The six surfers and three officials in Team Ukraine each have a different story of their incredible journey to Huntington Beach, but one theme is common, they are extremely grateful to be present and to be able to speak on behalf of their war-torn nation. In turn, the international surfing community is honored to be able to show their support.
Nina Zavodchykova resides in the small city of Slavutych up in northern Ukraine, which was invaded in March. The outpouring of love shown during the Opening Ceremony was overwhelming for her.
“When Ukraine was on the stage at the opening ceremony, suddenly everyone was standing up. It was so loud, everyone was clapping with so much support,” Zavodchykova shared. “It was so powerful I literally cried in gratitude. It’s just incredible.”
Anastasiia Temirbek faced 10-foot walls of whitewater as she paddled out next to the pier at the International Surfing Association World Surfing Games this week in Huntington Beach, California.
The ocean had decided to pulse just as Temirbek’s heat began, sending a succession of solid waves into the lineup and leaving the surfers struggling to make it “out back” to the calmer water.
But at least there were no mines.
And the water was a balmy 71 degrees – warm enough for a bikini rather than a thick, cumbersome wetsuit. There were no rockets flying overhead. There was no ice floating in the lineup, and bright sunshine bore down on the golden sand from a perfect, cloudless sky.
Though not known for its beaches, Ukraine does have waves, says Temirbek, especially in the Black Sea on its southern border. That’s where – in Odessa – the nation organised its first surfing competition back in 2018. The first year was men only, but in 2019, with women part of the competition, she took part.
Vasiliy Kordysh is the President of the Ukraine Surfing Federation. It was 2018 that Vasiliy officially registered the Ukrainian Surfing Federation and then became members of the International Surfing Association (ISA) in April, 2021. “By May, we went to El Salvador to compete,” said Vasiliy. Shortly after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, the ISA and International Olympic Committee (IOC) imposed a strict sporting exclusion on the Russian Surfing Federation.
“We get along well with the Russian Surfing Federation… they’re great people. But they have to be held accountable for what their president is doing.”
Surfing year round in Ukraine is no joke. Cold water, colder air temperatures. There are only around 10-15 surfers in Odesa who have decent wetsuits for the winter. There are more surfers but they’re not as crazy as we are [laughs], they don’t surf in the winter in 6/5mm suits and boots and hoods, good gloves. But it’s growing. And getting things ready for the defences, most of us surfers are involved in this process.
“We’ve found a new spot around here too – that’s been working for a different direction of swell, we’re looking forward to surfing that when we win this war. The energy here in the Black Sea though, it’s not like the ocean, you have to surf really different, practice on different boards and find out what works – but we can catch small waves, that’s surfing for us.”