From the USSR to California: windsurfing into a new life

September 9, 2019 | Windsurfing
Arkady Kokish: the windsurfer who fled the Soviet Union to California | Photo: Kokish Family Archive

Arkady Kokish was born in Kiev, the capital of the former Soviet republic of Ukraine, on September 9, 1949.

As a young man, he developed a passion for math and physics, which ultimately led him to become a mechanical engineer.

However, he also was an avid, thrill-seeking outdoorsman, whose passion for sports first developed when he began whitewater kayaking through wild and desolate mountain ranges in West Ukraine East, Yakutia, and Siberia.

In the late 1980s, a two-story tall extrusion equipment he designed was installed at a plant in Tver, Russia, where he met Mila Kokish, a chemical engineer.

They soon married and emigrated to America in 1989.

While the two of them progressed in their careers as engineers, Arkady also picked up windsurfing.

Arkady Kokish: having fun with friends | Photo: Kokish Family Archive

His love for sports and physics made him naturally interested in learning freestyle tricks.

He even passed down his passion for windsurfing to both his children, Iris and Mark.

Family vacations were often spent at well-known windsurfing locations, such as Maui, Costa Rica, Martinique, Aruba, and Bonaire, where he honed his freestyle skills.

Today, at 70 years old, he can be spotted on any given day freestyling at Palo Alto, in California.

And his son Mark has very special memories from the early days out in the water.

Arkady Kokish (2004): the windsurfer was born in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine, on September 9, 1949 | Photo: Kokish Family Archive

The Memories of a Son

My dad has been windsurfing for longer than I can remember.

Windsurfing was so much a part of him that it naturally became a part of our relationship.

It was one of the few subjects where I would get to both listen to and engage in one of his passions.

My earliest windsurfing memory with my dad involved watching a windsurf documentary together.

Arkady Kokish (1998): teaching basic windsurfing skills to Mark and Iris | Photo: Kokish Family Archive

Even at a very young age, I could sense his excitement and interest in the windsurfers on screen.

When I was old enough, my dad would spend time teaching me how to windsurf.

At first, the lessons were sporadic - either on the front lawn of our house or during our vacations abroad.

Eventually, I started accompanying him to Coyote Point Park, in San Mateo, California, where he would teach me to be independent on the water.

In truth, the entire sport seemed cumbersome to me at the time.

Arkady Kokish (2007): his passion for water sports began with whitewater kayaking through wild and desolate mountain ranges in West Ukraine East, Yakutia, and Siberia | Photo: Kokish Family Archive

Before leaving for each trip, my dad would carefully arrange all the windsurfing gear in his Suzuki Aerio SX, so that we could sit comfortably for a 40-minute drive.

Upon arriving, we would take all the gear out of the car. I wasn't very strong, so my dad would assemble both of our rigs.

When we finally got in the water, I would get on the board and constantly fall down trying to pull up my sail in choppy water.

The water in San Francisco Bay was cold and sometimes muddy.

Afterward, we would change out of our wetsuits while the cold wind was blowing onshore.

Mark and Arkady Kokish (2004): chilling out in Maui, Hawaii | Photo: Kokish Family Archive

After a 40-minute drive back, we then had to wash all the saltwater off of the windsurfing gear.

As a teenager, I couldn't understand what compelled an individual to do this in their free time.

Fortunately for me, my dad was willing to absorb all the overhead required to get me into windsurfing.

I remember vividly the first time I started planing on the water.

The feeling was overwhelming, and I like to imagine that my dad, at some point, felt the same way.

Arkady Kokish (2013): jumping in the choppy waters of Martinique | Photo: Kokish Family Archive

Sometimes I would go to Coyote Point with him, even if I wasn't windsurfing.

Instead, I would do homework or play Snake on his Nokia cell phone while he was sailing offshore.

He would then tell me about his experience on the drive back.

In this sense, windsurfing was one of the most efficient ways that I would connect with my dad.

Windsurfing played a role in our relationship even after I stopped going with him.

Arkady Kokish (2019): still windsurfing after all these years | Photo: Kokish Family Archive

My dad would often tell me about how he finally figured out the key to certain windsurfing tricks, usually with the same passion and enthusiasm as when he solved an engineering problem at his job.

He would explain his movements with a high degree of technical precision, meticulously describing rotation, timing and torque, often accompanied by live demonstrations in our living room.

In retrospect, I find it amusing that his engineering acumen was so pointedly used to master tricks with whimsical names such as "flaka" or "shove-it."

Even these days talking to my dad over the phone, I look forward to these conversations.

I like to brag about my dad's windsurfing endeavors to my friends and colleagues.

Arkady Kokish (2017): windsurfing in the crystal clear waters of Bonaire | Photo: Kokish Family Archive

Whether it's about him landing an aerial jibe or encountering aquatic wildlife, it's usually a good story.

I admire his enjoyment for learning and his fierce determination to perfect his skills.

These qualities, in combination with his passion for teaching, make him a great windsurfer and a great father.


Words by Iris and Mark Kokish | Daughter and Son of Arkady Kokish

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