Have you ever dreamed of surfing under an arctic sky, perhaps beneath the incomparable splendor of the northern lights? Surfers and surf enthusiasts may be more likely to name famous big-wave breaks like Tahiti’s Teahupo’o or Portugal’s Nazaré as their destinations of choice, but to push your limits in a wholly different way and increase your chances of enjoying a solitary lineup to boot, set your sights on the Nordic lands of Scandinavia.
Rocky shores against iron seas, lush pastureland dotted with grazing sheep, and craggy, snow-capped mountains are just a few of the features that dominate the mythical landscape here at the top of the world, and that’s if you’re visiting during the summer months when the sun hangs high in the sky and as many as a full twenty-four hours of daylight mean practically endless chances to hang ten. If you’re ready to tackle the subzero temperatures, blizzards, and storm surges in the unforgiving dark of winter, though, you may be rewarded with even more challenging surf.
Speaking of subzero temperatures—which isn’t an exaggeration come the winter months—regardless of where you intend to paddle out, you’ll want to ensure you have all the appropriate gear. The air temperatures can be colder than the water, warmed just enough by a finger of the Gulf Stream to stay liquid, so layers of proper dry gear are a must. More importantly, though, you’ll want to make sure your wetsuit is up to the task. Advances in insulation tech mean we’ve come a long way since the days when Thor Frantzen and Hans Egil Krane, locally credited as the first surfers in Norway, strode out into the waves at Unstad wearing wool sweaters under their rubber diving suits (having already found bathing suits alone insufficient to the task). In addition to a good wetsuit, you’ll want a hood, gloves, and booties, and even a heated vest might not go amiss.
Suited up? Righteous. Here are some of the sweetest spots in the Scandinavian cold-water surfing world.
This pebbled beach in the southern part of the Stockholm Archipelago is regarded as the best surf spot in Sweden, home to a number of national surf championships, including the 2017 SVENSKA MÄSTERSKAP. The rocky reef responsible for peaky waves has been steadily scooting closer to shore, reducing average wave heights, although 10’ swells aren’t unheard-of. Having a reputation like this means the lineup may resemble that of your average tropical break, with some fifty to sixty surfers flocking to the waves on a good day, so don’t plan for solitude here—instead, relax and enjoy the company.
Home to the first dedicated surfing community in Norway, Jæren offers long, sandy beaches for beginner-friendly rides in the frigid North Sea. Free from the dramatic cliffs that characterize other parts of these shores, the horizon seems endless here in the lowlands of the Stavanger Peninsula. Bore is a popular beach break for its reliability and short, hollow waves, while Sele offers a fun right-hand boulder point break that’s a little more challenging but still doable for novices given the relatively calm seas. Show up in autumn or brave the winter for bigger, more powerful challenges.
A stunning beach break framed by majestic mountain peaks, surfers regularly make the pilgrimage to Hoddevik for its consistent lines and beautiful white sand. It doesn’t hurt either that the water temperature gets as warm as 64°F toward late summer, which is coincidentally when the swell begins to get larger and rougher. Even better? There are not one, but two surf camps, eager to offer you accommodations packaged with gear rental and cold-water surf lessons. Not bad for a pastoral town with a permanent resident population of fewer than thirty, right?
The Lofoten Islands are a truly wild place, fierce in the face of the turbulent Norwegian Sea that’s home to hooded and harp seals, orcas and blue whales, squid, and a ferocious maelstrom called the Moskstraumen. So it may come as a surprise that amidst these untrammeled mountains, sheltered inlets, and sparkling fjords can be found some of the best northern surf. Its location north of the arctic circle gives it a degree of novelty, too; here surfers can line up beneath the summertime midnight sun, or the northern lights if they’re lucky and experienced enough to ride the stormier swells during the dark months between September and mid-April. Unstad on the island of Vestvågøy is the biggest name in the islands, host to the annual Lofoten Masters and Unstad Arctic Surf, founded as Unstad Camping by one of Norway’s first surfers, Thor Frantzen.