Surfing in the Arctic

Surfing is surprisingly hot in the Lofoten Islands, 200 km north of the Arctic Circle.


“It’s all happening in the Arctic!” cries Tommy Olsen as I jump off my rented surfboard, having caught my first wave of the day.

He gives me a high-five, but I still get the feeling I won’t make the cut for the Lofoten Masters tournament, the world’s northernmost surf event. 

Olsen and his wife, Marion Frantzen, started Unstad Camping with Frantzen’s parents 11 years ago, not yet realizing the draw Arctic surfing would become. Back then, it was a typical campground on a beautiful beach, known as a surf spot only to a few brave locals like Frantzen’s father, Thor. He caught his first wave at Unstad in 1963.

Since Olsen and Frantzen took over, though, rebranding the site as a surf destination, Unstad Arctic Surf has become an international hub for surfers who want a different kind of “chilling”. Located 200 km north of the Arctic Circle, surfing at Unstad earns visitors bragging rights down south, despite the mild water temperatures. 

People think it’s very very cold,” says Olsen. “It could be cold, but surprisingly, like today, it’s super hot.” 

The day I visited Unstad the water was 8°C, just two degrees colder than Vancouver Island. The Gulf Stream, which brings warm water from the Gulf of Mexico, keeps Norway’s coast ice-free and mild year-round. 

But it’s not just warm temperatures that attracts surfers from around the world, or even the quality of the waves over a soft sand beach.

“It’s the backdrop and the surroundings,” says Olsen. Imposing cliffs frame the beach, making for spectacular views and great photo opportunities. The snow that comes later in the year helps, too, giving the scene a dramatic, adventurous appeal.

Even in the dead of winter, when the sun has vanished and only a few hours of dim light illuminate the beach, surfers still head out for a ride during the precious daylight hours.

“It’s fun; it’s a mission,” says Olsen. 

And unlike busy southern beaches, where angry locals wait in line for their chance at a wave, at Unstad, Olsen says even on a big day there is enough to go around.

“In the winter, when it’s a little bit big, the problem is actually to have someone to surf with.”