North Korea Opens Shores to Surfers


An 8-person surf team, organized by US-based travel company Uri Tours, has just completed its first surfing mission to North Korea (officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). The mission was to check out local surf conditions along the eastern coast of the DPRK for an assessment on the potential for surf tourism and to host a surf camp for locals and participating tourists. The findings were positive and the team will be offering regular surf trips to North Korea for adventurous surfers all year  round.

Nik Zanella, Italian, official Course Presenter for the ISA and current coach for Chinese national surf team, led the surf expedition and camp. The team scouted 4 potential surf spots along the eastern coast of the DPRK and Zanella reports: “With over 1000km of exposed coastline along the eastern shore, the DPRK has fun, reliable and safe waves all year round and fully deserves to be on the world’s surf atlas. The beaches are some of the cleanest I’ve had a chance to visit in over 20 years of surf exploration. We never expected the surf to be 10ft and grinding, 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.”

The surf camp was offered to participating tourists as well as local North Koreans who as a whole are completely new to surfing. The surf camp was held on the beach near the Majon Hotel with more than 20 local participants. “Our local students were of all ages and were ‘stoked’ in the truest sense of the word. Some of the students stood out for their sheer determination and many progressed to standup and ride unassisted,” says Zanella. Markos Kern, German and one of the organizers of the surf expedition, says, “The best part of the trip for me was that so many locals were interested in learning to surf. 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.”

The DPRK also serves as a scenic destination for stand-up paddle boarders (SUP). The team was able to stop on the rivers and lakes for SUP during its 6-hour bus journey to the east coast from Pyongyang. Kern, a traveler of exotic destinations and often with an inflatable SUP in his bag, was immediately drawn to the idea of SUP-surfing in North Korea. “The trip far exceeded my expectations. I didn’t realize how beautiful the country was until we started to drive past all of the fields and mountains. It was amazing to find hidden locations for flat water SUP and the untouched beaches. I think trips like these may be the last few off the beaten path adventures we can really  have.”

The 7-day surf excursion was part of an organized tour that was officially approved by the DPRK government. Andrea Lee, Korean-American and founder and CEO of Uri Tours, says, “We weren’t sure how well this package would sell. But we’ve gotten an incredible amount of positive feedback from the trip participants and the public that we will now be offering regular surf trips to the DPRK starting in May 2016.” Further, Lee notes, “When we approached the local DPRK tourism board with this project, they were immediately supportive and are interested in developing surf tourism. It was a really easy and fun trip to organize on our  end.”

Under Zanella’s instruction and together with Lee and Kern, the team has launched the opening of the Majon Surf School which will cater to foreign and domestic tourists wanting to learn to surf in a safe and professional setting, while traveling in North  Korea.

Starting next May, Uri Tours is offering a 7-night North Korea surf package for $2,250, including expert surf instruction, round-trip Air Koryo flights between Shanghai/Beijing and Pyongyang, DPRK visa fees, hotels, meals and sightseeing. Uri Tours is the largest American provider of North Korea travel and has over 15 years of experience operating in the DPRK. In addition to surfing, they offer weekend packages, ski tours and Pyongyang Marathon  tours.

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