Surfing the 38th Parallel: Saying Goodbye to South Korea

As we round out this 6-part photo essay series by Shannon Aston, he reflects on a life of surf travel and the place South Korea has occupied in his recent history. 

My Surfing Mythology: Farewell to South Korea.

Writing this sixth and last instalment for Korduroy TV proved to be the most difficult and deadline-testing piece I wrote. Here in an airy Southern Californian home, surfed out from weeks of consistent and user friendly waves, I had to really reflect on my time in South Korea and what it all really meant.

Surfing: we all do it, love it, celebrate it, fetishize it and go on and on about it in a way that normal people like to make fun of us for, when they can. They don’t and won’t really understand why we make it the central figure in our lives.

Yesterday, on the drive home from a beach day with my girlfriend, coincidentally after her first true day of surfing, she asked why I liked to surf so much. I had never really thought about it. Surfing was always more like an involuntary body movement or an acceptable addiction.

I pondered for a second and thought it was just purely for the feeling I felt right now in the car: the runners high, the ache, the euphoria, the triumph and the personal growth all bundled into one that dulled my thoughts, relaxed my muscles and eased my soul. I did it for this surfed-out high, and the basic reality that each day closer to death I got, a day spent surfing was a major victory for me in my own game of life. This involuntary response to the fragility and fleeting notion of life and the completely autonomous way we all must experience it.

I was surfing to try to cheat death by living, getting my body high and spending my life perfecting my craft as one might a golf swing or a sushi blade.

My life took me to the beaches of Korea. The country was different from my own and gave me many things I could never posses where I came from. It presented countless unknown difficulties and its successes were defined by victory over these strange obstacles.

As I survey the images I collected, I’m flooded not by tides, swell charts or surf natter, but by the country itself. Surfing is important to me, yes, but where I did it seemed to matter much more. Now, my own personal surf mythology has a South Korean chapter and I have been so pleased to share it with the world.

I’ve been cleaned up by an 8-10ft set at Cloudbreak, seen Kelly Slater surf with my own eyes in the wild, rode a Pavonnes wave from the top to the bottom of the point, got a Trestles set wave, surfed J-bay alone, got weird in Galicia, wrestled set waves from Israeli soldiers in Sri Lanka and spent summers in Dunedin, NZ, on the peninsula. And even though I’m not a Kool Aid, glassy-eyed surf disciple by any stretch, I didn’t stop doing it and this chapter in South Korea is another proud addition to my “Pool Room” of memories.

Today, I have little left to say on seasons, tides, board lengths, left and right peaks, river-mouths, street food, language and so on. I say goodbye to Korea and thank it for showing me all its unique magic. This week’s photos are a jumbled collection of memories, surf and not, of the things I saw going to and from the beach seeking my high in the “Land of the Morning Calm.”

For the full Surfing the 38th Parallel photo essay series, see:

Part 1: Winter 

Part 2: Soldiers and the Sand

Part 3: Seoul Surfers

Part 4: Waves

Part 5: Strange Tales