Surfing Is Back in Ukraine: A Local Explains Why

BY EVAN QUARNSTROMThis article first appeared in The Inertia


When the people of Odessa, Ukraine woke to sounds of missiles and bombs on the morning of Feb. 24, 2022, it became clear that their world had changed forever. They would now have to live in a state of war. Odessa, nestled on the Black Sea coast of southern Ukraine, is home to a small, but vibrant surfing community. When the local surfers were enjoying their chilly winter sessions in early 2022, little did they know they wouldn’t be able to surf again for over a year.

While Ukrainians still live with the looming fear of an attack due to the ongoing Russian invasion, the city of Odessa has attempted to give some sense of normalcy back to its citizens. This summer, the municipality opened up the city’s shoreline for leisure. Weary of stray sea mines and what the Ukrainian military would think of riding waves, the surfers were hesitant to return to their local surf spots. But last week when a solid two-meter swell was forecast, five brave souls decided to paddle out at Odessa’s Arcadia Beach. It was the first official surf session in Ukraine since the war began.

One of those surfers in the water was Vasyl Kordysh. He’s the President of the Ukrainian Surfing Federation and has been living in Odessa throughout the war. When we saw Kordysh posting Instagram stories surfing in Ukraine, we were curious. Isn’t it a bit dangerous to surf in a war zone? I gave Kordysh a call to hear about why Ukrainians are back in the water in Odessa, whether they worry about their safety, and how the experience made them feel.

Stick close to shore

You guys are surfing again in Ukraine. Tell me about it. 

At the end of summer, the city administration started allowing people to spend time on the seashore. They’ve been letting people swim a bit. Not far from shore, but maybe 100 meters maximum. They say it’s safe. I was thinking, we won’t be catching waves more than 100 meters from the shoreline, so it’s possible to try to surf if some swells come. We had a good forecast last week. The swell was running so we decided to paddle out. It was fun, some good size, up to two meters, maybe a little bit more – pretty good for an inland sea. It was a nice, long session.

The spot we surfed is Arcadia Beach. It’s the most popular beach in Odessa. There are soldiers walking around all the time there and we were a little nervous about what they would think about us surfing there. But everything went fine.

Was that your first surf in Ukraine since the war started?

Well, technically not for me. I had one session before in the middle of the summer. There were some small waves at a long right nearby. It’s a longboard spot, but we don’t post about it. It’s a bit of a secret spot.

Mines and missiles

Considering the sea mines and missile barrages, how did you determine that it was safe to surf?

Almost all summer, people used the shoreline and there were no accidents, so I was thinking it must be fine. But I also understand that when big waves come, mines can possibly be swept in, too. Actually, during our session, in a city just 30 kilometers away, a mine washed up on the shore. It just reminded us how real that is. It’s still possible. We were a little bit nervous, but we didn’t think much about it. The chances are so small.

How many people surfed this session at Arcadia Beach?
Five people. Four surfers and one SUP surfer.

SUP'ing, Odessa.

SUP’ing, Odessa. Photo: Shutterstock


How did it feel to surf your local spot for the first time since the start of the war?

It’s amazing. For some moments I felt like the war wasn’t happening. It was like a bad dream and everything was like it was before. It was pretty good, but as we surfed we could see some Ukrainian warships cruising around in the background. That brings you back to reality. It’s real. But overall, I was so stoked.

‘I hope nothing bad happens’

What is the latest news on the situation of the Ukrainian surfers?

It’s still not possible for men to leave the country. Sometimes there are some legal ways to leave the country for some type of training camp or something, but it’s very complicated. Almost all of our Odessa local surfing crew has stayed here. This day, surfing was super emotional for us. I hadn’t seen some of the guys since our last session before the war. But like I said, it was as if nothing had happened. We were just back in the water at our local spot.

Do you plan to start surfing more regularly during the winter season?

Yeah, I guess so. Tomorrow there might be some small swell. My warm wetsuit is ready. I will surf until something happens, but I hope nothing bad happens. We know that mines could drift into our surf spot or the army could be against us surfing, given that we are at war. These things are still in our minds. We can’t 100 percent have fun when we’re surfing. Maybe 80 percent is having fun and the other 20 percent is worried about these bad things that could happen. But what can we do? Surfing is a drug. How can we deal without surfing? This is our life.

The famous Potemkin Steps in Odessa

The famous Potemkin Steps in Odessa. Photo: Shutterstock