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Surfers Battle Storm and a Shutdown

BUSAN, South Korea — This past weekend the 3rd Annual Mayor’s International Surfing Championship began at Haeundae beach.  The competition, co-sponsored with the Korean Surfing Association (KSA) along with the city of Busan and surf industry distributors and shops. It was set to be the main surfing event of the season, featuring a team of the top 3 surfers from Thailand, including Thai Surfing Association president Joob Aiyarak and a team of surfers from Japan. The event was truly going to be an International event that would bring the eyes of the foreign press to Korea and help promote Korea as a surf destination.  

Nature was not so kind. By Saturday, the 2nd day of the event, the waves were smaller than Friday but large enough for the lower divisions to begin competing.  With the chance that typhoon Meari would bring a larger swell on Sunday, the organizers decided to hold over the top divisions in anticipation of bigger waves.  On Saturday, permission was granted by Sea Police to continue the competition on Sunday in spite of the oncoming storm.  

Opening Day with the Haeundae Mayor, Bae Duk Kwang, (4th from left) in attendance.

The morning of Sunday June 26th saw 50+ surfers in the water warming up for what promised to be the best waves a surfing competition in Busan had ever seen.  But it was not to be.  

Due to a lack of communication between the rescue agencies patrolling Haeunade beach, the permission given by Sea Police on Saturday was meaningless to 119 Surf Rescue as each agency had to be approached and asked for permission separately. What ensued was a barrage of phone calls between the KSA, 119 and the Sea Police to get the beach reopened for the competition.  In the end, the officials closed the beach and the competition that had gained Korea’s dedicated surf community some attention.  

But the group of Korean and international surfers were not to be denied. Supported by the KSA the group decided to move the competition to another beach.  Surfers willingly gave up a secret spot on the coast and organized a bus to transport everyone to the location.  With the building storm, high winds and even higher surf, the competition organizers and surfers arrived at an unpatrolled beach with nothing around it but a sushi restaurant.

The owner of the restaurant was so surprised to see a bus load of people at the beach and inquired what they were all doing there.  

One of the surfers upon seeing the new venue stated “We’re going to go ahead but I’m a little bit worried because the break is so far out.  We have no microphone and can’t control the free surfers and we have no way to rescue anyone if there’s a problem”. 

The waves were so far out that one surfer took 5 minutes to paddle out to the line up fighting the winds and heavy currents.  After a short briefing, the competition continued with the Longboard finals and the women’s open.  “Don’t worry about reaching the line up” stated one organizer during the briefing “it’s too hard so, just get as far as you can and start surfing.”

After 2 heats of the competition at the new venue the police showed up again.

With the building storm and winds blowing out the surf and the police on the scene, the organizers decided to call it a quits after giving it their best try to continue in spite of being shut down earlier in the day.  

The renowned Thai surfer, Joob Aiyarak, was impressed by the determination of the surfing community here in Korea. “I really admire the spirit of the surfers here,” said Joob. “Back home the surfers would have left just because of the weather conditions”.  

The spirit of the Korean and international surfers here is one of perseverance especially in a country where the sport of surfing is so young and still has a long way to go.  Hopefully, as surfing in Korea continues to grow so too will the government’s understanding and acceptance of the sport.  

With the BISF surfing festival slated for the first weekend in September and the beach season extended to October surfers are hopeful that the rescue workers and government officials will be more open to surfers being in the water in high surf conditions in the coming months.  

Joob shares the same hopes for the future of Korean surfing and plans to return next year: “We had such a good experience in spite of the weather and problems on Sunday and we made some really good new friends.  We will come back again next year and bring more team members.

Lead shot by Young Doo

Haps Surfing Page is here.




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