Surfing Lofoten: riding the waves of the Arctic Circle

May 23, 2019 | Surfing
Lofoten Islands: perfect surfing in heart of Norway | Photo: Moran/Red Bull

The Lofoten Islands are an archipelago located in the heart of Norway.

With its breathtaking landscapes, stunning fjords, and mind-blowing scenery, the region is home to one of the most beautiful cold water surf spots on Earth.

Despite being a remote, cold, and arid archipelago, Lofoten has many outdoor activities that will keep any visitor entertained all year round, even when the ocean's flat.

Hiking, golf, ocean rafting, horseback riding, skiing, snorkeling, kayaking, and fjord explorations are some of the physical experiences you can enjoy in Norway's untamed islands.

Watching the Northern Lights and the midnight sun will certainly impress any foreigner, but there are also delicious food and drinks waiting for you inside the warm and friendly taverns and bars.

Surfing in Lofoten became a serious thing - and business - in the early 2000s, even though the archipelago's waves had already been ridden a couple of decades before.

Today, during favorable swells, it is normal to share Lofoten's most famous lineup with a dozen locals, outsiders, pro surfers, and their personal media crews.

So, if you're planning a surf trip to Lofoten, there's one place you need to visit.

Lofoten: it can get cold, windy and snowy in the Arctic Circle | Photo: Moran/Red Bull

Surfing in the Arctic Circle

Unstad is the most famous surf spot in the Lofoten Islands, the most photographed wave in the Arctic Circle and probably the best break in Norway.

The small village sits at the bottom of a dramatic Nordic valley, facing the Norwegian Sea.

"This place has 14 inhabitants. Some senior citizens, some farmers, and a couple of surfers. This is where it started," explains Kristian Breivik, founder of the Lofoten Surfsenter and Frost Surfboards.

Breivik was one of the first surfers to ride Unstad after the first wave of Norwegian explorers - Hans Egil Krane and Thor Frantzen - who paddled out at the local bay in the mid-1960s.

"My first time here was in 1988. We were attending a windsurfing competition, but there wasn't any wind. So, me and my buddy drove around and checked everywhere for waves."

"We arrived at Unstad over the mountain, via the old road. Suddenly, voilà! It was firing. We only had our windsurf boards, so we paddled out and surf on them," tells Kristian.

Mick Fanning: he surfed Unstad Beach in November 2016 | Photo: Moran/Red Bull

In 2010, the surfer-businessman settled down at Unstad. Now, he runs the world's northernmost surf shop.

Life in Unstad is not a fairy tale. Many times, it gets really dark, cold, windy, snowy, and rainy. But for a few, it is worth it.

Tommy Olsen runs the Unstad Arctic Surf, a resort with rentals and surf coaching. He's been living the Norwegian surfing dream since 1999.

"It's great that people are visiting Lofoten and Unstad. But it's a fact that there's a limited number of waves," underlines Olsen.

"In a bad year with crappy surf and only a few good days and huge crowds, it is not very pleasant."

Mattias Hornquist and Ole Fjelltun-Larsen arrived four years later, in 2003. Together, the trio explored the islands in search of idyllic surf spots.

In 15 years, a lot has changed. Surf magazines "discovered" the beauty of Unstad, pro surfers decided to explore it, and social media did the rest.

Unstad Beach: the most famous surf spot in Scandinavia | Photo: Creative Commons

The Ideal Conditions

Unstad is a beach break that works best with west-northwest swells and offshore, east-southeast winds.

The best time of the year to surf Lofoten's famous spot is between November and March, even though you can find rideable waves all year round.

Waves break on a sandy seabed, but there are a few rocks nearby.

Remember that because of the low temperatures, you will need the thickest hooded wetsuit, neoprene gloves, and boots.

Unstad: perfect surfing waves within the Arctic Circle | Photo: Moran/Red Bull

Reaching Unstad

It takes time and patience to reach Unstad, though. After landing in Norway, book a flight from Oslo or Bodø to Leknes, and then take a bus, taxi or rent a car.

You may also take the ferry from Bodø to Moskenes, and then drive toward Leknes and Unstad.

But there's more to the Lofoten Islands than just Unstad. If you're in the Nordland county, try Eggum and Utakleiv.

All you need is the will to search for the hidden and uncrowded gems and many layers of wool over your skin.

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