▲ A competitor makes the most of a wave at Jungmun Beach. Photo by Alpha Newberry
Despite gray skies and a thick haze in the air over Jungmun beach, the eighth annual Jeju International Surfing Competition was in full swing on July 3, with some 350 amateur surfers in attendance for the three-day competition. Jungmun’s white sand beach and reasonable waves (bigger than elsewhere) make it the best place to surf on Jeju. While the bigger waves appeared to be in short supply that Saturday, the surfers seemed perfectly happy to just experience Jeju’s surf culture for a weekend.
While most of the surfers were natives of Jeju, this year there were also competitors from Japan, the United States, Australia and South Africa. While some had traveled to the competition from Japan, the other foreigners are residents of the island. The annual event, which is funded by the Jeju government and various product sponsors, has increased in size each year and grown to approximately 30 times its original size.
Surfers compete for a variety of prizes, including a round-trip ticket to Bali, a full-body wetsuit, watches and other gear, such as clothing, boards and accessories. Surfers are judged on their technique on the wave. The judges were a mix of professional Japanese and advanced Korean surfers. With only 23 women surfers in the 350 entrants, first place is only open to male surfers, as each gender competes separately.
While beginners are allowed to compete on either a short or long board, short boards earn more points. Short boards provide more of a challenge, especially when combined with calmer seas. Advanced surfers are only permitted to use short boards.
Local resident Justin MacDonnell, familiar with Jeju’s smaller waves, expressed disbelief upon seeing so many short boards on the beach and summed up the general attitude of most people on the beach, who lent a decidedly non-competitive atmosphere to the competition. “Good luck catching any waves on that – I’m going swimming!” For those surfers with the dedication to wait in the water, the waves eventually rolled in. For everyone else, the competition was a chance to experience a Jeju a little more reminiscent of its poorly named moniker of “Korea’s Hawaii.”
In the evening, indie bands from Seoul took the stage, giving spectators and surfers a chance to socialize and enjoy the beach.
Kim Hee Cheol, chairman of the Seogwipo Surfing Association, said that the surfing competition is “a way for surfers to meet, share information and have fun.” From the looks of the crowd on the beach, that mission was accomplished.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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