Ex­plor­ing Nor­way’s Stun­ning Archipelago By SUP

SUP Magazine - - Contents - PHO­TOS AND WORDS BY RYAN SALM

In the spring of 2017, pad­dlers Ryan Salm, Dane Shan­non, Jenna Minnes and Ja­son Layh trav­eled from their home in Lake Ta­hoe to the frigid land of Nor­way. Their plan was two weeks of SUP ex­plo­ration through the icy fjords of the Lo­foten Archipelago, lo­cated in the north- ern reaches of the coun­try. The fol­low­ing ex­cerpts from Salm’s jour­nal doc­u­ment the hard­ships, tri­umphs, as­tound­ing nat­u­ral beauty and unique cul­ture they ex­pe­ri­enced in the Arc­tic.


They don’t boast of calm seas and beau­ti­ful weather in Lo­foten. Framed pieces of art­work dis­played on the walls of ho­tels, restau­rants and pub­lic build­ings of the small ham­lets dot­ting the land­scape de­pict this place as all gales, lone ships on high, cold seas, gi­ant break­ers on beaches and snow-capped peaks. The sto­ries in these works tell tales of dif­fi­cult win­ters and the tough lives of fish­er­men lost at sea.


The sun con­tin­ues to re­visit my thoughts as it often does in the Arc­tic dur­ing late April. It must have set at least four times from be­hind peaks in the last three hours. Alpen­glow clings to the tips of mas­sive gran­ite domes and I can’t be sure if true night will ever ar­rive or if dusk will sim­ply hang out un­til morn­ing.

It’s day one of the pad­dle jour­ney and we awoke to calm seas and vi­sions of grandeur. A hint of un­easi­ness has de­scended upon the group; pad­dling through Arc­tic open ocean can have that ef­fect.

Our day’s jour­ney lead us from our camp in south­west Moskenes to­ward Å–the fi­nal town on the is­land chain–af­ter which we back­tracked past tow­er­ing coastal moun­tains and fjords to the main at­trac­tion of Reine. There we poached a mus­tard yel­low fish­er­man’s cabin, known as a rorbu, to es­cape the cold.


Sund is a fan­tas­tic sur­prise, a fish­ing vil­lage lost in time. There are some new build­ings stand­ing, but it’s the chron­i­cles of the past that catch my eye—boats and fish­ing cab­ins so old they defy logic. There’s an in­tense feel­ing of des­o­la­tion as I watch a lone fish­er­man walk down the street in the dis­tance, past the de­crepit rem­nants of a ves­sel.


Our goal was to pad­dle, portage and hitch to end up in Nus­fjord. There we would catch a short ferry ride across the strait, which is known for wreak­ing havoc on fish­ing ves­sels. Lit­tle did we know the tide was nowhere near where it needed to be for us to exit at the end of the fjord.

In groups of two we de­cided to check out our sur­round­ings on foot. Jay and Jenna re­turned 30 min­utes later in­side a diesel Euro Van driven by a gi­ant 18-year-old Nor­we­gian boy. He said if we paid for petrol, he would take us wher­ever we wanted to go.

As the pedal hit the metal, he cranked up the stereo, which blasted a Swedish ver­sion of the Hank Wil­liams clas­sic, “Jam­bal­aya.” From the driver’s throat came a deep bass voice some­where be­tween Johnny Cash and Lu­ciano Pavarotti.

He sped along, telling us there was, in fact, no ferry in Nus­fjord. His fa­ther ad­vised him not to let


us pad­dle across the strait as we had planned. It was way too dan­ger­ous.

He dropped us in Ure af­ter nu­mer­ous stops and we com­menced the most per­fect pad­dle of the trip. We dug our pad­dles through quiet seas, past salmon farms and beau­ti­ful rock is­land out­crops.


We are con­stantly re­minded of the dan­gers that ex­ist in all straits of the Archipelago. Peo­ple seem to fear for our well-be­ing, es­pe­cially as the tides change, when the wa­ter from the Nor­we­gian Sea flushes through the nar­row pas­sage­ways and off the weak hulls of our in­flat­able ves­sels.


When we woke it looked gloomy, a low ceil­ing of clouds hang­ing thick and omi­nous. And while the sea was more or less calm, you could feel that she was hid­ing some­thing.

It be­gan sim­ply. The winds be­gan to build from the south­west when we set out on a di­ag­o­nal path across the bay. Small man­age­able rollers bobbed us up and down as we took shel­ter be­hind var­i­ous is­land out­crop­pings.

Dane and I pushed on­ward but in the process, lost touch with Jenna and Jay. As we passed one is­land, a fjord lin­gered to the west and the winds in­creased con­sid­er­ably from that di­rec­tion. To our east lay a cou­ple of stag­gered rock is­lands and be­yond that the sea ex­tended into an abyss to­ward main­land Nor­way.

