Arctic surf: on the waves of the Lofoten Islands

The pioneers began in 1963, when only talking about it seemed mad. Today there is a school that wants to teach it even to children and make surfing in the lands of the ice and snow no longer a "Martian" thing.
All surfers know the breaks of El Hierro in Fuerteventura where the wind never stops raising the foam, splashing it at tens of metres. There are those who go to Mundaka Beach, a short walk from Bilbao, to stroll on spots that reach up to 400 meters in length and 6 meters in height. Others prefer Superbotos in Portugal to feel like they are in Hawaii, inside pipes that are so perfect they seem so unreal. Or maybe they prefer the French beaches of Biarritz in the hipster enclave of French surfing, with beers and barbecues. But the real surfers, those who even before putting their feet on a table already know that the journey alone will be an adventure, point north, planting a flag in the middle of the Norwegian Atlantic.

There’s no reason to go there

It does not matter if it’s minus 20 outside, if the wind is so strong it could move a Land Rover Defender, if they have to stop in a safety hut because the only thing they see one metre from them is snow. Those who have six or seven surfboards on their luggage racks think only of arriving in Unstad, 100 miles above the Arctic Circle, with a finger the Lofoten Islands only a Viking God could have drawn.
"Why? There's no reason to go there", asks surprised an agent at Oslo airport. Especially because in front of you there is a 16 hour wall by car to Bodo, another 3 hours and thirty by ferry and the last 90 minutes of slow drive on frozen roads.
Yet there is more than one reason to go to Unstad. You search the waves with your eyes, assessing how good the break points are - the points where the waves break, you hear them like the skidding of a subway wagon. Then you turn a little further and see the snowy mountains fall into the ocean. Then your gaze lingers in the middle, trying to understand if those who scrutinize the bay are large rocks or sea lions stranded to enjoy a bit of sunshine. And then the acid green lights, the red and the blue mixed together of the northern lights, which, like all spells, last too little.

No matter how much you plan your trip; Mother Nature will always be in charge.

20 inhabitants, 100 sheep, 200 surfers

Welcome to Unstad. Around twenty inhabitants 100 sheep and 200 surfers who in winter defrost the bags of boards with hot water, put on their wet suits and dive into the Arctic water that burns like fire. The fingers and face swell immediately, the head implores a box of analgesics, the feet are just an anatomical appendix whose function is no longer recognizable. But in the end, the miracle of surfing is fulfilled. Just look at the wizards of the longboard walking on the oversized boards as Christ walked on Lake Tiberias. Or the tapestry of maneuvers sewn on the water by short boarders, before disappearing into a tube that seems to freeze at any moment. From the street you can hear the cries of surfers, the joy of living for a few days in Arctic California, that sense of challenge and pioneering conquest that is in the blood of every athlete.

Thor and Hans are the ones to blame

Today Unstad is on international surf maps, but still among the less travelled destinations because it takes quite a bit of willpower and madness to get here. However, these are nothing, when compared to what it took for the two Norwegians who first dived into these waves, Thor Frantzen and Hans Egil Krane.
It was 1963, there was not even one technical equipment store nationwide, the idea of surfing in Norway would have sounded more like a joke to crack the audience. Yet the stout men began to build their tables with foam stiffened by the pages of newspapers, closing it inside shells of resin and fiberglass, with graphics inspired by the covers of Beach Boys’ vinyl.

After an initial autumn test carried out in swimsuits, they immediately decided to work on the protections against the cold. Since surfing bare skin meant suffering from hypothermia, they decided to create a mix of tarred wool sweaters and Michelin Man-styled diving suits. In short, Unstad was finally able to award the title of village madmen to Thor and Hans.

More technical clothing, same philosophy

Nowadays the current technical clothing is much more effective and comfortable than 40 years ago. The inner lining is designed to trap and reflect body heat while improving blood flow. Thermal welds allow a total waterproofing and the gradual thickness of neoprene allows you to keep your upper body warm, ensuring greater mobility to arms and legs. There are also wetsuits with a battery that generates heat and warms hands and feet. But what hasn't changed in Unstad is the attitude to make something happen that the locals keep on looking at with skepticism.
As it is known, madness generates madness: after Thor, her daughter Marion Frantzen decided to dust off her family business by creating the Unstad Artic Surf Experience in 2003, when her father also told her: "beware, this will not go well".

The northernmost surf school on the planet

If Thor had managed to create a safe house for surfers, the northernmost outpost of the planet has now become much more. Marion runs a school that welcomes families with children, retirees and experienced surfers alike. During summer the waves are more docile, but they are always present thanks to a raised threshold on the seabed that creates a break at any time of the year. In autumn, the first storms guarantee a perfect left-handed wave that allows you to surf up to exhaustion. Winter, on the other hand, is reserved for the professional elite, who feel like braving the cold without queuing up: the bay of Unstad is a very spacious bay and much more fascinating than the classic tropical destinations.
The four-hour entry level course for beginners costs 126 euros. But the most popular package is the Hang Loose Weekend: with 262 euro you can stay in a bungalow, rent a table and a wetsuit, enter the sauna and take advantage of the transfer to and from the nearest airport. For those who are not satisfied with surfing there are also snow excursions on fat bikes, skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding and from the end of May to mid-July you can snorkel under the midnight sun.

People saw us as if we came from Mars, they see that today it’s full of martians.  Thor Frantzen

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