What's It Like To Fly Into Russia On Invasion Day For A Surf Trip? - Stab Mag

What’s It Like To Fly Into Russia On Invasion Day For A Surf Trip?

Here’s our interview with Stab Highway Speedo guy, Letty Mortensen.

features // Sep 16, 2023
Words by Christian Bowcutt
Reading Time: 6 minutes

“Russia was threatening to invade Ukraine as we were leaving Australia,” Letty said, “then all of a sudden we landed in Abu Dhabi for a layover, sat down at a café, and looked up at the fucking screen and a reporter in Ukraine was talking with gunshots going off behind him.”

In February of 2022 — while the world’s eyes were watching what could have been and still could be WW3 unfold in real time — Letty Mortensen was en route to the Kamchatka Peninsula. Kamchatka is Russia’s easternmost territory. The distance from Kamchatka to the frontline of the Russo-Ukrainian War is nearly double the length of the United States. But, as you’ll read, Letty had to go through Moscow to get there.

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely heard of our Stab Highway Europe project. That’s where Letty had his most recent “big break.” He was the team player that lived in a Speedo the entire trip. He was also dubbed MVP for scoring more points for his team than anyone else. His character is sort of like a gentle quarterback, that guy who wins the game then runs off the field to hug his grandma or something. He just got back from the Stab Highway winners trip to Costa Rica/Mexico. You’ll see it soon.

Letty, day (?) of Speedo life on Stab Highway Europe.

Here are some very quick stats on Letty’s background: He’s 24. He’s from Avalon, New South Wales. He gets weird DM’s. His new best friend is Jacob “Zeke” Szekely. GQ Australia interviewed him about his clothes. And, when I called him he was in a car speeding across the Australian continent.

The express purpose of this chat was our partnership with Taylor Steele for the Solento Film Festival. Letty’s trip to Russia was captured in “Corners of the Earth: Kamchatka”, which will be shown on Friday, September 22nd at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas. But as you’ll see, I had to drill Letty on Stab Highway, Tik Tok, and his friendship with Zeke. So, this interview is business in the front, party in the back.

Our very own Brendan Buckley did a full piece on this Kamchatka trip that you can read here. And our interview with Ukraine’s national surf team is here. All the details you need for next week’s Solento Film Festival are here.

First off, tell me about the film. Why did you decide to go to Russia and how did it all come to be?

The guys who made the movie and the other surfers in it are my absolute best mates. A few years ago, they made a film about a trip to Iceland, Ireland, and Scotland and I decided not to go because I wanted to compete. It’s one of my biggest regrets. So, I couldn’t miss out this time and it was an honor to do this trip with them.

Russia was a mystery to me. I had no idea what to expect. Russia was threatening to invade Ukraine as we were leaving Australia. Then all of a sudden we landed in Abu Dhabi for a layover, sat down at a café, and looked up at the fucking screen and a reporter in Ukraine was talking with gunshots going off behind him.

It was actually quite surreal. It was scary and I felt selfish and sad honestly. You know, we’re there to film a fucking surf movie and there are tragic events happening around us. I’m really glad we stuck with it though, we met some amazing people and we were really so far from the conflict. The scary part was flying in and out of Moscow — which is like 150 km or something from the frontline — with our camera gear. We kept getting told that there were real possibilities of us getting stuck there. Nobody knew what was going to happen.

“Where tf is Kamchatcka?”

What was Kamchatka like?

It’s old, and cold, and they’ve got like 150 volcanoes around the city. It’s really beautiful. You’ll see old, rundown Soviet buildings and then a lot of newer, nicer buildings as well. The people are beautiful, man. We met the surf community there and they were so excited to have us and show us Kamchatka, they love their home.

The food was funny because we had caviar almost every day. Caviar is normal and abundant there so it’s not anything super fancy to them. I actually didn’t love it [laughs] but the rest of the stuff was great. We ate a lot of deer meat and salmon — so good. And then when we camped looking for waves we just survived off of sandwiches and chocolate, you know how it is surf-camping.

Our man Letty on the right.

How was the surf? I heard you guys scored.

Yeah, we found that crazy left slab and a bunch of other good waves. We stayed some of the time in a surf camp in Kamchatka proper and the rest of the time in a lodge pretty far from the beach actually. So much of the coastline isn’t accessible anyways, so when we knew there were waves we’d either drive snowmobiles to it or take a Russian military helicopter that these ex-army guys operated.

The helicopter would fly in and pick us up with all our camera gear and camping gear. We loaded snowmobiles in there and we even loaded a zodiac boat in there! The thing was a bus dude. And that’s how we found that left. The crazy heli guys would drop us off with a satellite phone and we’d call them in a few days to get picked up. And that was our program for the 2 months we were there.

Middle of nowhere. I was so out of my depth. And there were consistent talks of the war and how we might get stuck there. And we obviously felt a little guilty filming a surf movie during all this. But that’s what documentaries are all about and we were so well looked after by everyone there. And we truly were so far from the conflict. Russia is huge.

Letty with a belly full of caviar and eyes full of splendor.

It seems like you’re on a bit of a heater lately. Stab Highway, GQ articles, Tik Tok fame, — you’re finally getting real exposure.

Yeah, you’re right. I’ve been hustling for a long time and it’s starting to pick up some momentum. It honestly feels so good. And I know it’s just surfing or whatever, but after putting so much time and money into traveling and getting your name out there it feels great to have things finally start clicking like this. I’m just doing the same thing I’ve always done, but finally things are starting to take off.

What was the hardest part about living in a Speedo and the best part of Highway?

It was cold most of the time [laugh]. It was humiliating for sure, being in a foreign country and you’re fucking nude the whole time. I definitely got yelled at a lot. Some people hated it. I couldn’t sit down at a café. My team had to do all my shopping for me. Mikey C. wouldn’t even let me put a towel on.

The best part of Highway was surfing the ferry wave in Portugal with the whole team. After that wave where I did like eleven turns I was just freaking out. And to surf it with the guy who discovered the ferry wave? Just so special and memorable for me.

How did you get Tik Tok famous and what’s the funniest DM you’ve received?

So I don’t even have Tik Tok, I reckon it’s fucked [laughs]. But Rusty posted a few videos and I was in the desert in West Oz just being a grub and didn’t have cell service, but when I drove into cell service my Instagram was just popping off with hundreds of messages.

And hmm, the funniest DM I got was someone sent me one that said, “Instead of riding your surfboard, you should ride me.”

What’s it like being best friends with Jacob Szekely? Have you acquired any new habits?

In terms of new habits, Zeke and his friend Alex Sorgente who’s a pro skateboarder always say, “yeahhhh dude” in a very American accent. So I always catch myself saying that now.

I’ve only gotten to know Zeke recently because he came to town for the Margaret River pro and we are both on Rusty. He’s really such a good bloke. I literally could have nothing bad to say about him. We’ve created a really good friendship man.

And we’re so different — he and I — but having a best mate that’s different than you is good.


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