Jul 17

Corners Of The Earth

There’s something soul-stirring about following your curiosity to somewhere unknown and setting foot where few people have before. 

It’s one thing to surf an uncrowded, or even undiscovered break, but it’s another matter altogether to literally travel to the ends of the earth to one of the most remote, wild and frigid landscapes in Siberia, Kamchatka specifically, on the far northeast coast. We love the cold, but this is friggin’ crazy!

Corners of the Earth – Kamchatka chases this feeling, which some may refer to as insanity, to the other side of the world. It also takes the search for new waves to the extreme – picture mountains, ice, blizzards, torrential surf and a war between two countries. 

The awe-inspiring film is the passion project of a group of legends from Avalon Beach in Sydney, and follows surfers Fraser Dovell and Letty Moretensen as well as filmmakers Spencer Frost and Guy Williment as they set out to search for new waves in one of the coldest, most remote and unexplored coastlines on the planet. 

After experiencing the film and following the four Aussies on their two-month journey through unpredictable waves and pure white expanses – it was impossible for us not to share in the spectacle that is Corners of the Earth – Kamchatka. 

Nestled by The Pacific Ocean and Okhotsk Sea and packed with more than 150 volcanos (29 of which are active) the gang thought the Kamchatka Peninsula in the far east of Russia would be a perfect place for their next surfing adventure. Which sounds crazy, granted, but less so when you find out their previous surfing adventure was in Iceland. 

Guy (a fantastic photographer and a strong believer that if it can be written or thought, it can be filmed) said their trip to Iceland was their first attempt at taking a punt into cold water surf. 

“Growing up, Spenny and I always filmed each other doing these little trips down to the coast. So, we got pretty excited to go to Iceland and try to find some good shots and awesome waves in a cold, unexplored landscape. We kind of didn’t know what we were doing when we got there. We just had a camera each and brought one of our mates, Fraser, who was a semi-pro surfer at the time. We ended up having the most amazing time and caught some wild waves. In 2019 we made a little 40-minute doco from that trip and toured a few surf film festivals. It did quite well, people really enjoyed it. 

“We were really keen to start planning the next one, but then obviously Covid hit, and we couldn’t do much. During those two years we were thinking about where we could go next that was cold, mountainous and had kinda never been explored. We saw this snowboard movie called The Fourth Phase, and in it these people were flying over the coast in Kamchatka, and we could see there was so much potential there. So we got in contact with the local surfer, and he said there’s waves, but no one’s really ever been there to explore them. 

“When we started looking at weather maps, we saw that during winter Kamchatka gets one or two big swells with offshore winds. We thought if we could access the coastline and catch one of these swells, we might be able to capture something really amazing. We started talking to helicopter pilots and seeing how to get to these parts of the coastline, because there is no roads there in winter – everything is covered in metres of snow.”

“Things just started falling into place. We all got really excited and started looking into the visa situation. That was a bit of a shit show, but we finally got a humanitarian visa after two years’ worth of planning. Unlike Iceland, Letty could come this time, and I think it was nice for Fraser to have his best mate and not be surfing by himself. It was really epic having him on.”

After years of meticulous planning however, the trip was almost over before it started. Shortly before the group had boarded their flight to Moscow, Russia invaded Ukraine. At a time when the world was seeing the worst of human nature, the boys found themselves stuck, with no clue on where to turn next and no idea what they could be getting themselves into.

When asked about how everyone had felt in that moment, as they watched the news unfold on the small TV in the Abu Dhabi airport, Guy simply said waiting in transit was extremely hectic.

“We were constantly worried about whether we wanted to push on with the trip or not. In the end, we thought to just keep going until we couldn’t anymore. Our producer, Luke, was behind the scenes doing a lot of hard work. He was absolutely incredible on the ground back in Australia dealing with our shenanigans and making sure we were getting through Russia safely. He had the worst job, because that day in transit I think most of our parents were freaking out and wanting us to get the hell out of there. From the outside, I can totally see it, but we had all spent so much time, effort and money planning this trip.

