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We have to admit: we’ve been fascinated by Korea’s surf scene ever since Byung Seok Kang aka Marcos, our Korean distributor, started selling Cabianca boards in 2019. He’s been giving us little glimpses into a culture and scene that’s as vibrant and passionate as any we’ve seen, yet gets little to no coverage in mainstream surf media. So we asked Marcos to tell us a bit more about it.

Surfing Yang Yang, pink sunset, Cabianca Surfboards, Korea, Wavepark, Wavegarden

So, first question… how is the surf?

First of all, Korea is a peninsula, so we have the sea on three sides. However, the west and east sides are blocked by China and Japan, which means they only get short period swells.

In the south (Jeju Island), there’s a long period swell window, and the best waves come from typhoons created near Taiwan.

In winter, the northeast swells come in. The power of the waves is good, but… cold. Winter in Korea gets down to about -10°C, and the water temperature is around 9-11°C.

The main surfing spots in Korea are along the East Coast (Goseong, Yangyang, Pohang, Busan), South Coast (Jeju Island, Goheung, Namhae), and the West Coast (Mallipo).

Overall, Korea has a lot of coastline, a lot of spots and a mix of quality, from small wind chop beach breaks to quality slabs and points. Oh, and let’s not forget Wave Park – the world’s largest wave pool

What’s the surf scene like?

Surfing in Korea is relatively new. International travel didn’t open up until 1989, and Korean students coming back from studying in the United States and Australia started the scene back in the 2000’s. But the real surfing boom began in 2010, which is when surf clubs and schools began popping up all across the country.

As of 2022, there are about 250 surf schools in Korea, and the number of new surfers is growing exponentially. For example, in 2014, about 40,000 people had a surf lesson. In 2019, that figure had grown to 400,000!

Surfing is relatively new to Korea, winter water temperatures are super cold, and wave quality is fickle. This translates to Korea having a lot of beginners and intermediates, and longboarding is quite popular. So despite surfing being ‘big’ in Korea, in terms of hardcore surfers, the scene is still quite small.

What is your personal background/surfing history?

I first started surfing in Spain in 2013. I was in graduate school and was looking for a sport I could play at the beach during the summer break. Surfing was a new world that I had never tried before, and I enrolled in a surf school for two weeks in the Canary Islands during the winter vacation of that year. Once I returned to Korea… I was hooked.

Does Korea have a ‘legend’ of surfing?

Korea has yet to produce any world-class surfers. For us, the legends are the pioneers who first brought surfing to Korea, back in the 2000s.

Do Korean surfers travel much?

Korea has four distinct seasons. It goes down to minus 15 degrees in winter and rises to 35 degrees in summer. Surfing here is great in spring and autumn, but in summer the waves are very small or absent, and in winter the waves are good, but it is very cold to surf. So during summer and winter, Koreans travel to surf – mainly to Bali, but also to the Philippines or Japan.

Why do you think we in the west know so little about the Korean surf scene?

Because surfing is so new here – it’s only been about 10 years since the surfing boom began here.

Ever since Wave Garden opened the world’s largest wave pool (Wave Park) in Korea in 2020, Korea has received a lot more attention from the global surf scene. This November (2023), the WSL QS 3000 & LQS 1000(Longboard) competition will be held at Wave Park.

As the sport evolves here, the awareness will continue to grow, I think. We’ve been participating in international competitions since 2017, with steadily improving results. As surfers grow up and become parents, they’ll pass it down to their kids – and that’s when we’ll see the level (and popularity) of surfing in Korea really take off!

What are the most popular surf brands, and does Korea have its own shapers?

Some pioneers opened surf schools… but some started shaping surfboards. Moon custom shape, Surfcode, YK, Ghost, Denim, Bimil surfboards are examples. As for global brands, Mctavish & Thomas Bexon are popular for their classic lines. Cabianca surfboards is the only one that produces all types of surfboards, from high-performance shortboards to mid-lengths, fish, and classic longboards. That’s a good thing here in Korea.

Short board brands such as Channel Islands, Chilli, Pyzel and JS were popular in the past, but Brazilian surfboard brands like Cabianca and Sharpeye are now gaining popularity. It seems that the results of the WSL Championship Tour are reflected a lot.

What is the worst thing about surfing in Korea? Is localism a problem anywhere?

The two main challenges for surfers in Korea are the quality of waves and the large number of people in popular spots. The probability of encountering excellent waves is relatively low, and during good wave days, the crowds can be intense.

Localism is not a severe problem in Korea. The high number of outsiders compared to locals at any given spot makes it difficult for any localism to emerge. Moreover, Koreans are generally welcoming to foreigners, and while occasional mistakes might occur, they are typically overlooked.

What would you like to see for the future of surfing in Korea?

I hope and believe Korean surfing will thrive. The engagement in international competitions and the efforts to pass on the surfing culture to the younger generation will help, as will having young talent coming up through the wave pool revolution. The future looks bright for Korean surfing!

 

CONTACT CABIANCA KOREA

39, Dongsomun-ro 13ga-gil, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea
Phone: +82 02 928 4033 | INSTAGRAM Cabianca Korea

Head to TEAM and scroll to regional team get to know the surfers representing Cabianca in Korea!

Surfing Yang Yang, pink sunset, Cabianca Surfboards, Korea
Surfing Korea, Yang Yang, Cabianca Surfboards, Jeju Island

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