Jina, tell us about how you first got into surfing?
When I was 20, a friend of mine told me about a surf school on the East Coast of Korea. Apparently, it’s a really fun surf school so myself and 4 of my friends decided to give it a go and went surfing. To be honest, I didn’t even know what surfing was, but I fell in love with it, much more than any of my friends I who I learnt with. Since then I went surfing every weekend and holidays. I went to university on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and went surfing Friday to Monday. I also went to the Philippines for about 4 months over the winter season because winter in Korea is so freezing! I love nothing more than I hot summer and warm water waves.
What’s it like to be a Korean surfer?
Korea doesn’t actually have the best surf conditions. There aren’t many waves in the summer and the winter is too cold for me. Even with this, there are many passionate Korean surfers, who are all thirsty for the waves and surf whenever they can. For example even on the flat days, lots of surfers will still hit the water just for a paddle. We may not have great waves all the time but at least we have beaches and I am happy with that, although we have the Korean army at every beach on the East Coast which can make it a little harder to surf in their area.
Are there any other women from Korea who surf?
Korea as a very short surfing history, it’s actually it’s the first generation now, meaning there really aren’t that many women who surf. As time goes on more and more people are becoming interested in surfing, hopefully, more women will start surfing soon. There aren’t many of women who surf, meaning we are all familiar, hopefully, our community will grow soon.
We’ve seen a few videos of the surf over in Korea and it looks like it can get fun, how do you find the waves?
With a good swell and wind, we can get some great waves. I sit and watch the charts, waiting for a typhoon, after typhoon season there are usually some fun waves around but it’s very few and far between. I see the wave chart and wait for typhoon.
Where’s your local surf spot?
I started surfing at Gisamoon Point in Yangyang which is on the East Coast. It’s a small spot but it has good waves. Gisamoon point is river mouth point and has breakwater, so it’s very easy to the lineup.
Do you get to travel much?
I do and I love it. I travel to find good waves because I always wave hungry in Korea. Since I started surfing I have been to the Philippines for 4 months every winter and this year I went to Bali for 3 months surf and try and the competition scene there.
Where’s the best place you’ve ever travelled to?
I like Batukaras, West Java, Indonesia. There are so mellow and perfect longboard waves and locals are very friendly. It’s very small village with not many people, not a fancy place but perfect for surfers.
Did you have to overcome any obstacles when learning to surf?
Yes I definitely did, when I started surfing 5 years ago there was only one surf school on the whole East Coast. Luckily for me, they are good at teaching surfing, which I why I am able to surf to the level that I do now.
Surfing is a very uncommon sport here, which means it’s hard to fight against the army and the police. There was even a law stating you must wear a life jacket when you surf! They just didn’t and still don’t really understand surfing but luckily they changed the law from having a wear a life jacket to having to wear a wetsuit. Which is better than it was before but it also means we have to wear a wetsuit even when it’s really hot in summer!
Thanks to me for the more senior surfers, the laws are changing, making it a little easier to surf but there are still many strict laws here.
For example on the South Coast, you must wear a leash and if you don’t you have a pay a fine. On the East Coast, you have to get out of the surf an hour before sunset and you cannot surf outside restricted zones. This is mainly because the army gets very sensitive because of North Korea.
What advice would you give to anyone living in Korea who wants to get into surfing?
You don’t need to find the waves abroad for start surfing. You can learn to surf in Korea because now there are so many surf schools. Get confident in the ocean, many Koreans fear the water but it’s not as dangerous as you think, so just go for it!
Lastly, how does surfing make you feel?
Surfing has made me dream and think bigger. I studied graphic design and all of my friends got jobs, working in offices, living the big city life even if they don’t want it. Most parents teach their children to succeed in life you need money, get married and live a stable life. Surfing allowed me to meet a different group of people and nature made me think there are more important things in life than earn money, being happy is the most important thing in my life and surfing makes me happy so that’s all I need.
Follow Jina on instagram @jinasurf