Cold Water Therapy: Cooler Magazine

Demi was commissioned by Pan European women’s surf/lifestyle title to write a four page feature detailing her winter trip to Norway: surfing the frigid points, hiking the snow-covered natural wonder Preikestolen, and sampling the night time delights of Stavanger. Images by Chris Nelson. With thanks to Innovation Norway and Region Stavanger. Scroll below to read the article in full.

COLD WATER THERAPY – DEMI TAYLOR

We crunch down the gravel road into the car park. There are no designated bays but the handful of vehicles have been parked neatly giving no indication to the urgency with which they have been abandoned. It is a carefully designed subterfuge, only the subtle sign of fogged windows betraying the location’s secret. My ears prickle with a familiar sensation as a shot of adrenaline is fired in the pit of my stomach; the anticipation of a new spot, a new territory. I glance at the car dashboard; the air temperature is reading 3°C. A little chilly but certainly very do-able. As I open the boot, I have the distinct feeling of being watched. “Are you writing an article?” I turn to face a surfer 6ft, late 20’s, pulling damp hair into a ponytail. We have been here for less than 48 hours, word travels fast through tight communities. “Um, yeah,” I venture. “No names please, no names,” he says before glancing down to admire my photographer’s board. “That’s great for the point. A fish will be perfect out there today.” And there we have it, localism Norwegian style: precise, polite and to the point, a little chilly but certainly very do-able.

When planning this winter surf trip I’d spread a map of Europe out on the floor and surveyed it with just two criteria: short haul, big adventure. My eyes cast a cursory glance over old friends The Algarve and Biarritz before being drawn north towards cooler waters, fresher landscapes and Norway. On the southwestern reaches of this Viking land, Stavanger is the hub of Norwegian waveriding. With good reason. Lying on similar latitudes to the Orkney Isles, the coastal region of Jaeren, 20 minutes west of this port city is one of the country’s most wave rich and consistent. Washed by the North Sea, it serves up vast helpings of pristine, dune backed beach breaks, thunderous boulder points and punchy reefs. To the north, the shorelines lie shattered, riven with dramatic fjords while here by contrast, access to the breaks is easy: the ribbon of blacktop faithfully follows the curves of the coastline.  With Norwegian Air offering daily flights between Gatwick and Stavanger from thirty quid, the destination was set, now all I had to do was dig out my thermals.

The sound intensifies into a roar as a thousand black boulders are marshalled in and out of formation by the sea. Walking out onto the point I’m encased in 5m of neoprene and accompanied by Norwegian charger Jan Erik Jensen. He is the embodiment of a Viking raider: tall, shaved blonde hair, piercing blue eyes with a bone-crushing handshake and uncanny command of the ocean. He’s talking: lips moving, eyes crinkling as he grins but his words are lost. “Sorry?” I ask, mitt-encased fingers tugging at my hood. “I can’t believe how lucky you guys are. This has to be the best south swell in like 20 years.” As if on cue, a crisp-edged, head high wall reels through and the shoreline rattles out a thunderous reply.  “Just don’t go telling everyone it’s like this all the time,” he adds with a smile as he planes off the boulders and into the line up. The cold seems to intensify the surf experience, focusing my mind and tuning my senses to the salt rich air, the shifting waters. There are six of us out trading waves for over an hour including an older guy surfing with effortless style and obvious stoke. “Well, that was a religious experience,” he summaries. Later I find out that this enigmatic character was Norway’s first surfer, Roar Berge. His face said it all and his background put it into context, this is a special day.

Jan Erik leads us south. The collection of discarded cars let us know we’ve arrived. It’s after 2pm and the cool light is beginning to flatten off, turning the ocean into a silver screen. The sets are well overhead and currents rip down the point meaning entrances and exits have to be precision timed, artful. 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 five o’clock darkness calls an early end to the day.

I am lying on a heated pad, cocooned in fluffy towels. My eyes are covered with a compress but I am aware of a figure leaning over me, murmuring reassurances. I am in a recovery room – of sorts. Twenty five minutes north of the point, overlooking a vast swathe of beach I am ensconced within the evening calm of the Sola Strand Hotel’s Nordsjobadet Spa. After three saunas and an hour’s facial, it’s safe to say I’m feeling suitably revived and ready for the next day’s session of ‘cold water therapy’.

It’s Saturday night in Stavanger and the scales are being tipped as the bartender pours the wine. Here at Café Sting, wine is commodity bought by the weight. Glass on the scales, eyes fixed on the spiralling digits, a hand signals when the desired amount is reached. It’s good sport but you can’t imagine this working in any other European bar, where the weekend scrum would be five deep by 9pm. In Norway, where a half a larger costs around £8 it’s a different proposition – queues are small, orderly and nobody’s buying rounds. Ovre Holmegate is a street of Disney coloured, facades and an eclectic blend of shops and cafes. On one side lies Shit, a cool little Norwegian skate and surf brand whose shop front is emblazoned with graffiti, surrounded by astro turf and a white picket fence. On the other is Boger og Borst. – ‘Booze and Books’ we agree this is a winning combination in any night spot and head in.

There is a foot of snow beneath my boots as I peer down though the clouds. We’d been alone in the chill on the two-hour hike from our base-camp, Preikestolen Mountain Lodge, the wooden built, eco-minded, hip hostel. We’d climbed ravines where the evening’s rainfall, frozen solid, had been converted into a white dusting that thickened with our ascent. We’d traversed around lakes of ice, searching out the powder covered trail markers against the monochrome background. Now we were here, looking down on Pulpit Rock, nature’s perfect viewing platform from which to drink in the 600m sheer drop into the fjords below. While all I can see is cloud, all my photographer senses is the enormity of the drop. I turn to see him undergoing an attack of high anxiety and, despite my coaxing, will not be tempted to the edge. He beats a hasty retreat and begins his descent. So here I am, all alone in my moment of Norwegian solitude. I breath deep and revel in the feeling as the clouds break momentarily and the vastness of the valley is laid out beneath me. I came for the surfing but this experience tuned out to be the big adventure, the surprising high point of the trip.

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