On Thursday I began my week of travel to the eastern coast of Asia at 10:30 am on a Delta flight to Atlanta. From there I flew with Korean Airlines to my final destination in Incheon, South Korea, arriving almost 24 hours after leaving Orlando. The great part about the World Cup is that they cover the entry fee, hotel and meals for the entire time.
Harley Clifford, the Soven brothers and I were all on the same flight. Harley and I were rooming together and decided to call it an early night on Friday because of the long flight to get there. Bomb, on the other hand, was enthused to be back in Asia and went out with the boys for a drink despite the jetlag.
Saturday morning we were able to sleep in until 8:00 AM, the latest I slept the entire time I was there. We went out for a practice session at the site, but I was not sure what to expect. Flying across the world to compete at a wakeboard contest is always a little bit risky.
I was blown away by the glassy conditions and the fact that they had a 6.2 liter-engine X-Star. We had the practice session behind an island so that the skiers could practice on the course. The water was insanely flat and I stuck my run with a whirly 5 and crow 5. Harley rode ok, I guess, doing two 9’s and four mobe 5’s before having his first fall on a heel 9. Practice was definitely a success.
The event was held as part of the first World Leisure Games. There were athletes from all over the world competing in trick skiing, ski jump, rollerblading and skateboarding. I’m sure there are more sports competing after we leave as well.
Sunday the competition started and we were met with rain that was unrelenting. After hours of delays, it let up and we were able to finish. Dean Smith, myself, the Sovens and the usual names advanced to the semifinals on Monday.
Monday we had great conditions again; hot weather and flat water. My heat was first, and it turned out to be harder than anyone imagined. Sean Faccio started the heat and straight off the dock did a Pete, a front mobe and a toe 9. The rest of his run was strong as well. He was followed by Bomb, who killed it. He threw a regular and switch 313, heel and toe 7’s and more. The pressure was definitely on for me.
I was able to put together one of my better runs. I threw a whirly 5, toe and switch toe 7’s and few mobes. Then I fell on my very last trick in my 2nd pass, a skeezer. I couldn’t believe I went down on one of the easiest tricks in my run. That left the door slightly open for Dean Smith, Andrew Adkison and Harley Clifford. Andrew threw a crow 5 and heel 7 and Dean did an indy Moby Dick and back to back front mobes. Harley stood his entire run and won the heat. I missed finals by a mere three points, with Dean, Andrew and Harley all making it. For what its worth, I think Bomb actually should have been 2nd in the heat, not 5th.
In the 2nd heat, Adam Fields, Bob Soven and Phil Soven all went through to finals. Finals was an intense showdown. Andrew came 3rd, having two stand up runs and adding a toe 7 to his run from earlier. Phil threw a back 7 in his run and was going to go for a 10 off the double, but ended up stomping a 9. Harley also had two stand up passes with a front mobe 5, crow 5, back to back 9’s and a heel 7 off the double up. He came in first and Phil came in second. The boys took home a cool $15,000; $10,000 and $7,000 respectively.
Nothing could have prepared me for what was to come the next day. On Tuesday, we decided to take a trip to North Korea. Yes, that is the communist country that is run by the dictator Kim Jong-Il. The only other person that had the courage to go to North Korea with me out of the whole lot was a Swedish wakeboard girl named Caroline Djupsjö. Actually, it was Caroline’s idea to begin with. I just tagged along.
We caught the tour bus that would take us to the observatory and then to the demilitarized zone at the border of North and South Korea. Tensions are very high right now between the two countries. At the observatory we watched a documentary on North Korea. The documentary was eye opening. There was a poll that showed the lowest eight countries in regards to human rights. Not only was North Korea included, but it scored the lowest in just about every category, meaning North Korea is the worst country in which to live in the world. Every year, millions of people starve to death. They aren’t dying from diseases that are too expensive to cure. They simply cannot even afford food, the minimum of life’s necessities. There is a $500 million food deficit every year, causing millions of people to die. Kim Jong-Il spends over $500 million on nuclear weapons testing. This leader is absolutely crazy. He owns four houses worth over $100 million each and has somewhere around 500 imported cars. There are things going on in North Korea that are worse than the concentration camps in World War II. The worst part is that there is virtually nothing we can do to help. Because the country is so strict, the government will most likely take any money donated to its citizens and use the money for its own purposes.
After the documentary, we went to the demilitarized zone, which is four kilometers wide and stretches from coast to coast along the Korean border. A few miles away from the demilitarized zone we started seeing barbed wire fences guarding the roads. The fences are a precautionary measure just in case any North Koreans escape and make it that far. On the bus there was a lady who escaped from North Korea. She had to convince her friends to bribe the guards to let her get far enough to where she could be bought by a Chinese farmer. That is the only way out of the country, if you’re lucky. Once you are bought, you belong to that family. You have no rights, just like a slave. She had two children with the farmer before she could escape three years later. She now lives in South Korea. Her story was incredible and heroic. She is one of the lucky ones.
When we got to the DMZ, a soldier came on the bus to check our passports. Then we passed over the bridge and were met by another soldier who checked our passports more thoroughly and our attire. We got off of the tour bus and got on a UN bus escorted by two soldiers. We were not allowed to bring anything besides a single camera, not even a jacket. From this point on we weren’t allowed to take photos except when we were told. The bus brought us closer to the border. We got out and crossed through a tall building and that brought us right to the border. Once we were through, we could see the North Korean soldiers. There has been tension between the two countries recently. We were told the North Koreans switched from normal hats to bullet proof helmets in order to let the South know they are ready to fight.
We then proceeded to the demarcation line. There are three buildings located right on the border. The buildings have doors on both the North and South Korean sides so that they may enter when conflicts arise. It was in here that we got to step over the border and enter “officially” into North Korea. We were still not allowed to leave the room. After that the South Korean soldiers escorted us back to our buses and we began the journey home.
The tragedies that are going on in North Korea are unimaginable. Their leader’s greed and lust for power knows no end and he has a son who will take his place when he is gone. As of now, I don’t know of any way to help. I do know, however, that despite the problems in America, our country is an amazing place to live. Any country that is a democracy is an amazing place to live, filled with freedom and opportunity. The difference between North and South Korea is living proof that democracy prevails over communism every time. So enjoy yourself, enjoy your country and enjoy your next set on a wakeboard. Get out there and go shred and don’t take one second for granted.