Wakeboarding in the land of Borat

As far as we know, comedy star Borat doesn't wakeboard – but Nikita Martyanov does. In Kazakhstan.
By Josh Sampiero

This is Lake Kaindy – and getting there is no treat. It's 300km into the mountains of Kazakstan. As lakes go, it's young – formed in the early part of last century when a landslide blocked a gorge and created a natural dam.

Russian wakeboarder Nikita Martyanov has the faintest memories of visiting the lake as a child, before he knew what wakeboarding was. Happening upon some old photographs, he was inspired again to visit – this time, with his board.

The first part was getting permission. Because of the cold water, the trees have been uniquely preserved in their original position when the lake filled, leaving an eerie sunken forest that has been deemed a national park. "You're not even allowed to swim there," says Martyanov. "But the government gave us permission to film there – as long as we followed a few rules.

Nikita Martyanov performs at the Red Bull Highland Wake
Nikita Martyanov off the kicker and over a tree. © Denis Klero/Red Bull Content Pool

The second part was the journey. "It's in the middle of nowhere," says Nikita. "No electricity, no cell phone service. You need four-wheel-drive just to get there." A lot of the local people still ride horses as transportation.

Nikita Martyanov riding a horse on his way trough Kazakhstan
We weren't kidding about the horses. © Denis Klero/Red Bull Content Pool

Upon arrival, Nikita and friends set upon their mission: construct a natural wakeboard park, and session the unique spot. "I felt the need to build the park incredibly naturally," he says. "We used wood from the forest where appropriate, and to attach it to the trees in the lake, we only tied them on – we weren't allowed to nail anything to the trees, and we didn't want to."

Nikita Martyanov preparing wood rails
Nikita Martyanov works on the wood rails. © Denis Klero/Red Bull Content Pool

Once the park was built, it was time to ride. "A jet ski was the only way to ride out there," says Nikita. "In some spots, the lake is really shallow – you can't drive a boat. And because you have to go around trees, a winch simply won't work."

Nikita Martyanov wakeboarding next to some trees at the Kaindy lake
A jetski is the only way to attack Lake Kaindy. © Denis Klero/Red Bull Content Pool

So with all the shallow-water obstacles, was it risky? Yes. "We built different obstacles - the wall ride, and two straight rails, one for toe-side and one for heel side, so that I could show some good jib style out there," says Nikita. "But there was a huge tree lying underneath the surface on the exit of the wall ride. I almost hit it a few times!" Adding to the challenge? Water temperatures hovering around 3 degrees, and constant rain. "I couldn't feel my feet at the end of the session - and my wetsuit didn't dry out for a week!

Nikita Martyanov testing the wooden rails
Nikita Martyanov testing the wooden rails. © Denis Klero/Red Bull Content Pool

But of course, there were upsides – like showing the locals world-class wake boarding. "They're so shocked, because they've never seen anything like it. These people have been living in the mountains with no TV, much less cell phones or internet. They know horses and cows – jet skis and wake boarding? Not so much. They were totally shocked. But they enjoyed it!"

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