Sochi, on Russia’s Black Sea coast, has been known as many things. Home of the 2014 Winter Olympics, the southern city Stalin famously loved to visit, the “Russian Riviera”. Perched on the water’s edge near the border with Georgia, its warm climes and calm waters made it the perfect setting for establishing dozens of Soviet sanatoria for the thousands of workers in search of a tranquil break from city life in the summer months. The sanatoria and their visitors have largely stayed the same since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but in recent years a brand new crowd has emerged: surfers. Don’t let the calm black waters of the city’s beaches fool you. There are rough waves to be found, you just need to know where to look.
For the pro ocean surfer, Khosta-Rika — conspicuously named after the Central American country — is the place to begin. A mecca for adventurous surfers, the spot hosted the 2013 Russia Surfing Championships, and March this year saw the largest scale race to date, in which over 15 people took part. With waves between one and three metres high rolling one after the other, it’s little surprise that the spot is favoured by surf photographers who are more used to shooting in Bali and Malaysia. For surfing newbies or the more spontaneous holiday-goer, pick up all the gear you need from the Volna sanatorium nearby. If you fancy a break from the water, swap one type of foam for another at Surf Coffee, the surfers’ favourite coffee hut.
Not far from Khosta and opposite the Mys Vidny hotel is a lesser-known surfing spot. Loved by the more discerning surfer, surfing here can kickstart some serious adrenaline: the reefs that surround this spot means you can catch high “walls”, as waves are pushed up from below.
Move into the very heart of Sochi and you’ll find the Riviera Beach. A temperamental spot, this area is best suited to those already comfortable on a surf board. Practically any city bus or marshrutka will get you here. Much to the disgruntlement of local residents, the Riviera embankment has recently undergone a monumental reconstruction, creating a unique opportunity to commandeer the whole beach for surf parties. In summer, when the water is calm, newbies can rent paddleboards and start their training.
The Matsesta-Briz surf base is a challenging spot suitable almost exclusively for pros, with autumn and winter the ideal seasons to surf. The strong current makes it hard to get in the water, and even harder to get out, but it’s worth the effort. Matsesta-Briz offers free paddle-boarding during the last hour that it’s open as a way of encouraging new surfers. Beautiful sunset photos are guaranteed.
The microdistricts of Ashe and Lazarevskoye offer excellent surfing spots of their own, especially if you fancy some tube riding. Out of season, the local beaches are practically deserted, allowing you to leave the urban hubbub behind and enjoy the “breath” of the sea. The easiest way of reaching Ashe and Lazarevskoye from the city centre is to get yourself on a train headed for Tuapse — there’s an hourly service even out of season. The surf spots are within walking distance of one another — very convenient if you’re intent on seeking out the perfect wave.
Just beyond the Riviera Beach is another excellent spot. Located opposite the Zhemchuzhina Hotel, it’s easily reachable by bus or marshrutka. The waves here aren’t particularly high, which makes it a great place to learn the basics — plus there are plenty of paddleboards and windsurf boards for hire.
If you find yourself in Adler, an hour outside Sochi, make your way to the Mandarin Shopping Centre which stands opposite a little beach with good waves but a manageable, weak current. After a good storm, though, expect pretty big, “clean” waves.
Opposite Morskoy Vokzal station by Sochi’s sea port is perfect for a great time all round, but ideally suited for surfers into their tubes and turns.
Wherever you decide to push out on your board, you’ll appreciate the cheerful locals. Unlike Australian or Californian regulars, who can be very territorial and negatively-inclined towards tourists, Sochi surfers behave differently: the friendly and inviting atmosphere makes you feel at home, with everyone a recent convert to the sport.
As with all outdoors pursuits, though, certain elements are strictly out of your control and it might seem like the sea is testing your patience. For some newcomers this is true: it's better to dedicate your spare time to checking the wind forecast. You should be paying attention to the speed and direction of air flow coming from the North, and the heart of Russia. Strong cyclones provide three to five days of good surfing in a single week. Watching the stormy Black Sea is a ritual for locals: join them, and discover something new.
This article was produced as part of The Calvert Journal’s New Writers Programme.
Find out more about Sochi with our app, the New East Travel Guide.
Text: Alexandra Bondareva and Egor Fedorov
Image: Mikhail Mordasov