Kamchatka Peninsula

“At the time, we didn’t really know how serious the situation was with the war, so we were just taking it step by step. Eventually we made it into Kamchatka and just had, you know, the craziest, most amazing time ever. Everyone we met over there was so nice to us and just wanted to showcase the best of Kamchatka. Going in, we didn’t really know what to expect, but the people understood we were pretty uncomfortable and fearful with the situation, so they made us feel so safe and welcomed while we were there. 

“Fraser’s board had all these Russian icons on them, and one of them was this little animated bear, and all of the Kamchatka locals just thought that it was the funniest thing. They were constantly telling us ‘How the hell do you know this Cheburashka character?’. They called us the Cheburashka gang, which is why we ended up naming our left break after it. 

“The water was always around one degree, and then the air was always from -10 to -15 degrees, so yeah… fairly cool.”

“Our experience with these people was so different to what everyone was seeing on TV, and we really wanted to show that. Everyone in that small part of the world was so amazing and friendly. They loved nature and snowboarding and adored being amidst the water and mountains. Legends.” 

The boys captured many intense moments during the long and nerve-wracking journey to Kamchatka, but there would be nothing but wholesome greetings and a stunning view of a town overshadowed by a snowy mountain range when they finally arrived in the welcoming embrace of Petropavlovsk, the peninsula’s city centre. 

After witnessing the group messily meander through customs with enough equipment and gear to warrant two months’ worth of filming, surfing, camping and everything in between, it was only natural to ask how on earth they did it. They had a total of 12 surfboards for crying out loud, not to mention an abundance of hefty gear. Guy confirmed that the camera gear itself was around 180 kilograms, and that Spenny and himself had the pleasure of carrying the brunt of it. 

“We brought three RED digital cameras, and I had two Canon R5 cameras. We also had about three or four drones. Next time we need an assistant or something, because it was definitely a wrangle. One of us would always be shooting in the water, then the other would be on land. I was doing stills mostly when it was action, and then doing a lot of B-roll (alternative footage) when we were moving and on the run. Spenny is just so good with the drone and the RED, but we’d mix it up. 

“Nothing got damaged, but we did get caught in a blizzard on the snowmobiles one day and a lens froze up and got scratched up from all the ice particles on it. That was a stitch up – it was a $5,000 lens! But it’s all bound to happen over there, and we weren’t losing or breaking too much gear. 

“Our biggest problem, with both the cameras and us, was the cold. Definitely. It kills batteries. We’d learnt a lot about managing cameras in the cold from our Iceland trip, so we had heat packs. If we were shooting in the water we’d also wear these adhesive heat packs on our kidneys to keep us warmer. The water was always around one degree, and then the air was always from -10 to -15 degrees, so yeah… fairly cool.” 

The cold was clearly half the fun for the group, as they chose to go in the long and brutally freezing winter of the region – which is frankly just an insane idea, especially considering they would surf and film in water that is one degree above freezing. 

You can’t fault them though, as the wintery landscape of Kamchatka is as remote as it is unique – and when combined with some talented and gutsy people, makes for some breathtaking, out-of-this-world footage. Guy said the group always had a camera on them, because they knew there would always be those fleeting moments when you are in a place as beautiful and unpredictable as Kamchatka. 

“The landscape there was just so incredible and it was an amazing trip, but it was no holiday, that’s for sure. I think nature was in control every step of the way. We only had these small weather windows where we’d see the swell would be good, the helicopters would drop us to the coast and we’d camp out for a few days to search for waves. 

“It was definitely hard. There was this one particular trip where we’d spent a lot of money, because the choppers aren’t cheap, getting to the coastline and staying the night, and then we woke up the next morning and got a satellite call from one of the pilots saying the storm has gotten worse and they need to come pick us up. We hadn’t even surfed – we could’ve just spent a month in Indo for that amount of money! 

“Then again, it just made it so much sweeter when you do score in environments like that, because it’s just so challenging. When you do get a shot of a wave that everyone’s happy with, you’re just so stoked.”

