The first drops of rain hit the sleeping bag, cocooned in the Arctic grade sac it feels like nothing, but as I poke my head out I realise my traveling companions are stirring from their sleep, the rain increasing in intensity. The early morning half light has the first signs of winter in its decidedly Arctic tones. It’s been trying to get light for over an hour and it’s still very early. The way the light travels through the atmosphere up here is unique, filtered into what feels like a perpetual dawn. The low clouds part in places and the soft rays of the early sun penetrate, spots of rain still patter on the sleeping bag but now across islets in the fjord rainbows rise and fall. Light dances on the water as the horizon expands almost infinitely as the cloud and mist pull back.
This is Norway, indescribably beautiful and ever changing. On the road and the vastness of one of the longest coastlines on the planet becomes totally apparent. The deep fjords of the Norwegian coast make journey times quadruple. Hewn from precambrian crystalline rocks of the Fennoscandian Shield, these fjords are vast, and are examples of the power of glaciation in the last ice age. It’s this geology and the subsequent glaciation, which has made this coast the corrugated nightmare it is for driving along. Weary from a solid day of traveling I still find it impossible to even nod off for a moment for fear of missing a view, an ice capped mountain or even a Troll. Finally after coffees and hot dogs we arrive, two vans and eight people in a field, at a small beach, cliffs towering above us.
Ripples only rise out of The Atlantic to greet us here on The Stad peninsula, the beaches here are popular due to their ease of access from the capital Oslo. I say ease, it’s still a solid eight hour drive, over and through a vast mountain range, which is regularly impassable in the winter months. By Norwegian standards this is a popular area though, and thus it is deserted. My companions in this field are an entire company, well almost. Ernie hyperactive as ever has driven to Norway along with Davo, both look wearier than the rest of us after hours behind the wheel and a 24 hour cargo ship crossing. They are pulling the two big eight man tents out of the back of the van. These things are large, from the 70’s and designed to make existing in the cold a little more comfortable. Tom (Finisterre founder) and Gregor (marketing manager), set about assembling our new homes for this week. They go up pretty easily, it’s an alien experience for me, at best I am in a cramped mountaineering tent, normally just a bivvy bag, so these two structures, complete with wood burner make for an all together much more comfortable cold water experience. The rest of the crew comprise surfers Jonny and Sophie and film maker Chris.
As we all sit round a large table in the mess tent chatting, warmed by a single malt scotch and the roaring wood burner I cannot help but think this is surely the most civilised way to go on a surf mission in the cold, short of staying in a building, something which I am averse to. Next morning and the quiet of the first night is showing signs of a change, a front on the horizon suggests the weather is due to become more inclement. It will bring surf, but will test our accommodation to the full. No one seems too worried though, Jonny and Tom have a fly in the water already, there is a little competition between the two fishermen, a primal urge to see who can feed the camp. Neither get more than a small Trout though that goes back to grow for another day.
The setting out here is idyllic, a small river runs down the side of the field we are camped on, it empties into the middle of the bay. A short left hander breaks down the cobble and sand bar formed by the flow and is almost big enough to tempt us in. Further round the bay there is a little church and graveyard overlooking the sea, in front is a more consistent little bank. It’s small for now, but facing out into the North Atlantic it will pick up anything the next weather system chooses to deliver. It comes sooner than expected, leaders in front of a storm, the swell rises quickly all afternoon and everyone gets in the water. The waves up here are not world class, but the setting is. Shoulder high rights and the occasional left hander zip off a bank, all backed by towering cliffs. The setting alone is enough to make this an all time session, regardless of the surf conditions and it’s non-stop sharing of waves. But whilst the swell builds so does the weather, it’s the lament of surfing so far north, glassy sessions like this have to be cherished because they do not last for long, wind, rain and snow are never far away when you get up to these latitudes.
That evening the wind picks up, sat around the table drinking and eating good food it feels like nothing, but experience tells us all otherwise, a poorly erected tent is useless, so every peg and guy rope is reinforced with rocks in the face of an impending gale. The wood burners are stocked up and everyone beds down for the night. It’s noisy in a tent in a breeze, especially an eight man one, but it stays upright, although there are some minor leaks when the wind blows open an air vent. The morning is fresh, with a solid little swell running, although technically late summer, the warmth of summer is relinquishing its hold on this bit of coast by the minute. The wind now from the north east has a chill to it that will in just a matter of weeks usher in the first snowfall of winter. The waves are average, Jonny flicks a fly in the little river and then surfs, Tom is a little more interested in the Salmon though, and knowing how competitive these two are, makes it even more interesting.
Two hours later Jonny emerges from a fun little session on his snub nose fish, the look of happiness as he trots through the dunes turns to disbelief and then horror as Tom stands by the tent glowing in a way a man does when he has just caught a Salmon big enough to feed us all that evening. Jonny is stoked though but as soon as he is out of that wettie he is by the river flicking the fly, this rivalry would continue for the next week, and whilst Jonny whipped out a few Trout, Tom came back with a second Salmon, and another nights food. It’s one of the joys of this sort of living, sure you bring a lot of food with you, but when you have all the time in world to add to the menu, it helps take things back to the source. Out in the wilds like this everything goes on a steady repeat, securing tents, eating, fishing, surfing, having a drive around to look at other spots and just soaking in the environment. When you’re comfortable in a colder climate, it’s so much more enjoyable in my opinion than sweating your arse off in the tropics, it’s why I love tripping to the colder regions of the planet. The boys have proved too with their tent, replete with wood burner, and a little organisation, that you can live pretty comfortably even in the most inhospitable conditions.
But the thing I love most about this sort of surfing, getting out there and enjoying the environment, is that it’s on our doorstep, whether it is Yorkshire or Norway, Scotland or Cornwall, it’s right there for the weekend or a week, and it’s as much of an adventure as it is flying halfway around the planet.