The Black Sea is the largest inland body of water in the world. Its 730-mile long coastline spans two continents and six countries and every region that fronts the sea’s shoreline has its own affinity with the water. For the most part, there’s humble yet passionate surf communities — and even some like in Turkey that has a surf culture dating back more than a millennium.
Deniz Toprak grew up in Turkey, but it wasn’t until a trip to Sri Lanka that his love for surfing was born. He now runs a surf hostel in the fishermen village of Ahangama. “I have witnessed how surfing can change a whole village and what the village offers for its youth after surfing.
“They become more interested in nature, more protective, more responsible. I dream for the same thing for my village in Turkey, for the Black Sea coast as well.”
Deniz, who built his own home on his Grandma’s hazelnut farm in Vona, believes surf discovery and community are two of the most important things he gets from surfing, and the coast of the Black Sea is an untapped resource.
“This is hunting waves. That’s the beauty of it. You are in an undiscovered coastline. Every setup you have found, every wave you surfed, you can name it!
“Just an example now near my grandma's farm, Kepa Acero discovered a river mouth setup, a perfect wave that works in northerly swell. Now we call it ‘Kepa's River’ or just ‘Kepa’s'. I'm not joking! I sometimes call the kids and ask them "where are you?" and they tell me, "oh we’re at Kepa’s.’”
“I honestly had no idea about waves in the Black Sea,” says everyone’s favourite Basque Country nomad Kepa.
“I knew there were waves at the mediterranean side of Turkey. I went to Libanon before and got some super fun waves."
Kepa recently returned to Turkey with filmmaker Clint Davis, resulting in this film called Vona.
“With Deniz’s help, we were able to get support from the Mayor of the whole region," said Clint. "So we wrapped it all into a story that would showcase this beautiful place, its people, culture, mythology, and that there were some decent set ups for fun quality waves in the region. That was how the idea for Vona was born.
“My first impressions came through the research I did and finding evidence of surfable waves and the presence of surf communities around Istanbul, where the swells are more consistent. At that time I was focused more on the Med side. It was then, that I had learned about a right hander that broke on 5000-year-old Greek-Roman ruins and that according to legend, this is where the spear of Achilles was kept."
Surfing in some form has always been a part of Turkey’s culture. A long tradition of bodysurfing in the Black Sea known as 'Viya' has been maintained through the centuries, and today, committed pockets of bodysurfers can still be found along the coast. Viya originated in 700 BC when Pontic Greeks once thrived in north east Turkey and has been passed down from father to son ever since.
“The Black Sea and its people are disconnected. People are afraid of the sea and the waves. I find it very sad," said Deniz.
“My aim is to create a new connection between the sea and its people. I believe surfing can be a new tool to achieve that. A new lifestyle where kids are spending more time at the beach and at the sea. Eventually this generation will protect it more.
"Turkey has a great potential to grow a surf community, especially in the Black sea which offers consistent waves all year. There are so many different setups.”
"There is so much to explore," said Clint. The geography allows for different set ups from point breaks, reefs, river mouths, and so on, including a wave we now call ‘The island.' Our surfing ability was no match for such a wave. It wasn’t big, but seeing the peak suck off the reef and go dry most of the time, or a wave breaking really fast in pretty much ankle high water, it was very intimating. I just want to give props to the whole surf community in the country, who are really pushing the sport and growing it together.”
You’re probably wondering, what does it take to score in Turkey? Surf explorer Erwan Simon explains: “I spent a lot of time studying the science of fetch, winds and swell in big lakes, like in Uganda, and small seas. I was watching a 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 Kadir tolga uçal, a local surfer. “Fall season during September, October and November, it is way more active and the water temperature is quite... alright.
“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.
“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.”