Chandra Weaver catches a wave during the Jeju International Surfing Competition. Photo by Brian Miller
With dozens of surfboards laid out on the sand as surfers waited for waves on a tropical beach, it was easy to forget this was South Korea. But that is one way Jeju differs from the mainland. After all, it is the “Hawaii of Korea.”
The white sand and clear waters of Jungmun Beach played host to the 7th Annual Jeju International Surf Competition July 3-5. The majority of the competitors were Korean, although the foreign presence was evident. In addition to first time visitors to Jeju, there were also local residents who frequently surf in the area. One of whom, Chandra Weaver, commented, “Jungmun is a good place to surf down south, and I try to get out and surf whenever there are waves.”
Weaver, 26, claimed first place in the Foreign Female division after fending off five other surfers, mostly from Busan. Despite the fact that the California surfer has been surfing for 14 years, this was her first competition.
“I was really happy to have won, but overall, I was stoked to have met and surfed with all the other women in the competition. There was a great vibe in the water.”
The surf was not at its best for the competition, but the surfers kept themselves entertained by watching the heats, socializing and enjoying the beach. The Jungmun Stepping Stone Music Festival provided the soundtrack for the second evening of the competition, attracting surfers and non-surfers alike.
“The surf competition was a blast,” exclaimed Weaver, at the end of the three-day event. “The organizers did an amazing job of putting it on. The only bummer was that the waves were so small, but there isn’t much you can do about that one.”
For a few tenacious surfers who had the zen-like patience to spend enough time in the water, a few decent waves were caught. Others simply embraced Jeju’s beaches and its surf culture.
“Waves or no waves, I am happy here,” said Harrison with his surfboard on hand, and a smile on his face as he entered the water to the backdrop of the setting sun.
California surfer Chris Harden emerges from the seat at Jungmun Beach. Photo By Brian Miller
While the “Welcome Surfers” sign is nearly always up in Jeju, acceptance is an issue that mainland surfers often struggle with.
“Koreans don’t understand the concept of surf,” explained Cathy Kim, assistant supervisor for Quiksilver/Roxy Korea, one of the event’s main sponsors. “If people go out in the water, the police come and kick them out. They think it’s too dangerous and a lot of the beaches (on the mainland) are blocked to the surfing community.”
Kim went on to express her frustration at the absence of understanding and acceptance of the surf community. “Korea is surrounded by coast. Korean surfers try to find points to surf but always get kicked out. The ocean should be for everybody.”
Chris Harrison, a Busan surfer, echoed Kim’s grievance. “How can you accommodate surfers in one part of Korea and then disregard them in another?” asked Harrison, a 25-year old California native who had been demanded to stop surfing on Haeundae Beach several times. Confused, he wondered why Busan has regulations against surfing.
“It’s unfortunate that there is such a disconnection between the makers of these rules and the local surf community. Better communication is needed.”
The lifeguards reason that surfing is banned in the summer due to the increase of swimmers on these beaches; however, the Jeju model caters to both communities.
“It was cool to see that Jungmun had a special section roped off for surfers, and swimmers aren’t allowed in that area,” remarked Harrison, who, even with the lack of swell, was impressed by his first trip to Jeju.
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