Something About the Pull of Waterskiing"What's waterskiing without girls?" Jeong Ji-seok said.
It is nearly dusk and some of the buildings on the distant north side of the Han River are starting to light up. Mr. Jeong has just returned from waterskiing near the Designer's Club, a water sports facility in Jamwon-dong, and not a woman is in sight.
Near Mr. Jeong, two men fine-tune a jet ski. Another man coaches a male student. A fourth man smokes a cigarette alongside one of the many picnic tables on the waterfront. And yet one more man relaxes on a sofa inside the club's office.
Only one-quarter of the people who use the Designer's Club is female. That said, beach culture would not be the same without both sexes. That's also true of waterskiing. Because there is no beach on the Han River, the Designer's Club offers sun-tanning on the rooftop of one of its buildings. During the day, people sprawl out there to catch some rays. After the sun sets and the facilities officially shut down, a core group of men and women sometimes stays to barbeque and watch the twinkling night lights.
The club, on the south side of the Han, between the Banpo and Hannam bridges, consists of two facilities. One, next to a parking lot, is dedicated to fixing motor-run equipment; the other, on the river, has lockers, showers, a store, picnic tables and the rooftop. In addition to waterskiing, the Designer's Club has jet skiing and wake boarding, where you ride a board instead of skis. The school also offers lessons in driving motor boats to prepare for the license exam.
"You don't know how many Europeans we get who are amazed at how poorly used the Han river is," Mr. Jeong says.
A swimming pool, basketball courts, tennis courts and a bicycle track are also located alongside the Han River in Jamwon. But for water sports, the Designer's Club is the place to go.
For more information, call 02-549-5441.
As long as the sun is shining and the wind is still, around 2 p.m. on most days You Joo-hee saunters in to the Designer's Club. As usual, her hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. After greeting friends, she changed into a life vest, and tried out the water. "Not bad," she said. She pulled herself out of the water, stretched and looked for someone to start a motorboat.
Ms. You, 29, has been waterskiing for six years, five of them at the Designer's Club. She is an important face there, the person instructors point to and say, "Look, this sport is for women, too." Many clients at the Designer's Club are in their 20s and 30s, but water skiing is not for that age range alone. Kindergarten students to the occasional 70-year-old can be found taking lessons here.
These days, Ms. You is taking an extended vacation from a career she is secretive about. "I'm just relaxing and playing around," she said, "So I have all the time in the world to water-ski." Ms. You is thinking about going pro, or at least semi-pro, but her development has plateaued. Her next goal is to learn to ski an obstacle course that includes launching off an inflatable ball on water skis.
She waterskied for about 10 minutes, then rested for 30 seconds, and skied for about 5 more minutes. By the time she came back to shore, she was breathing deeply. All in all, she will spend four to five hours at the club, most of it lying in the sun and socializing.
After coming to shore, she met with the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition to talk about waterskiing and being a female athlete, or as she calls herself, a waterskiing maniac.
IHT-JAI: How did you begin waterskiing?
You: I'm not afraid of the water. Two of my older cousins water-ski. We're pretty close so we used to get together and I would watch them at this place near Yeongdong Bridge. After a while, I wanted to try it myself. You rarely get people who pass the Han River, see waterskiing and are curious enough to take lessons. Most people are introduced to this sport through friends. About 15 of my friends now water-ski.
IHT-JAI: It's hard for beginners to keep their balance. How long did it take you before you were able to stand upright for more than two seconds?
You: I got it on my first try. It was May of 1995, and it was biting cold outside. I had gone through some drills outside on land, and then I had to jump into the water. Almost immediately, my lips were blue. Once the boat started, I held on to the rope and kept my balance. It was such a rush. My instructor turned to me and said, "I think you have a future in this."
IHT-JAI: What else gives you that adrenaline rush?
You: Riding a jet ski at high speeds comes close, but I don't really like anything else. I swim and snowboard, but those are simply fun activities.
IHT-JAI: Besides the river, where's the best place you've waterskied?
You: In July, some of my friends took me down to Chungmu in South Kyongsang Province. It was my first time skiing on the ocean and it was amazing. The weather was perfect; the sun was shining, the water was calm, and there was no breeze. The ocean spread out before me and I felt like I was soaring. It's a totally different feeling from skiing in the middle of a city.
IHT-JAI: Do you have any advice for women who might want to try this sport?
You: I see a lot of women who give up because they are scared of the water. The life jacket will keep you afloat.
The sport is physically demanding. I spend most of my time here not waterskiing, but that's how intense that brief moment is. It's great for your body.
WHAT TO WEAR
Swimming suit or clothes that can get wet. Everything else is provided.
One week of lessons, in Korean only, are 50,000 ($40). If you can already water-ski and want to rent, the cost is 15,000 won.
From Apgujeong subway station, walk out exit 6. Take bus 21 or 710.
From Sinsa subway station, walk out of exit 9. Take bus 11, 21, 78-1, 222, 710 or 239-1.
by Joe Yong-hee
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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