North Korea: A surfers’ paradise?

It wasn’t all about bombs and sanctions.

As President Trump wrapped up his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore last week, he noted that Kim's country sports a coastline dotted with “great beaches” — and no shortage of real estate opportunities.

“You see that whenever they're exploding their cannons into the ocean, right?” Trump asked. “I said, ‘Boy, look at the view. Wouldn't that make a great condo behind?’”

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Few Westerners have experienced North Korean sun, sea and sand, but that's not to say it's entirely off-limits.

“He’s right, there's a lot of potential”, says Nik Zanella, an Italian surfer who’s led three surfing tours to North Korea.

north korea beach Uri Tours/Nik Zanella

The surfing in North Korea doesn't offer "sick barrels" for pros, but it's great for intermediate surfers, says Zanella.  (Uri Tours/Nik Zanella)

“I was surprised to see California-like bays with golden sands, red granite cliffs, clear water and no one on the beach," he told Fox News in a Skype interview from China, where he coaches that country’s national surfing team.

“I was pretty blown away.”

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Zanella says he used Google Earth to scour satellite images before his first visit, zeroing in on Majon beach on North Korea’s east coast.

Unlike California, the surf wasn’t huge.

“I knew from the beginning that I wasn't looking for the next Malibu,” he says.

“If you take professional athletes to North Korea and if you build their expectations that they’re going to get sick barrels, then they will be disappointed.

“But the people on our trips didn't really have that expectation," he added."

“We had intermediate surfers who were fine with surfing clean, shoulder-high waves, and they were really happy.”

Zanella also offered free lessons to locals.

“We taught maybe 100 people on the first trip, and they were stoked,” he says. “Every time we went back, the people we had coached were still doing it and they had taught some other people to do it, so there’s a little surf scene that was growing.”

north korea beach Uri Tours/Nik Zanella

Zanella says some of the locals even took up surfing after he showed them how on his first trip.  (Uri Tours/Nik Zanella)

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But this isn’t your average beach vacation.

The State Department advises against all travel to North Korea, even warning Americans who do go that they should draft a will before setting off.

There’s also the ethical question of handing over money to a famously brutal and repressive regime.

“I never felt guilty,” Zanella says.

“I'm convinced that surfing is something that makes people feel free, and no one needs that more than people in that country.”