Most surfers love to travel, and for those of us who have to suffer through cold winters, traveling often means escaping from 6mm wetsuits and chugging hot chocolates to stay warm, in exchange for warm water, boardshorts and cold beer.
For me, that was always the best way to survive the Norwegian winters where I grew up. When I lived and dealt with the freezing winters in Norway, I tried to get at least one cheap flight to southern Europe each season. Now that I live in New York, I try to get myself on a flight over to the Caribbean as often as I can to soak up the sun and surf and just relax.
However, there are a few surfers out there that are a bit more adventurous than me. One of them is a fellow countryman of mine, the Norwegian adventurer, Inge Wegge. Inge is a TV photographer who has a passion for surfing uncharted waved around the world. In 2011 for instance, he spent nine months with his good friend on a secluded beach in a remote part of northern Norway. They slept in a cabin built entirely from collected beach wood, and they ate expired food given to them by the local grocery store.
There’s a documentary that captured this amazing experience called “North of the sun”, which premiered in 2012. In it, Inge and his friend Jørn brave the freezing temperatures of the Northern Atlantic, and battle against hunger darkness while managing to keep their stoke for surfing as bright as ever. It’s truly inspirational to see how excited they get over semi-clean, 4-6ft swell in the chill of the Norwegian darkness.
In April 2013, Inge set out on another cold water, wave hunting journey. This time with his two brothers, Haakon and Markus, to a remote island in the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago called Bear Island.
Bear Island is located in the western part of the Barents Sea, approximately halfway between Spitsbergen and the North Cape. The brothers spent two months on the isolated island, cold water surfing, snowboarding, skiing and protecting themselves from polar bears.
Inge tells me that he wanted to surf a secluded spot that no one had ever surfed before. Initially he thought about going to Svalbard, however that Island is really difficult to explore. “Bear Island is just the right size to range over the entire coastline within the time frame we had allocated. It’s not too often tourists visit the island and if they do, its only for a few days.”
They were going for two months, and he explains that it was really hard to get the island Governor to give them access. “It was mostly safety issues, if we were to have an accident in poor conditions it could have taken days or even weeks to be rescued. The weather is extremely [shifty] on the small island in the Arctic Ocean.”
He continued “After almost two years of planning and applying, we finally got permission as long as we could get there on our own, which turned out to be quite the mission! It took us forever, but we eventually hitched a ride with a cargo ship going to Longyearbyen on Svalbard, Norway. We contacted the little meteorology station on the island, and they helped us [get] from the ship to shore. Luckily the wind was low and the sun was shining, which made it possible to get there”.
When Inge and his brothers got to the island they used skis as transportation along the coastline. They surfed several tucked away spots and even found waves on isolated beaches that quite possibly no one ever has even seen.
When I asked Inge about the reasoning and motivation to go to these uninhabited, inhospitable locations, he admitted to being tempted to travel to warm water locations like everyone else, to surf clean, perfect waves in boardshorts in places like Hawaii or Indonesia. And like me, Inge said he hates getting a brain-freeze.
“When the water is -1´C (30.2 F), you get a lot of brainfreezes, it’s horrible!”
But what really get’s him going is the sense of adventure, the wonder of exploring a new territory and overcoming the challenges it presents, that’s what gives him the ultimate thrill. Luckily for us, Inge is always traveling with a camera and does an excellent job of capturing the serenity of the the isolated parts of the earth that he visits.
After listening to Inge describe his incredible journey, and the sense of great joy that comes with discovering something new, it made me question my recent trip to sunny Puerto Rico where maybe I traded in a chance for real personal discovery in exchange for some warm, mushy waves.
“Bear Island” will be out in October 2014.