The acidic pools, steaming and gurgling up at us and the waterfalls as big as ten story buildings boosted our morals and made Russia an even more incredible and diverse journey than the surfing portion alone.
Anything is possible in Russia. You hear it everywhere you go, in any question you ask. But it also means that it is in the realm of possibilities for nothing to go to plan. Your entire agenda for the trip could be engulfed in the disarray. Close to nothing on our surf trip to the Kamchatka peninsula went to plan. I think that’s how things work there; trust in the chaos, bend the knees and brace for the dysfunctional turmoil of visiting a post-Soviet nation. If you are truly along for the ride, it’s enjoyable and an unforgettable experience to visit somewhere so wild.
Kamchatka is the far eastern peninsula of Russia. Just above Mongolia and North Korea, and across the pacific from Alaska. A corner of the world I admittedly hadn’t ever thought much about. But after studying a swell map and watching a hurricane make its way past the Hawaiian Islands and head straight for that distant corner of the largest country, I pulled the trigger and bought a last minute ticket alongside Cyrus Sutton and Dylan Gordon. I had two days to plan and pack for the venture. Normally that takes maybe an hour or two. But when you take into consideration camping for two weeks in brown bear territory and everything needed to surf water with temperatures hovering a few degrees above freezing, it takes every waking moment of those two days.
We flew in via Alaska, and got our first glimpse of the new land as our plane lowered in the early morning light. My nerves were on edge as we flew over the new landscape. I’d never been to Asia, so everything looked unfamiliar. Especially the military barracks, aircraft hangars, and tanks that were scattered across the lush, green ground. The trees looked like nothing I’d seen at home. We flew over picture-perfect homesteads and large bays with ships bobbing around. Before we even landed I felt the most culture shock I’ve ever experienced.
We spent the first night just outside the city of Petropavlosk and decided to set off to our Russian backcountry basecamp at a cove we had studied on Google Earth — a spot that had never been surfed before. I can say that with confidence, as you can count the number of surfers in Kamchatka on your hands, and we met the majority of them. The area of interest was four hundred miles from humanity. With no roads or railways in the area, our only option to get there was to hire an ex-military helicopter. After waiting a few days for the storm to clear (and, consequently, the best days of the swell) we were able to board the helicopter. They reportedly go down often, and ours was weighed down with surfboards, a couple hundred pounds of camera gear and all our camping supplies, food, and bear repellent needed for the next two weeks off the grid. Admittedly, a little nerve racking, but the flight was breathtaking. We saw more dense forest then I had ever imagined, families of bears ran down mountainsides beneath us, and the ocean was a milky turquoise lit up by the sunny sky.