Scenic beaches and big waves aren’t the first things that come to mind when you think of North Korea. But the regime’s leader, Kim Jong Un, is attempting to rebrand the state -- better known for its missile program, political oppression, propaganda and famine -- as an international surfing hotspot. Kim launched an official eight-day surf tour Monday and invited 20 professional surfers, guided by Italian champion Nicola Zanella, to assess North Korea’s eastern coastline, the Telegraph reported.
With members from around the world -- including the United States, Italy, China and Germany -- the surfing group will evaluate the quality of the country’s beaches, seabeds and waves and also analyze access, evacuation routes and weather patterns. Kim’s regime opened the nation’s 1,550-mile long eastern coast to small surf tours in August 2014, but this is the first time North Korea will officially be evaluated for its potential as a prime surfing destination.
It’s the regime's latest move to boost tourism in the isolated country. Some 100,000 tourists traveled to North Korea last year, all but a few thousand of them from neighboring China. Kim’s regime hopes there will be 10 times as many overseas visitors by 2017 and that the number will hit 2 million by 2020, according the Associated Press.
Kim hosted an international fair in May in the Mount Kumgang Tourist Region, a scenic area near the border with South Korea that has been open to South Korean travelers since 1998, TTG Asia reported. Last year, North Korea opened its first luxury ski resort in Kangwon province after just ten months of construction. Masikryong Ski Resort -- located near the city of Wonsan -- boasts a hotel, ice rink, heliport, swimming pool and restaurants, according to the Guardian.
In an interview earlier this year in Pyongyang, Kim brushed off criticism of North Korea's record on human rights, lack of freedoms and food shortages in the countryside. "Many people in foreign countries think in a wrong way about our country," he said, according to AP. "Though the economic sanctions of the U.S. imperialists are increasing, we are developing our economy. So I think many people are curious about our country."