Reading Time: 4 minutes
Sam Yoon provides a blue print for what it means to choose the surfer’s path. It’s possible your paths crossed with Sam in some place where a hefty swell was colliding with a challenging set-up. It could have been Hawaii, J-Bay, Sri Lanka, Ireland, Japan, Mauritius, Tasmania or Morocco… However, it’s more than likely you’ve never heard of Sam Yoon. Below is an excerpt from Sam’s feature ‘As the Soul Flies’, which is inside Issue 590.
As The Soul Flies
Maybe you have a fleeting memory of Sam Yoon from his celebrated cameo in Andrew Kidman’s film ‘spirit of akasha’? Or perhaps you were at Kirra one time and hooted a supple-limbed natural-footer spearing through muscular, eight-foot tubes on a 7’10” fish he’d crafted.
Or maybe your daily Instagram scroll was halted by the image of a surfer crouched in a warrior stance, taking a direct line at light-bending speed. A ‘Flying Soul’ as his handle suggests. It’s also possible you have your own personal anecdote about Sam, after your paths crossed in some place where a hefty swell was colliding with a challenging outer reef. It could have been Hawaii, J-Bay, Sri Lanka, Ireland, Japan, Mauritius, Tasmania or Morocco… There’s not many places on the map, with a holding coastline he hasn’t been.
However, it’s more than likely you’ve never heard of Sam or his distinctive, super-sized twin fins, and to be honest he’s just fine with that Sam Yoon’s family immigrated to Australia from South Korea in the late 80s when he was 11. His dad had run a successful car-wrecking business in Korea but was convinced a better way of life beckoned on the sun-kissed shores of the so-called Lucky Country. Initially, the Yoons landed in Sydney, where Sam went to school at Turramurra High in the city’s leafy northern suburbs. A tossed pearl of wisdom from a geography teacher was probably the most important thing he took from his education. “She always said to us, go travel around the world. But she strongly suggested to travel Australia too.”
Over the phone, Sam speaks in a mellifluous accent that somehow folds his Korean roots into Hawaiian pigeon and Australian twang. He mentions another light-bulb moment from his youth. “One thing I realised was when I got my driver’s license. I feel all the traffic lights in Sydney. And then I was thinking to myself how many hours I’m gonna spend my whole life waiting for the lights to go green, you know?
At age 16 Sam decided to run the lights. It was 1993 when he left home and moved to Queensland’s Gold Coast. After landing a job at a duty-free shop in Surfers Paradise, he fell in with a handful of surf-mad Japanese guys. The crew’s obsessive devotion was infectious and Sam was soon palming 50 bucks to one of his new friends for a 6’3″ Christian Fletcher model, Nev. “It wasn’t long before I was doing four rounds a day,” recalls Sam of his surfing honeymoon.
Six months after landing on the Gold Coast, Sam was on a plane to Indonesia. It would be the beginning of a decade-long surfing odyssey. Sam could fill an anthology with his travel anecdotes, but some experiences were obviously a little more transcendent than others.’
After a trip to North Korea to explore his roots, Sam returned to the Gold Coast and soon after resigned from his job. He’d decided to take the advice of his high school geography teacher and explore Australia before adding any further stamps to his passport. Fortunately, Sam had also met a young, Japanese girl named Ecco who shared his sense of wanderlust. Together they bought a car, turned their backs on the Gold Coast’s high-rise forest and set about traversing the wide brown Land Down Under. Sam says his most vivid memory of that trip was arriving at Cactus in South Australia after spending several days flanked by nothing but red earth in the vast, inland desert. “It’s a bit of, you know, off-road track to get to the beach… and then you see the lines… I think about it now, it would have been like, maybe 17,18 seconds period, and would have been like maybe 12-14-foot and so Cactus was almost too big. Caves, the one that peaks right out the front, was real proper. The whole set-up looked like the Rip Curl Search. Picture perfect.”
At Cactus, Sam and Ecco surfed and fished for days on end. By night they would share food with their fellow travellers and sit around giant fire pits, talking story on the 20-buck, used couches that had been hauled into the campsite. Later they would fall asleep to the sound of the clockwork offshore, taking comfort in the auspicious wind that would groom the waves by the time they woke.
Sam now had what he wanted, an Australian frame of reference against which his other trips might be measured.