My friend, another foreign woman (apparently a YouTuber), a Korean man from Seoul, and I shimmied into wetsuits in a small shop two blocks from Songjeong beach, a hidden gem. Our instructor appeared and energetically directed us forward.
The five of us trekked down to the beach. Our instructor led the way and I ended up next to the other Korean man. He had two lip rings and tinted lip balm and I was so impressed.
We were squeezed into a narrow alley when a passing car zoomed by. I was on his outside so he pulled me to his other side and out of the way while saying “be careful”.
It was the most romantic K-drama moment I’ve ever experienced.
Excuse me sir, I came here to surf not fall in love!
The lesson got started with the our instructor, who turned out to be his cousin, and I didn’t have any more time to make him laugh with my corny jokes.
I thought about asking him to zip up my wetsuit but that seemed too shameless for me and I missed the opportunity, forlornly zipping up the back myself with the long fabric strip for just that reason.
The instructor turned out to be a fun guy who knew English well enough to appreciate my humor. Finally! You think teacher Jack laughs at my jokes? As if!
As soon as I hit the water I felt an unspeakable joy. To swim again, to be in the ocean, to see the other students without masks— how absolutely right.
I felt fully alive and in my body. There was no space for self consciousness as I hoisted myself on the board and fell off time and again. The instructor often held our boards and called out musically, “waves are coming, paddle!”
Later I was clinging upside down to the board like a happy baby with my feet in the air. I had floated over to the instructor who then high fived my foot. It was just one of those goofy carefree things I’ve missed and didn’t know I missed.
And even as I was drinking seawater and eating waves and brushing my short wet hair from my face and stuffed into a wetsuit, the instructor commented that I looked like Anne Hathaway. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that, from Koreans or Americans, so it didn’t feel out of place.
It was the first time I’ve gone maskless in public and after a year of increasing disappointment and disassociation with my face I felt pleased. It’s certainly not a bad thing to resemble her!
My friend and I could not escape odd men though and the other surf group, led by a man in a yellow hat swam up and started harangueing us.
I just wanted to practice but this one guy, a young American guy in the military, asked me about teaching then later told my friend he hates kids. He also said he doesn’t like Korea or Koreans and they don’t understand him.
“They don’t speak English.”
“I mean, you don’t speak Korean so… two way language barrier.” I pointed out.
“Oh yeah that’s true.” He laughed.
My friend observed that the yellow hat coach was getting annoyed with this particular charge as the American suggested several times they should all get drunk somewhere and complained about the water being cold.
For reference, he’s twenty two.
He wasn’t a bad kid, but his two army fellows seemed more laid back and less inclined to talk about their alcohol drinking skills and access to missiles.
During a break on the beach, Seoul guy and I were drilled by the instructor on how to stand up and get down.
“Is this how it feels to be in the army?” I asked the two Koreans after doing what felt like a series of extravagant push-ups. They laughed and I felt so satisfied to have my humor understood.
Yellow hat led also joined our break time and was amused by my antics while the army guy continued to attempt flirting with my friend.
“He’s a literal baby,” she told me later.
We got back to the surf shop, changed, and the instructor, almost unrecognizable with his hair down, sent nearly twenty pictures to my friend that he had taken of us two and his cousin. I wanted to ask him to send them to me too so I could have his number but that felt excessive and it was unclear if the other foreign woman with us today was his girlfriend.
The shop owner told me one man had said he was interested in me.
“Oh???? Who is it?” I asked. Yellow hat? Seoul boy? The instructor? I thought hopefully.
“The American soldier.” He replied.
Oh. I deflated. Well if that isn’t just the way things go.
The Seoul guy eventually turned into his cool fashion self in all black but I didn’t forget what he looked like struggling on a surfboard in a wetsuit like the rest of us. I didn’t forget that while his cousin the instructor was taking pictures, a young white kid playing in the sand ended up in frame and he had laughed in shock when I asked if that was his son. “A family photo.” I told him. I chatted with the instructor joking about some suspicious looking items in the shop while my friend changed.
“Wow are you selling drugs?” I pointed to a surf kit with a clipart picture of a syringe.
“Oh yeah, you want some?” We laughed and then he explained it was a boar
I got to spend the afternoon in the sun laughing and playing and living up to my full goof potential (I am a menace given the opportunity) and maybe even flirting just a tiny bit (blink and you’ll miss it). I’ve missed the days!
It was just such a pleasure to spend a day with fun people who enjoy life.
En route to drop my friend off at the station, my horrible shrew of a navigation system directed me nonsensically over Gwangan bridge. But as I exclaimed at her ineptitude, I realized driving over this bridge had been on my bucket list.
I didn’t want to drive the hour back home, given sand and wet clothes, and had already made plans to crash at my former residence.
“It’s free! Don’t you worry about that!” Houseowner told me. She was on an outing with her mom so Freshman and I spent the evening together.
“I’ve given up on studying abroad. English is too hard. The other foreign guests scare me.”
“Because you have to speak English?”
“But how are you going to study abroad if you don’t practice?”
“I won’t go!” She promised.
We got milk tea with her membership points and caught up on the new guests and college life while walking on the crowded beach.
“Wow, is COVID over?” She mused sarcastically.
I still stutter and drop words and bungle my way through Korean but it’s a little easier every time. I wouldn’t have this relationship if I only spoke English!
I finally crashed in bed, comforted by the familiar scent of a place I once called home, and scrolled through the pictures my friend sent. They were goofy and joyous and sea blue and my face was not a disappointment. It was the happy and healthy face of someone having fun.
In all it was a truly wonderful day and I am so very, very satisfied.