“Project Blank were our main sponsor. They custom made us wetsuits to bring over and they were great. Helly Hansen also gave us a heap of gear and hooked us up big time…

“Before we went, we had these pages of dream shots, like the boys running into the chopper and running into the surf, but then when you’re there it’s just so chaotic, and you’ve got this five-minute window to land the chopper before the weather comes in. It was always pretty run and gun, but that’s just the nature of the beast when you’re doing these kinds of docos. The shots are so hard to get, but when you do, it’s epic.” 

It’s one thing to prepare for hectic filming conditions, but then there was the surfing, and the fact that four people from the sun-drenched beaches of Avalon would have to adjust to being enveloped by some of the coldest and most intense waves on earth. 

Not knowing what the Kamchatka coastline could possibly throw at them, Letty and Spencer covered all of their bases by bringing over six boards each, including twins, thrusters and a mix of both fun and high-performance boards. Guy said it was thanks to their many sponsors that they were as prepared as they possibly could have been. 

“Project Blank were our main sponsor. They custom made us wetsuits to bring over and they were great. Helly Hansen also gave us a heap of gear and hooked us up big time, so we were definitely as ready as we could be for the cold. There are some days in Kamchatka where it gets to -25 degrees, so we needed to have legit gear, and we did, thankfully. 

“To prepare for the trip we were doing heaps of ice baths, but we all joke they didn’t really help much. Once you get in the water over there, it’s just so, so cold. I think for the surfer boys they did really well because they’re moving. But if Spencer and I were shooting in the water, it’s really, really hard to keep warm. You probably get 30 minutes to an hour before you’re just done and need to get out and get warm. 

“On our Iceland trip, we kind of took a punt and we were very lucky. When you’re young, there’s such a fine line between having a good time and being pretty reckless, so I think we were right on that line for the last two trips.” 

While the group was introduced to many of Kamchatka’s known surfing spots, including a black volcanic coastline littered with giant slabs of ice, they never stopped chasing their true purpose for travelling to the far east of Siberia – to discover a perfect swell all on their own and surf its untouched waves. 

After many exploratory helicopter rides through mountain ranges and volcano smoke, the boys found their very own left break and proudly named it Cheburashka. Despite being the only member of the group to endure a near death experience at the hands of the left, Guy said discovering and battling their very own surf break was still pretty special. 

“That left hander was always a dream of ours – just to find a wave that has never been surfed before and document the boys surfing that. It was pretty incredible. Obviously, I had a bit of a shocker that day, I nearly drowned. I’ll tell you it was very uncomfortable watching that back. 

“At the time it was really hectic, it was definitely the gnarliest ocean experience I’ve ever had for sure. It’s like being in an ice bath – your body’s kind of panicking and wanting to get out, but your head knows that you’re in a situation and you can’t get out. My body was shutting down and I knew I still had like another hour in the cold ahead of me to get back to the chopper. So I just collapsed and cried. 

“It’s pretty funny to look back on now, but yeah at the time it was pretty hectic. It’s just one of those places where, if stuff goes wrong, your just completely isolated. Thankfully, none of us got hurt, and we are all safe and back home now.” 

Speaking of danger, if you’ve never heard of the Kamchatka Peninsula and feel the need to look up what its known for, you’ll see ‘the abundance and size of its brown bear population’ and ‘the highest recorded density of brown bears on earth’. Guy said while they had been told there weren’t many bears or sharks there in winter, it didn’t stop them from looking over their shoulder when they were trekking through desolate mountain peaks and paddling in isolated oceans. 

“Ignorance is bliss sometimes – we’d swim out and just hope that it’s too cold for any of these scary creatures. But there was lots of sea otters, which were pretty cute, and lots of seals. 

“In summer they get so many bears. We didn’t see any, but on the last week of the trip, the guides were telling us that they had spotted them waking up. Thankfully, they were still sleeping while we were camping and snowboarding in the mountains. 

“We made sure to snowboard heaps. Fraser had never done it before, but the rest of us had and we were super keen to. We didn’t know if we’d get the chance, but after being in Anton’s cabin for a few days, a crew from Moscow had invited us to all go snowboarding with them.” 

