In Search of Russia’s Forbidden Waves

Photograph by Chris Burkard

The Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s Far East is a subarctic wonder, packed with active volcanoes and glaciers. It also juts deep into the Pacific Ocean, catching massive swells from Japan and Alaska – the kind ambitious surfers dream about. The waters are virtually untouched thanks to the region’s remoteness and its function as home to some of Russia’s major military bases. Off-limits throughout the Cold War, the peninsula was opened to civilians only about 20 years ago, and much of its 100,000-square-mile expanse is still restricted. “There’s so much mystery around the swells in Russia,” says photographer Chris Burkard, 27, who researched Kamchatka for three years before heading there last October. For 16 days, he and five fellow surfers (including Keith Malloy and Dane Gudauskas, pictured) toured the peninsula’s wilderness, looking for waves. One break was so isolated, they could reach it only by helicopter – in this case, an old Soviet MI-8. The waves they found there were not the barrels they’d hoped for, but no one considered the trip a failure. “If my goal was to score perfect surf, I’d be down,” says Burkard. “But that’s never been my goal on these trips. I go to explore.”

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