Russia’s Die-Hard Surfers Want to Be Olympians

Rasshivayev, who worked as a surfing instructor in Europe and the Dominican Republic, was hit with the same euphoria when he rode his first wave in the Russian Far East city of Vladivostok.

It was “absolutely unbelievable,” he said. “At that moment I understood perfectly that the surfing journey of my life brought me back to my native country.”

But it is the sub-zero temperatures and price of getting to these remote regions that concern many other Russian surfers, including Darya Strekalina, a research assistant at the National University of Science and Technology. She has surfed in Morocco and the Dominican Republic, but never in Russia.

“It costs about the same to go to Kamchatka as a trip to Bali,” Strekalina explained to The Moscow Times. “And Russians are more likely to go to Bali. Kamchatka is more for fanatics.”

It was this kind of skepticism that motivated Tatiana Tsibikova to found the Surfest Russia festival three years ago. After a surfing trip to Murmansk, in northwestern Russia, Tsibikova says she came back “changed” and became a staunch campaigner for surfing in Russia.

With Surfest — a day of lectures, activities and exhibits — she tries to encourage Muscovites to take up surfing; she wants them to know that it is possible to surf at home.

“A lot of people laugh or are surprised. Surfing in Moscow? We don’t even have a sea, not to mention an ocean,” Tsibikova says, echoing the disbelief she hears. “It will take time to show them that it is possible to surf in Russia.”

Tokyo 2020

Since surfing was included on the Olympic agenda in 2016, there has been growing interest in competitive surfing across the country. A national surfing championship starting this summer in Kaliningrad, St. Petersburg and Sochi will determine who is eligible to compete for places on Russia’s Olympic team.

But Yevgeny Isakov, a Kaliningrad native who started the Konig Surf Club in his hometown and has surfed competitively for Russia, says the sport still struggles to be taken seriously.

“The term ‘professional surfer’ is something of a fantasy right now,” he says. “Several generations need to pass until surfers are seen as professional athletes.”

Still, Russian surfing has come on leaps and bounds since Rasshivayev first saw “Point Break.”

A surfing federation, headed by Rasshivayev, was established in 2008. In 2015 surfing was recognized as an official sport by the Russian government. Competitions have been held regularly since 2010 and the federation is looking for partners to build an artificial wave pool in Moscow.

“I am unbelievably jealous of them all,” Rasshivayev said of Russia’s budding surfers and the relative ease with which they can take up the sport. “For me, getting into surfing required a lot of determination.”