Norway: Bracing breaks in the north

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Who needs Hawaii? Surfing rarely gets better – or colder – than off the coast of Norway. Demi Taylor catches some extremely cool waves

I wove a line through a crisp field of golden stubble, encased head-to-toe in 5mm of neoprene and accompanied by a Norwegian surfer called Jan Erik Jensen. He was the embodiment of a Viking raider: tall, blond hair, piercing blue eyes, a bone-crushing handshake and an uncanny command of the ocean. As we neared the point, the white noise intensified into a roar as a thousand black boulders were marshalled in and out of formation by the sea, each movement serving to sculpt the rocks into ever-more precise globes. Jan Erik was talking: his lips were moving, eyes crinkling as he grinned, but his words were swallowed up by a cacophony of tumbling stones.

"Sorry?" I asked, mitt-encased hand tugging at my hood.

"I can't believe how lucky you guys are!" he shouted. "I probably surf every other day but this has to be the best south swell we've had here for 20 years." As if on cue, a crisp-edged, head-high wave walled up and reeled off in front of us, the shoreline replying with rapturous, rumbling applause. "Just don't go telling everyone it's like this all the time in Stavanger," he added with a smile as he planed into the water.

When planning this surf trip, I'd spread a map out on the floor and surveyed its crinkled contours with just two criteria: short haul, big adventure. My gaze hovered over old friends such as Lagos in the Algarve and Taghazout in Morocco. But while these spots can deliver a little winter warmth to the European wave-hunter, the trails to these coastlines are now well worn. I had, I realised, a third criterion: I was looking to escape.

Then my eyes lit on Norway. Stavanger is the hub of Norwegian surfing. This vibrant port city is home to around half of the country's 400-strong wave-riding community – and for good reason. The coastal region of Jaeren, 20 minutes to the south-west, is one of the country's most wave-rich and consistent stretches. It serves up vast helpings of pristine, dune-backed beach breaks, punctuated by thunderous boulder points. And the last vestiges of the Gulf Stream doing what they can to temper the water's chill.

Farther north, Norway's shorelines lie shattered, riven with dramatic fjords that pull in the summer crowds but make surf exploration a long and winding proposition. Here, by contrast, access to the breaks is easy: the ribbon of blacktop faithfully follows the curves of the coastline, offering up fresh potential with every turn. My destination was set; all I had to do was dig out my thermals.

As I paddled out from the shore – modern wetsuit technology and old-fashioned adrenalin fighting off the sea's icy grip – any fleeting feelings of apprehension were replaced with a piercing clarity. There's certainly something special about taking to the sea as the mercury drops.

"I find it exciting surfing when it's cold – I love the contrast," local teacher Jette Idland said. "It can be freezing cold or snowing, but you can be in the ocean experiencing it all, experiencing the elements first-hand." Surfing in these chilly waters served to intensify the situation, focusing my mind on the task at hand. Whether by the need to stay warm and keep moving or the appreciation of the textbook right-handers peeling through, I felt spurred onwards like never before.

For more than an hour, six of us traded waves. The party included Norway's first surfer, Roar Berge, who spent the 1980s pioneering these shores. "Well, that was a religious experience," he exclaimed as he walked back to the car park, grinning ear-to-ear. His face said it all, while his background put it into context; this really was a special day.

Jan Erik led us southwards. The houses were spread out across the flat coastal patchwork of muted golds, greens and browns. "There was this series on TV; just one guy and his dog going off into the wilderness with a film camera," Stavanger local Gunhild Vevik said. "It was amazingly popular – one million people tuned in," she explained, trying to convey the very Norwegian yearning for space and solitude.

It seems this need for isolation does not extend to the local wave-riding population: a collection of abandoned cars signalled that we'd arrived. It was past 2pm and the cool light was beginning to flatten off, turning the ocean into a silver screen. Each approaching line was an event for the gathered crowd. In this part of Norway, tides have no impact – it's all about the combination of wind and swell, so only the creeping fingers of darkness call an early end to the day.

Later, I found myself lying on a heated pad, cocooned in towels. My eyes were covered but I was aware of a figure leaning over me, murmuring reassurances. I was in a recovery room – of sorts. I lay ensconced within the evening calm of the Sola Strand Hotel's Nordsjobadet Spa. After three saunas and an hour's facial and massage, I felt suitably revived after the session of cold-water therapy.

Later still, the scales were being tipped as the bartender poured a glass of merlot. At Café Sting, wine is a valuable commodity; like gold, it is sold by weight. Glass on the scales, eyes fixed on the spiralling digits, a hand signals when the desired amount is reached. It's good fun, but you can't imagine this would wash anywhere else in Europe: the weekend scrum at the bar would be five-deep by 9pm. In Norway, where a small glass of wine in a bar can easily cost £10, queues are small, orderly and nobody's buying any rounds.

Once our ingots of wine were finished, we headed to Ovre Holmegate – a street of candy-coloured façades and eclectic cafés, including Boger og Borst – "Booze and Books". This, we agreed, was a winning combination in any nightspot, and we headed in.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Day In a Page

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world