Odesa: the surfing capital of Ukraine

March 22, 2022 | Surfing
Odesa: the most famous surf spot in Ukraine | Photo: Vasiliy Kordysh Archive

Located in the Black Sea, Odesa is one of the country's favorite summer destinations. But it has surf, too.

In the past, Odesa was destined to become the southern capital of the Russian Empire.

Empress Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great, issued a royal decree to open another window to Europe to the south.

And so, Odesa was founded.

Today, it is a major seaport and transport hub of a sovereign, independent nation and the sunny capital of humor and trade with plenty of historic buildings, landmarks, beaches, and nightlife.

A free city from the day of its foundation, Odesa had always attracted not only gifted and creative people but also adventurers and gentlemen of fortune with Ottoman passports.

Surfers are relatively new, but they're increasingly part of the city's verve.

The local surfing community comprises a dozen hardcore wave riders who challenge cold air and water temperatures with 6/5 mm wetsuits, hoods, boots, and gloves.

Then, a growing number of surfers and weekend warriors are giving the sport a go and making it a reality on the Ukrainian Black Sea shores.

Let's paddle out on the cold Ukrainian shores and find more about a city with history and a couple of surf gems.

Odesa: the local piers are the focal point of Ukrainian Black Sea swells | Photo: Vasiliy Kordysh Archive

The New World

The Vorontsov Lighthouse, with its ruby twinkle, welcomes trade ships as they enter the Odesa port.

The Black Sea pearl of Odesa invites its guests with its myths and true stories, anecdotes, and songs.

About two centuries ago, a different landscape welcomed travelers - the Black Sea, the plateau with cliffs, the boundless steppe stretching for many miles, and the walls of a small Ottoman fortress named Yeni Dunya, meaning "New World."

In 1789, Yeni Dunya (or Khadzhibey) was a small military village with an area of less than 200 square meters inhabited by the Turks and the Nogais.

It featured a small fort with two towers and a low fortified wall.

It was much smaller than this fortress, Akkerman (Bilhorod-Dnistrovs'kyi), another Ottoman citadel located 26 miles (43 kilometers) southwest of Odesa.

The population was engaged in cattle breeding, and their occupation has not changed much for the past 200 years.

The peaceful life of this fortress was interrupted when the Russian army forced the Southern Bug River and entered the Ottoman territory.

On September 14, 1789, the detachment of the Russian army led by José de Ribas, jointly with the Cossacks led by Ataman Holovaty, started to storm the fortress.

The Ottoman, caught in a weak moment, did not show serious resistance.

Event witnesses said that the coffee prepared for Ahmed Pasha was still warm when the Russian officers drank it.

The following day, as de Ribas's son Alexander described, Greek tavern owner Simeo Asparidi was surprised not to see the Ottomans but the Russian officers led by General de Ribas.

The Russians established themselves in the fortress under the tramp of Ukrainian dance Hopak.

The tavern owner presented the best Cyprus wine to his guests and a fragrant shoe paste for the officers.

A barrel of vodka was rolled onto the square for the soldiers, and the feast started.

Odesa: waves are not consistent all year round, but there are a few gems here and there | Photo: Vasiliy Kordysh Archive

The City Name

A year after the city was founded, there were about 300 houses.

Among them were merchant houses built in the late 1700s and early 1800s. They were sturdy structures with thick walls, arcades, and many cellars.

Merchants stored overseas products in these cellars at the market square. It was the busiest place in Odesa after the port.

There was a free market and the old bazaar where the shopping arcades featured groceries, hardware stores, etc.

Towards Alexandrovskiy Avenue, which was planned as Champs Elysees, there were book stores and fashion boutiques.

The shopping arcades stretched across several blocks of the city.

The Black Sea Cossacks, settled at the Peresyp region, were engaged in salt trading, the leading local commodity at the time.

Salt was in such large amounts there that the Cossacks and Chumaks used to gather and load 145 carts weighing 130 kilograms each.

In fact, salt was associated with an important historical fact.

On January 10, 1795, the name of the city - Odesa - is stated among documents found in a salt warehouse.

Interestingly, there were no official documents about the city renaming and how Khadzhibey became Odesa.

However, on January 6, 1795, at a royal ball in the winter palace, somebody had proposed to give another name to Khadzhibey.

The ancient Greek settlement Odessos was mentioned, but the last reigning Empress Regnant of Russia wanted a feminine name - Odesa.

Despite the Greek settlement being situated in a different location, near modern-day Varna (Bulgaria), nobody dared to correct the Empress's will.

And the name Odesa, also known as Odessa, stuck.

Arcadia Beach, Odesa: the most famous surf break in Ukraine | Photo: USF

Odesa, Ukraine: the local surfing community comprises of a dozen hardcore wave riders | Photo: Vasiliy Kordysh Archive

Arcadia Beach: Ukraine's Surfing Center

The nation's third most populous city, Odesa, is home to two of Ukraine's best surf spots.

Arcadia Beach is not only the most popular surf break in the country but also the most famous stretch of sand in Ukraine.

Located in a small southeast-facing bay, the beach break occasionally morphs into a point break thanks to the several piers built in the area.

The Ukrainian holiday and health resort channels low-to-medium-period wind swells generated in the Black Sea, creating average, shoulder-high waves.

The best conditions for surfing in Arcadia Beach align with SE-S swells and NW offshore winds.

It is the go-to location for those who want to have fun on a shortboard, longboard, bodyboard, and for beginner surfers.

Although it is not consistent all year round, you can surf both right and left-hand waves with the ideal weather variables turned on.

The local crew also runs night surfing sessions, which have already provided small barreling waves.

Ukrainian food tastes great and will not disappoint you, so try eating out at one of the many local restaurants and bars.

Arcadia Beach is the home of the Ukrainian National Surfing Championship, a competition run by the Ukrainian Surfing Federation (USF).

In 2021, Ukraine became the 109th member of the International Surfing Association (ISA) and made its debut in the ISA World Surfing Games, with three athletes competing in El Salvador.

Odesa: the best waves arrive with with SE-S swells and NW offshore winds | Photo: Vasiliy Kordysh Archive

Kometa: The Chornomorsk Reef

Chornomorsk, formerly known as Illichivsk, is home to Ukraine's second-best surf spot.

Kometa is a surprising reef break that provides locals with fairly good waves, especially during the winter season.

The exposed reef break works a few times throughout the winter season - December through March - and is visible via Google Maps near the local yacht club.

Kometa becomes alive with S swells and NW offshore winds but beware of the bottom as the rocky sea bottom could be harmful.