Surfing the 38th Parallel, Photo Essay Series: Waves.

For Part 4 of our Surfing the 38th Parallel photo essay series, Shannon Aston tells us about what it’s like to try to catch waves in South Korea’s eastern coast. 

Waves. Get Them While You Can.

Seoul is three long hours from the eastern coast, and the swells, when they arrive, are brief, so timing is everything in Korea. Surfers agonise over daily reports and surf cams to pick the exact right time to make the trip. Seven-day forecasts tease and toy with our emotions during the week only to change at the last second. Epic swells abruptly turn their backs on us and march back out to sea. Seoulites envy the surfers living in the mountains or on the coast who can surf with much less hassle and heartache. But Korean Huey is a cruel sort, so if surfers see a wave, it’s best they surf it while it’s there.

When a swell approaches, Korean surfers have to drop everything and get out east quick; otherwise they’ll be pouring over the Facebook pictures or reports of others, kicking themselves for over-thinking it and not getting on the freeway or down to the dirty, run-down bus station in East Seoul at first light. The waves don’t come everyday, and they aren’t always epic, but for all the analysis, travel and anxiety they just aren’t to be missed.

It is pretty common these days to find Korean and foreign surfers searching the north and south along the coast for the right tide, sand bank, swell direction and wind. The ones who have invested the most time (researching, driving) are reaping the rewards as they are getting the coast dialled in all conditions. Surfers are also taking full advantage of Korea’s abundant and safe camping, as well as the love-motel and Minbak (민박) guesthouse culture to maximise all surf opportunities. Even the dreaded six-hour traffic jams on the drive back to Seoul don’t deter, as long as surfers can get themselves through the following week with some saltwater in their hair.

As the Korean surf culture grows and the country becomes a more legitimate place for foreigners to settle long-term, sleepy coastal towns will develop into quirky, bona-fide surf destinations. With its underrated beauty, good waves and sparse population compared to the rest of the country, the east coast of Korea is a great place for surfers as long as they’re prepared to hustle a bit.

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

Part 6: Saying Goodbye

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