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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Of Waves And Raves

A windsurfing festival near an abandoned nuclear reactor has evolved into the former Soviet Union's biggest rave.

Imagine an all-night party inside a nuclear reactor with thousands of sun-bleached Russian windsurfers and you've got the frantic peak of the Kazantip Festival -- an annual August event that has become the biggest rave in the former Soviet Union.

This year's festival, which runs through Aug. 24, is expected to attract more than 10,000 people to Kazantip, a near-deserted cape in the Crimea's Sea of Azov. Hundreds will be coming from Moscow alone, either by plane, by train (a 26-hour ride) or by car.

The beaches that await them are a windsurfer's paradise, with breezes steady and strong enough to drive what the locals call the Valley of the Windmills, a power plant with dozens of lazily twisting 50-meter metal windmills.

Kazantip is also home to two other defunct power plants -- one a solar plant where hundreds of giant mirrors still dominate the landscape, the other the half-finished Crimean nuclear power plant, where construction was abandoned following the Chernobyl disaster. Other semi-abandoned projects on the cape include the city of Shchelino, originally designed to house the nuclear power plant workers, where apartments or dachas can be rented during the festival for as little as $5 a day.

"Kazantip is a wonderful place, an ex-testing ground where experiments in all of the new energy sources were attempted," said Alexei, a tall, tan and blond surfer who helped found the festival six years ago. "It's a place for Don Quixotes, Sancho Panzas and even Donnas."

It also makes for a surreal partying background. Not surprisingly, the most anticipated festival event is the Night in the Reactor on Aug. 17. Those who survive the all-night rave inside the Germozona reactor can enjoy a post-party the following day exploring the building; the more inquisitive might search for nuclear secrets or take along a Geiger counter.

There was no Night in the Reactor at the first Kazantip festivals. In 1992, Kazantip was an obscure windsurfing event. Alexei -- a member of the Russian Association of Funboarders, or RFA, who declined to give his last name and actually prefers to be called "The Designer" -- recalled taking the train from Moscow in those early days. The conductors balked at the sight of such oversized carry-on luggage as surfboards, which required some fast talking.

"We just told the conductors that we were the official Russian surf team -- though no such team exists," Alexei said. The conductors patriotically relented, and a national summer institution was born.

Since then the festival has changed dramatically. The surfing is now overshadowed by the rave. This year's festival will include 120 DJs and 30 live acts. More people than ever are expected, and the festival is longer than ever -- running from Aug. 1 to Aug. 24. Venues include two outdoor dance floors and a discotheque that changes locations nightly, forcing the most adventurous of Kazantip's ravers to hunt for it. Russian DJs like Spider, H.P. Voodoo, Jungle, Barbitua, Bell, Boomer and Kolya promise to make the search worth the effort.

Indeed, Kazantip has become such a major event that this year the Territoria club in Moscow held a party to see the festival-goers off.

Yet not everything is as wonderful as it might appear. There is something of a division in the Kazantip ranks, with surfers complaining that the festival has become vulgarized.

"Though it seems that each year Kazantip gets better and better, it used to be a place for purists," said veteran surfer Dmitry Tretyak. "But now it's rich kids in orange shirts and drug-users who make up the usual contingent."

Though they say they couldn't survive without beer and vodka, most surfers view popular rave drugs like Ecstasy as anathema to their self-described healthy lifestyle. In fact, when talk at the Territoria club last week turned to chemical stimulants, it seemed to make Alexei and his surfer friends restless. Soon they were out the door, trading the thumping techno cocktail of St. Petersburg's DJ Incognito for the quiet of a midnight windsurf at Strogino on the Moscow River.

Student Dima Milyukin is another Kazantip veteran distressed by the way drugs, alcohol and rave music have encroached on the windsurfing and clean beach fun. Milyukin said he'd head in the opposite direction this year, north to Estonia for the Uchites' Plavat', or Learning to Swim, an alternative music festival organized by Moscow music personality and Radio Maximum host Alexander Sklyar and running through Monday.

Like Kazantip, Learning to Swim is about partying at the beach -- specifically at the Valgirand Campground near Varno on the Baltic Coast. It will feature St. Petersburg's Tequilajazzz, Tarakany and Sklyar's own Va Bank. But according to Milyukin, it is less of a drug-based festival -- and a shorter road trip from Moscow.

To those nevertheless bound for the Crimea, Milyukin's advice was: "Spend more time in the water, play more sports, listen to good music and don't drink any vodka."

There are other drawbacks about Kazantip. Anna Artamonova, who was gearing up at Territoria to attend her third Kazantip Festival, warned of plagues of mosquitoes. Others said that thieves prowling the beaches prey upon exhausted ravers who have let their guard down.

But a well-stacked calender of events guarantees the cape's beaches will be packed. Festival highlights include the opening of windsurfing championships Monday with categories in racing, slalom, wave performance and freestyle. Kazantip's sixth birthday party falls on Aug. 20 and will also be heartily celebrated. The Closing Ceremony, probably the saddest event of the month, will be held on Aug. 24, and will include the coronation of the windsurfing King of the Waves.

Though the festival opened last Saturday, the official opening ceremony takes place Friday. The first week was for veterans of Kazantip -- those well-trained in surviving the hardships of partying on a beach for a week straight. Friday will also see a laser show and the playing of the "Kazantip Anthem," a techno composition written by Moscow's Arrival, a partnership by DJ Fonar and Dmitry Postovalov.

Festival-goers can either take tent and sleeping bag and live on the beach, or rent a dacha or an apartment. The festival's organizers usually favor a cape resort called Riga, which was a popular vacation spot for Latvians during Soviet times. Kazantip veterans advise against renting a room in Riga, however, as the nonstop blasting music might irritate the strongest of ear drums. But visitors may well want to visit Riga's house No. 23, where the festival's information and help center is located.

Getting There

Train No. 127 leaves Kursky Station and arrives at Sem' Kolodezei Station in Kerch 26 hours later, a 20-kilometer car- or bus-ride from Kazantip. Those not lucky enough to get tickets for train No. 127 can take any train to the Crimea and transfer in Dzhankoi to get to the Sem' Kolodezei Station.

Jet-setting ravers can fly from Moscow's Vnukovo or Sheremetyevo-I airports to Simferopol, a two-hour taxi ride from Kazantip.

But before even thinking of going south, one has to get a Ukrainian visa. Foreigners should brace for bureaucracy and call the Ukrainian Embassy: Tel. 229-6922/1079.

Russian citizens need no visa but must carry their international passports and register when they arrive.