▲ Members of the Jeju Windsurfing Club enjoying the wind the island is renowned for, while ignoring the winter water temperature. Photo courtesy Caroline Pringle
While other residents of Jeju Island spend a 4-degree Saturday sitting comfortably inside their floor-heated apartments wearing multiple layers of sweaters and sipping honey-citrus tea, members of the Jeju Windsurfing Club slide on 5-millimeter thick semi-dry wetsuits and wade into the chilly coastal waters. Club leaders Professor Kim Ki Yoon, head of faculty of the Sports and Leisure Sports Department at Jeju National University and a 30-year windsurfing veteran, and Kim Kyong Pil, who studied Marine Sports and English in Australia, gather their troop together at least one day a week regardless of weather temperature. The club’s sailors - still named such despite the sport’s name change from boardsailing to windsurfing in the early 1990s - do not shy away from a chance to meet and take advantage of an afternoon that might otherwise slip away.
“Once you’re out there you’re moving around so much you hardly notice the cold,” said Kiara Smith, a recreational surfer from British Columbia who has struggled to find favorable surfing conditions on the island. Intrigued by windsurfing, Smith approached the club last October and was met with friendly smiles and enough English to receive an open invitation to practice with the team.
Certainly the approaching spring and summer appeal for one obvious reason, but the Jeju sailors are currently satisfied with the extra wind provided by the darker months of the year. “Going fast is such an adrenaline rush,” said Caroline Pringle from South Africa, a stranger to the sport until introduced to it by her colleague Smith just a few short months ago. On the last Saturday of January, Pringle spent a few hours operating a six-meter sail, practicing turns and sailing up and downwind, and only falling in the water once. Her coaches expect her to be sailing unsupervised by May, and within six months time graduating from the beginners’ equipment to operating smaller boards - the mark of a high-speed sailor.
While confidence now shows on Pringle’s face over her ability to continually improve, things were very different for her at the beginning. “I felt inadequate, like I was doing something wrong and incapable of learning.” Admitting to spending 90 percent of the time in the water on her first day rather than on the board, Pringle more closely resembled a haenyo, one of Jeju’s famed diving women, than the other members of the club. Exhausted after two hours of continually raising the boom only to flop back in the water, she awoke the next morning with stiff shoulders and legs.
Smith also had a tough time at the start, surprised at how little her surfing experience helped. “Fortunately, there is hope,” Pringle said. “Windsurfing has an exponential learning curve.” By her second practice, she was able to stay on the board longer and get a feel for the water. After three months of sailing, Pringle progressed from a 3.5-meter sail - ideal for beginners due to its light weight - to her current use of a 6-meter sail.
During the early stages, the two Kims who run the club keep their apprentices in shallow water where they can stand beside them. As learners venture into deeper waters, the instructors paddle out and sit nearby to give instructions. According to Prof. Kim, the basics of windsurfing can be learned easily within three days. Smith and Pringle have spent the majority of practices learning from Kim Kyong Pil (affectionately called Rhino) because his English ability is the better of the two instructors. “Rhino is an effective teacher because he lets us make our own mistakes,” Pringle said. “He likes us to get a feel for the board and know how it operates from experience before we learn complicated windsurfing tactics.” Kim Kyong Pil, Prof. Kim’s junior at JNU, can often be heard passionately shouting instructions from the shore. While Prof. Kim’s English is more limited, communication is never a problem and on a few occasions with Smith and Pringle, diagrams were drawn in the sand in an effort to ensure the point was conveyed correctly.
After first hearing in 1986 that windsurfing was “the best sport for wind and water,” Prof. Kim was certain that a windsurfing era would come for Jeju Island. The following year, he took basic training in the sport and bought equipment. Then came the time to spread the word. The Windsurfing Association was founded in 1990 with 200 members. Interest in windsurfing spread like a Wonder Girls’ song, and the club now boasts more than 3,000 members, of which about 500 are active.
During the winter, practices are typically held at Shinyang Beach, a five-minute taxi ride from Sunrise Peak. Since most other members live in Jeju City, transportation is never an issue for Smith and Pringle. “The members of the club are so friendly and accommodating,” Pringle said. “We never have to make alternate arrangements; any suggestions from our side that we catch a bus are met with blunt refusal!” With its lack of waves, conditions at Shinyang Beach are often ideal for beginners. According to Pringle, great conditions come around about one out of every four practices. The other three weeks are spent fine-tuning skills in preparation to sail on that week when the elements are all lined up.
Having access to Jeju National University’s sporting equipment, Prof. Kim stores all the beginner boards at the Shinyang club-house to avoid the hassle of hauling equipment back and forth from their current base at Iho Beach. Each practice begins with equipment managing instructions catered to the present wind conditions, and individual pep talks on how to build upon the prior week’s achievements. Although practice may end after the sailors crawl out of the water and discuss areas of improvement with their coaches, the club often makes a whole day out of it, enjoying meals together afterward.
A few weeks back, Prof. Kim involved the club in the Penguin Swim held on Jungmun Beach. They served as the rescue team, adding another memory to the rich collection that Pringle feels privileged to have. “The club has given me more social contact with Korean people, and allowed me to see a side of the island I wouldn’t have otherwise experienced.”
The Windsurfing Club is open to all who are interested. A yearly fee of 500,000 won - which reduces to 300,000 won the second year - allows members weekly use of equipment and access to the coaches, although wetsuits are the responsibility of the individual. In addition members can take advantage of access to other sports, such as yachting and motorboats. For those on a time constraint, one day of windsurfing rental and instruction costs 60,000 won, and a week is 170,000 won.
If interested, Prof. Kim and Kim Kyong Pil can be found at the Iho ‘Leports’ (Leisure Sports) Center located on the left side of Iho Beach, or contacted on 0505-995-1111 or 064-743-3887 (If English is required, ask for Kim Kyong Pil). While getting out in the cold certainly isn’t easy, the Jeju Windsurfing Club never regrets a day spent on the water, only those few when they choose to stay inside.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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