Lauren Yapalater: Native Daughter Covers Olympics

While most Fire Islanders probably watched the 2018 Winter Olympics from their couch, third generation Fair Harbor resident Lauren Yapalater watched them from PyeongChang. Along with 15 other members of the Buzzfeed Edit and Video teams, Yapalater covered the Olympics from South Korea for a month before returning home. “I had the opportunity to go to Korea for the Olympics and I pretty much was like I have to go,” she recalled. “It was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Yapalater was a member of Buzzfeed’s Edit Team and worked to write articles and produce content for the NBC Snapchat’s Olympic coverage. The goal was to produce fun content that showed what it was like to be a regular person at the Olympics. She elaborated, “We had athletes come into our studios and do fun interviews. We were covering the Olympics the way Buzzfeed would, in a way that was really fun and personal. We had some of our team try on luge suits and go trout fishing with the bobsled team. It was mostly fun things to bring the Olympics to a younger crowd than maybe they usually would be.”

Yapalater was working for most of the time she was in South Korea, but because of her role as a sort of cultural correspondent she was still able to attend a number of events and participate in some Olympic traditions. She remembered, “I went to the snowboarding and I saw Chloe Kim, the American snowboarder who won gold, which was really cool.” While attending different events from luge and bobsled to the ski jump and curling, Yapalater became a self-proclaimed super fan of the South Korean women’s curling team. She ended up attending every curling match that her schedule allowed and is even planning to go see the South Korean women’s team compete in Canada this winter. She described being in the stadium as the team qualified for and competed in the gold medal game: “It was amazing to watch their fan base grow over time. They didn’t win the gold, they lost against Sweden. But it was so great to be there because South Korea was just so proud of them in that moment.”

While at the Olympics, Yapalater engaged in pin trading, what many call “The Spectator Sport of the Olympics.” She traded Buzzfeed media pins with a number of pin traders, ultimately accumulating 70 pins and an old hat from the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. She now hopes to go to the 2020 Olympics and do more pin trading. Yapalater even was able to give one of her pins to the captain of the South Korean curling team after one of their games. She remembered the moment, “I called out her name and she came over and was like 10 feet below me. I threw a pin down to her and she caught it and said thank you. I just loved her and I was really excited to interact with her.”

Yapalater also was able to attend the Opening Ceremony and witness the historic walking in of the North Korea and South Korea teams under one flag. “It was really special when South Korea came in and they were walking with North Korea and the stadium just went insane. It felt really emotional in that moment to see everybody and to see that moment. I was part of this really cool thing where the world was coming together. You could just feel the emotion in that moment and it was really awesome,” she described.

While in South Korea, Yapalater also had the unique opportunity to cross the border between South and North Korea as part of a highly-regulated tour of the Korean Demilitarized Zone and the buildings where peace talks were conducted. “The most interesting part of the tour was only five minutes long,” she said, “where we stood at the border facing North Korea in front of these houses, literally just looked at North Korea and took a bunch of pictures. This is the only time that you can safely cross the border from South Korea and say that you were in North Korea.”

Although Yapalater described her experience in South Korea as incredible and noted that “everything there is done with much more beauty than in the United States,” it still seems like nothing can match Yapalater’s love of Fire Island and the Fair Harbor community especially. She mused, “It’s the best place on Earth and no matter where I go nothing can ever compare. It’s so nice to see people over and over again every year. After spending a month in South Korea and spending all this time with the team that I was with, we left feeling like a very strong community, and for me, it was reminiscent of the Fair Harbor community.”