38th Parallel Beach, an unlikely surfing oasis in Korea’s demilitarized zone (PICS)

Shannon Aston

The 38th Parallel Beach is home to a burgeoning surfing community that received quite a boost in publicity last year when surfer/photographer Shannon Aston released his 38th Parallel Surf Project photo essay.

According to Wikipedia, “The 38th parallel north is a circle of latitude that is 38 degrees north of the Earth’s equatorial plane. It crosses Europe, the Mediterranean Sea, Asia, the Pacific Ocean, North America, and the Atlantic Ocean.” It just so happens to also be the border formed between North and South Korea when the two countries split back in 1945.

The 38th Parallel itself is also known as the ‘Military Demarcation Line’ in Korea, and it is surrounded by the DMZ (Korean Demilitarized Zone) that acts as the border between the countries. With a 24/7/365 military presence it is not known as a leisure destination, but New Zealand born surfer and photographer Shannon Aston hoped to shed a different light on that reputation in his photo essay last year entitled ’38th Parallel Surf Project.’

Aston describes his latest project on his site:

My latest project is a photo-essay on surfing culture on the 38th Parallel, (the demarcation line of latitude drawn up after the Korean war between North and South Korea’s).

Focusing mainly on the aptly named 38th Parallel Beach and surrounds, I have photographed Korean and foreign surfers who have established this area as a legitimate surfing community which exists comfortably with the local fishing community and the ever-present ROK defence force. Waves, military forces and fishing can all be seen on any day, during any of Korea’s distinct seasons.

But let’s check out more of the pics, shall we? Because that’s far and away the most interesting part of this post. And to clarify, I contacted Aston and was granted permission to use his photos in this article, but only a tiny sampling of the full photo essay which you can view in full HERE.

Shannon Aston

Shannon Aston

Aston described this project a bit more in depth on The Intertia, and I think it’s better to use his own words here than for me to try and paraphrase:

I have photographed Korean and foreign surfers who have established this area as a legitimate surfing community and who now share the coastline in one of the most dangerous places on earth: the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) dividing North and South Korea.

The community has grown rapidly amongst the local fishing community and the ever-present ROK (Republic of Korea) defense force who have vigilantly protected South Korea from the distant threat of a North Korean attack and rogue defectors since the 1950s.

And as you can see from these last two photos the area isn’t simply a novelty for surfers, the waves are actually world class (depending on where you live). It’s pretty incredible to see this niche surfing community spring up organically around such a heavily guarded area though, truly a unique occurrence.

Shannon Aston

Shannon Aston

The entire ’38th Parallel Surf Project’ photo essay can be viewed and appreciated in full on his website (I highly suggest checking out the rest of the photos).


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