New wave pool project announced for South Korea has locals hopeful

YangYang is the center of Korea’s surfing scene with the majority of the country’s surfers living in or around the popular beach town. And now YangYang has plans for a wave pool. According to a report by Yonhap News, the Gangwon Special Self-Governing Province is promoting the creation of a near-the-beach surf park to meet the demand of Korea’s growing surfing population.

If built, the wave pool would qualify YangYang as a specialized surfing district in Korea. Construction could begin in March 2025 and be completed in December 2028.

“As far as its effect on the local YangYang surf scene, I think YangYang will become busier,” said local surf dad Mel Palmiano. “It will bring more tourists to YangYang. It also means that YangYang could host future WSL events or other international surfing events.”

But the project still has a long way to go. According to the news report, the province has requested 46 billion won ($35million) to build the surf park. But first, they need to secure 1 billion won ($750,000) to get everything rolling including a feasibility study and a deal with a wave technology company.

surf at yangyang south korea
IMAGE TOP: Local father-son-duo Mel and Kanoa Palmiano say the surf park would save them six hours of drive time.
ABOVE: The surf at YangYang attracts hundreds of area surfers when conditions are right. Korea’s surfing population has exploded in the past 10 years. Photo Tom Cozad.

YangYang recently began a feasibility study for the creation of an “island city,” and is requesting a central investment review from the government.

While not as clean or consistent as Huntington Beach, surf generated in the short fetch between Korea and Japan is highly prized. Yangyang hosts a dedicated surfing population who make do with short-interval windswell. During east coast flat spells, many surfers drive to the south coast of the Korean peninsula or to the west coast.

The most consistent wave in Korea is the Wave Park surf lagoon in Si-Heung. YangYang’s dedicated surfers must drive cross country from east coast to west coast to get to the wave pool.

“If everything goes according to plan, it will mean we will have access to a wave pool 5 minutes away from home,” added Mel. “Therefore, saving a total of 6 hours of driving to and from Wave Park in Si-Heung City. It’s pretty exciting, especially how close it will be to us.”

The Governor of Gangwon-do Province and the Global Headquarters Tourism Policy Department visited the Ministry of Strategy and Finance recently to explain how a wave pool will help the area. They added that the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries is also working closely with other related agencies.

Map at YangYang showing beach and surf area. Not shown is the location of the proposed wave pool which will be just a short ways away. Photo Tom Cozad.

How difficult is it to be a budding pro surfer in YangYang? Mel, whose son Kanoa is one of Korea’s top surfers, said a wave pool would make it much easier to score consistent surf and therefore improve his son’s technique.

“Here in Korea it really is just trying to keep up with surfers Kanoa’s age who are from California or Hawaii, or are there parts of the world,” said Mel. “You know, they kind of have it nice there because they have consistent waves and they have a group of peers that they can compete against and are motivated to try and outdo. Whereas here it’s hard to stay motivated if especially if you’re sort of training on your own.”

To maximize surf time, Mel said they homeschool Kanoa to open up their schedule for any hint of surfable conditions. The family also travels to Hawaii and elsewhere whenever they can. But a new surf park would really improve access to quality surf.

“It’s pretty exciting, especially how close the wave pool will be to us. But since Kanoa is sponsored by Wave Park now, we will see what happens in a few years.”

Kanoa Palmiano at Wave Park in Si-Heung, 6 hours from YangYang.