I used to prefer nice accommodation, but not anymore. Now I mostly camp in a tent near the beach. When I don’t feel like pitching a tent, I just camp in my car, which is called "Chabak" in Korean.
The beach you experience when camping is different. A tent doesn’t have a comfy bed, but the beach you look out on from a hotel balcony is not like the one you feel with your whole body while facing a strong sea wind and listening to the songs sung by the beach. You can experience the weather and the beach changing in real time.
On a rainy day, the raindrops that fall on my tent create a great rhythm for bluesy songs. When the weather is good, the blowing sea wind and beautiful emerald color of the ocean swiftly come into my tent through a wide open window. Oh yes, it’s totally different from the beach I saw in hotels before I started camping.
I didn’t have a yearning to go camping but started it because of needing to budget for my love for surfing. It put financial pressure on me to stay at nice hotels given that I travel to east coast beaches literally every weekend no matter what. I just wanted to save some money to make sure I would be on my surfboard every weekend without exception.
Camping taught me how to live closer to the beach.
I first pitched my tent at Seorak beach, in the north of Yangyang and near Sokcho. Seorak beach was where I most often surfed, so it reduced my nervousness about staying a couple nights in a tent for the first time in my adult life.
Seorak beach is one of the nearest east coast beaches to Seoul and you can get there easily through Seoul-Yangyang highway, which was opened just some years ago. Seorak beach has great public restrooms, essential for camping, due to gigantic parking lots near the beach.
The water is not too deep and has high quality waves despite their relative smallness. Seorak beach is not like others with high waves over a meter tall. It is one of my favorites.
Pitching a tent was a little bit different from what I thought based on my experience camping as a kid. I watched a lot of YouTube videos, but it turned out that they were not very helpful. My tent seems different from the one I studied online (it was the same one actually) and the manual looked like Greek. It was even harder to pitch the tent on sandy ground. I spent three hours setting it up and sweated more in October than I did in the middle of summer.
My plan was to pitch a beautiful tent and run into the beach with my board. But the three hours of tough labor changed my plan upside down. I got some beers from a nearby convenience store and just chilled that day. Luckily, there are many convenience stores near Seorak beach to get some drinks. If not, I might have never camped again. Who knows?
Now I know how famous Seorak beach is for car camping (Chabak), trailer camping and tent camping. Sometimes I wonder how other folks looked at me pitching a tent for three hours without knowing anything about the beach.
When I first started camping, I wanted to have a really good tent with a beautiful look. So, I got an expensive dome tent for 8 people along with a lot of hot camping items without a second thought, including a Helinox cot, chair, artistic camping mat and a nice oil heater. I ended up buying so many things as to seriously consider getting a bigger car.
I am totally different now. I bring only the essentials and my packing list is getting shorter and shorter every weekend. Obviously, I can pitch a tent easily and quickly now and wrap up a weekend camping trip easily when the time comes to go back to Seoul.
My camping has been optimized in step with my surfing plans and I have camped around Seorak and Geumjin as well as other areas. I ended up finding my own camping spots and camping buddies to hang out every weekend.
I love camping (or surfing since I camp to surf) but don’t want to romanticize it.
My weekend life in a tent right next to the beach doesn’t always make my life rosy. You have to fight against the heat around 4–5am as the sun rises if you camp on the east coast. The west coast doesn’t have this early heat issue as the sun comes up from the east, but a beautiful sunset usually comes together with some mosquitoes.
You might find it a bit annoying to pack up your stuff after camping and driving when camping is a must even if you prefer public transportation. If you have sensitive ears, you might have a hard time falling asleep due to the wave sounds. You might need a sleep eye mask to block out road lights.
Despite all of these potential inconveniences, I still love camping and will keep doing it every weekend. Ice cold beer, a beautiful campfire, the sizzling cooking sound, raindrops sometimes, my favorite jazz scores and cigarettes after sex music turn a little bit of inconvenience into unforgettable memories for me.