The largest country in the world and the least understood nation in the Western Hemisphere has started surfing, and they’ve taken a liking to Bali. They’re pounding the whitewater in Kuta, getting barreled at 10-foot G-Land, and putting on surf film premieres in Seminyak. Turns out water and vodka do mix, it’s just the Kalashnikov AK-47s, Molotov cocktails, oligarchs, Bintang beer and Indian Ocean that don’t. From the Land of Cold, dobro pozhalovat’ v (welcome) to the Land of Karma.

Bali seems like the perfect antidote to life in Russia- warm, plenty of access to surf schools (the new thing- they just got Point Break on DVD), enough corruption to feel like home and cheap clubs with decent techno. They wrote War and Peace, almost put a man on the moon, lost the Cold War, blew up a few nuclear power plants and now they seem to be satisfied to flock to Bali en masse in what appears to be some sort of premature cultural retirement. Winston Churchill said Russia is “a riddle wrapped inside a mystery in an enigma” which is super boring unless you’re sitting across the table from Natasia, like me.

There is nothing normal about her. Too tall, too skinny, drinks too much, little too much eye paint, but I’ve seen how she looks in photographs, and its enough to make you want to take the next Lion Air to Kamchatka. Face of an angel, gaze like a gay long haul trucker. She says she surfs, and she does, but not really like anyone else I know. She flicks the ash off her Dunhill Light into the bushes. 

“I used to work as lawyer in the oil business, make a lot of money. I have many shoes, a whole closet full. I travel all over Europe. But then I got tired, and move here to Bali.” She now works as a model, which all Russians are born to do. The long black I just ordered from Russian-owned coffee shop is starting to make me feeling like a monkey on a sketchy roller coaster. But why? I ask. Natasia says, “Here in Bali, Russian probably feel more free. Freedom is better than money. Maybe even better than love.”

All I can think is of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution slogan, “Peace, Land, Bread!”  Maybe this 2013 Russian surf-starved equivalent of a gyp-set revolution will have more satisfying and peaceful results than its communist predecessor. Is this one a violent invasion or an idealistic movement? As unclear as the Russian sense of style.

Full version published in The Surfer's Journal 23.2 and Surfing Life issue 299

Irina Kosobukina by Serge Shakuto

Irina Kosobukina by Serge Shakuto