WATCH: The First Surfers of Lofoten in Norway

Henrik Bydal

by on

Updated 159d ago

Far, far in the Arctic north there’s a bay by the name of Unstad. In this bay is a village. In this village there are only 14 inhabitants. In front of their homes you’ll find waves of true beauty. And this is the story about those waves and the locals who call this place home.

You probably already know about surfing in the Arctic, seen the spectacular imagery. Most likely, you’ve seen Mick Fanning ripping under the Northern Lights. Maybe you’ve seen the towering mountain peaks rising above Unstad left. Maybe you’ve surfed one of the peaks in the middle? Either way, however you've digested that, it’s probably been spectacular, because it truly is. But surfing in Lofoten is more than an epic backdrop, more than clichés. For some, Lofoten is no adventure at all, it’s their everyday life. The wave across the street. And for the first time, you get to meet the locals. Just like Mats Slaastad Birkelund, director of the below movie, Surfers of Lofoten, has done.

Forecast: Unstad

For the young filmmaker, Lofoten was a place that stuck to his heart like wax to a surfboard. After a short visit he was hooked. He had to come back for more. The director packed his camera to do more than just catch a few waves. He set out to create a web series about surfing in Lofoten and those who have Unstad as their local spot. Here, we check in with Mats to talk about this series and what Norway means to him.

Tell us a bit about yourself?
MB: I’m a 25-year-old freelance film maker and photographer. I’m currently in Australia, but heading back to Norway in June.

How did you end up creating Surfers of Lofoten?
I was originally going to Australia, but my girlfriend got a summer job in Lofoten, so I spent my summer holiday there. It was such a nice place. I got hooked and just had to return. So a bought a camper van from 1978 and drove north. Yes, I was freaking out, but I don’t regret it now.

© 2019 - Mats Slaastad Birkelund

Arctic surfing is hot right now, but you’re take is a bit different. How?
There are so many good films from cold water spots, but usually they showcase travelling or visiting surfers. However everyone always says they are so impressed by the locals of Lofoten. It made me curious. Who are these locals? How do they cope with this? What are they up to?

What did you find?
They set up their life and routines around surfing. Not to win a contest, get famous or rich, but just because surfing is fun. And of course there’s always a challenge – work, too small waves, too big waves, too much wind, the cold, but they never seem to be put down by this. They’re so dedicated.

Spot guide: Norway

Welcome to Unstad, the home of surfing in Lofoten.

Welcome to Unstad, the home of surfing in Lofoten.

© 2019 - Mats Slaastad Birkelund

How did you choose who to film?
That was the hard part. Inspiring people just popped up everywhere. I wanted people who still are active surfers, as well as a variety of people. In addition it was important to take a dive into the past to show how it all started and how it has evolved. Episode one differs a bit from the rest of the episodes as it shows more people in one episode, whereas the rest of the series will focus on one person at a time.

So, who's in it?
You’ll meet the 18 year old dropout, the Indonesian who traded tropical waves for freezing barrels, business men, pure surf heads and a guy who’ve barely worn board shorts during his life. True locals.

© 2019 - Nok Sandholm

The first episode is live now. Tell us more about it...
Well, you'll get to meet the first people who settled down here and made Lofoten their home. Those who got hooked. The addicts that just wants more. Among them Kristian Breivik who owns the northernmost surfshop in the world and first surfed Unstad 30-years-ago.

Wow! Sounds interesting...
It is. To hear him talk about how they entered Unstad via the old road over the mountain, not expecting much, but finding Unstad firing on all cylinders is truly amazing. It’s also fun to hear how they paddled out on windsurfing boards without sails on them.

Unstad is breathtaking.

Unstad is breathtaking.

© 2019 - Mats Slaastad Birkelund

Things must have been different back then?
Yes. I imagine so. Mattias Hörnquist, a swede that never left, compares it to California in the 50s, while Tommy Olsen, owner of Unstad Arctic Surf contemplates the upsides and downsides of the increased popularity of surfing here. An evolution he has been a big part of himself. As mentioned, the first episode is about these people, but also about the history of Unstad and surfing in Lofoten.

It seems like surfing here isn’t for the faint of heart. How is shooting a documentary?
Only 3 or 4 hours of daylight, sideways rain and full gale isn’t the easies conditions for shooting. But I wanted to film this in the winter, that’s when the weather is at it’s most extreme.

Most of all it’s been fun. Surfing attracts interesting people. Especially up here they seem less materialistic. It’s more about fun and passion for the activity the love. They truly care about this place and the ocean. It’s inspiring.

Mats!

Mats!

© 2019 - Brynjar Tvedt

Sure, you can live life on the road in Norway.

Sure, you can live life on the road in Norway.

© 2019 - Mats Slaastad Birkelund

© 2019 - Mats Slaastad Birkelund

© 2019 - Mats Slaastad Birkelund

© 2019 - Mats Slaastad Birkelund