I pad­dled on­ward while at­tempt­ing to hold my bal­ance and gear weight in place. A large roller swept over my side, caused my load to wob­ble and knocked me off my feet. At that same mo­ment, a large gust of wind from the west blasted through, grab­bing my at­ten­tion in an in­stant. Only then did I re­al­ize that what we were doing out here was com­pletely real. We were am­a­teurs in this Arc­tic world.

Af­ter a brief pause I got my shit in or­der, got back to my feet and found an eddy. At that point, I turned to no­tice Jay wav­ing in the dis­tance. The same wind had spun Jenna and she was los­ing her grip. For an in­stant, it ap­peared that she was be­ing pulled back­ward to­ward open seas. But she pushed through.

The day pro­gressed with mo­ments of calm glass, mul­ti­ple rain show­ers, bouts of freez­ing feet, shiv­er­ing and awe for the sheer mag­ni­tude of this true ad­ven­ture.

The sky teased blue skies and tried to bait us into cross­ing the chan­nel. We dis­cussed the cross­ing while shiv­er­ing and all agreed that although it ap­peared calm, a gale hung in the dis­tance. Mo­ments later, the wind be­gan to rip and the sea be­gan to flut­ter as a north wind raged through the chan­nel.

We’ve since found an old beat-up pier and fish­er­man shack with an un­locked door, set up our tents out front and bor­rowed a shel­ter to hun­ker down with some hot food.

Who knows what our fate might be had we tried the cross­ing.


We sit on the cor­ner of the dirt road try­ing to hitch­hike down the empty E10 high­way. 500 pounds of gear and four peo­ple throw­ing rocks into pud­dles and wait­ing, a full shit show of tourism and dys­func­tion.

Four hours later, half the team has com­mit­ted to walk­ing back to the small ham­let to ask ran­dom peo­ple for a ride. Mean­while, a pass­ing car stops at our in­ter­sec­tion. Dane and I jump at the op­por­tu­nity.

As our driver pulls over to let us out, it be­comes ap­par­ent that we’re per­fectly sit­u­ated at the top of a down­winder to Hen­ningsvaer. Dane and I don’t think twice and start to inflate. In an at­tempt to lighten our load, we give the driver the pad­dle bag, which un­for­tu­nately con­tains Dane’s fin.

Af­ter about 10 min­utes of re­gret, half-blame and mak­ing fun of one an­other, Dane de­cides to do the down­winder any­way. We load up, catch the breeze and cruise. What be­gan as a junk show turns into a true day of travel; one of hard­ship, ques­tions, hitch­hik­ing and bliss.



Since we awoke to a cou­ple of inches of fresh snow two days ago, a re­newed sense of magic has fol­lowed us through our days. The snow made it feel like the Arc­tic of my imag­i­na­tion. Low clouds hung in the slices be­tween the rocks. Flakes fell ef­fort­lessly into the sea as we pad­dled to Kalle with no roads or civ­i­liza­tion in sight.

We stopped at the Lo­foten Ski Lodge and their crew took us in like fam­ily as we ex­changed sto­ries all night. The evening took an un­ex­pected turn when an­other guest in­tro­duced him­self as part of a film crew and asked, “Would you guys be in­ter­ested in drink­ing free beers for a few hours?”

We hap­pily obliged and pro­ceeded to fill in as ex­tras dur­ing a bar scene for a low-bud­get Hol­ly­wood flick starring ac­tor Jamie Mc­shane.


My feet feel like chunks of ice as I re­mind my- self not to stray from con­cen­tra­tion. Just below my in­flated board lies a black abyss with an oc­ca­sional re­flec­tion from the grey sky above. The cry of a seag­ull brings me back to the mo­ment.

I was lost in my own thoughts as I worked to keep my­self afloat amid the pound­ing cur­rents, winds and waves com­ing from all di­rec­tions.

I guess that’s what the fish­er­men mean when they speak of the mael­strom that oc­curs in all the large chan­nels.


We’ve come to a de­ci­sion. A clas­sic northwest wind blew as we set our course across the strait, caught the wind and sailed past fish farms, is­lands and snow-laden sum­mits. Be­fore we knew it, we’d trav­eled over ten miles.

That strong north­west­erly blew us all the way down to a small group of rocky is­lands, a virtual cross­roads in life and this ad­ven­ture. Part of the


group had de­cided to stop in a tiny gap be­tween two rock out­crop­pings when a gi­ant ferry came full bore into the har­bor. I quickly hollered, turned and burned just as the enor­mous wake hit my board, slammed the rocks and re­bounded, caus­ing me to hold on for dear life and surf it out.

Jenna was not so for­tu­nate and found her­self in a dan­ger­ous po­si­tion. The ferry’s large wake plowed right through the nar­row hall­way where she had stopped. Mo­ments later, she was up to her chest in the Arc­tic wa­ters.

Jay and Jenna came on this trip look­ing for the ad­ven­ture of a life­time and in that re­gard, they were not dis­ap­pointed. But af­ter this lat­est fright­en­ing in­ci­dent, both de­cided to count their bless­ings and call it quits two days early. No mat­ter how beau­ti­ful, they were no longer in­ter­ested in tempt­ing the Nor­we­gian Sea’s fury.


