Searching for surf in the Russian outback

Chris Burkard

The latest installment in Chris Burkard's adventures in the arctic, this trip took him and a handful of surfers to Russia's remote Kamchatka Peninsula -- and they found what they were looking for.

The first installment of a planned four-volume series covering Arctic surf spots, "Russia" is a small photo book shot by California's Chris Burkard, with travel stories by German-born writer Ben Weiland. Filled with attentive descriptions and color and black-and-white images, this high-quality zine and companion short film unpack the authors' trip in October to the Kamchatka Peninsula, one of the most volcanic and wild regions on earth. Minding the resident grizzly bears and suiting up for the 42-degree water, surfers Keith Malloy, Dane Gudauskas, Trevor Gordon, Cyrus Sutton and Foster Huntington -- with the indispensable help of two local guides -- discover untouched surf, salmon runs and some of the most scenic camping spots any wanderer could wish for.

For more on the backstory and a look at what lies ahead, XGames.com caught up with Burkard at home in central California.

XGames.com: How did you get inspired to surf the Kamchatka Peninsula?
Chris Burkard: I'm not sure who the first people to surf there were, but we met a few locals who were inspired to surf by Tom Curren's trip to Russia in the early 2000s. I'm always driven to find those wide-open surf environments, and seeing the footage from Tom's trip gave me inspiration.

What about your trip to Vladivostok in 2009?
That trip only fueled my desire to spend more time in Russia. We only had a short time to explore the surf and the cities. Upon landing in Russia, I was quickly thrown into a jail cell for 24 hours, then the next day I was deported back to Korea because my passport had issues. Two days later, I was able to make it back to Russia and score some small but fun waves. I saw the potential for a trip on a larger scale, and this time I returned with a few more years of travel and surf experience under my belt.

In these cold, remote locations, what are the biggest variables, and how do you cope?
The conditions are always varying and usually pretty harsh. Every moment is changing, and you're dealing with weather, tide and swell. You're a surfer, so there are about five different factors you're hoping will come together. When you are in these remote places, there is a certain danger involved with having nothing around you in case something goes wrong. Luckily, I have grown a little bit of an immunity to the harsh weather and water, but prior to trips, I spend countless hours researching the destination, from swell to culture to wildlife, and do my best to understand what I am getting myself into.

If and when you return to Kamchatka, what will you do differently?
Toward the end of my trip, I realized I wish I could have spent another month there. I enjoyed everything that we did so much that I imagine I would repeat a lot of the same activities: fishing, bodysurfing and camping. There was so much potential for surf as well that I feel we saw just a small glimpse into the waves that grace that coastline. There were so many spots that were just shy of being a world-class wave if it were going off. I want to be able to spend some time to score all these spots.

What's next?
Alaska, Norway, Iceland. I've been to a lot of cold-water places and plan to keep my trips headed to those remote areas. I plan on definitely making another zine from one of those adventures or one to come. I hope to capture some of the same mood of the "Russia" zine with a captivating trip that shows an intimate look into the distant coastlines.

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