Song Jeong Surf Club: A distant cousin only an ocean apart
By Michael Narea, Traveler Surf & Swim Club Member
It was 6 pm on a Sunday evening in September, when my best friend and I were running across Seoul, South Korea to catch a last minute train to Busan. It was a scene right out of a movie where the main characters hop on the train just as it is leaving the station. We were finally on our way to discover a new ocean and culture.
“Welcome to Busan”, a sign reads at the halfway point on our journey to find waves
Our journey to find waves in South Korea has begun. Fast forward a 3 hour train ride, 1 hour bus ride, and 1 hour walk later, we arrived at Songjeong Beach, a known small surf town in South Korea about 1 hour outside of Busan, a main fishing port city in the southern part of the peninsula.
A night view of Songjeong Beach, South Korea
Exhausted from all of our travel, we took a quick look at the moonlit beach. A beautiful view, but no waves at all. It was time to have some Dak-galbi and a local beer, get some zzz’s, and pray for some waves for tomorrow’s adventure. Travels with the ocean can often be unpredictable, which is what makes the journey so rewarding...
A proper carbo-load for tomorrow’s (potential) full day of surfing: Dak-galbi and 2 Cass
7:00 am September 11th, 2017, the next morning
We wake suddenly to unexpected and unset alarms going off on our phones. My first thought, "North Korea just sent off another missile!" In a state of shock and confusion, I wait for my friend who speaks fluent Korean to give me the update as he reads his phone message. It turns out, the alarm was just a network wide telecommunications warning about monsoon winds and weather that day. Nobody allowed in the water, no one allowed outside. I open the blinds to our hotel room looking over Songjeong Beach and right in front of us are 5-6 foot windswell style waves from hurricane-style weather with nobody out surfing. I'll take it!
Now is our time!
A blurry rain view from our hotel room looking over surfable waves!
Through the pouring monsoon weather I rush down the stairs and run half mile up the beach side road to visit the renowned Song Jeong Surf Club (SJSC), founded in 1995 by Mi Hee Seo. (Read more about the founding of and intention behind her surf club here.)
The front of Song Jeong Surf Club (PC: Trazy.com)
Upon entering, I receive blank stares from staff who are looking at a drenched American in a soaking wet Traveler shirt who is out in the street during a monsoon. "what is he thinking?" were the looks I received. After some greetings through my broken Korean, their broken English and thanks to the help of Google Translate, I had a chance to share with Doun Lee, a surf club member and other staff, about the Traveler Surf and Swim Club and learn a bit about their club and experiences in town.
After many tries at communication, the ability to connect and share experiences with Doun through the challenge of a language and cultural barrier made my day.
“People are treasure.” a subtitle of the first sign you see when you walk in demonstrates positive values for the space
By day, they run as a surf club where everyone within a two hour drive stores their boards. SJSC were the first surf club in town and has actually been accredited with introducing surfing to Korean culture. However over the past 20 years, 12 other "surf clubs" have opened up identical operations in the city. In fact there are more surf clubs on that street than surf shops. People from all over the region store their boards at these surf clubs and stay in small dormitories above many of the surf clubs have on upper floors of their building. When they are in town they are only there to surf. Talk about commitment!
So much board storage on the upper level of SJSC. At least 150 boards stored up top, and another 50 inside on the 1st floor.
Competition awards from SJSC members are celebrated in the center of the space
I learned that nobody was allowed to surf during the monsoon warning and if I wanted to surf that day I had to sign an official liability release form with the police. Everyone abided by the order, and I was expected to do the same. Around noon that day, the rain stopped and people began to paddle out. I watched some locals catch some awesome waves and then I soon anxiously followed.
SJBC members participate annually in the ISA World Surf Games. It was an honor to share the waves with these talented surfers.
Doun Lee, Song Jeong Surf Club member and Michael Narea, Traveler Surf & Swim Club member, exchange gifts from their respective surf clubs as they wait out the monsoon
Seeing my new local friends in the lineup later that day changed my entire surf session. They were very welcoming and most definitely eased the transition from feeling like a kook tourist to an integrated and welcomed fellow surfer. I'm so glad I stopped by to introduce myself before hand and share a small gift from Traveler as a sign of respect for their community.
Taking a midday rest at SJSC with this view as my Traveler shirt dries out from the Monsoon rains
At 6:30 pm there is an announcement on the loudspeaker on the beach that calls everyone in declaring the "end of the surf day". Again, everyone abided by the announcement and out of respect I followed as well.
At night, many young students middle to high school use the club as a well-lit area to do homework, and share small meals.
I was so honored to be able to spend time with such a strong community and now feel I can return to Songjeong Beach and have a truly authentic surfing experience with my new friends.
Mi Hee Seo, the founder of the Song Jeong Surf Club. She was traveling that week, but hope to meet her one day!
I plan to return in the coming years and hope to bring some more travelers with me to Songjeong Beach, and Jeju Island. Both towns that have grown thriving surf communities all spun up from surf clubs that incepted the idea of surfing and community to those regions.
Now back in the Bay Area, sitting at Traveler, I feel like the SJBC and Traveler are distant cousins who may meet again through other members’ stories and travels!
See you on the waves!
Michael Andres Narea is an avid ocean enthusiast who believes that with the right support, mindset, and accessible pathways every person can conquer anything they desire. Michael has designed educational and lifelong learning programs on 4 continents. When not surfing his favorite beaches across the world, you can find him working with education and talent technology entrepreneurs through his firm, Luminition (www.luminition.com), and hosting learners of all ages through his "self discovery ocean immersion" experience, Surfani (www.surfani.com).
Michael is currently on sabbatical from catching Pacifica waves, as he is currently based in Miami helping grow his father’s business. However you can catch up with Michael at his upcoming retreat in March 2018 with the Rebellion team called Querencia, an experience designed to create a container for us to explore being joyfully incarnate in our most authentic expressions of Self. Learn more at https://www.rebellionlove.com/ .
Feel free to reach out to Michael regarding planning any ocean adventures in South Korea, or tips on how to get to any of these amazing locations!