Surfing in South Korea is growing. Not the steady, obvious growth you see as slowly more kids and parents show up with soft boards at your local beach, not the “let’s buy Dad a cool malibu for Christmas” growth but a full blown Korean surf boom.
Staying at Busan’s version of Manly Beach, we watched 200 soft top learners cram into the 75m of surf zone flagged especially for beginners, pushing each other into crumbly one-foot scraps—entirely stoked! They come in from their ocean sessions and hang in wetsuits, smoking outside old-school surf shops, loving life.
The surfers are diverse, including a positively high ratio of women — half of the learners are women of all ages. Most of them are weekenders from Seoul, soaking up vibes and any information they can from the locals. They’re absorbing everything they can : the waves, surf history, board design and what’s cool. They’re not taking this new sport lightly.
One such shop, Mellow Surf is the unofficial base for the South Swell Crew — a tight co-op of friends who seem to be together as one organism when it comes to business, surfing and partying. SangWoo, Kim, Jesus, JJ, YoungGun and Che were the crew that invited us and hosted our quick mission to the bustling coastal city.
We drove two hours from the province of Busan to surf, travelling through a super metropolis port, at one point avoiding it completely via Busan’s 7km bridge that curves around the city and skirts across the ocean.
The surf was small but surprisingly fun, made better by the upbeat and chill attitude of the surfers — this isn’t the cut throat world of east coast Australia. The South Swell guys were popular standouts on the waves. They all surf beautifully — jazzy and smooth without forcing it, like best at your local good. Everybody else surfing that day takes note, maybe literally. These guys share life values, business ventures and surf sessions, and on the way home, over a lunchtime bowl of soup, there’s comfort and respect among the crew that’s inspiring to us hardened Aussies. Over days, they welcomed us into their crew and their camaraderie was infectious: there seems to be something in the South Korean culture that holds community as a priority. These guys are warm and affectionate with each other and open about their friendship making their lives richer and more prosperous.
South Swell Crew have taken custody of their vision of surf culture and are leading their fellow surfers — newbies and pros — down the right path. They’re perfect ambassadors for fun, respectful soul surfing – an important task for a country new to surf and 51 million possible new surfers.
The South Swell surf crew is SangWoo Shin, YongSung Kim, Jesus Hwan, JangSun Jung, YoungGun Son and SeungYeon Che and a few more handfulls of legends.