Earlier this year, surf explorer Erwan Simon flew to Kazakhstan, a county on the coast of the Caspian Sea. He'd not heard of any surfable waves out that way, but had studied wind patterns, bathymetry and more. The thinking was, 'there must be something out there,' here's what he found.
As a traveler and explorer I spend my life focussing on the research of new, unsurfed waves around the world. I've visited and surfed more than 70 countries and territories including Libya, Comoros, Sierra Leone, Haïti, Algeria, Mauritania, Egypt, Montenegro, Guinea Bissau, China... I had the chance to learn how to discover waves with experts like John Seaton Callahan, Randy Rarick, Antony Colas and other friends.
These days, I'll travel alone, from Cargados Carajos archipelago in 2006 to Uganda Lake Victoria and Turkey, around the Black Sea more recently. But Kazakhstan has been on my wishlist for quite some time. Most surfers think all the waves have been discovered, but that is not true.
To be honest, I'd never heard about waves in Kazakhstan.
I know few people who surfed in Azerbaijan. I started to study the Caspian Sea. It is a little bit smaller than the Black Sea but there is a potential. I checked the bathymetry and local winds. Kazakhstan seemed surfable and the destination looked unreal for a surfer. So unreal and alien, that I wanted to go there. I used a couple of mathematical formulas to estimate the swell and wave potential. On paper it was possible to find waves in Kazakhstan. So I decided to go there by myself.
There is no information about surfing in Kazakhstan. I did a lot of research in books and on the internet. I checked Google earth and other satellite images.
Nothing exciting but it became a challenge like my previous explorations of Albania or Uganda for example. My friend Antony Colas used to say 'If you don’t go - you don’t know!'
The Caspian is a small inland sea right in the middle of central Asia. Far far away from the oceans. It is located 27 metres below sea level. I decided to go in Autumn.
There are two main seasonal winds then. From the South and from north to north-west. You can expect wind swell with period between three and ten seconds.
In Kazakhstan, the Caspian seaside is in the West of the country, the Mangystau region is the area to explore. There is no tide. The water is salted (three times less than the Atlantic). You see shells on the beach, mussels on the rocks, seagulls and cormorants. It contains a few seals and also few sturgeons.
And at first, when I got there... it was completely flat. Not a good start.
The second day I found a nice sandbar in the middle of the dunes. Little swell from the south with knee to waist-high waves and light offshore winds. It was fun to ride with a board for small waves. I was really happy to surf the Caspian sea. And Kazakhstan for the first time.
Few days later there was a good wind swell coming from the north-west up to 1.5 metres and more. I went back to that same place but there was a problem. All this stretch of coastline had no waves because the swell was blocked by offshore sandbars really far away. I drove around all day but I couldn’t find anything good to surf.
There was plenty of swell outside but I ended up surfing crap waves in town. Knee high waves, powerless. I was really bitter and disappointed. What a mess.
On a good forecast, with a swell from the south, I decided to explore the peninsula on the way to Fort Shevchenko. In the middle of nowhere, there was a dusty track going down to the beach. And I spotted plenty of waves. The swell was pumping! I grabbed my wetsuit and jumped in the water, surfed shoulder-high waves. Eventually, the light side-shore wind gave way to offshores. Felt magical down there, no-one around. Just the typical Kazakhs with a few camels and wild horses. There are no other surfers in Kazakhstan.
I travelled with a Mini-Simmons 5’6” to ride small waves and a 6’0” for normal waves. I ended up surfing both.
It was easy to travel through the country. People were friendly and helpful. But only few people speak English. You really need a good four wheel drive vehicle to explore the Mangystau because you have to do some serious off-road searching.
It's unreal and inspirational to travel through the Kazakh steppes, a unique atmosphere. Canyons, camels, wild horses, a huge landscape. You sometimes come across ruins of old villages from the historic Silk road. You sometimes feel as if you're on a different planet.