BUSAN, South Korea – Running a surf contest in Busan is a pretty courageous undertaking–one would hardly call Haeundae a mecca for waves. Surfable conditions come about as often as a Lotte Giants win streak. When the waves do find the shore, they tend to be of the gutless, ankle-slapper variety.
Yet, running the risk of a surf contest with no surf, the 2nd Annual Busan Mayor's International Surfing Competition will be held again this year beginning on Friday, June 25th at Haeundae Beach, in front of the Paradise Hotel.
The event garners some mixed feelings among the Busan surf community. Some local surfers are not excited about the contest and are afraid that the increase in surfing popularity will only cause more congestion in the water. “When I started surfing here five years ago, there were 10 people in the line up on a crowded day. Nowadays it’s rammed,” said Daniel Brett, a British expat. “In the past five years, my wave count has gone down about 75%.”
Karl Rugen, an American expat and veteran surfer, tells of his first days surfing in Busan. “In 2002, there was no else but me and two guys who worked at Nike who surfed, and I used to wish there was someone else out there," said Rugen. "You know be careful what you wish for. Now it's gotten crowded on good days (and bad) and pretty commercial. I think it will get more so too,” he added.
Rugen had mixed feelings on whether such promotions by the city are helpful or not. “So, with this contest and the Korean surf clubs and all, is it good for surfing? You know you can't hold it back.”
Others, like Cheryl Kim, a Canadian expat and beginner surfer, are pushing for surfing’s growth in Korea. “The contests definitely benefit surfers and the industry in Korea. These competitions help surfers' hone their skills and experience surfing with the international community, which they rarely get the chance to do.”
One of the biggest problems surfers face here in Korea is a lack of support and understanding from the local government and lifeguards. During the summer months, the main beaches are closed to surfers regardless of the danger or proximity to other beach patrons. Surfers face fines and worst of all, missing good waves because the police forbid them from paddling out. Most surfers agree that the lifeguard policy regarding surfing is arbitrary and needs to be updated. The question is how to go about changing the policy.
Kim thinks the exposure from these contests will help bridge the gap between the surfers and the authorities. “The competitions help surfers by putting a spotlight on the sport which in turn help their case for changing legislation and marine laws and have also created a new industry which could lead to more tourism in the long run."
In other words, the way to the legislator’s hearts is through their wallets. If it can be shown that surfers represent an industry, the laws governing the sport might get a makeover.
With all the promotion, planning, build up, and debate, the big question is: will there be waves and what happens on contest day if there isn't? Last year’s event saw shin high waves and it was decided not to run the contest. Instead, the contestants participated in individual and relay paddle races for prizes which are likely to be the decider this year if the ocean doesn’t cooperate.
Waves or no waves, surf contests have always been a way for surfers from different places to get together, share stories, compare boards, and with any luck, have a good day of surfing. The debate about whether contests are good for surfing is not new and certainly not confined to any one place. Just ask the grumpy old guys at every surf spot in the world who tell about how much better it used to be.
Ryan Wade, a longtime Busan surfer, summed up the Korean surfing experience. “It's kinda hard for a surfer living in Korea. There can be some really long dry spells, but that just makes it so much better when it does happen.”
The contest is open to all levels of surfers and will include beginner, longboard, bodyboard, international, and women divisions with some pretty substantial prizes going to the top finishers. New surfboards, surf lessons, and miscellaneous surf paraphernalia will be up for grabs, as well as cash prizes to the men's and women's open division winners. There will also be a post-contest party at Rock and Roll bar in Haeundae on Saturday night for the competitors and anyone else who wants to join the festivities.
To get more info about the contest or to enter check the Korean Surfing Association site at www.ksasurf.org or email Cheryl Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit the contest sponsors at Minnosurf and Songjeong Surf Club.