Exploring Korea: Catch a wave at Mallipo Beach

Photos by ChiHon Kim
Photos by ChiHon Kim

Exploring Korea: Catch a wave at Mallipo Beach

by ChiHon Kim
Stripes Korea

Korea has a relatively short surfing history. Starting from the very first surfing club on Jeju Island in 1995, the first generation of Korean surfers made their appearance on the Seongjeong Beach in Busan where you can catch lovely and constant waves year-round.

For nearly 19 years, surfing remained a unique hobby only enjoyed by a few, but that changed in 2014 when young people wanted to hang ten. Today, the sport has grown in popularity with the peninsula’s coasts flooded with young people on boards hunting for the next wave.

So, where is the best surf destination in South Korea? Jukdo Beach in Yangyang, Gwanwon-do is emerging as an attractive surfing spot for surfers. The beaches in Busan and Jeju Island are also great spots for surfing, but these two hotspots can be time-consuming travel for someone who lives in the Gyeonggi-do area in the midwest section of Korea. For those in this area, Mallipo Beach in Taean, South Chungcheong Province, provides an ideal spot to getaway and enjoy some waves.

Surfer’s paradise

When you think of California, you might think of surfing. When I think of surfing in Korea, I conjure up Mallipo Beach. The waves are so good here and the surf conditions are often compared to those in California.

A combination of a three-kilometer-long coastline and warm currents has earned Mallipo the right to be known as “Mallifornia.” I took to this beach with its promising reputation to hop into a wetsuit and try to catch a wave.

MLP Surf Shop

Selecting the right surf school or shop can be tricky, especially if you’re not a native Korean speaker. After researching online, I found five shops along the Mallipo Beach strip. I chose MLP Surf Shop because it is only 300 meters away from the main street and it is the oldest shop in the area.

Lee Hyoung-Ju, the owner and skilled instructor, learned to surf back in 1999 riding the waves of Sydney’s Manly Beach. Lee began to learn surfing as part of a language school class, and with the help of a Japanese friend who was a semi-professional surfer, he took the path of a full-fledged surfer.

With the opening of Lee’s surf shop in 2013, the first seed of the Mallifornia surf industry was planted. The business initially served as a resting place for surfers, but now Lee’s hobby creates and leads a surf culture in this neighborhood.

The shop offers several kinds of surf lessons for beginners and intermediates. The group surfing lesson I took is the most popular since it seems to be a great way to have family and friends try it together. Also, if you’re nervous, know that all MLP Surf Shop instructors are certified by the International Surfing Association (ISA) and are highly experienced surfers.

If you’re beyond beginner or an intermediate surfer, the shop offers a level-up course for those aiming to surf independently and improve basic techniques for paddling, catching waves, and standing up.

MLP offers everything you need to ride waves. It provides a storage service for those planning to visit frequently, or folks who need a space to hold their board. With a dining space that serves good quality food and drinks daily and a futsal field, it’s also perfect for those who want to do more than just surf. Besides, the MLP carries skateboards, apparel, surfboards and a wide selection of short boards.

My first surf experience?

Though this was actually my second surfing experience, it was my first in Korea. Two years ago, I had my first try at surfing at Japan’s Shonan Beach. The most memorable part of the experience was not the surf lesson, nor the thrill of catching the first wave. It was the sense of accomplishment that I overcame the fear of the ocean I had since I was young.

Probably some experienced surfers might have been disappointed with the quality of waves during my day at Mallipo, but the slow waves were perfect for me. The group lesson that joined was similar to the one I had in Japan. I jumped in the water after finishing up a quick basic training including paddling and taking off.

It wasn’t until I tried to catch my first wave in Mallipo that I realized all that I’d learned at that beach in Japan two years ago was gone. Here, I fell and drank a ton of saltwater almost immediately. Ji-Hwan Kim, my instructor, quickly noticed my foot position was wrong and I gave it another go.

After many trials and errors, I learned that standing up at the right time is also as crucial as having a proper stance on the board. Eventually, I caught on and was able to stand up many glorious times while keeping my balance.

On the way home, I saw photos that were taken while I was riding the waves. I looked ridiculous, but was really proud of my ability to catch a wave! My surfing journey won’t end here. I'm still planning to improve my surfing stance and techniques. If you'd like to take your surfing to the next level, stop by this surf shop. Don’t worry about the language barrier, you can book your surf session in English by phone!

MLP Surf Shop

SURF LESSON INCLUDING FULL EQUIPMENT RENTALS (wetsuit, board, lockers and showers) (1.5 hours long):

- Beginner lesson: 1 session for day rate 50,000 won / 2 session for day rates 130,000 won / 3 session for day rates 20,0000 won
- Level up course: 5 session for day rates 130,000 won / 10 session for day rates 600,000 won
- Private lesson: The shop offers private customized lessons which means that you can speak together the pace, and level of instruction. 150,000 won

■ Lesson Times: 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m.
* Lessons may be canceled due to inclement weather.
* Participants must be over 7 years old.

RENTAL: Surfboard rental Soft-top surfboards: 25,000 won/day; Epoxy/PU Surfboards/SUP board: 40,000 won/day; Wetsuit rental including shower use 15,000 won/day
PERSONAL BOARD STORAGE: 1-year contract: 400,000 won, + 20,000 won for 1 extra board/6-month contract: 300,000 won / 1-month contract: 100,000 won

* WHAT TO BRING: sunscreen, towel, extra clothes, slippers (to prevent sand burn on your feet)

Address: 충남 태안군 소원면 만리포2길 172 (KOR), 172, Mallipo 2-gil, Sowon-myeon, Taean-gun, Chungcheongnam-do (ENG), NAVER MAP
Phone: 0507-1305-5199, 010-4785-5199
Hours: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Open year-round)
E-Mail: mlpsurf@gmail.com


Top-notch burger at Mallipo Beach

When you travel to the beach in Korea, restaurant options are mostly sashimi and grilled clam restaurants. If you’re looking for something more familiar, it will be a little difficult to find restaurants near the beach that serve other types of food. However, Mallipo is home to a great place to have a hearty meal after a morning of surfing: Insaeng Burger.

You’ll find this must-visit burger joint only a short 10-minute drive from the MLP Surf Shop and the beach. They have a few parking spots and there is also free parking in the area if those are full.

Inside, the burger joint has classic posters and fun paintings on the wall, creating a casual and relaxed vibe. I ordered the 2x2 burger set including a soft drink and fries for 15,000 won (or $13.41) The “2x2” was literally a double. The two thick patties were seared on the outside but still juicy inside, topped with perfect portions of gooey American and Swiss cheeses.

Both the burger and fries were really satisfying. And the dazzling ocean view from the window seat was a bonus!

*Take note, this burger joint is only open from Thursday to Sunday.

  • Address: 충남 태안군 소원면 파도길 63-6 (KOR), 63-6, Pado-gil, Sowon-myeon, Taean-gun, Chungcheongnam-do (ENG) NAVER MAP NAVER MAP
  • Hours: (Closed on Mon, Tue and Wed)

Thursday, Friday à 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Weekend à 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (break time 3 to 4 p.m.)

  • Phone: 010-3313-4963

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