Surf communities can exist in the most unlikely of places. From frigid Arctic archipelagos to the sweeping sands of West Africa – if there’s a stretch of water, chances are that someone’s been on it, regardless of the conditions or wave quality.
For now though, let’s cut to the Black Sea, where we know there are surf communities across the countries of Turkey, Bulgaria, Ukraine and more. But have you ever cast your gaze towards Romania?
“Having fun in poor conditions for us equals surfing Pipeline,” says local surfer Mihai Ghita. “It’s all about the joy and the stoke and we just love doing it.”
Mihai has grown up with a connection to the sea that most of us can easily relate to, and that is something that surpasses language barriers. Rather than simply being by the sea, Mihai has always had an uncontrollable urge to try new things and push himself into all kinds of water activities. “Usually in Romania, people go to the seaside to get drunk or to flash their money or just laying around on the beach getting toasted by the sun. Since I was a kid, I’ve hated going to the seaside and spend a boring day getting a tan. I’ve wanted to go swimming, or diving to do anything other than that.”
So how did Mihai’s surf journey begin? If you weren’t aware, Romania has one of the most beautiful mountain stretches in the world. The Carpathian Mountains run for 1,500kms in an arc from the Czech Republic all the way to Romania, and if you go high enough at the right time of year, like up to the neighbourhood of Poiana Brasov, you can find some perfect ski and snowboard slopes. You’ll want to go higher than that too, as the spruce forests are home to wolves, brown bears and lynxes.
For Mihai, he ended up coming down from the mountains and eventually into the sea. “I was very much into snowboarding,” he said. “Romania has some really nice mountains and a lot of snow, or used to before climate change, global warming. Every time I would snowboard in deep powder with my buddies, or alone, I would say that this was surfing for me.
“I was following all these famous snowboarders on the internet like Terje Hakonssen and Jeremy Jones and they were all surfing during the summer months and I said to myself that this must be the new thing to do when there’s no snow. It’s funny that I love surfing more now and haven’t been snowboarding in like five years or so.
“After going away for a week to a surf camp in the Canary Islands, I understood that even our Black Sea must have some waves and maybe they are surfable, so I started looking. The Black Sea has a big community of kiters and I remember going to some of the kite spots at the Black Sea and one of the kiters had a stand-up paddle board made for waves, we used to hop on that and used it like a surfboard with some buddies in wind waves.
“Later, I met with Tudor Florin and the crew from 2 mai (a small village on the coast) who were surfing the Black Sea before me and we connected and started surfing more and pushing each other. In the beginning, I also surfed a lot with a stand up paddleboard because a friend of mine, Tiberiu Balica was opening the first stand up paddleboard academy in Romania, so he had lots of boards and was kind enough to share them with his buddies.”
With such humble beginnings into the world of surfing, equipment was something that wasn’t easy to come by for the local crew. In fact, Mihai’s first board had an unlikely connection to the south west of England.
“My first board I bought from a second hand website I entered out of curiosity. I searched for a surfboard and there was this guy selling an epoxy longboard in perfect shape for something like 80 euros.
“I bought it the next day and turned out the guy selling it was a construction worker in England and received this board as a gift from his employer for painting a house in Cornwall and he took it back to Romania in his car to use it at the Black Sea but he had no idea how.”
With such a small collective of wave riders living in Romania, Mihai made it his mission to grow the numbers of ocean enthusiasts.
This led to the organisation of Romania’s first ever surf contests which featured only six surfers.
“My dream is to make a surfing federation in Romania and send athletes to the ISA surfing games in El Salvador.
“I’ve always had this thing that I feel is my duty to expand the surfing community in Romania. I think it’s important that more people know about it as it changes lives by embracing the spirit of surfing. By practicing surfing it helps people connect with nature.
“When I started teaching surfing in the Black Sea I did it without a license and without proper training, just pushing people into waves. But soon I realised for the sport to grow we need more instructors, more schools and the proper teaching method so in this way we can evolve, so that’s what I’ve wanted to achieve with the ISA course and with the help of this course we act as ambassadors of surfing.”
Inclusivity is a big deal to Miahi. Surfers come in all ages and walks of life. Iulia Constantin has been competing alongside the boys at the surf comps since the beginning. Another woman, Mihaela Dancs, who Mihai describes as “the soul surfer”, doesn’t care for competition and instead prefers to simply dance with the waves.
“I would also like to mention the crew of surfers from 2 Mai, Dudu and Octav, the oldest surfers from Romania and some of the first to ever surf the waves at the Black Sea. They were super nice to us every time, welcoming us in their homes and sharing waves and showing us the good spots, explaining to us when the right conditions for each spot.”
And sure, Romania isn’t ever going to be the place to go for world class waves and it’s probably not going to make the travel bucket list. However, this is what surfing is for Mihai and the Romanian surf collective – and who the heck are we to judge that?
When asked what Mihai would say to surfers interested in visiting Romania, he said: “It’s not your usual surf location with good ground swell, reliable on every season. The idea is to not get your expectations up and just go with the flow because it may surprise you in a beautiful way.”