There's a remote bay at the northern edge of Norway, north of the Arctic Circle, north of the sun!
Powerful Atlantic swell systems rendezvous there. Rights, lefts and A-frames batter the sand, which is often strewn with washed-ashore rubbish. The elements are harsh, the scenery breathtaking. This is where Inge Wegge and Jørn Nyseth Ranum decided to live for a winter. From September through May, to be exact.
The Norwegian winter is lengthy. The film school-cum-surf cohorts recorded their experience with Canon 5Ds -- often from the captivating perspectives of paragliders and beneath the waves. The result: "Nordfor sola" ("North of the Sun"), or "The Coldest Wave," for the English-speaking contingent. The 46-minute documentary tells a story about a coldwater surf adventure and makes an emphatic statement about sustainable living.
Wegge began surfing as an exchange student in Australia in 2005. His passion accompanied him across a couple of hemispheres and back to Norway, where the surf community is small, but growing.
"I came up to Lofoten six years ago and I think we were two or three active surfers," Wegge says, laughing. "The winter months constitute prime surf season in Lofoten, but between the extreme risk of frostbite and the occasional enormity of the surf, paddle battles are unheard of.
"Some days you can have the perfect wave and you're alone," Wegge says. "The biggest I've been out in was 7 meters (22 feet). When we did this project, we had to be extra careful, because in the winter it's about two hours to walk from where we lived to civilization. It's remote. And there was no cell-phone signal."
Aside from a sliced finger early on -- "We patched it up and gave him some rum." -- Wegge and Ranum remained safe throughout the winter. Living a life untethered by silly things like numbers, they knew it was cold when the olive oil froze. While olive oil hardens at a balmy 37 degrees F, they estimate it got down to about 10 degrees F -- which, with wind chill and sea mist, can feel a great deal colder. Naturally, the oil was inside their house, which they built from driftwood and other found objects. When they ran out of food (about every three weeks), they hiked over the mountain and then drove to the grocery store in their biodiesel van.
They stuffed their sacks with provisions whose expiration dates had passed (rendering them free) and then carried it all back -- on foot. Shockingly, they gained weight while living up there. "We ate twice as much as normal and worked so hard," Wegge explains. They only spent about USD$5 on food -- well, on sugar and tea.
With a potent combination of ingenuity and determination, the pair conquered whipping winds, icy baths, avalanches and sheer boredom. They cut incredible tracks into untouched powder on their snowboards and then surfed through the "polar night," the characteristic lack of sunshine above the Arctic Circle in wintertime.
Wegge and Ranum also occupied themselves with picking up trash that had floated in from thousands of miles away. It was a constant battle. Their goal was to collect one ton of garbage while living up there. In the end, they needed a helicopter to lift it out.
There were times, like at Christmas, when they asked themselves if they should head home. "We didn't really plan it like, 'We're going to stay here from this time to this time and if we don't make it, we lost a challenge,'" Wegge says. "It was like, 'We just want to be here as long as it's fun.'"
They aimed to assess the situation at Christmas and decided to stay. "It was always like that," he says. "I always wanted to stay longer. Always."
For Wegge, the most difficult part of the project was getting out of his frozen 6/5 wetsuit post-surf. "It's like wearing boxing gloves, your hands are so cold," he says. Still, even that struggle was easily outweighed by moments like the time he paddled out on a big day, before the sun had bid them adieu. "The waves were really big, so you had to do really deep duckdives. And you're so focused, you know, you're always like, 'Where's the next wave?' I get out and I turn around and there was a double rainbow, and inside one of them there was an eagle flying. When you're so focused and then you see this, it just makes the biggest impression," he says with an awed expression.
Wegge and Ranum won't reveal the location of their bay, but it's not so much for the sake of secret spots as it is to offer others the opportunity to "discover" the location themselves. The film claims that "it all started as a crazy idea," but the message it sends makes perfect sense: "Go out and chase your dream," Wegge says. "Do what it is you're dreaming of." And try not to kill the planet while you're doing it.
Nordfor sola will screen at the Nordisk Panorama Festival in Finland, the Canadian Surf Film Festival and the London Surf Film Festival.