There are few places on earth which surfers have failed to infiltrate, but this isolated militaristic state is one of them. North Korea has 1,550 miles of wave rich coastline, the vast majority of which is army controlled and strictly off limits for the few foreign tourists who are granted a visa. There is nothing more enticing than forbidden fruit, and propelled by this curiosity we spent a few hours navigating Google Earth in search of North Korean gold. As each new pixel loaded, we grew progressively more excited.
Gazing beyond the Bamboo Curtain, South Korea has long boasted a small, but thriving, surf scene. One of the hubs of this community is 38th Parallel Beach, located in the demilitarised border zone; a decent beachbreak which has become a fashionable meeting point for a motley mix of gangsters, hipsters, surfers and English teachers. Much like the US East Coast, throughout winter low pressures spin off the mainland from the west, eventually becoming larger systems in the North Pacific. As the system moves off, the winds lighten, and the region is left with solid clean lines. North Korea also plays host to this swell, but how it assimilates the waves is left to our imaginations.
The satellite images above show a coastline ripe with potential; dotted with sand-bottom points, white sand beaches and the occasional sculpted rivermouth. While painting the picture of an unspoiled surfing nirvana, we don't mean to overlook the human rights atrocities committed by the regime. Testimonies of defectors consistently bring to light issues of mass starvation, cannibalism, and regular "disappearances" of those who question, or are accused of questioning, the totalitarian state ideology. These injustices almost defy comprehension, however, they do not stop us asking the question, what if?
Antarctica, Eastern Russia or remote West Africa are often described as the final frontiers of surf exploration; rarely surfed due to harsh environments or non-existent infrastructure, however, it seems the most insurmountable of obstacles are man made. The Bamboo Curtain may sound rather flimsy, but those waves will likely remain unsurfed for many years to come.
As far as we know there are no surfers in North Korea, but perhaps these sand bottom points have been packed with wave riders for years. Kim Jong Il allegedly invented the microwave, the radial wheel and the hologram all before the age of six; who are we to say he didn't beat Simon Anderson to inventing the thruster? This could be the most extreme case of localism imaginable.