Surfing the Land of Fire and Ice

An expedition to Russia's far Far East

Editor’s note: Last year photographer Chris Burkard accompanied a surfing expedition to Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. The crew's adventures are recounted in the book and short film “Russia: The Outpost Vol. 01,” available at

The Kamchatka Peninsula is part of Russia’s Far East. The region is a neighbor to Siberia—but more remote, with worse weather, and with more bears. [slideshow:770]

It straddles a crack in the earth’s surface called the Ring of Fire and houses the planet’s largest collection of active volcanoes. Here, all sorts of pressurized, hot, foul-smelling stuff creeps to the surface from the depths of the earth. Monstrous purple cones preside over the landscape. Glaciers robe their flanks and smoke steams from their crowns.

Yet despite all its prehistoric geology, we found the peninsula to be a camping utopia. Stereotypes of damp clouds and putrid soups melted away. For days on end the sun awoke blazing red and ascended into beaming blue skies. By mid-morning Kamchatka’s black-sand beaches baked. Hot breezes swept from the mountains and out to sea. According to locals, there hadn’t been a summer this good in years. By taking the last flight of the season on Yakutia Air we had arrived at the best time. The waning days of summer couldn’t have cleared a better path for exploration.

We weren’t the first surfers to explore Kamchatka. Twelve years ago Tom Curren and Brian Toth uncovered the potential of the peninsula and scored. Yet it was difficult to say where. Conditions could have aligned along any number of bays, sandbars or river mouths. The silty sands shifted rapidly. Sandbars appeared and disappeared within hours. Near the city, a few rivers snaked into the sea. We believed that they had found good waves nearby. The beach ran for miles and accepted all kinds of swell directions.

No one knew what kind of waves we would find, but our lack of knowledge of the set-ups wasn’t the only thing that concerned us. It was nearly impossible to get to them. Click to read on...