Mention the country of Norway and usually the first thing that comes to mind is visions of Ragnar Lothbrok, bloodthirsty Vikings, harsh Arctic landscapes, long winter nights and savagely freezing temperatures …. the last place you would expect to find world class waves. Yet for the brave few like Australian Chris King the thrill and adventure associated with challenging such extreme conditions is precisely what draws them to the rugged Norwegian coast in the search for liquid treasures in the land of the Vikings. This is the tale of the Viking surfer. (All words and photos by Chris King @kingflyber unless stated otherwise). [Continued below].
Looking back ten years ago I never thought I would ever travel overseas let alone be living in another country so far from home. I definitely never thought I would be surfing in below zero temperatures in the Arctic snow yet here we are surfing in the land of the Vikings. My name is Chris King (@kingflyber) and I’m a bodyboarder originally hailing from South Australia. I first arrived in Norway about ten year’s ago yearning for adventure and a change of lifestyle.
The first few years in Norway were great and a complete change from my life in Australia. The landscape here is so beautiful and diverse. Merely a one hour drive from the main towns you will discover beautiful fresh water lakes filled with trout and with not a single soul in sight. Drive just a few hours more and you will stumble upon huge rugged snow-capped mountains which are absolutely amazing for snowboarding or hiking. While Norway itself is an absolutely stunning country surprisingly it can offer up some quality waves along its rugged Arctic coastline when all the conditions align. [Continued below].
THE CHALLENGE OF SURFING IN NORWAY
The best times for waves in Norway are between the months of November through to April but these are also the coldest months. Temperatures get down to -15 celsius but generally when there is a swell running the temperature plummets drastically from anywhere between 0 to -5C. Water temp in January is usually around 2C degrees which makes for some unbelievable ice-cream headaches, you guys have absolutely no idea. Surfing in winter here is a real challenge to say the least.
Just getting in and out of your wetsuit is hard enough but digging your car out of the snow in the morning and scraping ice off the car window before each surf is a true test of one’s mettle and motivation levels. Coming in from the surf thirsty as hell only to find your water bottle is frozen solid can be a real kick in your tiny shrivelled up nut sacks to say the least. Then there are the days where its -2C and raining and everything is covered in 2cm of ice which makes it dangerous when you have to walk 20 minutes over ice covered rocks to get to the surf. Furthermore the daylight hours are really short in winter with the sun rising at 9am and setting at 3pm.That is only six hours of daylight folks. [Continued below].
Due to the large mountains and deep valleys in Norway the weather is so unpredictable. Weather forecasts here can change every six hours and usually not for the better. You can be looking at a swell three days out and then the night before it disappears. The swell periods are very short so you need to be on pulse to score waves. I often find myself looking at weather maps and forecasts for at least two hours a day to ensure that I am always on the ball. The best scenario is a low pressure system in the North Sea sweeping across Denmark and over to Sweden. That’s where the clean ground swells come from but you really need to be on your game as the swell can be 3-4ft (head height) in the morning and nearly flat by sundown.
SURFING OPTIONS IN NORWAY
Norway of all places has a flowrider in a place called Bø, it is not a full tubing wave but it is still so much fun. However, as time went on the novelty kind of wore off and I was really missing home. Long cold winters and long flat spells were taking their toll. The first five years I surfed only in summer as all I had was a 4/3mm wetsuit. The water here takes a long time to warm up and it cools down very quickly. Fortunately I was doing a lot of snowboarding which kept me sane through the long and stupidly cold winters.
I remember one time paddling out for a surf in my 4/3mm in early May. It was a sunny day and maybe 15 degrees. I got in and the water temp must have been about 8C. I duckdived a few waves and instantly thought “what the hell have I done?” as I experienced the most extreme ice-cream headache of my life. Out the back of the surf I was shaking and shivering like you wouldn’t believe so I caught one wave and decided to call it quits. I think it was the same year, maybe 2014, it was a really mild autumn/early winter and I managed to surf all the way up to December in my 4/3mm. That’s when it dawned on me that the surf can actually get good in winter, really good. So I bit the bullet and invested in some quality rubber in the form of a 6/5mm wetsuit, 5mm gloves and booties. That’s when it all came together and I started chasing the scene hard.
The main break around where I live is called Saltstein. It’s a peak wave in the middle of a bay and breaks on boulder reef. Because its in the Oslo Fjord it generally has a very small swell period, 4-7 seconds, so the swell never hangs around for more than a day. It can get very crowded with intermediate surfers. Even on it’s the best day the wave is gutless and it is not really suited to a bodyboard although I have had some really fun dropknee sessions out there. It can be pretty fun when it’s around 4-5ft (overhead) but those days can be rarer than hens teeth. To be honest in summer you would be lucky to get two good surf sessions in a month. [Continued below].
While Saltstein was able to stoke my surfing fire having surfed competitively at a high level back in Australia I was soon longing to test myself in some solid slabbing waves which I just knew had to be out there somewhere just waiting for me. One day I stumbled across a wave in Nordic Surfers Magazine called `The Icebox` and I immediately knew that I must find this wave. Having a general idea of the waves location I invested countless hours researching the whereabouts of the Icebox and with the aid of google maps and countless scouting missions I finally found this hidden Nordic treasure. It is not as easy wave to get to either, two hour drive, a very long hike through a foreboding forest followed by a extremely long paddle out. More than enough to put of the average surfer but fortunately I am not the average surfer.
