How a wave pool is transforming a nation of longboarders into modern-day residents of Shredlandia
The surf scene in Korea has steadily grown, going from zero to booming in the last 10 years. But scoring surf is difficult here on a fickle peninsula at the whims of three relatively small bodies of salt water. The Yellow Sea, the East China Sea and the East Sea are all within a few hours’ drive of each other. Surfers can traverse the country from east to west relatively quickly, while a drive from Seoul in the north to the very southern tip of the peninsula is just five hours.
Due to the prevalence of small, gutless windswell, most Korean surfers are longboarders – 80% just two years ago by some estimates. However, after Wave Park opened just outside of Seoul, providing consistent waves to a booming young urban professional community with disposable income, shortboarding is now on the come up.
“I was surprised that shortboarders are most of our most customers,” said Surf Coach Jina Kim. “There were lot of longboarders in the line-up in the ocean, because most of the days the waves aren’t good enough for shortboarding. But after Wave Park opened, a lot of people are enjoying shortboarding.”
Jina, one of the country’s best longboarders, confessed she’s trying out shortboarding as well.
During the recent WavePoolMag World Tour stop at Wave Park we met Hyunkyung Kim who also goes by the name “Effy.” She’s 31-years-old (or 32 years old in Korean as everyone is already considered to be one year old at birth) and lives an hour away in Dongtan City. An avid longboarder, Effy has been making the transition to shortboarding through the help of regular sessions at Wave Park.
“I’ve been surfing a longboard for four years, mostly at Yangyang city (Korea’s most consistent spot),” said Effy. “I always wanted to try shortboarding, so I tried to learn how to ride one in 2019, but I gave up after two months. Because the beach at Yangyang was really crowded and the other surfers weren’t that kind to shortboard beginners.”
Effy got discouraged quickly.
“It seemed impossible. I realized that during my surfs on Saturdays and Sundays, I only caught three-to-four waves with just a few seconds of actually being up and riding. Then I would spend four hours in the car driving home. I gave up trying to shortboard.”
With the appearance of Wave Park, Effy decided to give it a go again and bought an annual pass. Today you can find her poolside with the other core, annual pass holders. This group of dedicated transitioners can be found doing Wave Ki in the warmup area pre-session and studying their sessions on video post-surf in the Wave Park cafe.
“At the beginning of this year, I started shortboarding at Wave Park,” said Effy. “My improvement was much faster than I expected here. It’s also closer to my home, maybe an hour’s drive. So in the last six months, I’ve been able to practice a lot of things that I probably didn’t even have a chance to try in the ocean. I guess Wave Park has made the barrier lower for weekend surfers in Korea to try short boarding.”
South Korean photographer Moon Ho Jung says that it’s these hardships of learning the sport in Korea that have helped forge a dedicated crew of surfers.
“People have only been into surfing for about 10 years, but I think surfers in Korea have made huge advancements in such a short time from tireless attempts and striving to become better surfers,” said Moon. “Surfing today is quickly becoming a mainstream sport. The younger surfers in Korea will become world-class soon, I believe. And in the center of it all, WavePark will be a destination for surfers to keep practicing and help improve their skills.”
Main feature image of Kanoa by Melvin Palmiano at Wave Park South Korea