Would you drive 2500km to get a decent paddle in?

How far would you drive for some warmer paddleboarding conditions?

Julia Karpacheva and her paddleboard adventure with friends to escape the cold winter of Saint Petersburg.

Last summer in Russia turned out to be the coldest I remember. Snow in May, +4 in June, together with us travelling to the Arctic to have some fishing & surfing there - it was unbearable. Well, the last one was a weird choice for summer vacations, I admit. This year we've decided to pack our SUPs and paddle in warm, welcoming waters of the Black Sea.

We jam-packed our Outlander you wouldn't see the back window: 3 inflatable SUPs, wetsuits, drysuits, dry bags, life vests, rucksacks, tents, sleeping bags, camping stuff, spearfishing gear… luckily we had space left for 3 people too. We barely had any idea what we are going to do, we just knew we wanted to paddle and camp somewhere. And it takes 2233 km one way to get to the coast. It's almost the same distance as if driving from Lisboa to Munich or from NYC to Miami.


We had 6 people, 6 SUPs, 2 cars. We left hometown Saint-Petersburg on April, 30 with its chilly +8 and naked trees and finished in +28. Lilac blooming, hot salty air and t-shirts on. This was a teleport to happiness, Nordic people would understand.

Our first stop was in a remote bay with only a couple of other camps and some locals that were eager to see us go, as we apparently camped at their dinner table. Guess what we did even before having out tents pitched? Got our SUPs ready and jumped into the water.


Our base camp in a Fox bay. In summer this place is crowded with hippies, nudists and campers. In May - just some crazy paddlers and cows.


Our camp neighbours


The neighbours checking in on us.

From the campsite, we paddled to the Devil's Gate. Arch-like cliff which by the Ancient Greeks was believed to be the gateway to hell. Maybe Orpheus and Oddissey really made it through those gates or it is just a pickup line for the tourists. We found no entrance, just paddled along Kara Dag mountain, rocky leftovers of a 150 million years old volcano.


Without an inflatable SUP you can get to the spot only by a touristic boat.


We spent 6 hours at sea, got medium rare burnt by the sun and moved further down the coast. We had to spend the next day hiking to cool down and let our skin heal.

The second inconvenience we experienced was packing and unpacking the car. Sometimes to get one bag we needed to take out all the SUPs, paddles, more bags, then put it back. And we rolled, unrolled, changed places of everything until we reached the zen of efficient storage. Still, when driving through winding mountain roads our back seat passenger would be piled under an avalanche of rucksacks.

In a day we made it to Gurzuf. Classy tourist place, but we had a non-classy route in mind - to explore two rocky twin-islands.


Here they are, right in front of so-called the Bear Mountain (really looking like a sleeping bear).


After the first trip this seemed like a warmup

In the 1920s there was a fancy restaurant right on top of one, but it was ruined by an earthquake. Now only gannets dine there. We packed sandwiches, Moka express coffeemaker and a gas-jet. Yes, why not to paddle somewhere to have your coffee with a view?


We parked the boards and had our siesta on the rocks

Our next plan was to load our SUPs with tents, dry bags, everything essential for a couple of days in the wild and just paddle out somewhere in search for a hotel of million stars. We arrived in Balaklava to do so.

For the first time, I used my Touring board for the real deal touring. When you have tents, mats, bags, food, gear. Everything fitted like it was destined to. For a shorter board, we found another solution - a spearfisher's float was used as a trailer.


We embarked from a city beach and just paddled into the sea along the coast


By the time the sun was down we found a luxurious spot in a wild beach, surrounded by mountains, rocks and overlooking the bay. No people, no hustle, just remote fisherman boats and dolphins.


In a place with no phone connection and any megalopolis distractions, what would you do? Hunt, cook, read and - repeat. The ideal formula to reset before going back to offices.


In a week we crossed the Peninsula of Crimea from east to west, drank coffee on it's highest mountain Ai Petri, suddenly found lovely baby-waves for sup-surfing at the western point - Tarkhankut Cape, ate at local cafes veggies and grilled meat we, the citizens, called organic. Went fishing, met moonrises with local wine, jumped from SUPs into the sea, saw dolphins in 5 meters from our boards. Read no news and paddled in the sunset.


Even though the road may seem long, but when you treat it like a journey - this makes all the difference. You grab your boards, your friends, your beloved ones and go into the wild. Have a map and have no plan. Yes, totally worth it. Thank you, planet Earth for being our awesome host.

The story was written by Julia Karpacheva for Starboard SUP | Picture Credits: Julia Karpacheva and Renat Iskandarov