BALTIC DREAM­ING

DIS­COV­ERY IN THE FAR-NORTH

Tracks - - Land Camp -

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.

PHOTO: HOKAN NY­BERG.

FROM LEFT: JOEL DEN-BESTEN WITH A BALTIC LIP BASH. SPORT­ING AU­THEN­TIC ICICLE JEW­ELLERY. DO­ING THE COBBLESTONE SHUF­FLE.

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