▲ Youngmin Ham has paraglided across the HImalaya and appeared in the film "A dream of Icarus." Photo courtesy Ham Youngmin.
Jeju is well suited to outdoor sports. Its long coastline, bubbling oreum and other natural attractions make it an ideal location for all sorts of death-defying stunts.
Unfortunately for the thrill-seeker, however, Jeju people are much more content to calmly take in their natural surroundings, rather than attack them with headgear and body armour.
The rambling olle - the chief deity in Jeju’s tourism pantheon - personifies this, being the slow tourism of the slow food movement. Luckily, there is a man out there for whom peaceful walks are only useful if they lead off a cliff.
Youngmin Ham, an expert paraglider, makes a living out of launching holiday-makers off of Jeju’s oreum. He has paraglided all around the world and even high up in the Himalaya. He now operates out of Hamdeok-ri, Jocheon-eup, providing paragliding trips to daredevils.
When we arrive at base it is clear that being up in the elements means being at their mercy.
“There just isn’t enough wind here at Hamdeok. Let’s go and try Darangshi,” he says.
As we arrive at Darangshi Oreum, deep in Jeju’s hinterland, it is clear the wind has picked up pace. As we walk the ascent, fresh guests combat the increasing humidity.
Upon reaching the summit, Ham - having arrived earlier - is up in the air. Swinging around the rim of the bowl-like Darangshi, he flirts with the wind, but never gives it control over him. As I was about to put my life in his hands, it was reassuring to watch his para-dexterity.
I ask if anyone has ever been injured: “No, if someone gets injured, I will die.” This was not reassuring, but as he had no visible signs of serious injury - and I’d just dragged myself to one of the highest points of Gujwa-eup - a gamble was all I had.
After gearing up, he ordered me to remain strong in the knee and to run on the shout of “forward.” This meant, in essence, launching myself off of a precipitous oreum-side which was promising a broken leg. It didn’t exactly foster a zen-like stillness.
▲ Author Darren Southcott enjoying himself while paraglider Youngmin Ham does all the hard work. Photo courtesy Youngmin Ham
“Forward,” he shouts, and our legs fight against the wind as the fabric billows, pulling us back, while the ground falls away, as if gravity has been reversed.
The oreum gives way to forest and my feet dangle helplessly: ‘Til death - or a safe landing - we do part.
We flit like a Chinese lantern freed on the wind. Ham then asserts control and skirts the edge of Darangshi, allowing a full landscape of oreum to come into view. Seongsan Ilchulbong rises gallantly at the horizon, looming castle-like, as per its etymology.
Oreum bubble like a simmering kimchi jjigae and even tacky-from-the-roadside guesthouses were given a new glory from this eagle-eye’s vista.
We swirl around, taking in views from all cardinal points. Mt. Halla would have been deistic, but for the clouds; Udo, Seongsan Ilchulbong, Yongnuni Oreum, et al. are more-than-able understudies.
On descent, the wind - clearly feeling that a smidgen of respect is in order - tosses us hither and thither, shaving needles off the trees. We are then deposited, unceremoniously, to the amusement of a hiker.
Walking back to the car, I sip my Sam Da Soo and ponder which daring stunt to try next. I decide to play it safe with a daring paddle in the Hamdeok shallows.
About Youngmin Ham
Ham is ranked number one in the 2013 national paragliding team and was one of the first to paraglide across the Himalaya east to west over 168 days and 2400 k.m. Ham’s feat was made into a film called “A dream of Icarus.”
Hours: Ham paraglides during daytime hours and by appointment only. Please book at least a day prior to your desired gliding time.
Location: Ham has no set business premises, so please arrange a meeting point with him. He operates out of Hamdeok, Jocheon-eup and can meet customers near the beach or wherever is convenient. Hamdeok is located east of Jeju City on the northeast coast of Jeju Island. It can be reached by car along the 1132 Iljudong-ro.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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