Some of the most common surfing excursion are tropical destinations like Bali and Costa Rica. These are great options for relaxation and good surf but after a few of these vacations, I felt the need for something different. Somewhere unique and filled with unforgettable adventures. A place like Norway.
After some research, I realized that the summer had the least consistent surf but that there was 24 hours of light and warmer weather. Deciding that even if there was little or no surf, Norway was worth seeing, I booked a flight ticket to Europe. Trying to keep my expectation low and too lazy to research, I had a feeling I was about to embark on an unforgettable adventure.
Pictures of some pro surfing beautiful waves in the arctic have been popping up in my social media feeds for years. A growing desire to experience these empty waves and unique surf spots reached a tipping point. Unstad, located in the Lofoten Islands, is one of those photographed arctic surf spots and has been building quite the reputation in the last few years. I chose this as my Norway destination, not fully understanding how far north it was. I thought that I could just hop on a train and be there in a few hours, but it turned out to either be a couple flights or a long journey over land. Choosing to fly, I had a several days stopover in Tromso and then a flight to Leknes to meet a local Norwegian surfer.
As expected, the waves were non-existent. No worries, Lofoten is still one of the most beautiful places that I have ever seen. Extravagant mountains shoot straight out of the sea, piercing into the clouds. Truly the islands of the gods. With no surf, it was easy to succumb to the desire to camp and hike some of the endless peaks. From the top of almost any peak in Lofoten, there is a view of the ocean on either side of the archipelago.
As soon as the forecast had any hope of a swell, my friend and I headed to Unstad, Lofoten’s surf destination. Driving into the valley is like nothing else I have ever experienced. A dark tunnel opens up small collection of farms surrounded by almost vertical mountains on all sides. Dropping down into the village, I was surprised by a surf camp offering rentals, lessons, camping and a hostel. It was a perfect destination for someone wanting a more comfortable arctic experience.
Not one to splurge on comforts while traveling, we joined the rest of the Unstad campers in the oceanfront camping area. With a beach front camping spot, I had the perfect view of the waves. There was only one problem: it was as flat as a lake. Unable to surf, it was only logical to start hiking the mountains surrounding Unstad while we waited with our fingers crossed for some waves.
Keeping an eye on the forecast, we began to worry about what was to come. The good news was that there were supposed to be waves. The bad was that the waves were coming with a storm. Heavy rain and 32 mph (about 13.8 mps) winds. It didn’t look too good for our cheap tent and hopes for surfing. Bailing for the storm, we decided to come back after the worst of the downpour and wind passed.
Once the flooding and wind subsided to a somewhat manageable strength, we headed back to Unstad. Coming into the valley we were greeted with rays of sunshine breaking through the clouds, momentarily lighting up the white sand beach and mountains. As soon as it looked like the sun might come out, it would start raining again. Standing on the white sand bundled up in a fleece and rain jacket, we looked out into the stormy sea. There were waves and it might even be some surfable waves if you were lucky, but no one was out and it definitely wasn’t inviting. The wind was blowing offshore when we arrived with the occasional gusts that would almost knock us over. Then the conditions started to improve. As my hopes of surfing started to escalate, I looked to the left and saw a white wall of rain. Then after only a few minutes of no wind, we were hit with a strong onshore gale, the complete opposite way as just 10 minutes prior, and another downpour. I guess it wasn’t my time to surf.
Leaving without the chance to surf a perfect remote wave wasn’t nearly as disappointing as I had thought. Just being in Lofoten and experiencing the people, hikes and crazy weather was worth the trip. Maybe next time I will face the cold and come during the fall or spring when you can see the northern lights and have more consistent waves.