Surfing at the End of the World

Searching for the perfect wave on Russia's eastern frontier
Chris Burkard

There’s surfing, and then there’s surf exploration. For every North Shore or Huntington Beach, there’s an equivalent place somewhere in the world where the water peels into perfect tubes of blown glass and few—if any—surfers have ever set foot.

Russia’s Kamchatka may just be one of those places.

Last year we brought word of a Patagonia-sponsored surf expedition to this volcanic peninsula in the Russian Far East, and now we have the result: a short film titled “Russia, The Outpost, Vol. 01” and zine by the same name filled with beautiful color photography by Chris Burkard, whose work regularly appears in top surfing magazines. (Burkard has also published his work in The Active Times.) The text is by Ben Weiland, who runs the surf exploration website Arctic Surf.

The zine—actually, a nicely bound paperback—and accompanying DVD ($30 on document a two-week foray into this isolated corner of the world by a crew of adventurous surfers in search of untouched waves. And those waves are pretty damn untouched.

Once home to Soviet submarine bases, the Kamchatka Peninsula only opened to western tourism after the end of the Cold War, and even now its largest city, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, is only reachable by plane or boat. There are few coastal roads on this rugged outgrowth of Siberia and it’s the kind of place you’re more likely to encounter a brown bear than a person. Enormous volcanic cones loom in the background of many of the photos.

Joining Burkard and Weiland on this 2012 trip were Foster Huntington, Cyrus Sutton, Keith Malloy, Trevor Gordon, and pro surfer Dane Gudauskas. As befits the terrain, they traveled by decommissioned military truck and helicopter and fed themselves on region’s super-abundant salmon. It’s not much of a spoiler to say they encountered varied wave conditions—some nice tubes, some flat water—and had no major incidents in the course of their journey. (Burkard’s being temporarily deported to a South Korean jail cell over visa issues is a major exception, but it’s only mentioned in passing.)

That’s because the real star is Kamchatka in all its wild glory. In the absence of compelling narrative, the whole thing hinges on nailing the setting, and Weiland and Burkard both do that admirably. So it’s a shame, then, that the final product is so small. Burkard is a magazine photographer, and his photos of the stunning scenery and motley surf crew feel unfairly squished into a smaller format.

Still, whether you’re a surfer or not, “Russia” is likely to make you daydream about roughing it in this pristine wilderness and may even inspire you to add Kamchatka to your travel bucket list. 

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