Over the years, there have been whispers of decent surf in the Black Sea. That 8,500km coastline spans more than half a dozen countries and acts as a divide between Europe and Asia - yet, despite all those eyeballs on the water, surfing has never truly come to light, nor has it been high on the list of activities you'd conjure up when thinking of that inland sea.
And there's good reason for that – and no, it's not to do with the wave consistency. In fact, it's down to sheer numbers. It's estimated that there are just 50 surfers who frequent the Black Sea in Turkey alone, which takes up the sea's southern edge in its entirety – with Ukraine to the north, Georgia on its eastern flank and Romania and Bulgaria to the west.
Heck, we've even got a forecast for the Black Sea, but we know it's mostly used by the kitesurfing community.
There's a rich surf history there, too, though not in the traditional sense. “It goes as far back, maybe more than 100 years,” says Kadir tolga uçal, known as Tolga, a goofy foot who is in the process of setting up a surf shop and camp in Sile, which is situated towards in the east of Turkey's largest city, Istanbul. “Our grandfathers claim that they were doing viya (check an article on that right here), which is body surfing as far back as then, but as a board sport, like actual stand up board sport surfing? It doesn’t go that far, maybe a little more than a decade.”
To score waves in the Black Sea has a sort of myth-like quality to it. We know it's there, we know there's a huge kitesurfing community but actual stand up surfing? What we've seen in the past equated to a couple of wind-stricken waves (which makes sense give the majority of it is predominantly wind swell) and grainy shots, maybe the odd edit that didn't go anything any justice, didn't tell the story. And we've had a few submitted to MSW over the years but never anyone willing to bring the culture to light.
Intrigued by similar images, surf explorer Erwan Simon recently went on an expedition to the Black Sea, his mission? To track down the surf community and hopefully score some virgin waves across the coast. “I spent a lot of time studying the science of fetch, winds and swell in big lakes, like in Uganda, and small seas,” he told MSW.
“I surfed in many countries of the Med (Algéria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Malta, Cyprus, Monténégro, Albania). We know there are waves in Bulgaria. My friend Antony Colas surfed in November 2003 near Sinop on the Black sea. So I wanted to explore the North West of Turkey on the Black Sea.
“I was watching the forecast on the black sea. I saw a swell coming from the North. 1.4 metres with 7 seconds period. North west winds the first day and offshore winds from the south west the day after. I jumped on a plane. Got a car at Istanbul airport. And drove to the coast facing north.
“I surfed near Şile. It is not so far from Istanbul. There are some punchy beachbreaks that are usually onshore and made from short period wind swells. But I managed to time it with a really good day - head high clean shorebreak with offshore winds.”
“Yeah the Black Sea is active for like, 280 out of 365 days of the year,” added Tolga. “Fall season during September, October and November, it is way more active and the water temperature is quite... alright.” [laughs].
It's not all punchy beachies either. There's reefbreaks, mostly surfed by the Viyas, it's understood that this form of body surfing dates back more than just 100 years, likely stemming from centuries ago during the Roman era. So while the actual physical act of surfing the Black Sea is in its infancy, there's already an ancient, innate calling and connection to the ocean from thousands of years of having salt in the bones.
Building on that intrinsic calling, Tolga's now keen to grow and enhance a sense of surf community, and has started dabbling in shaping boards specifically for the Black Sea surfers.
“With many waves, almost all year long on the Black Sea, I think surfing is going to become more popular there,” said Erwan. “The whole coast can provide nice spots, I think. There are still many waves to discover.”
As for the future of surfing in the Black Sea and Turkey? “Actual surfing is new to Turkey but windsurfing and kitesurfing have been here for a while and doing well, might not be in Black Sea but Turkey’s other coasts like Aegean Sea and Mediterranean Sea has some top spots for wind,” says Tolga.
“Therefore, the culture is not that unknown but this perspective of 'there are no waves in Turkey' has started to change with new surf schools and dedicated surfers which are actually scoring right here, in the Black Sea! So, within a few years, more kids will be developing skills to go represent their home spots well so that people will realise that the Black Sea countries are worth visiting and hopefully sharing a few nice waves together.”