very open, friendly and leans more towards longboards, which is more suited to the waves here. I’ve rented both 8 and 9 footers here and I actually prefer the 8.
SUP (Stand up paddling) is also taking off big time here, which makes sense considering the “waves”. Mel Vin is the best guy to contact on Facebook regarding SUP sales and lessons.
I have about 10 hours of practice under my belt for the Busan Surf Competition. All the foreigners get lumped together in the International Open, seperated only by gender, not experience. The Korean competition is divided into juniors, beginner, open and longboard . When I spoke to the KSA earlier this week there were only 2 other girls in the International Women’s Open, so we’re 3 in total. People can still enter on the day, but I hope no one does! How awesome would it be to snag 3rd place with my limited experience??! The prizes in the International Men’s open are: 1,500,00 won for first place, 500,000 won for 2nd place and a goody bag for third place. In the Intl. Women’s first place gets you 1,000,000 won, second place 300,00 won and a goody bag for 3rd place. Aussie surfer Brett Burcher has flown in to do a few workshops with Kai Surf/ Ocean & Earth Surf shop prior to taking part in the comp. I’m paying 35,000 won for surfboard rental through Kai Surf (to pick up at the venue the morning of).
Obviously I can write what I know about surf comps on the back of a soju bottle cap, but they still expect you to know the rules (even though there will be no briefing for foreigners). The rules are on the KSA’s website and event but they’re all in Korean. Luckily, the follow ISA rules, so you can inform yourself here.
For more info on surfing in Korea, go here.
Tide tables and Weather forecast: Use KHOA (Korea hydrographic and Oceanographic Administration), Buoy Weather or Windfinder.
Vocabulary: 밀물 = high tide, 썰물= low (ebb) tide,날 짜=date, 북= north, 서= west, 남= south, 동= east
Groups to join on Facebook: Surfing Korea, Korea Surf Association, Korea Water Love, Surfer City (Pohang), and Esl English Surf Lessons (Pohang).
Hostels on Haeundae Beach (Busan): Pobi Guesthouse and Popcorn Hostel.
Happy surfing x