Arctic Surfing

Arctic Surfing

This photo was taken near the tiny fishing village of Kremmervika during an expedition to surf the arctic circle. The team was led by film maker Yassine Ouhilal who was accompanied by world class surfers Matt Whitehead, Cyrus Sutton, Christian Wach, and Pat Millin. They started in the 700-person town of Ballstad on the island of Vestvågøy in Norway in the spring of 2008 and traveled north through the Lofoten islands, surfing along the way. Eventually they made it all the way to the coast of Russia, but soon found out that most of the country’s northwestern Arctic coast is off-limits to anyone not in the military so they were unable to get in the water. While planning the trip, charts showed that waves would be better in the winter, but it was deemed suicide to try surfing during the coldest and darkest part of the year. Even the spring temperatures hovered between 20 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit; not exactly the most ideal surfing weather. As they traveled around they often found beautiful, calm beaches that taunted them with signs of large waves that came just days before. When asked what prompted surfers from California and Australia to travel to the arctic to surf, Millin replied “I guess it’s the isolation. That’s why I wanted to come here. How many people are surfing in Hawaii right now? How many thousands?” The following is an excerpt from an Outside article about their expedition that helps explain even further.

We’ve been driving for 14 hours straight. Just as we’re about to give up on surfing for the day, Whitehead spots the fluorescent lines of whitewater squiggling into a bay. Ouhilal stops the car on the roadside.

“Yeah, that’s surfable,” he says. Whitehead jumps into the backseat and rustles through the nest of wetsuits. Minutes later, he vanishes into a thicket of thorny bushes and bounds down the snow-and-moss-covered rocks that lead to the beach.

By the time Ouhilal and I make it to the clearing, ten minutes later, Whitehead is paddling for his first wave, a neck-high point break that lazily arches its back along an exposed black-rock reef and then catapults him down a wall of glassy water. I watch as he rides a few feet in front of me, the wave’s face reflecting the crescent moon before it shoots him into inky blackness.

For this session there are no cameras, no poses, nothing to prove. We’re just three people floating in the Arctic Ocean, surfing a wave that’s been breaking alone for tens of thousands of years. We’re the first to feel its shape, trace its movements, be a part of this big, marvelous, living thing. An hour later, as we pull ourselves from the water and retrace our steps back to the van, everyone is smiling. Whitehead names the break Broken Hearts, after a local Ballstad girl who shirked his advances last week. “To me, that makes it all worth it,” says Ouhilal. “To do this—it’s a very special thing.”

Below are some pictures taken by Yassine Ouhilal as well as a movie he produced about the expedition. Well worth it to watch.

Sources: and Outside Online

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