SUPPORTING SURF EXPEDITION IN NORTH KOREA
October 06, 2015
An 8-person surf team, organized by US-based travel company Uri Tours, has just completed its first surfing mission to North Korea (officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). The mission was to check out local surf conditions along the eastern coast of the DPRK for an assessment on the potential for surf tourism and to host a surf camp for locals and participating tourists.
Nik Zanella, Italian, official Course Presenter for the ISA and current coach for Chinese national surf team, led the surf expedition and camp, bringing with him 50 Dali Bar to be shared with local friends and participants.
The team scouted 4 potential surf spots along the eastern coast of the DPRK and Zanella reports: “With over 1000km of exposed coastline along the eastern shore, the DPRK has fun, reliable and safe waves all year round and fully deserves to be on the world’s surf atlas. The beaches are some of the cleanest I’ve had a chance to visit in over 20 years of surf exploration. We never expected the surf to be very big, but we found a nice fast pointbreak in Majon beach and several powerful beach breaks that, on their days, can deliver high quality surf.”
The surf camp was held on the beach near the Majon Hotel with more than 20 local participants. “Our local students were of all ages and were ‘stoked’ in the truest sense of the word. Some of the students stood out for their sheer determination and many progressed to standup and ride unassisted,” says Zanella.
Markos Kern, German and one of the organizers of the surf expedition, says, “The best part of the trip for me was that so many locals were interested in learning to surf. On the first day, people were really shy and wanted to watch. By the end of the trip, we couldn’t get them out of the water.”
The DPRK also serves as a scenic destination for stand-up paddle boarders (SUP). The team was able to stop on the rivers and lakes for SUP during its 6-hour bus journey to the east coast from Pyongyang.
The 7-day surf excursion was part of an organized tour that was officially approved by the DPRK government. Andrea Lee, Korean-American and founder and CEO of Uri Tours, says, “We weren’t sure how well this package would sell. But we’ve gotten an incredible amount of positive feedback from the trip participants and the public that we will now be offering regular surf trips to the DPRK starting in May 2016.” Further, Lee notes, “When we approached the local DPRK tourism board with this project, they were immediately supportive and are interested in developing surf tourism. It was a really easy and fun trip to organize on our end.”
Under Zanella’s instruction and together with Lee and Kern, the team has launched the soft opening of the Majon Surf School which will cater to foreign and domestic tourists wanting to learn to surf in a safe and professional setting.
Starting next May, Uri Tours is offering a 7-night North Korea surf package for $2,250, including expert surf instruction, round-trip Air Koryo flights between Shanghai/Beijing and Pyongyang, DPRK visa fees, hotels, meals and sightseeing. Uri Tours is the largest American provider of North Korea travel and has over 15 years of experience operating in the DPRK. In addition to surfing, they offer weekend packages, ski tours and Pyongyang Marathon tours.
All photos are credited to http://surfnorthkorea.com/. More photos can be found on Facebook and Instagram @surfnorthkorea
Contact: Andrea Lee / [email protected] / +1-201-588-3874
NIK ZANELLA INTERVIEW:
Why North Korea as a surf destination? How did you decide on the surfing locations for this tour?
Surfing has become so much of a “mass sport” in the west. Nine million estimated surfers on the planet, hundreds of people literally fighting for waves in the prime spots in Australia, U.S. and Europe. I’ve always looked for different coastlines like in Italy, where I grew up, then Tunisia, Greece, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Pacific Indonesia and lately in China. I’m based in Hainan at the moment, and have the chance to surf up and down the Chinese coast, searching for waves. I’m the trainer of the Chinese National Team and have been involved with surf development there since 2010. At the beginning, it all started out of pure curiosity. Looking up north to Korea came naturally after having surf-mapped most of what’s south of it, in the China Sea. So about a year ago, I contacted Uri Tours, then met Andrea Lee, the CEO, in Shanghai, and showed them the coastlines I thought were the most promising based on satellite photos. They liked my ideas so Andrea mediated with local authorities, and we had their OK on a few areas on the east coast. Hamhung and Sijung are complementary from the surf perspective. The first is potentially better with East to South East swells, with a set of fast beach-breaks and a little righthander pointbreak; the latter activates with east and also northeast swells, and the bathymetry favors long clean rolling walls.
Technically there is nothing “special” about the waves of North Korea. They aren’t any better or worse than other waves on the planet. But they are empty, pristine, and they hold the thrill of exploration, breaking in one of the most remote and mysterious countries on the planet. The coastline resembles an oriental version of Northern California, with steep cliffs covered in lush first, and open bays with yellow sand. The water is Chrystal clear and the countryside behind is just surreal.
How big is the surfing community in North Korea? How will this tour help surfers from the country?
Surf population in DPRK is probably between 5 and 10. During our camp we taught around 20 locals. They took part in the seminar and surf lessons and three of them will be trained to run the surf school in Majon in the future. We also trained them in water safety and in basic surf rescue techniques. So that they can keep enjoying the beach, safely and maybe go search for more waves along their coastlines.
Just how significant do you think this tour will be in terms of the history of surfing?
Surfing is a great vehicle for achieving cultural exchange in a fun and healthy way. It creates a neutral ground on which people can stand, no matter where they are from, to face a vast and beautiful ocean together. It’s not about who is the first to surf in an area or country. North Korea has been surfed sporadically before. It’s more about “how” you surf it and what legacy you leave behind.