Completely Personal Jeju #3 Hideouts for Surfers

The surfers sitting by the end of the beach were overlooking the surging waves like the brave warriors prepared for their upcoming battle. Carrying their surfboards like spears, the surfers walked towards the hollow sea with a will to fight. At the middle of the vast sea line, the surfers wait for their next big wave, or their next battle. The warriors challenging the nature with a single surfboard. That was my impression of the surfers. 

Surfers always speak of the same thing. Surfing just has the indescribable charm, the charm that one will never know unless one tries for him or herself. And there are people who changed the course of their lives because of that charm. Mr. Jinsung Yang, the first generation of surfers and the owner of a Duke Surf Bistro in Daepyeong-ri is one of them. He had surfed before the surfing has become popular and had moved to Jeju to pursue his passion. And surfing which has become his identity and life is reflected in his restaurant. Very Private Episode 3 is on the surfers' hideout, Duke Surf Bistro. 

Please briefly introduce yourself. 

My name is Jinsung Yang, a passionate lover of surfing who left for Jeju Island and an owner and chef of Duke Surf Bistro, a small bistro in Daepyeong-ri. 

Where and how did you get to begin surfing?

Around early 2000, going on study abroad was popular. So I went on a working holiday to Australia. With my background as a swimming instructor and love for water sports, I began working as a surf rescue there. And fellow lifeguards colleagues who were also surfers first introduced me to the world of surfing.  

Did you come to Jeju immediately after your return from Australia?

 It was not my initial plan. I had a lot in my mind about what to do after graduation. Getting a steady job, getting married and keeping up with surfing, as a hobby was my plan. But during my time trying to find the right job, surfing became more than just a hobby. It was a breakthrough and I fell more in love with it. 

So I got a generic office job and kept that lifestyle for 4 years but I just couldn't any longer (laughs). And it suddenly dawned on me that I wanted to find a way to have a simple lifestyle that can let me continue surfing and have a family. I never wanted much. That's why I could come to Jeju. I wasn't married then and I moved here with my parents and sibling. 

It begs the question, why it had to be Jeju to surf for you? This also can answer why is Jeju the right place to surf. 

I brought my surfboard from Australia and thought I'll continue to surf in Korea. So for 4-5 years, I began from Busan to Gangwon province but it was always hard to find the right waves. And this was when I had an office job during the weekdays so I could only surf during the weekends. When the waves were right, I wasn't or when I was, the waves weren't. 

Then around mid-2000, I learned there was a surfing competition being held in Jeju. That's when I find out you could surf in there too. And I participated in the competition, met a lot of local surfers there. From talking with them, I leaned there are points with picture-perfect waves and I knew I wanted to move to Jeju. 

So this makes you a first generation surfer?

No. I wouldn't call myself that (laughs). When I came back from Australia, I was sure I was the only surfer in town! But I quickly learned there were quite a few. I met about 10 surfers just in Busan. To me, being the first generation or the second surfer hardly means anything. 

And there are newer surfers who are much better than me. Of course, how well you surf isn't everything but that tells you that any hierarchy or chronology means very little. 

But for us, the old timers have a lot to share. When I first began, it was hard to find leashes and suits. A gentleman named, Master Duke would toss us his boards and we would surf with it. 

Did you learn to cook?

No. I studied Mechanical Engineering and had an ordinary office job. But when I came to Jeju, there weren't too much job opportunities. So I surfed for 6 months thought I had to find work that can I can work flexibly. I knew I had a start a new business. From working at the back of house at hotels to washing dishes, I learned how to work in the kitchen. 

Surfers want to have surfing-related work. So I wanted to open surf shop dealing boards and suits. But financing was the biggest problem. And distribution was no easy field. I wasn't confident. I went on a 2-week trip to Chiba, Japan and went to a surf restaurant called, "Sea Song." During a world-class competition like WSP, famous surfers like Andy Irons and Kelly Slater would come to eat and have parties there. Then I realized Jeju should have a space like it and began my dream with Duke Surf Bistro. 

Like you have said, surfers search for surfing-related jobs. You can say that you have now. And the name, Duke is also surfing-related?

The name, Duke comes from Master Duke, or Master Changnam Lee in Jeju. He was the first to rediscover the Duke Point, in front of the Saekdal House of Haenyeo around 1996 as the surf point. It was later named after him. It was one of my favorite points even before I left for Jeju. 

When the time came to talk about the name of my shop with fellow surfers, I told them that I am planning to name it, "Gunny's." It's a common practice in Jeju to name a place after the owner's child. Everyone didn't like it and suggested "Duke's." The surfers would all recognize the name so it should be it. And I liked it. So it became that. 

Did you learn to cook during your time in hotels?

I began from 2010 for 5 years and started my shop in 2016. Cooking is much like surfing. It comes with time. There are much resources online with recipes and videos but I think experience is much more important. 

What are your normal days like? Do you go on morning surfs before you open the bistro?

I used to. Around 4 in the morning to find the right waves, but now even if I wanted to, I have kids and wife, people I should take care of. But I do Jiu-Jitsu now. I realized I need to have more strength. So I go to do Jiu-Jitsu, have lunch and get ready for the lunch hours. 

What are some distinctive characteristics of Duke Surf Bistro, a bistro with a surfing as a running theme?

It doesn't have a grand concept or philosophy. But with an owner as a surfer, my thoughts or identity naturally gets reflected to my shop. These are all my old and retired boards. I use them to decorate around the shop. And also collected board pins and magazines to place around. This all creates the sense of atmosphere as a "Surf Bistro."

What's impressive is that you have a "Take-Off" here at Duke. 

To be completely honest with you, I started that as a way to create more traffic. I had no background in marketing or advertisement. I just thought restaurant should serve good food. That's it. But months later, I had no customers. Friends have suggested I have to do paid marketing but it just wasn't my kind of thing. So in need of natural exposure, I realized I could create a space for surfers to exchange information. Once a month, surfers get together to ask questions and get to know each other. Now this has become an identity we can keep and continue. 

There are those who started to learn surfing. What should these early stage surfers keep in mind?

Surfing needs waves like cars need roads. But if there were too many cars on a road, it would be too dangerous, right? So surfing has rules to follow. It may seem like anybody can ride any waves but that can be further from the truth. Knowing these rules is a must. For your own safety, everybody should know them; otherwise you'll get hurt severely. 

There are people whose lives have changed completely because of surfing. Where do you think surfing charm come?

To compare with food, you'd have to taste it to know what it tastes like. Maybe this is too basic of an answer. 

I began to surf thinking that I should one day surf like my Western friends. But it was just too hard. It can't be mimicked and even going into the water was hard at times. But if I had leaned to surf well within months, I don't think I'd still surf today. The steep learning curve gave me the opportunity to challenge myself. 

There are charms unable to describe easily all around. That's what I liked about it. I think I surf now for the good memories I had with friends. 

So I'll continue to surf, hopefully for the rest of my life. It is a form of training for me. I can't surf 3-4 times a day like I used to, but I'll try to build myself so that I can surf whenever there's a good wave. I would want to spend my time and life to things that make me happy. 

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