Kazakhstan: Surf Adventure on the Coast of the Caspian Sea

Kazakhstan: Surf Adventure on the Coast of the Caspian Sea

Earlier this year, surf researcher Erwan Simon flew to Kazakhstan, a county on the Caspian Sea coast. He had never heard of surfable waves out there, but he had studied wind patterns, bathymetry and more. The thought was, “There must be something out there,” here’s what he found.

As a traveler and explorer, I spend my life focused on exploring new, unsurfed waves around the world. I have visited and surfed more than 70 countries and territories including Libya, Comoros, Sierra Leone, Haiti, Algeria, Mauritania, Egypt, Montenegro, Guinea-Bissau, China… I had the opportunity to learn with experts how how one waves discovers John Seaton Callahan, Randy Rarick, Antony Colas and other friends.

You can surf in 3mm at the right time of year.

You can surf in 3mm at the right time of year.

© 2022 – Azamat Sarsenbayev

These days I’m traveling alone, from the Cargados Carajos archipelago in 2006 to Uganda, Lake Victoria and Turkey, more recently around the Black Sea. But Kazakhstan has been on my wish list for a long time. Most surfers think all waves have been discovered, but that’s not true.

To be honest, I had never heard of waves in Kazakhstan.

“Sometimes you feel like you’re on another planet,” says Erwan. The Kazakh semi-desert landscape stretches over 679,944 km2. By anyone’s standard, that’s a lot of sand.

© 2022 – Erwan Simon

I know few people who have surfed in Azerbaijan. I started studying the Caspian Sea. It’s a bit smaller than the Black Sea, but there is potential. I checked bathymetry and local winds. Kazakhstan seemed surfable and the destination looked unreal for a surfer. So unreal and strange that I wanted to go there. I used some 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 alone.

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.

If you don't know what you're getting into, pack the kitchen sink.  Erwan's quiver was designed for the small wave grove.

If you don’t know what you’re getting into, pack the kitchen sink. Erwan’s quiver was designed for the small wave grove.

© 2022 – Azamat Sarsenbayev

Nothing exciting but it turned out to be challenging 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 Sea is a small inland sea in central Asia. Far far from the oceans. It is 27 meters below sea level. I have chosen autumn.

It's not glorious, but it's waves!  In the Caspian Sea!

It’s not glorious, but it’s waves! In the Caspian Sea!

© 2022 – Azamat Sarsenbayev

There are then two main seasonal winds. From south and from north to northwest. You can expect a wind swell lasting between three and ten seconds.

In Kazakhstan, the Caspian coast lies in the west of the country, the Mangystau region is the area to explore. There is no tide. The water is salty (three times less than the Atlantic). You will see shells on the beach, shells on the rocks, seagulls and cormorants. It contains a few seals and also a few sturgeons.

And first when I got there it was completely flat. Bad start.

Here's the thing about the Caspian Sea, while the northern end is shallow compared to the southern one, which can reach depths of up to 1km, one of the lowest natural relief sinks on earth.  And what Erwan studied for weeks.

Here’s the thing about the Caspian Sea, while the northern end is shallow compared to the southern one, which can reach depths of up to 1km, one of the lowest natural relief sinks on earth. And what Erwan studied for weeks.

© 2022 – Azamat Sarsenbayev

On 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 wind. It was fun to ride a small wave board. I was really lucky to surf the Caspian Sea. And Kazakhstan for the first time.

A few days later there was a good wind swell from the northwest up to 1.5 meters and more. I went back to the same place but there was a problem. This whole stretch of coast had no waves because the swells were blocked really far away from offshore sandbars. I’ve been driving around all day but couldn’t find anything good to surf.

There was a lot of swell outside but I ended up surfing crap waves around town. Knee high waves, powerless. I was really bitter and disappointed. What a mess.

There is a constant police and military presence in the city.  Or just pop in to check out the surf.

There is a constant police and military presence in the city. Or just pop in to check out the surf.

© 2022 – Azamat Sarsenbayev

With 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, a dusty path led down to the beach. And I’ve seen a lot of waves. The swell was pumping! I grabbed my wetsuit and jumped in the water, surfing shoulder-high waves. Eventually the light sideshore wind gave way offshore. 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 traveled with a mini Simmons 5’6″ for small waves and a 6’0″ for normal waves. I ended up surfing both.

Imagine the amount of push in that one lap?

Imagine the amount of push in that one lap?

© 2022 – Azamat Sarsenbayev

It was easy to travel around the country. People were friendly and helpful. But few speak English. You really need a good 4×4 vehicle to explore the Mangystau because you need to do some serious off-roading.

It is unreal and inspiring to travel through the Kazakh steppes, a unique atmosphere. Canyons, camels, wild horses, a huge landscape. From the historic Silk Road you sometimes come across ruins of old villages. Sometimes you feel like you’re on another planet.

Ask anyone about any surfing experience and they will say the same;  get all-wheel drive.

Ask anyone about any surfing experience and they will say the same; get all-wheel drive.

© 2022 – Azamat Sarsenbayev

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