‘We Mustn’t Let Fear of Sharks Turn Into Paranoia’

PHOTO by EpicStockMedia / Depositphotos
The three-time Russian champion Yevgeny Isakov on surfing, its risks and the continued growth of surfing in Russia

Surfing has long transformed from a recreational activity into a fully-fledged professional sport, with many domestic and international competitions held across the globe. This year, surfing was named among the sports to be added to the Olympics for 2020. Yevgeny Isakov, the three-time Russian champion and two-time Surf Jam Bali winner, talks about the joys and risks of riding waves and gives practical tips for wannabe surfers.

Lenta.ru: When did you first learn to surf and how?

Isakov: Ten years ago, in 2006, I went to Spain with my friends from university. This was when I first stepped on the surfboard – and I got completely hooked.

Most people regard surfing as a form of entertainment rather than as a serious sport. Is it difficult for someone without prior experience to master surfing?

Like in any sport or activity, surfing offers many levels of competence. In football, for example, you can just have a kick around in the park with your friends or be a striker in the Premier League. It’s hard to pick out the point at which a pastime grows into something bigger. You don’t need any special skills to start training, but it takes much longer to become really good at surfing than at any other sport as you have to move across the constantly changing wavescape.

Your Facebook is full of great photos from all over the world, but you were born in Kaliningrad, on the Baltic Sea. Can you surf on the Baltic coast?

Of course. Moreover, I have a summer school called König Surf Club in Kaliningrad. You can find surfable waves out in the ocean, but the waves around Kaliningrad are quite good for beginners. Incidentally, Kaliningrad has been home to the Russian national surfing championships for the last three years.

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Yevgeny Isakov

Is it possible to make progress in surfing without going abroad?

In the recent years, interest in surfing has been booming across Russia. As well as Kaliningrad, there are surf schools in St. Petersburg, Kamchatka, Vladivostok and even Crimea. We need to move away from the pattern of several years ago when people travelled abroad to pick up the basics of surfing, then got back to Russia to practice – ideally, it should be the other way round.

What is your attitude to wakeboarding?

Although a lot of my friends do wakeboarding, I am quite sceptical about it. In terms of techniques, these two sports are very different. Personally, I would rather recommend wakesurfing as a substitute for surfing: I even teach it at my school in Kaliningrad. It's a lot safer and much more like classical surfing.

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If someone told you they wanted to learn surfing, where would you advise them to go for their first lessons?

If you live in an area with no surf schools and you want to try surfing abroad, you should head straight for the ocean. It doesn’t matter where you take your first lessons as long as you join a reputable surf school which will provide you with all conditions needed for great learning.

However, surfing is usually practiced while you're on holiday, so there are other factors to take into account – what country you would like to visit, how far you are prepared to travel and so on.

What are the main dangers associated with surfing?

Like any sport, surfing has its own risks, such as injuries caused by hitting oneself against the surfboard, other surfers or the shore. However, if you are conscious of your skill level, you can minimise your chances of injury.

What about sharks?

What’s wrong with them? (smiles) Of course, shark attacks happen from time to time, but you mustn’t let this fear grow into paranoia. You're far more likely to get injured walking down the street.

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How would you describe the overall level of surfing in Russia?

Surfing is a growing sport in Russia and we have a long way to go before we can catch up with the biggest countries in the game – although we are clearly on the right path. There are plenty of Russian schools both at home and abroad; there is also the National Surfing Federation which organises the national championships, trains the national team and promotes the development of the sport in Russia. A lot needs to be done, but we’ve made a really good start.

You are a three-time national champion. Is it a prestigious title?

I feel very level-headed about it – as I said, surfing in Russia is still a work in progress. When this sport has become more professional, the title will certainly gain some prestige. But let’s be honest: it’s still nice to know you can call yourself one of the best surfers in the country!

Interview by Artem Zagumennov