I’ve just come back from the Stavanger region of Norway, and let me tell you it was a real eye opener. For a while now I’ve been longing for empty rugged wilderness over tropical surf trips and Norway must surely be the ultimate embodiment of the frontier surf trip.
About a month ago I got a call from Mark Harris, yep him from The Endless Winter surf movies (I hope you are checking them out if you’ve not seen them) asking if I was keen on a trip to Norway to check out the SUP and surf potential. Through his work with Gul he has the best connections with the likes of Rune and Gabe from Surschool.no (longest established surf school in the country) so we’d be sure to know when and where to go.
Even packing for this trip was exciting. Our winters in Cornwall are a bit wet and not always that spectacular, unlike Norway which of course if it’s famous for anything it must be the cold. I love a bit of cold, the challenge of choosing and using the right kit, feeling all snug and dry whilst surrounded by an environment that could kill you through exposure. In went the 6/5 hooded wetsuit and a load of merino wool and polyester fabrics. I was pleased to also get to use (justify the purchase of?) my new Osprey backpack and Asolo boots.
On day one we went to a spot called Two Wave Bay. The surf was heaving, smashing against the rocks and a hard wind was blowing spray up into the air. In the tumult three Norwegians were learning to surf, undaunted. So it is true, this is the land of the Vikings. We continued to explore the coast, there were reefs and points rattling off all over the place as the solid swell hammered in. Rune explained that in winter you head to the points and reefs, while in summer the west facing beaches are the choice spots.
Our first surf out there lived up to its promise; it was strangely exciting just thinking about cold the water would actually be. We’d found a right hand boulder point break reeling along the shoreline of a rock strewn grassy field, the landscape looked like something from Game of Thrones, and save us there was not a soul around. The swell was generated by a strong local wind but was cleaning up beautifully as it hugged the corner. Mark paddled out from a small harbour further upwind to drift down onto the point and I picked my way across the boulders to get out there.
The water was stunningly clear. I could see the brightly coloured boulders below and strands of kelp billowing in the current. The sun was peaking out between lashings of rain and there were stacks of decent waves coming through, running for a hundred yards. The current was more benign than I’d anticipated since the swell was so wind driven and after a brief familiarisation period we were snagging one wave after another, paddling back to the take off point to resume our conversation about something or other. The take off allowed for an easy roll in and once you made it around the first section the wave hugged the coast and reeled off down the line. No one else out, no one on the shore with a surfboard, just waves, nature, and all the time in the world to go about our surf. And I hadn’t even noticed the cold! In fact I was roasting hot, I could feel the sweat running down by back. It’s a few degrees colder than Cornwall but that’s not saying much and it’s totally within the realms of a 6/5mm wetsuit, in fact a 5mm would do it if you’re an active paddler.
Over the next few days we sup’d at Frafjorden – probably the most unique place I’ve paddled, hiked up to the Moon Falls, sup’d on an indescribably beautiful lake hidden in a fold between Frajfjorden and Lysefjorden in about 40 knots of wind – that added an element of frisson, and most remarkably, snowboarded and surfed in the same day. Snow and surf is a bit of a bucket list item for a lot of boardriders and there aren’t many places around the world where it’s possible, much less practical; who wants to spend all day hammering around in a car just for bragging rights? Well, we didn’t hit the road to the slopes till 11am and after two and a half hours in the snow drove back to the beach and were in our wetsuits by 4pm to surf another empty right hand point break. The waves were smaller this time, perfectly clean and with the sun shining from a blue sky, it was the most uplifting way to end the day.
The area where the surf is looks a lot like Orkney, or the more remote parts of Scotland. As I suppose it should, sharing the same 59th parallel. It’s made of low grassy fields peppered with ancient rocks dragged down as the glaciers retreated into the sea. The beaches are long, sandy, backed by dunes….and have only a foot of tide! Don’t expect cafes or lifeguard services, it’s just you and any supplies you brought with you. All of this doesn’t look that alien to British eyes, in fact it feels strangely familiar, although you would have to go to the furthest reaches of our country to find approaching the vastness.
Head inland for about thirty minutes and you are firmly in fjord country. The (excellent) roads start winding as they follow the banks of lakes and fjords and snow capped mountains vault skyward from the water’s edge. Forests and mountains are everywhere; unbroken wilderness stretching all the way into the Arctic Circle. The wildlife we saw was mostly birds and minks, but if you just keep driving you’ll end up in elk, lynx and reindeer country. Camping laws are favourable in the extreme in Norway; basically camp where you like so long as you are a) not on private property or b) within 150m of someone’s house and c) not making a nuisance of yourself. In reality, all you have to do is drive a bit, spy an area you like, walk over a hill and all signs of humanity will vanish. You’re more likely to be worried about not being found, than being found, if you get my meaning.
An hour’s drive from the beach puts you in the snowy mountains. This is where you’ll find small ski resorts, without accommodation, as people just drive in from the towns. The mountains are lower here than you’ll find in continental Europe but the snowscape looked just as impressive to me, maybe more so in places as it wasn’t scarred with huge lift networks and tourist villages.
One of the first things people will tell you about Norway is that it is expensive. It’s true, it’s not a budget destination but we were finding decent restaurant evening meals for £25 and if you stock up on any alcohol at the airport you’ll find similar prices to the UK. Diesel is £1.20 – £1.50 a litre, and accommodation often includes a healthy buffet breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausages, fish, waffles, unlimited coffee, smoothies, fruit, cheese and so on, and free waffles in the evening! Hiking, exploring, surfing, sup’ing, kiting and general adventure is free of course and if you need to rent equipment it’s similar to UK prices. Flights to Stavanger can be had for as low as £90, airport transfers are measured in minutes, and suddenly you can see you’re making savings in some areas over other cheaper destinations. But honestly, can you name a budget destination where you can surf and snowboard in the same day?
Join Us 17th and 18th June
It is with this realisation that Norway is close and eminently ‘doable’ that Mark and I have decided we’re going to run a mid summer sup, hike and surf weekend out there. Dates are 17th – 18th June so expect long hours of daylight! If surfing empty beaches, gathering by a campfire in the evening, sup’ing the serenity of Frafjord, hiking to the Pulpit Rock and eating delicious waffles sounds like an adventure to you, then get in touch.
We’ve got eight places spare. Pick up from the airport, transport for the weekend, accommodation in twin rooms with en suite and brekky, and equipment rental is all included in the price of £200 per person. You just need to get your own flights from Gatwick to Stavanger on Friday evening and home again on Sunday evening, currently they’re sitting at £90 return. Mark and I will be on hand to coach and assist as required in sup and surf, and Gabe knows the place like the back of his hand for hiking.
Give me a call on 07540 155123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info. Cheers!.