DISCOVERY IN THE FAR-NORTH
Sometimes it feels like there are no new waves left to discover. Perhaps this is true for certain regions where surfing has been going on a long time. But in truth, there are other, less obvious places to look for new waves, if you harbour that kind of curiosity. One such place is the icey, brutal, seething Baltic Sea, that skirts the nordic coastlines of Scandinavia. In comparison to exploring more tropical locales, the drawbacks are many – ice cream headaches, numb extremities, shit waves – to name a few. But there are rewards, says Australian-born Swedish resident and surfer, Joel Den-Besten. And the difference is that in Sweden, the leg-work hasn’t been done for you. There’s no Stormrider’s Guide to the Swedish coast which stretches for more than 3200km, nor for the Stockholm archipelago, that’s made up of over 30 000 islands. The potential for set-ups, according to Joel, is intoxicating – it’s just a matter of finding the time and having the equipment you need to get there.
Joel met his Swedish wife ten years ago, and has been moving between Stockholm and McMasters Beach ever since. They recently moved back to Stockholm and bought a house, he tells me, “so it feels more permanent this time.”
Joel has become a steadfast member of the Swedish surf community, putting in the hours throughout the cold, harsh winter that are necessary if you want to wrangle a couple of gems. Over the years he has grown to love the cold-water surf scene, “it’s such a crazy experience to surf almost fresh water waves with chunks of ice drifting through the line up.”
It’s fickle as hell, though. More often than not you are surfing cold onshore slop, “but because you don’t get to surf often you still come away stoked.” It requires a lot of effort to actually score, Joel explains. “Most of the spots you surf up here require some kind of hike in from the car. Every spot has its own set of difficulties to get to, and the windows for swell are tiny. A couple of times a year you will get a rare forecast that will bring to life a lot of spots tucked out of the wind and these are the days that stick with you.” For Joel, hunting waves in Sweden has evolved from looking for a novelty surf here and there, to something of an obsession. In an online blog, he recalls a time when he was relatively happy surfing the cold, windy slop that was on offer close to Stockholm. But when some pictures emerged of Freddie Meadows (a Swedish pro surfer) getting properly barreled somewhere on his home turf, Joel became consumed by trying to find these waves. He writes: “Some nights I would spend over three hours on Google Earth, scouring the Baltic coastline, taking notes and cross-referencing them with the pictures that Freddie had posted. It’s a logistical nightmare though, searching for waves that are accessible by car, let alone all the islands if you had a boat or ski” (The Baltic Journal).
A few seasons on, I ask him whether or not his labour has yielded any fruit. He says, “Google Earth seems like it should be an incredible tool for finding new waves but I haven't had much success with it yet.” Did he manage to find that particular wave, I wonder?
“Yeah,” he says, “I found out eventually where the photos were taken. I had the region locked in on Google Earth, but it was a little bird that told me exactly where.”
We drove 5 hours and then hiked for an hour only to find the wind had not swung like it was forecast to. It got dark before the wind went offshore,” continues Joel, “and then after sleeping in the car we hiked back in but by that stage the swell had died. There are a lot of trips like this until you figure out a spot.”
In order to score waves in Sweden,” reiterates Joel, “you have to firstly know how to read a weather forecast properly, and secondly, you have to have the time to go and chase the swell.”
Needless to say, for Joel Den-Besten, the hunt for Baltic barrels continues. And it seems that even with new fandangle tools like Google Earth, the best methods for scoring waves are the tried and true. Make friends with the locals, listen to their advice, learn the weather patterns, and go and see for yourself.
FROM LEFT: JOEL DEN-BESTEN WITH A BALTIC LIP BASH. SPORTING AUTHENTIC ICICLE JEWELLERY. DOING THE COBBLESTONE SHUFFLE.