Russia’s First Surf School

Oceans
A surfer prepares to make his move in the shadow of one of Kamchatka's many volcanoes. Photo: Snowave Kamchatka

The equipment’s not great and the water turns you into a popsicle, but one man is convinced that surfing in Russia’s remote Kamchatka will do you a world of good

Taking surfing lessons in Russia is a little like bobsledding in Jamaica: There is something charmingly off about it. But 10,000km away from Moscow, in the Russian Far East, the Kamchatka Peninsula is becoming known as a hidden gem for surfing, with excellent swells and waves cresting up to 15m high throughout the year.

Kamchatka is called the Land of Fire and Ice, because of its many active volcanoes and, well, subarctic temperatures. Even in Russia, it’s known for its remoteness. “You on Kamchatka, pay attention,” a schoolteacher will admonish a pupil daydreaming in a distant corner of the class. 

Its main city, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, is an hour away from the beaches. The locals are used to the harsh conditions and are considered sturdier than a typical city dweller.

Khalaktyrsky Beach’s black sand. Photo: Shutterstock

The region is subject to arctic winds (15+ knots) and much more rain than the rest of Russia. Snow blankets the landscape from October to May and a cool summer intercedes for just three months. Even in August, water temperatures are a chilly 15˚C, and they plunge dramatically the rest of the year.

In winter, though, the surf’s still up, and the 2˚C water and -15˚C air combine to turn beginning surfers into popsicles the moment they step onto the shore.

Hardy Kamchatka surfers. Photo: Snowave Kamchatka

However, these obstacles did not stop local surfer Anton Morozov from starting an entire movement. A legend in these parts, he is Kamchatka’s only professional surfer. He was born and raised in the cold, growing up as the son of a fisherman with no access to reliable heating and hot water, apart from Kamchatka’s many natural hot springs. 

Morozov took several years to understand the waves and how to ride them. One day in the 1990s, as he was admiring the waves on Khalaktyrsky Beach, he decided to get himself a board and just paddle out. It was a baptism by fire…or rather, by ice water.

After that, he found himself addicted to the sport and became so comfortable that he eventually surfed without a hood and gloves. His love of the sport inspired him to found Russia’s first surfing school in 2009. 

Photo: Snowave Kamchatka

His unorthodox surfing centre is admittedly low on facilities and equipment — Khalaktyrsky Beach has only one beach hut. But it does not matter: Where there is a wave, there is a way.

Catching a wave on Khalaktyrsky Beach. Photo: Snowave Kamchatka

Morozov lives humbly in a trailer on the beach, surfing alone or with his ragtag disciples. His friends, with backgrounds in sports like snowboarding, skiing, and mountaineering, are also comfortable living on the edge.

Three or four times a week, they gear up in wetsuits and paddle out. Many first-timers to his school describe the water as “painful”, which may explain why few return after their first surfing lesson. But Morozov encourages his students to shrug off the cold and embrace their inner walrus. Then the fun can begin.

Since establishing his school, he has even managed to host several surfing competitions. He believes that teaching children this sport under these hardy conditions will make them more disciplined and stronger in life. A very Russian approach: “Suffering is the sole origin of consciousness,” said Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a non-surfer.

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About the Author

Kristine De Abreu

Kristine De Abreu

Kristine De Abreu is a writer (and occasional photographer) based in sunny Trinidad and Tobago.

Since graduating from the University of Leicester with a BA in English and History, she has pursued a full-time writing career, exploring multiple niches before settling on travel and exploration. While studying for an additional diploma in travel journalism with the British College of Journalism, she began writing for ExWeb.

Currently, she works at a travel magazine in Trinidad as an editorial assistant and is also ExWeb's Weird Wonder Woman, reporting on the world's natural oddities as well as general stories from the world of exploration.

Although she isn't a climber (yet!), she hikes in the bush, has been known to make friends with iguanas and quote the Lord of the Rings trilogy from start to finish.

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