There are many things we don’t know about life in North Korea. And I don’t say this out of ignorance. It’s not to ignore the violations of human rights, the headlines of UN violations or refugees we read about almost daily. But these are mostly political narratives that shape the way we (American, in my case) view an entire nation. And with a North Korean government that holds a tight reign over everything from which outsiders can visit to what they’re allowed to observe, it’s important to recognize how much we still don’t know.
So when I say there’s a lot we don’t know about life in North Korea I’m really referring to the everyday person living there, politically charged opinions and fears aside. The people who, just like you and I, start and end each day with a plan to make their next day better for themselves and their families. That’s why something as commonplace as a “surf mission” along the country’s coast fascinates me.
“The country is now officially open to all surfers” was scribed atop an email when I woke up today. The update from a US-based travel company Uri Tours goes on to detail their expedition in DPRK, assessing the country’s potential for surf tourism and most importantly, searching for quality waves. “We never expected the surf to be 10ft and grinding,” says Nik Zanella, the leader of Uri Tour’s expedition and camp. “But we found a nice fast righthander pointbreak in Majon beach and several powerful beach breaks that, on their days, can deliver high quality surf.”
Zanella and his crew set up a surf camp in their seven days there, both for the tourists themselves and for the locals. “The best part of the trip for me was that so many locals were interested in learning to surf,” says German Markos Kern. “On the first day, people were really shy and wanted to watch. By the end of the trip, we couldn’t get them out of the water.” And just like that, with a little excitement and that all too familiar case of people getting bit by the surf bug, Uri Tours and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have agreed to make these surf tours a regular event starting in 2016. It may not put a cap on all the things we do and don’t know about life there but it certainly is a fascinating, and as you can see, beautiful new lens to look through.