In the sixties, adventurous surfers stowed away on ocean liners to discover the exotic waves of the Hawaiian Islands. What a blast that must have been? Even if you got caught.
In the seventies, the next generation of surfers with wanderlust took cheap flights to Indonesia to discover destinations like Bali’s Uluwatu and Kuta. Wave-mad hippies like Rusty Miller and Stephen Cooney lead the way.
By the mid-eighties, the far-flung corners of the Indonesian islands had been opened up for the adventurous with places like Nias, Grajagan and Mentawais providing mental waves and pristine locations. Pro surfer, Bob Bain, even got caught up in a tsunami while camping on the beach at one out of the way spot. Now that’s adventure!
Since then travelling surfers have discovered good waves in Fiji, Tahiti (and other parts of French Polynesia), Sri Lanka, Samoa, the Maldives, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and a thousand other destinations. The common denominators? Palm trees. Warm water. Reefs. Beautiful and challenging waves. Tropical paradise!
Travelling to an exotic “adventure” destination is no longer edgy, cool or unusual. Most of these places are not even considered “off the beaten track” any more. The average surf-starved punter can pay out a few bucks and spent their annual holiday with bucket-loads of other adventurers, surfing perfect waves in the “perfect place” of their choice.
Introducing the world’s most extraordinary secret spot
Now for something completely different.
There is a place I want to go. It’s another kind of place all together. It’s expensive to get there. It’s expensive to stay. It’s expensive to get around once you arrive. Visa approval to go there is tough, expensive and time-consuming to acquire. You even need approvals to travel around the place once there. That being said, it is one potential surfing destination that you can bet that none of your mates have gotten within five thousand kilometres of. Despite the difficulties, if you are after a surfing adventure, this might be the place for you. If you wear a steamer when you surf in Australia, it probably isn’t. My tip for warm water lovers is just go back to Bali.
The Kamchatka Peninsula is a 1,250 k finger of land that sticks out into the Arctic waters of the Pacific Ocean and makes up the Eastern border of Siberia. Travel guide publisher, “Lonely Planet”, sums up Kamchatka with the following words.
“There are few places in the world that can simultaneously enthrall and disappoint quite like Kamchatka. A fickle temptress, it tends to hide its primal beauty behind a veil of thick clouds and fog. But when the skies finally clear and the powdered snouts of several dozen volcanoes appear through the clouds, all else melts away and you understand that you’re in a special place.”
Kamchatka is one of the world’s most extraordinary places… and it has waves! It is also one of the world’s most volcanically active spots. There are dozens of active volcanos, in winter, covered by meters and meters of Siberian powder snow. Thermal lakes and hot springs abound. Grizzly bears, wolves, deer and foxes roam this place. Kamchatka is wild! They don’t call it the land of ice and fire for nothing!
There is only one decent sized town in the whole of Kamchatka and it is not even connected to the Siberian mainland by road. The only practical way to get to Kamchatka for a foreigner is by air. A very small number of determined Russian visitors, to the peninsula, may be able to hitch a ride there on a fishing boat but it’s hard to see outsiders coming by this route.
Surfing comes to Kamchatka via some loony locals
A few years back a bunch of local Kamchatkans who were already addicted to skiing and snow-boarding in their pristine mountainous wilderness happened to see a documentary about Alaskans who surf. They quickly came up with the thought that they could do that, too. Their favorite hangout quickly became Khalaktyrsky Beach, an enormous black volcanic sandy Beach not far from the town of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.
Nothing is easy about surfing in Kamchatka. Even getting to the beach involves transport on a reliable four or six-wheel drive truck. When Kamchatkans go for a surf they take a tent. If it’s going to be hard work to get there, they may as well stay for a few days. There is no one specific surf spot at Khalaktyrsky. Choosing the day’s surfing destination usually involves travelling up the beach in an all-wheel drive truck until a nice bank with ridable A-frame set-up is spotted. Kamchatka surfing usually involves riding beautifully formed crystalline small to medium sized beach breaks. Shore-breaking tubes are a common choice for the locals.
While surfing and hanging at the beach is quite popular among locals in summer it is the winter that brings the small number of dedicated surfers to the beach. Imagine surfing crystal clear waves (the heavy, black, volcanic sand does not churn up in the waves the way our white and gold sand does) on a snow-covered beach surrounded by enormous mountains belching sulphurous smoke. The water? A fraction over 0 degrees. The air? Somewhere around minus 20! We are talking about wet suits made from the thickest rubber you could imagine along with booties, gloves and hood. If it didn’t make it impossible to see, one would even be tempted to wear goggles.
When they first enter the water, Kamchatkan surfers must fight against the urge to give it a big miss. Every ounce of their consciousness screams at them to get the hell out of the water as quickly as possible before they die. These die-hards claim that once the initial horror at the conditions is overcome and a few great waves are scored then the pain is forgotten and an unbelievable surfing bliss is achieved.
Not just surfing
After the morning’s surf session, it’s even possible to hitch a ride on an old military style chopper ferrying locals into a nearby mountainous national park for a spot of off-piste snow-boarding or skiing in one of the world’s most remote and wild places.
Let’s face it. Kamchatka surfing and skiing is not for everyone. For a start, unless you are extraordinarily resourceful or rich, even getting there is beyond most of our holiday budgets. Then you must deal with the Russian immigration bureaucracy wanting to make life difficult and travel companies wanting to take advantage of your desire to experience extreme surfing. All the possible down-sides being considered, I still want to go. Snow, surf, frikkin’ huge bears and thousands of kilometers of wilderness sound pretty great to me. But maybe it’s just a fantasy. Maybe I don’t have the ticker for it!