Every Russian with a board in Bali is destined to get the following question: “Wow, so Russians can surf?!”
That’s true. The snowy land of bears and babushkas is far away from Bondi or Venice beach, but the Russian people are famous for being true adventurers.
The third annual Russian SurfJam Festival that happened at Balian in the beginning of December is living proof of that.
Yes, Russians can surf.
Of course surfing is not the most common sport back in Russia, but those who were raised watching surf movies like Point Break and worshipped Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze’s fearless characters, have always had a dream to ride the waves.
Having gained loads of practice on other boards – snowboarding, wakeboarding and kite surfing – The Russians finally mastering the art of surfing was just a question of when and of course, where? As soon as vacationing in Bali became trendy, the whole thing happened naturally.
Now there are Russian surf schools in the Dominican Republic, Portugal, Morocco, South Africa – and of course, Bali.
For sure those adventurous Russians still have a long way to go to compete with natural born riders from Australia and Hawaii, but hey, the first generation are definitely taking steps in the right direction.
Frankly speaking; they’re very solid steps too, as the Russian team took part in the World Surfing Championship in Peru earlier this year and they served up some serious competition! For fun, Russians have their very own contest that takes place in Bali every year – The SurfJam festival at Balian beach.
Tucked away from the tourist crowds in the Tabanan province, on the far West of the island is the blissful Balian. The beach is virtually uninhabited, with only a handful of guesthouses and simple amenities.
No fuzz, no buzz and absolutely zero beach hawkers. That’s right! Not a single sarong seller in sight! It feels like Bali back in the 80s, a purely natural vibe with plenty of simple pleasures, like having a beer and a bowl of rice crackers watching one perfect set roll in after another. A lazy chat with local patrons over the cup of milky Bali kopi after an early morning surf is the definition of totally breezy. A nap in a hammock then an afternoon stroll down the wide and clean beach under the drizzling rain with sunset Bintangs to follow. Finally, a snooze and repeat.
It’s a bit different when The Festival hits the shore. Imagine about 200 exited surfers with families, dogs and all their favourite boards that come all the way from Canggu, Kuta, Jimbaran and even Uluwatu.
The little hotel hosts the event and it’s all a happy mess; kids running free without any supervision, while the market is packed with artisans selling their handmade jewellery, vintage clothes and home-baked cakes are also on offer to the hordes of people hanging around.
While some conquer the waves, others do yoga, capoeira or Pilates. It’s a mini-Woodstock with a healthier spin on the festival vibe.
On the third and final day of the festival, a fun contest takes place and it’s probably the best part of the whole thing. One last ride, but this time in costume, where the fantasies of the participants are fully realised. In the last three years Balian has seen it all – aliens, stormtroopers, Disney heroes, desperate housewives, Playboy bunnies, The Mario Brothers, The Statue Of Liberty and The Queen of Hearts… himself! Let the pictures do the talking and next year come join the festivities to see what those crazy Russians are made of!