Dane and I grabbed what we needed and headed back to sea to re­con­nect with that per­fect north- west­erly. With the breeze at our backs, we pushed on­ward for eight more miles. Across the hori­zon, the end­less fjords of Nor­way’s east coast were alight in a pink glow. The sun­set con­tin­ued to resur­face through gaps in the moun­tains, blast­ing alpen­glow on scat­tered is­lands and light­houses.

We stroked through two small chan­nels around a large rock is­land and into a hid­den beach, our camp­site for the night. Once set up, around 11 p.m., we climbed a mossy knoll as the full moon rose over the Arc­tic.



While the rest of the crew had to catch a flight back home, I had plans to stay an ex­tra week. I loaded up my board, said my good­byes to the crew and be­gan a solo jour­ney to nowhere spe­cific.

Af­ter pad­dling across the bay, tak­ing a quick bus ride and hitch­hik­ing in an ‘80s VW, I found my­self on a gravel pull­out with over 100 pounds of gear, a pad­dle bag and a board.

About 30 min­utes later I was picked up by a man named Gus­tav. Af­ter hear­ing my ac­cent, he im­me­di­ately changed the clas­si­cal mu­sic on the ra­dio to coun­try. It’s clear to me now that Nor­we­gians love coun­try mu­sic and why shouldn’t they? If Lo­foten isn’t pure coun­try, I don’t know what is.

We cruised the back­roads un­til he dropped me off at a se­cret trail. A short hike later, I found my­self sit­ting atop a spec­tac­u­lar bluff, star­ing out at the breath­tak­ing scene: a rugged moon­scape of emer­ald bays, dry and snow-cov­ered peaks, an en­tan­gle­ment of pure beauty.

It was one of the best views I have ever seen.


An­other cross­roads. Ar­rows and signs point­ing to Å, Svolvaer, Fred­vang, Ram­berg and be­yond.

Kvalvika is des­o­late at 5 a.m.. I stand on an empty road­way with no cars in sight. De­spite an aching left knee and my best ef­forts to talk my­self out of it, I know damn well that I’m go­ing pad­dling again. Oth­er­wise I’ll be sit­ting here for hours or days.

Look­ing out to­ward Ram­berg is omi­nous but the winds are blow­ing my di­rec­tion. I inflate, pack up my gear and set out solo across the bay, stick­ing close to the shore.

Reach­ing the first bridge, the cur­rent and mael­strom be­gin to show their col­ors as rollers move in from all sides. On mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions I al­most bail, often dock­ing and scop­ing the scene ahead. Ev­ery time I pull over, I know deep down it’s just nerves and I’m go­ing to pad­dle across.

The first cross­ing goes fine. On the sec­ond, the tide be­gins to shift. Winds come from the south and the cur­rent is swirling. It’s con­fus­ing and I al­most bail to walk the bridge. But look­ing at it, I re­al­ize I have no in­ter­est in walk­ing. I turn to face the fury of the Nor­we­gian Sea, one last time.

Clockwise From Top Left: Dane Shan­non and Ja­son Layh portage their boards down a side road in Moskenes on their way to the first pad­dle of our Arc­tic ad­ven­ture. Care­ful weather track­ing and lis­ten­ing to lo­cals were key el­e­ments of our jour­ney. Though the bay was calm, an in­com­ing storm made us sit tight an ex­tra evening in Reine. Fish­ing is the main in­dus­try on the Lo­foten Archipelago. Cod and other fish are hung to dry through­out the coast­line, the smell often lin­ger­ing in the breeze. Ror­beur (fish­er­man’s cab­ins) dot the Loftoten coast­line. This one was in a gor­geous spot amongst beau­ti­ful fjords and pris­tine spring weather.

The fam­ily at the Lo­foten Ski Lodge (back­ground) opened their doors to our crew of sea-weary pad­dlers with in­cred­i­ble hos­pi­tal­ity and cozy cab­ins.

Above This perch atop an ex­posed ridge pro­vided quite pos­si­bly the most amaz­ing van­tage point I’ve ever seen.

Right Dane stokes the fire for a ro­man­tic freeze-dried din­ner out­side Hopen.

Above An early morn­ing snow­storm gives way leav­ing calm seas and tow­er­ing peaks. Jenna Minnes takes some time to en­joy the view.

Left Jenna ex­plores Reine Har­bour.

Top A per­fect perch to take in the soli­tude and majesty of the Lo­foten Is­lands. Bot­tom Ja­son Layh pad­dles un­der­neath cod hang-dry­ing in the Arc­tic air.

Above That mo­ment when the storm is rolling in and the team pad­dles quickly to­ward a tidal zone through a strait known for sketchy wa­ters.

Left A brief respite be­tween storms to take in the true soli­tude in pad­dling un­known wa­ters. Right Jay slices through dreamy snow show­ers in the port town of Hen­ningsvaer.

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