Crazy in the North
Staumnes, Norway -- There is a certain Nordic spirit that affects people living in Scandinavia, especially in its northernmost reaches. The crazier the idea, the less likely you’ll give up pursuing it. Take the ice surfboard as a case in point.
The people who hang around surfing at Unstad, Norway, and environs are a special bunch. They surf in the dead of winter, way above the Arctic Circle, when the air can get as chilly as minus 10 Celsius (which can feel like minus 25 with the windchill). A surfing and a cold enthusiast myself, I have been photographing them for five years. And this year, they threw a new twist into the mix.
Several of the guys who are Unstad and Lofoten regulars decided to try to make a surfboard out of ice. And why not? It’s never been done before. They’re in a place where there is ice 10 months out of the year. Why not try to make a board out of it and see what happens?
Plus they wanted to push the ecology spirit of Scandinavia to the max. It sounded like a great way to have some fun. And there was a certain poetic spirit to it all -- as the surfboard melts, the surf returns to the water. Like “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” but in this case it’s “water to water.” Without the morbid, sad connotations of a funeral service.
And so ten of them -- six surfers and four of their friends -- went to work. First they cut ice chunks out of frozen lakes. But that didn't work. So they made molds out of plastic and wood. They filled the molds with fresh water (frozen fresh water is much stronger than frozen salt water) and a bit of seaweed to cut down on the slippage factor. They also added other things, just for fun.
Then they left the boards inside a fishery in a room where it was minus 25 Celsius for two days. And then they took them to the waves.
They spent four days trying out the boards, hauling the 70-kilogram contraptions to the water.
And have reached several conclusions.
The board lasts about 30 minutes in the ocean, where the water is about 3 degrees Celsius, before it all melts away.
Out of those 30 minutes, there are only about five during which the board is at an optimal shape for surfing. The trick is catching a good enough wave during those precise five minutes. The waves need to be strong -- not large, but strong. To get enough speed, you need a few guys actually pushing the board in the water, instead of the lone surfer just paddling. The reason is both the size and weight of the board and because the waves around here are wind waves, which aren’t as powerful as swells.
This type of surfing can be much more dangerous than surfing with regular boards -- if you fall and get hit on the head with a 60-70-kilo piece of ice, that can do some damage and hurt.
The one definite conclusion after four days of trial and error is that it can absolutely be done. They will make the necessary modifications and they will return until they it works (Hopefully after a bit of help from some friends).
And so will I, determined to catch that moment.
Because that’s what crazy Nordic people do. And we’ll have a lot of fun trying.
This blog was written with Yana Dlugy in Paris.