Into The Big Blue: Scuba Diving on Jeju Island (Korea)

I had an awesome time writing the cover story, Into The Big Blue: A Guide to Diving on Jeju Island , for the October 2010 issue of 10 Magazine . I lived on Jeju for 1 year and have been diving since I was 15 so it is a special place to dive for me.

I think Hugh over at the magazine did a fantastic job with the layout. He keeps getting better. Also, I spoke to Ralf, the owner of the dive shop and he said two people just flew down to do a dive because they read the article at a hotel in Seoul. Cool!

A small part of what I wrote was edited out so I’m posting the full version here. The underwater photos are courtesy of Hyeon-sik Yun, Ralf Deutsch and Armin Truttnau. Enjoy…

[Read in PDF format here.]

Into the Big Blue: A Guide to Diving Jeju Island

“There’s nothing to do in Korea except go to the bar.” How many times have you heard that one? For those looking for a little something more than a night out on the town, look no more. Scuba is here. And once you dive on Jeju you will never look at Korea the same way again.

I first got started diving in Korea when I lived in Seogwipo on Jeju. I was fortunate to have an apartment overlooking Seogwipo bay and her three islets: Munsom (Mosquito Island), Supsom (Forest Island), and Pomsom (Tiger Island).  Since I started diving at the age of 15, I often wondered what underwater world was out there. I saw the photos of tropical-looking fish on the flyer for the local submarine tour, but I thought the pools of fish and colorful coral was just a ploy, a way to get more tourists to pay 50K won to go on the tour.

Then one day I met Ralf Deutsch, owner and dive instructor of the dive shop Big Blue 33. I could tell immediately he was a no nonsense type of guy who did stuff by the book. He actually came to Jeju in 1994 as a professor in the German department of Jeju National University.

Then, in 2001 Ralf decided to open his dive shop after seeing the underwater beauty Jeju had to offer. “I wouldn’t have started the dive shop if I didn’t think the diving was great,” said Ralf. You can tell he really believes Jeju is a fantastic diving destination as he lists off all the things you can see underwater.
He goes on to say there is a unique mix of cold water and tropical species on Jeju: octopus, lionfish, scorpion fish, grouper, jack, butterfly fish, angelfish, boxfish, and many others. And then there are the numerous species of soft coral ranging in color from orange, yellow, and purple, to blue and white. They are like glowing underwater gardens, sometimes even on volcanic rock. In the cold season there are even forests of kelp growing from the ocean floor to the surface.

Jeju Island really is on par with some of the best dive destinations around the world. Wolfgang Pölzer, underwater photographer and dive journalist from Austria, described Jeju`s underwater world during his visit as an “attractive mix of Norway and the Red Sea – the black rocks and the kelp like in Norway and the soft coral and the colorful tropical fish like in the Red Sea.”

Convinced

After talking to Ralf and seeing some underwater photos at his dive shop, I knew his outfit was the one I wanted to dive with. I signed up for a dive and showed up at 9am the next day for my island dive.

The first hour we prepared our gear and got to know the other divers over coffee and biscuits. Then we loaded up the van and took a short drive down to the port. Next, we loaded the tanks onto a fishing boat that took us on a 15-minute ride to Munsom Island. Once we arrived we quickly unloaded our gear. As the boat pulled away I had to admit I felt a little like Robinson Caruso being left on some deserted island.

We put our wetsuits on and Ralf gathered us for a briefing of the dive. I felt very safe and could tell he was a concerned professional. By now I was sweating so much inside my wetsuit I felt like I was in a sauna.

Finally the moment came and we leaped off the rocky island into the water. As soon as I hit the sea and the cool salt water filled my wetsuit, I remembered why I like diving so much. You are like a beached whale on land with all your heavy gear on. Moving around is cumbersome, especially with fins on. But once you’re in the water you just relax, glide around, and hover over the world below you. Only astronauts get to feel a greater sense of breaking away from gravity.

But the best feeling of all is when you put the regulator in your mouth, release all the air in your BC, and slip into the bluish green liquid below. You go instantly from a life of sound into one of weightless silence. Of course there is the rhythmic sound of your own breathing – the percolating pop your own CO2 bubbles rising to the surface – but even that sound is almost therapeutic.

As you descend you realize that, without trying to sound too cliché, there really is a whole other world down there. And best of all, you don’t have to surface for another 25 to 30 minutes or more.

Class Is In Session

Whether you are a certified diver or a complete beginner, Ralf can help you out. Big Blue 33 offers many types of courses that are all taught according to NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) standards, so your certifications will be accepted wherever you go in the world.

You can take the following NAUI courses: Scuba Diver, Advanced Scuba Diver, Master Scuba Diver, Scuba Rescue Diver, Assistant Instructor, and there is even a Divemaster Course.

If you have never dove before but are curious what it is like you can take the 1 day Try Scubadiving course. It is a non-certification course designed to give you a feel for scuba. Your instructor will tell you the basics and then shadow you on a shallow dive. You will have someone next to you at all times to make sure things go smoothly.

So if you are reading this article in a bar somewhere around Korea, looking for something new and adventurous to do, don’t hesitate. Korea’s best kept secret is out of the bag. Dive Jeju!

Diving Jeju Fast Facts

Contact: Ralf Deutsch at Big Blue 33

Dive Shop – 064 733 1733

Mobile – 019 9755 1733

www.bigblue33.co.kr

Main diving season:

May through October although you can still dive as late as December (the water temperature is still about 20 degrees around Christmas).

Where to stay:

Check out the Big Blue 33 website or just call Ralf directly and ask him to help you set up your reservation.

Prices:

– 2 tank islet dive…KRW 70K (includes boat ride, guide, tank, weight, lunch, water)

– Gear rental for 1 day…KRW 25K (includes all the gear you need to make your dive)

– Try Scuba 1 day…KRW100K

– See website for other diving course prices

Getting there:

By Air

Flights leave daily from all around Korea. Once at the Jeju airport you can take the airport bus all the way to Seogwipo.

*Remember you can dive after flying but you cannot fly immediately after diving. You should plan for one night on Jeju before you fly back home.

By Sea

Busan – take the overnight ferry to Jeju (about 12 hours). Then try to catch a Sunday night ferry that will put you in Busan on Monday morning.

Jeollanam-do – the new Orange high-speed ferry will get you to Jeju in less than 2 hours.

JH Ferry

Tel: 1577-5820

www.jhferry.com

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