▲ In still waters, Kayaking is safe for even young children. Phooto by James Hill
This is the first in a three-part series for which James Hill will be visiting some kayaking spots around the island. First off he visits Kayak Olle in Gwideok-ri, Hallim-eup. For part two click here- Ed.
The entrance to the harbor is very unobtrusive, and initially I wonder if I’m in the right place. Situated between Hallim and Aewol, west of Jeju-si, Gwideok is a small village right on the 1132 road and the coast. Next to the bus stop for Gwideok Elementary School and opposite the Paul and Mary café, a small road leads down a short hill to the seashore. At the end, a gazebo crawls with activity and equipment - it is Kayak Olle.
I’m shown around the operation while we wait for the other customers to arrive. Aside from the shoreline where the kayaks float peacefully and the gazebo that was serving as a magazine for life jackets and paddles, there is a natural spring channelled next to the road that runs into the sea and can be used to wash off in, and a beautiful traditional Jeju farmhouse that the company owns. It’s undecorated, but I’m assured that within a few weeks it will be a fully functioning café/restaurant. In its current state, with its straw and clay walls and stone fronting, it seems a perfectly beautiful bit of rustic architecture, complete with a vegetable garden and ducks.
▲ The soon-to-be cafe. Photo by James Hill
The founder of the Kayak Olle outfit and its chief guide, Kim Byung soo, speaks fluent English and is a generally jolly fellow, quick with encouragement and advice. His concern for our experience is obvious – he regularly asks how comfortable we are, and if we’re ready to progress during the trip. Prior to entering the kayaks, he gives a quick demonstration of the basic strokes and some advice to keeping your balance and has everyone repeat the motions to his satisfaction.
“It’s very peaceful” Byung soo, begins, in a rare break from his levity. “There are no engines, no smoke, very eco-friendly, just you and the water.” We are sitting in single-person sea kayaks in the placid shelter of Gwideok harbor, waiting for the rest of the group to find their sea legs.
▲ Kayak Olle owner Byung-soo. Photo by James Hill
It’s a clear day, and a gentle breeze keeps us from overheating while we watch them splashing around under the guidance of Byung soo’s sister. “Most people come to Jeju for healing.” he continues. “Healing of the mind from stress and worry. I hope that they can come here and receive some peace.” Normally I’d dismiss such new-age nonsense, but I feel he has a point. There is something very tranquil and soothing about the gentle bob of the sea and the smell of the ocean.
▲ Kayaking in the Jeju sea. Photo by James Hill
While we wait, he suggests we go over to see some haenyeo (women divers) up close. He talks to a couple of them in the bay briefly, and we sit and watch them dip beneath the surface and whistle “sumbi-sori” when they return.
The harbour provides an excellent place for people to build their confidence up, being very sheltered and nearly as still as a pond. The clear water shows a soft sandy bottom only a few meters below, and other maritime traffic is noticeably absent. He explains to me that most of his customers are absolute beginners, and that it is vital for them to have somewhere safe to start.
▲ A student getting strapped in. Photo by James Hill
After some practice, it’s time to hit the open waters. It was a fairly calm day, but springtime in Jeju provides some choppy water whatever the conditions. I’m told that in summer, when the water is reliably still, they often paddle over to nearby Gwakji Beach. We just head out to sea a little way though around a floating lighthouse, to get a taste of the real deal.
Although the company usually caters to beginners, he’s happy to take advanced groups out to the nearby islands around Jeju, though this has to be organized in advance. The beginners’ courses run an hour and cost 20,000 won per person, while advanced trips need to be worked out individually.
▲ The author James Hill enjoying himself on the water. Photo courtesy James Hill
Equipment 5/5 – Only in its second year, the equipment Kayak Olle uses is all nearly brand new and in very good shape. Life vests are provided as standard, and everything was a comfortable fit for a six-foot Westerner.
3.5/5 – Easily accessible by car or bus and in a beautiful location, it only loses points for being quite remote from the main population centres.
Facilities 4/5 – Based on what I’m told will be there, nearly every base is covered. As of the visit, there is a safe place to leave your valuables, a toilet, a place to wash the salt off you and plenty of shade. The café will simply be extra icing and would probably net the extra point. Business details
Name: Kayak Olle
Owner: Kim Byung-soo
Address: Gwideok-ri 1016, Hallim-eup, Jeju City
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