“My next surf trip has to be North Korea.” That’s not exactly a common phrase you hear from surfers, nor do you often hear about trips of any sort set for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Tourism through the country is organized by only a handful of state-owned bureaus with a tight grip over just how many westerners are allowed to visit, meaning only about 1,500 Western tourists are given the thumbs up to make the trip each year. It turns out a small portion of that group this year will be surfers.
Uri Tours, a New Jersey based tour company, received the nod from the DPRK to head the first ever surf camp and expedition there. But unlike your standard guided boat trip through the Mentawais, the tourists on this trip won’t know what’s on tap for them once it’s time to suit up and paddle out. The first part of the expedition is dedicated to mapping and analyzing wave patterns along the North Korean coastline. That’s something Nik Zanella, coach of the Chinese National Surf Team and guide for this tour, has been doing for over a year with the Founder and CEO of Uri Tours in preparation for this trip. And that mapping and studying of beaches and bathymetry has been done entirely through satellite images. “The pristine beaches and rocky outcrops of the Hamhung and Sijung area receive a decent amount of swells from a 90 degrees easterly window,” according to Zanella. “Our goal is to cast some light on this coastline, search for the waves, map them and, of course, surf them,” says Zanella. Translation: North Korea has a lot of ingredients for good, maybe even great waves that have rarely been touched. And the group going with Zanella in mid-September will be some of the first people to discover and surf those waves.
This won’t be the first trip Uri Tours has organized through North Korea. For 15 years they’ve sent tourists on ski tours and Pyonyang Marathon tours, but this is their first venture into discovering the country’s supply of waves. “With the support of the local tourism authorities, we’re excited to be offering this new program for adventure travelers,” says Andrea Lee, the Founder and CEO of Uri Tours. “Our long term vision is to create a local surf community that both visitors and locals can enjoy. As part of this vision, we received permissions to have local North Koreans participate in the surf camp.”
So, does North Korea make the jump onto the bucket lists of traveling surfers everywhere? We may soon find out.