The first two times I surfed Icebox it was kind of small, maybe just 1-2ft but how it was still slabbing despite the small conditions gave me an insight into what it could be capable of in solid conditions. I kept persevering and I was eventually rewarded with solid and perfect conditions. The wave is like a super short version of Shark Island. Some waves start off from the corner and grow in size to the end section. While other waves are just a big peak in the middle of the reef and then you get these crazy wide ones that bend back in and explode on dry rock. These are known as session enders. The reef is also heavily coated in broken muscle shells which soon take their toll on your wetsuit. You have to be really picky with your wave selection here because a lot of waves look good on the take off and then go bone dry on the unforgiving end section.
Icebox is now my wave of choice. I have had some truly epic sessions out there but I have also copped some heavy coldwater beatdowns too. Surfing solo I’m a long way from help if I get in trouble so I always have to bare this in mind. [Continued below].
UNCHARTED TERRITORY & HIDDEN GEMS
I believe that the Norwegian coastline is mostly uncharted territory for surfers with so much potential. The majority of the people here are looking for a fat wave that they can do a couple of turns on not heaving death slab best suited to bodyboarding. The trouble is when there waves are on the pump you don’t want to waste precious daylight hours and rare perfect swell conditions chasing rainbows. So to counter this risk I started checking a lot of new surf spots when it was onshore and when I had some spare time to burn.
Recently I discovered a new wave I dubbed ‘The Bull’ due to it being so heavy and sucky that you need to take off under the lip, negotiate the step and then hold on for dear life while it runs off down the reef before spitting you out safely into the channel. I checked this spot maybe three times before I actually got to surf it. It was so rewarding when it all finally came together and I had my first surf out there on New Year’s Day, something really special.[Continued below].
OUR SWEDISH SURFING BROTHERS
I have a few mates that are living over in Sweden surfing in the Baltic Sea, Chris Dight (@cdight) and Stuart Barnett (@bodyboardsweden) and these boys are chasing swells pretty hard too. I thought we had it tough over here but they are looking at 2-3 hour swell windows and 6-8 hour drives yet surprisingly the waves can get good over there and their hard work and dedication is definitely paying off.
I recently did a last-minute mission over there to visit these cold water chargers and to see what the Swedish surfing scene is all about. It was a tiring seven-hour drive to Stockholm backed up by an additional two hour drive further up the coast. During our journey the forecast did a last minute switcheroo. When I had left home it was a toasty 10C degrees but on arrival we were greeted a full blizzard and -2C temperature. Not for the feint of heart that’s for sure. We managed to score some waves but nothing special regardless its always fun surfing in the snow well at least that is what I keep telling myself. [Continued below].
Norway itself is a very family orientated country, everybody comes together for birthdays, the National Day, Christmas and New Year’s. The 17th of May is Norway’s National day celebration and it is a truly amazing cultural experience. Everybody gets amongst it by dressing up in their traditional clothing called a Bunad or a suit and tie and then they head to the town square to take part in parades featuring local school children, sporting associations and various organisations. The town is awash with colour, flag waving and celebration.
While at Christmas time they have delicious traditional dishes such as Ribbe, a pork crackling and also Pinnekjøtt, which is lamb cooked in pine sticks. There are usually at least a few kilos put on over the Christmas period that’s for sure.
The government in Norway unlike Australia work with the people and not against them. They money they make from North Sea oil and gas goes into a fund for the people. Each Norwegian is said to be worth $190,000 dollars. Children are also the main focus in the country, everything is about the children. All dental work is free for children and things such as bullying are not tolerated in schools.
Norway has a extremely high standard of living but also a high cost of living. One thing I was amazed by when I first moved here from Australia was the price of everything. For example petrol here is $2.60 AUD a litre while a burger would set you back around $20. I would always find myself converting prices in my head but soon get over that habit. One thing I found refreshingly strange is that you could leave your bike at a bus stop unlocked take a bus and come back four hours later and your bike is still where you left it. The low crime rates evident in Norway is something very rare in this day and age. As Norwegians say ‘The only trouble Norway has is that the rest of the world exists’.
THE VIKING SURFING SPIRIT
Arctic surfing appears to be the flavour of the month at the moment and it seems that everyone wants to do it. A lot of guys are treating it like there on some Arctic expedition but for most of the locals guys well we are just trying to get wet. Back home in Australia I was surfing three times a week while over here you are lucky if you surf three times in a month. It can be more desperation than anything to be honest. I would rather be surfing in shorts but there’s no better feeling than being out in uncrowded pumping surfing when it’s snowing. It is funny to see the reactions from the guys back home when they see photos of surfing in the snow. For now the search continues because I know there is still a lot of waves in Norway that haven’t been discovered yet and all we need is for the conditions to cooperate.
Lastly, if you know any companies that need to give their wetsuits a trial run in extreme Arctic conditions I’ll be more than happy to put them to the test. If anyone is ever brave enough for a surf trip up this way let us know and we might just let you in on some of Norway’s best kept secrets.