Surfers in Sochi might not be Stoked for the Olympics

by The Deep Water Breaks

The winter games have been peppered with stolen surf lingo, if only because snowboarders have a penchant for linguistic theft. This recent article in the Wall Street Journal addresses Sage Kotsenburg’s impressive use of the word “stoked” fourteen times in a single press conference. The Russian translator on hand could only roughly translate the word as meaning “under the influence of alcohol.” What’s interesting is that Sochi is one of the few places in Russia that can actually be surfed. Another recent article at surfertoday.com, titled “The Unexplored Surfing Treasures of Sochi” describes Sochi’s subtropical climate and strings of jetti’s that magnify the swell coming off of the admittedly small fetch of the Black Sea and converts it into clean-breaking rights. 

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So maybe it’s a surprise that a marginal surf town wouldn’t know the word “stoked,” but perhaps there is room in Russia to craft its own culture of surfing. Sochi can enter that handful of locations that might be able to develop a culture with limited intrusion from Australians and the U.S. But it seems that the olympics will limit the chance of that happening. Both the articles cited above were published in the last week. And there are a number more on the subject of surfing in Sochi, while before buzz about the games began it was the type of place you could search and only find minimal information about breaks and surf. 

While the games stand as an exemplar of cosmopolitanism, the pageantry and extravagance of the Olympics is often used to demonstrate a nation’s economic might (as fallacious as the claim might be), and there is a hope that the site of the games will become a future tourist attraction, with some of the buildings repurposed for use en perpetuity. Under these circumstances, Sochi might become another overcrowded surf break, placing stress on both the local economy and the environment. As such, Russia will have imported the same tourist economics that have been so harmful to places like Bali, Indonesia or Hawaii’s North Shore. 

At the same time, Russia has a stigma that has shone through the Olympic games, and that the American visitors have been quick to highlight in their #SochiProblems meme, pointing out the poor quality of local water and the slap-dash construction (all bi-products of laborers who were forced to work and then denied wages, or of large infrastructures that barely supported the people who have to survive by them, let alone the millions of Olympic tourists). It seems likely that people are going to leave Sochi never intending to go back, having smugly proven the power of Capitalism of Socialism when it comes to building bathroom stalls. 

In China, news coverage highlighted the poor air quality in Beijing, and famous photographs have since travelled around the internet displaying the abandoned husks of the multi-billion dollar Olympic endeavor. To be sure, Beijing is not going to crumble under the weight of its Olympic infrastructure, but Sochi will likely be hurt by the way it has been presented in these games. And this, for the local population at least, might have some positive side effects. It’s likely that Sochi locals will have benefitted from the temporary influx of tourist dollars, since the burden of constructing an Olympic Park is shouldered by the state, but perhaps in the end there is a chance that this Russian city (already admittedly a booming tourist destination) to preserve some local integrity. Russians might develop their own, independent expression for the surfer’s “stoked” feeling.

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