I was born in New Zealand, but I currently live in Seoul, South Korea and work as a university lecturer and a surfer. I have been working on a photo essay about surfing culture on the 38th Parallel – the demarcation line of latitude drawn up after the Korean war – on the East Coast for about two years.
I have photographed Korean and foreign surfers who have established this area as a legitimate surfing community and who now share the coastline in one of the most dangerous places on earth: the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) dividing North and South Korea.
The community has grown rapidly amongst the local fishing community and the ever-present ROK (Republic of Korea) defense force who have vigilantly protected South Korea from the distant threat of a North Korean attack and rogue defectors since the 1950s.
38th Parallel Beach or ‘sahm-parl’ (“3 & 8″ in Korean) is a beach, harbor, military base, and a highway rest stop. Weary travelers can stop for strong, sweet coffee, spicy food, and tacky souvenirs. They can also inspect and enjoy the rare beauty of the Gangwando coastline.
South Korea has caught the surf bug badly. 38th Parallel Beach has fast become a hub for Seoul’s young jet-setting surfer class. A three-hour drive from Seoul through scenic Gangwando brings you to the barbed-wire bay. On any given day, you will see trendies, hotties, gangsters, Hongdae hipsters, Gangnam DJs, and foreign English teachers all jostling for a wave.
The East Coast of Korea has some of the most consistent and powerful waves in the country. With ever-improving forecasting technology, modern social media, and South Korean connectivity, the short-lived swells which originate in the East Sea are no longer left unsurfed.
As a lifelong surfer, the mixture of this semi-remote location, exotic culture, and the three distinct groups all occupying the same area is incredible to me. I tried to spend as much time as I could out there getting my surf fix and capturing the amazing and strange things I saw at this wonderful South Korean beach.
All photos are taken at 38th Beach, Gisamun Harbor, Gangwando, South Korea.