Speedboating: Where the buoys are

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Speedboating: Where the buoys are

Ever since the rowing course for the 1988 Olympics was set up in the area called Misari, about a 90-minute drive east of Seoul, residents of the capital have loved to go there to escape the city, cool off and enjoy the bucolic landscape. Now the area has a new attraction: Since June, speedboat races have been held there twice a week, and you can bet on the winners.

Every Tuesday and Wednesday at Misari, miniboats with top speeds of 70 kilometers per hour race back and forth across a tight course, spouting foam in their wakes and thrilling spectators.

Welcome to gyeongjeong, Korean for "motorboat racing," an exciting new way to spend a summer day.

The new speedboating course was set up by Korea's Motorboat Racing Association, under the National Sports Promotion Foundation. The racing season runs until Dec. 11, but the best time to go is surely before the weather cools down too much. And the betting? The debut of motorboat racing makes it the third sport in Korea that allows betting, after horse racing and bicycle racing. Here, you have to pick the best drivers, which is probably trickier than picking the fastest sprinters.



MISARI'S RACING COURSE


The motorboat race course is within Misari's regatta complex, and has bleachers that seat 2,800. The first race time is 12:30 p.m., and seven races follow, beginning every half hour thereafter.



WHAT IS GYEONGJEONG?


In the races at Misari, 6 boats roar down a narrow course, on which two buoys are set up about 300 meters apart. Three laps around the buoys make up the race. The most exciting part is when the racers have to hairpin around the buoy ?that's when they do their jockeying to take the lead. The intensity of the competition led to the participants calling it "water combat."

The sports' experts say that about 30 percent of the race is decided by a racer's skill and 70 percent by the speed and capability of the boat.

The racers don't drive their own boats, however; the organizers provide the boats, and assign them randomly to specific racers the day before the races.

The betting? You can bet between 50,000 won ($40) and 1 million won per race. You focus on the first two finishers: You can pick one driver to win or place, or you can bet that two drivers will both place, or you can pick exactly which will be first and second.

The entrance fee to watch the races is nominal, at 200 won per person. Tells you something.



GETTING THERE


Traffic is rather heavy on race days. If you drive, you'll have to pay 3,000 won ($3) to park at the course. An alternative is to park at the cafes in nearby villages, from which shuttle buses take you to the arena.

Also, shuttle buses leave from Seoul 33 times a day to go to the race course, beginning at 9:40 a.m. All the buses go past Sangil-dong Station on the No. 5 line (take exit 2). Many of the buses leave from Amsa Station on the No. 8 line (take exit 4).

For more information on the shuttle times, visit www.motorboat-race.or.kr. A warning: The arena doesn't offer much in the way of food and drink, so you should pack your own. And it's a good idea to bring a parasol or a hat, in case you can't get a seat in the shade.

Nearby the course are plenty of other areas set aside for water sports, such as windsurfing, so it's a fun place to spend a whole day.


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Rub-a-dub: one-man tubs


What are gyeongjeong boats?

The boats are quite small, accommodating only one racer, and are made of wood. They are only 295 centimeters long and 134 centimeters wide. With the engines, they usually weigh about 116 kilograms. The engines are 30 horsepower, have a displacement of 429 cubic centimeters and use a fuel combination of oil and gasoline. The boats' top speed is approximately 75 kilometers per hour.


by Sung Si-yoon

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