The Inertia

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.

  • crazy shit, thanks for this!

    • shannon


  • shannon

    its great weather and clear water, but can be flat alot. best is september-november and the the very cold winter of course.

  • Yeah bro lived in Ingu, Gangwan Do (basically 5 mins on a bus from 38th) in 2008, at that stage there was a maximum of 4 of us on it if it got any bigger than 2 ft. Military would chase us out if it got too “big”. I miss the vibe so much…cinnamon pancake thingies, the smell of boiling beetle, sipping on soju or sweet coffee. Hell… now you got me all nostalgic and shit. I have some prime images from a few spots we used to surf along the east coast. There was another spot called Jukdo which pumped. Sweet write up bro.

    • shannon

      yeah jukdo is a good wave. some of the other foreigners camp out there all spring and summer and get great waves. jukdo has alot of surfers there too. surf clears out when it gets over three feet too. this is jukdo here. cher mate. s.

  • Tom

    About to go teach English in Gangneung at the end of the month, desperate to go surfing on the east coast please hit me up! 😀

    • shannon

      tom, there are lot of really cool people out there. you’ll have no trouble finding them or the spots. have fun.

  • ScottTX

    Yo – pic 23 of 26 (Ian Coshy shot) is my favorite shot – so many cool elements – thruster shorties, foamtop LB, rider on wave, pack scrapping for a drop, main peak & reform, good perspective – plenty of inferences and plenty for all, it seems. This shot really ties together the break and the story nicely. If Bob Ross were still alive…he might have painted this. Thanks!

    • shannon

      thanks scott, that’s my fine-art photographer creeping out. the light in the photo was as strange as the picture appears, no PS magic. cheers. s.

  • John Roelofs

    several failed attempts to contact you Shannon. Your website keeps me in the loop with human check inquiries… can you contact me with details how to obtain your picture (for my personal facebook only). contact me Koreaflyfisher at gmail dot com

  • surferpl

    Shannon… …sounds like a bitchen project but remember the Korean “police action” never ended; the 21 member nations of the U.N. including Australia, the first to commit troops, and New Zealand, and, yes, the United States are technically still at war. Although fighting simply stopped, a formal truce was never signed. Be very careful.

  • SmoothStarSurf

    This is so so so awesome mate. One of our customers in Australia is from South Korea, she said that there were reports that some guy was teaching surfing in North Korea. Did a Google search and there are quite a few stories and even supposedly surf tours. Do you think there would be swell in at 38th Beach in March? We would be keen in 2016.

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