Anybody who’s enjoyed their fair share of surf trips will tell you the most meaningful ones aren’t always those with the best waves. A week of pumping overhead surf is going to create its own memories but even those trips have their moments of memorable time spent with friends while surfed out and hungry at the end of the day. On the flip side, being in a far-off land where you genuinely experience another culture and soak in new ways of life is invaluable in its own right. Those are often the trips that have the greatest impact on us.
Ben Gravy’s latest excursion might be somewhere in that latter category, exploring South Korea and even getting a quick dip in North Korean waters. For a guy who has surfed in all 50 states in America, this is a level up.
A South Korean friend of Gravy’s named Sam acted as his obligatory surf guide. They take in some of the standard tourist spots, walk through downtown Seoul, and Sam fills Ben in on some of the everyday customs and simple things that are going on around them. And eventually they hit the road looking for surf, as one would probably do while hosting a guy like Ben Gravy.
That search aims north, which, as you’d imagine, could get very interesting after driving far enough in that direction. South and North Korea were divided at the 38th parallel following the Korean War and technically speaking, anybody is allowed to travel into North Korea. South Koreans and journalists are often rejected, however, and anybody visiting the dictator-led state is supposed to be accompanied by a tour guide and only allowed to visit or see designated areas. As you can imagine, a casual jaunt into North Korea for a few waves isn’t actually very casual.
The line at the 38th parallel isn’t exactly a straight one and there is a wave in that very zone. That wave is technically in South Korea…or it’s technically in North Korea, depending on how you choose to look at it. Either way, it exists on the cusp of two very different worlds. At one point as they are crossing the border Sam points up to a hilltop house nearby and says it is the vacation home of Kim Jong Un’s father-in-law.
Crossing borders to find waves is one thing. Crossing a military zone for them adds just a little bit of tension.