Korea’s south coast a great place for beginners to learn sailing, surfing
As the weather heats up, expats, especially those used to cooler climes, start to flock toward the cooling waters and fresh, salty breezes of the coast.
Opportunities to get out on the water abound across the peninsula, but according to expats Mark Chi and Cheryl Kim, you can’t beat Busan for trying out two of the most exciting water sports around: surfing and sailing.
While the waves in Korea may not equal those of Hawaii or Bali, there is still plenty of fun to be had.
Notoriously a territorial sport, where surfers seek to find the most isolated beaches, Korea makes for a welcome change, said Cheryl Kim who has been surfing here for five years and runs Mirae Trading, a surf supplies company.
“Korea is one of the best places to learn to surf,” she said, explaining that the lack of a surf culture here -- while sometimes frustrating for people from established surf areas such as California -- is a positive.
“That territorial feeling isn’t there ... Korean surfers are so helpful and welcoming,” she said. The shore breaks also mean it’s easier and safer as you don’t have to paddle out to reefs.
Hailing from Canada but having learnt to surf while studying in Australia, Kim is now pregnant but still very involved with the community. “They are my family,” she said, adding that she and her husband, also a keen surfer, hope to have a “surf baby.”
Members of Busan Expat Sailing Association compete in this year’s Busan Cup. (Mark Chi)
For her, the sport is a good way to relax, “It gives me a sense of peace. It’s the only activity I do where I don’t have to think.”
Currently, the expat surf community is fairly fragmented -- particularly because to be able to surf in Korea all year round, explained Kim, you must be willing to travel for the right conditions.
Seoul actually has the most surf clubs, with six, while Busan has three.
Seoul Boardriders was previously the hub of all surf events in Korea, but now the Surfing Korea Facebook page is the most up-to-date source. Kim posts advice and information on events such as the International Surf Day on June 20.
The Busan Mayor’s International Surf Contest will be held on Haeundae Beach June 24-26, and for the first time will see pro-surfers from Thailand competing.
For beginners, expect to pay around 60,000 won ($55) a lesson. Min Camp at Gwangalli Beach is a great place to learn said Kim, as it is the only place which includes transport in the price, meaning you will be taken to where the most suitable waves are. Coaches also speak English and take photos and videos of your performance. Contact manager Dylan Kim for details at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Busan is best for surfing in the spring, according to Kim. However, there are many other great spots, including the 38th Parallel and Jungmoon Beach on Jeju. Kim recommends exploring the island to find the best waves.
“There are amazing breaks but you need a car to go and find them yourself.”
If you find somewhere you want to return to but it’s off the beaten track, board storage with a nearby club is often available for between $150-300 a year.
For those with little ones keen on trying out the sport, the Korea Surfing Association would like to start classes this year but needs more interest registered before they can begin: www.ksasurf.org.Sailing
Sailing in Korea has grown hugely in recent years and there are now more than 100 clubs around the country. While most of these will be open to foreign members, the language barrier may present problems.
That’s where Busan Expat Sailing Association (www.busansailing.com) comes in. With the help of the Korean Sailing Federation, Mark Chi set up the only sailing club of its kind in Korea in 2008. With accessible prices, lessons, and boats available for newcomers to the sport to use, the club offers a great way in for English speakers.
Although Chi said that you can now find a sailing club “pretty much anywhere with a beach,” Busan Marina is the biggest and most popular.
“Busan Marina is by far the most popular for sailors, even the national team trains here, the sailing and the facilities are really good,” he said. It is also free of some of the hazards that exist in other areas of Korea.
The club embraces sailors of all abilities. For those who sail competitively Chi has set up a race workshop, but he also provides absolute beginner classes.
A two-day basic boat course at the club costs 120,000 won, and the master course 180,000. The courses offer an introduction to sailing -- theory and basic -- using dinghies, small one- or two-man boats. Keelboat (larger than the dinghy) lessons are also available and cost 60,000 won per person, with a maximum of four in each group.
Chi started sailing 20 years ago while at college.
“Initially I thought it was really interesting that you could go really fast and move these boats with just wind power. But sailing is one of those things where you learn new things each time.”
Some members own their own boats and come for the support and social aspect of the club, said Chi. The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed, and not exclusive as many imagine sailing to be, he added.
“After sailing we just kick back, have a few beers and relax. It’s a nice place to hang out even if you don’t sail,” he said, adding that they also organize BBQs, parties and other get-togethers.
As the club has been concentrating on races so far this year, already having taken part in three -- five or six is their average for a year -- they will be focusing now on teaching and a big members’ event next month.
“A club like ours is a good place to get started,” said Chi.
For Seoul-based folk, he recommends Seoul Marina, which is subsidized by the government and very affordable. The manager there also speaks English well. For a more high-end experience, there is the 700 Yacht Club (www.700yachtclub.com), run by Korean-American Harold Shim.
By Hannah Stuart-Leach (email@example.com