Every country has its surf origin story. Hawaii has its royal lineage. Peru has the Inca ancestors called the Kontikis riding waves prone on their fishing canoes. More recently Australia had Duke Kahanamoku coming to Freshwater back in 1915 and taking the young Isobel Latham for a spin. In the UK dentist, Jimmy Dix ordered a board from the great Ton Blake, which arrived in Birmingham via Hawaii in 1935. In France, it was Hollywood scriptwriter Peter Viertel who brought his surfboard to Biarritz in 1956 and set the ball rolling.
Well, as of this week, South Korea may have had its own first surf story emerge. Wave Park powered by Wavegarden, Asia’s largest wave park, was officially opened this week with a formal ceremony and a testing session in Siheung, South Korea, about an hour’s drive from the centre of the capital Seoul.
Now ocean waves have been surfed in South Korea since around 2000. A handful of expats and locals have surfed the breaks around Yangyang and Jeju Island. However with the best waves being found in winter, often in freezing temperatures, a thriving surf scene hasn’t really emerged. It’s estimated that there are only 100 regular surfers in the country, which out of a population of 50 million isn’t a whole lot.
That however could be all about to change. The centrepiece of Wave Park, a mixed-use real estate development, is the world’s largest Wavegarden Cove surfing lagoon. New technology means the South Korean site offers longer waves and barrels and a wider variety of waves than any of the other Wavegarden setups in Melbourne, Wales and Bristol.
There are over 20 different wave types ranging from small, knee-high beginner waves to long, steep barrels. New to the tech is a world-class air section that rivals any other on the planet.
“I have surfed every credible wave park in the world and this was my best surf experience,” said Jacob Szekely, the Californian air wizard who tested the waves for the first time this week. “The clear water and the wide variety of awesome open face and barrel waves is incredible. However, the new air section is simply insane. On the first day of testing I landed the best aerial of my life and another that has never been seen before.”
The Wave Park is located on a new reclaimed ocean waterfront development named Turtle Island. The waterpark is the first stage of the US$ 2.37bn project that was completed in just 18 months and provides aquatic activities like kayaking, SUP, and swimming in zones with and without waves. Stage 2 of the development includes six hotels, convention centres, shopping malls surf resorts, marinas, and museums.
So sure, it’s not exactly G-Land, but this futuristic, purpose-built surfing urban dreamscape is where surfing might be headed. With ten million people alone in Seoul and already hundreds of surfing instructors being taught the sport, this could be a hub of a new type of surfing origin story. In 20 years’ time, South Korea could well be a surfing powerhouse.
For now though it’s just been Szekely, plus a few Wavegarden mechanics and sons of the owners who have been able to test what looks like the premier wave pool on the planet. Soon open to the public, all be it with Covid-19 restrictions, this is surfing’s newest destination. Who wants in?