Anton Morozov – how could we have gone on this long without mentioning him? If the landscapes, shenanigans, dangers and swells of Corners of the Earth – Kamchatka haven’t yet convinced everyone just how much fun the film is, Anton certainly will. 

As the legend who pioneered surfing in one of the coldest, most remote and unexplored coastlines on the planet, Anton has an incredible story. After growing up snowboarding in Kamchatka and watching a surf movie called In God’s Hands when he was 14, Anton never stopped wanting to be a surfer. When he did finally get his hands on a surfboard ten years later, he taught himself how to carve waves after failing to convince his friends to try it with him. He was hooked, but often faced a lot of isolation in a community that thought surfing was a crazy and alien thing to do. 

After lighting up at the very mention of Anton (he has that effect on people), Guy said they first met the Russian surfer when they reached out to the locals in Kamchatka. 

“He’s a bit of a rockstar in the country and is generally known as the surfer from Kamchatka, so he was really excited that we were coming. He often said that it’s his dream to come to Australia and surf, so to have us reach out to him must have been so special. 

“He helped us with our visas, and when we made it over there he picked us up from the airport. Straight away you could tell he was the most amazing dude. He just felt like one of the boys, one of the brothers. Within the first five minutes of meeting him we were all hugging him, telling him we love him and singing with him in the car. We just knew in that moment the trip was going to be fun. 

“He said he knew surfing was his purpose, which was really sweet. I remember him telling us his heart was on fire for surfing. Now he’s got a surf camp and people come from all over Russia to surf with him, and it’s pretty incredible. He gets emotional talking about it because it’s been such a hard journey for him. 

“Its super cool to hear someone just be so sure of their purpose in life and see what he has created. It’s really special. He’s in the midst of applying to visit Australia at the moment. We really want to get him here because he’s just an absolute legend and welcomed us with open arms, so we’d love to return the favour, get him to some Aussie beaches and get him in some boardies.” 

After almost a year of artfully squeezing their entire Kamchatka trip into a 90-minute film, the boys introduced Anton and the awe-inspiring Kamchatka peninsula to the rest of the world through a 13- stop Australian tour, with each showing quickly selling out. After taking the hint on just how well received the film was, the boys had another round of unplanned encore screenings. Guy said the support for the film all over Australia and even internationally has been unreal. 

“When you’re doing these big projects, or even when you are taking a singular photo, there’s always a bit of self-doubt whether people are going to enjoy it. We spent years planning, two months on the trip and then about ten months in post-production, so you start to kind of question your own eyes. We were all pretty nervous showing it on that first tour – but it just got received so well and we’ve been blown away by the support we’ve had. 

“I think we were definitely concerned that doing the trip at a time in Russia might make people kind of boycott it, but they haven’t at all. It’s been amazing and everyone’s loved Anton and everyone else over there. The feedback’s been unreal and we’re so stoked and grateful with how it’s been received by everyone. 

“There’s been so many speed bumps and it’s been such a team effort pulling it all together. The editor of the film, Lucas Vazquez, also did an absolutely incredible job weaving a story out of all of our shots. The collaboration with this project has just been so good. Everyone in Australia and Russia and everywhere in between has just been amazing. 

“We’re actually going to Bali to show off the film, which will be a fun little warm water adventure for us. I think we’re all pretty exhausted to be honest. We’ll probably have another year off from a big project and then start planning the next one. Another cold-water adventure of course – because people seem to enjoy us suffering.” 

For those wanting to contain Kamchatka’s stunning peninsula and coastline and place it on a coffee table at home, Guy has created an accompanying hardcover book filled to the brim with the incredible imagery and stories from the group’s wild surf adventure to the far east of Russia. 

For those that missed the showings, the film is scheduled to appear online in the next couple of months. In the meantime, we will be waiting with bated breath for the groups next ultimate surfing trip, where they will inevitably seek out that feeling of finding new waves in some other perilous place in the corner of the earth. 

In the poetic words of Anton, Shred or Die

Photos: Guy Williment

Words: Amber O’Dell