May 22, 2022

Surfing in the USSR

The history of surfing in our country is much longer than you thought

Many are convinced that surfing in Russia is practically a newborn sport.

Those who ride for 15 years are considered “oldies” and proudly rank themselves among the first generation of Russian surfers. But this is all not true.

The discoverer and popularizer of surfing on the territory of our country were Nikolai Petrovich Popov, who caught his first wave in Crimea in 1966.

And today, I will tell you his remarkable story.

The 1960s THE USSR. Moscow. What kind of surfing?

Meet Nikolai Petrovich Popov, student of the Faculty of Geography of Moscow State University, captain of the alpine skiing team. How did he even know about surfing?

In the 1960s, when Nikolai was studying at the university, a friend gave him a book by Jack London, Journey by Snark.

It is about a trip across the Pacific Ocean, during which the protagonist also visits the Hawaiian Islands.

On the pages of the work, London in paints describes how the locals ride the boards over the waves.

Nikolai was so impressed that he decided at all costs to try this outlandish, unknown occupation to anyone in the USSR – surfing

As we know, the borders of the Union at that time were guarded by the Iron Curtain, and not so much from outside invasion as from escapes from the inside.

Therefore, it was problematic for Soviet citizens to travel abroad and practically impossible.

However, the diplomats and the Soviet news agency Novosti correspondents had some chances.

This loophole opened up to Nikolai when he got a job as a journalist in the corresponding publication with correspondent points worldwide.

First of all, he began to learn about surfing from colleagues who worked in America, Australia, and New Zealand, where surfing was already quite developed and popular at that time.

But it turned out that colleagues had nothing to share, only a few of about 100 respondents saw real surfers live, but none tried to ride themselves.

Nikolay decided not to give up but to master surfing on his own

An experienced athlete involved in alpine and water skiing for many years, he was pretty confident in his strength and coordination of movements.

As for theoretical knowledge directly about surfing, he found it in American magazines, which he managed to get from colleagues working abroad.

Nikolai began his path to his dream by deciding to make his surfboard and find waves in his homeland.

I read about boards in American magazines, and for help finding a suitable place for skiing, I turned to my friends from the Department of Oceanology

After some calculations, oceanologists agreed that they were most likely to see waves on the western coast of Crimea, from Sevastopol and further towards Evpatoria.

As a result, the choice fell on Cape Tarkhankut

In 1966, Nikolai Popov and his friend Vladimir Prozorovsky got together on a surf expedition to the Crimea.

Of course, in the Soviet Union, there was no way to buy a surfboard, so Nikolai had to make the board himself

However, he learned from American magazines that surfboards are polystyrene coated with resin and fiberglass.

These materials were found in hardware stores. Having bought everything necessary, Nikolai went to Crimea by car with Vladimir, Nadya, and Nina.

They found a small house near the beach and set to work: glued three long pieces of polystyrene with epoxy resin to get a blank of the required width, turned it around with improvised tools – knives and saws – wrapped it in fiberglass, and filled it with epoxy. Finally, the fin was cut out of plywood.

Familiar oceanographers were not mistaken with a place potentially suitable for surfing, but the waves depend not only on the shape of the bottom but also on storms, so the friends had to wait for them.

The first four days, the sea was completely calm, and only on the fifth night, the surf begins to run over

Vova was the first to wake up from the sound of the waves, woke Nikolai up, and they rushed to the shore to watch the conditions.

With the first light, it became clear that there were waves, but rather stormy ones – torn, mixed with foam, not at all the same as in the pictures in the magazine.

However, it didn’t matter; the main thing was that it was possible to try out the new board, so the friends began to take turns entering the water with it and trying to catch the wave.

Nikolay enthusiastically describes the first impressions of the feeling of sliding, when at last you do not turn over but fly forward along with the tide, feeling its energy.

Nikolai and Vladimir were fortunate because having “earned” on the fifth day, the sea supplied them with waves for skiing all three weeks until the vacation.

The board also turned out to be strong enough, withstood all this time, breaking only at the very end on a too sharp wave

In 1970, the first Soviet surfer went to California.

Four years later, Nikolai Petrovich, working for the magazine “Soviet Life,” was sent on a business trip to the States to the exhibition “USSR: Country and People in Art Photography.”

The show traveled to several cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles. But, of course, he did not miss the chance to combine work with his old dream – surfing.

Arriving in San Francisco, Nikolai, first of all, went in search of the skating guys

Local surfers, not without surprise, accepted the “colleague” from the USSR, but in the end, they turned out to be very friendly, lent him aboard, showed him spots, and willingly shared their knowledge.

So for a month, Nikolai surfed and gained experience in Stinson Beach.

A year later – a new opportunity to work in America, this time in Washington

In this area, the closest suitable surfing spot turned out to be the Atlantic coast in Maryland, 150 kilometers from Washington.

In the summer, while the sun and water temperature allowed, Nikolai rode in shorts, and by autumn, he had already acquired a wetsuit and bought two surfboards, which he then brought to the USSR.

Since 1975, Nikolai Popov has been looking for waves in the USSR.

Nikolay chose the Caspian Sea as the first direction for his research surfing expeditions.

Together with his wife Nadezhda, they went there as savages, pitched a tent in a place called Sulak, not far from Makhachkala, and waited for suitable conditions for surfing.

Although, because of the strong wind, the waves were irregular nevertheless, in total, Nikolai found about ten “katabatic” days.

In the same year, Nikolai Petrovich tells the general public about his hobby and sends the first articles about surfing to the magazine “Technology of Youth.”

The editor-in-chief of the publication, a big fan of sports and innovation, approved publications about an exotic sport.

To Nikolai’s pleasant surprise, the magazine received many responses from all over the country; letters of gratitude and requests to tell more about surfing were poured into the editorial office.

Nikolai wanted to continue researching the Sulak reserve north of Makhachkala, but getting there was not accessible; it was a protected area.

So I had to send a letter to the Central Committee of the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League, to the Dagestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, asking permission to visit the reserve.

Vasily Dmitrievich Zakharchenko, editor-in-chief of the “Technology of Youth” magazine, helped

He wrote to the first secretary of the Dagestan regional committee of the Komsomol: “We ask you to provide comrade. Popov N.P. all kinds of support in his sports and scientific research. “This was probably the first time that surfing was called a sport in the USSR.

For several years, Nikolai Petrovich and his wife periodically came to the Sulak reserve to catch waves, became in some way local celebrities, made friends with the indigenous people who helped with food and drinking water.

As a result, the last time Nikolai rode was in 1978

True, interest in surfing gradually faded over time, and the opportunity to go abroad was no longer present.

After that, life and work took their toll, displacing not the most convenient and not at all popular hobby.

Not a surfer alone at sea?

Can we assume that there was surfing in the USSR if there was essentially one surfer in the country?

Naturally, he did not receive any state support because funding was allocated exclusively for sports that bring medals.

There was no commercial sponsorship under socialism either.

Surfing reconnaissance expeditions, publications, everything that is commonly called “surfing development,” Nikolai did on sheer enthusiasm

On the other hand, his example clearly shows that if the desire is sincere and the dream is absolute, even the most severe obstacles will be surmountable, and fate will throw a good chance at the right time.

Epilogue

Two surfboards are still kept at Nikolai Petrovich’s dacha.

And although he caught his last wave more than forty years ago, the memories of skating are vivid and still cause awe and excitement.

Because the feeling that you experience when you catch a wave is impossible to forget.

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