Find out more about Yangyang, South Korea’s coolest surfer town, in this post.
An express bus from Seoul zipped along the winding roads as city skyscrapers gave way to lush greenery and tall mountains. Yangyang, an idyllic surf town in South Korea’s Gangwon Province, is about a two-hour journey from the country’s capital. It doesn’t take long to reach the northeastern coast from Seoul, although it feels like a different world there.
We arrived late Tuesday night in order to wake up for our surf lesson, courtesy of Candy Surf, at 10 a.m. the following day.
Candy Surf is one of the many, many surf shops in Yangyang that offer everything from surf lessons and rentals to repairs and lodgings. The shop is rustically-decorated with hardwood paneling and glass bottles of sand from the world’s beaches adorning its front desk.
We stayed overnight in the guesthouse portion of the shop. It’s set up like a typical hostel, with rows of bunk beds lining each wall of the (separate) men’s and women’s rooms.
The room comes complete with a nice floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the beach, which is perfect for ogling the surfers walking around in their wetsuits outside.
The rooms are clean and well-maintained. Our only major complaint about the guesthouse is that there is no indoor shower — only one outside in the alley. Which is fantastic when you’re coming back from surfing, but sucks when you’ve just finished a long bus ride.
But, anyway, we didn’t come here to shower! We came to surf!
I have always, always dreamed of being a surfer and living in a chill beach house in Santa Cruz with all my surfer friends. But I somehow never got around to trying it in California.
I know Korea doesn’t immediately come to mind as a surf destination, but some of the Korean beaches are really hidden gems. As we woke up for our surfing lesson, the whole town of Yangyang was buzzing with talk about the great waves that were expected that day.
First, we got suited up. Changing into a wetsuit is a whole process in itself. It’s like putting on full-body yoga pants. Once I got my legs in properly, I stood up to take a break, already sweating and breathing heavily. I kind of don’t understand how actual surfers do this quickly without getting it twisted around themselves a dozen times.
When we were sufficiently clothed, we went inside to view a slideshow presentation on some of the basics of surfing: don’t step on jellyfish, don’t “drop in” on somebody’s wave, don’t get caught in a riptide, etc.
And then we trekked down to the beach, during which process I realized that surfboards are really heavy?! I’ve always seen people carry them on their heads like it ain’t nothin’, but doing that hurt my head. But the boards are too big and unwieldy to carry in your arms without smacking people around you. Again, this ability must come down to surfer magic.
Jukdo Beach in Yangyang is packed with surf instructors and their classes. We found our own spot to settle on the sand and practice some techniques, such as paddling and quickly standing up on the boards, before we got into the water.
It wasn’t long before we were ready to hop into the ocean.
From the beach, I felt pretty scared. The waves looked huge, and the water looked frigid. As soon as I stepped close enough, a wave smashed me in the face and dunked me under. I gasped and consequently took a big drink of salty ocean water. Sputtering, I resurfaced and wiped the water out of my eyes, thinking, Oh, well. With that out of the way, the ocean didn’t seem so intimidating anymore.
Our instructor was a big help guiding and helping us all try to catch the waves. It was super fun, although actually getting up into a standing position on the board was pretty challenging. It was also difficult to get the timing down — when to start paddling, when to try standing, etc. — without our instructor yelling behind us.
I think with some more continuous practice, though, I could totally be an excellent surfer.
After a while, the instructor left to teach his next lesson, and we were free to play with the boards on our own. Despite feeling so apprehensive that morning, convinced I was going to embarrass myself and drown, I was really loving surfing, and I never wanted to get out of the water.
South Korea may not be known for its surfing, but my first surf lesson in Yangyang was an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’m so glad I did it.