Words by: Erik Botner Photo: @surfarctic
Far above the Arctic Circle, in an archipelago surrounded with turbulent waters painted with wild, staggering landscapes of majestic mountains, deep fjords and world class waves you find Lofoten – home to one of the most beautiful cold water surf spots on Earth.
Unstad is the most famous surf spot in the Lofoten Islands and probably the best break in Norway.
Erik Botner first discovered this remote and cold place in 2011 after filming an edit in Riksgränsen, Sweden, while he was still working as a professional snowboarder. “It was in May and the end of the snowboard season I was pretty tired of snow, the Filmer I was with talked about a place called Unstad in Lofoten and convinced me to join him down for some surf. He was used to cold water surfing, whereas I had only surfed in boardshorts and tropical climates at this point. I remember the drive down from Riksgränsen, thinking to myself: Does a place like this really exist in Norway??”
Erik is born and raised at Oppsal in Oslo, Norway and from the age of seven he spent all his time snowboarding and became a professional when he was eighteen and travelled the world filming parts for major film companies and sponsors, which is how he first was introduced to surfing. The transmission from standing sideways on snow to water came naturally for him and being the type of person who is driven by achievements and gets a kick out of pushing his own limits – surfing shortly became his next passion in life.
After retiring from his snowboarding career and frequent travels to Unstad, his mind had really never left the beautiful archipelago above the Arctic Circle. When an old disused fish factory in Kabelvåg came for sale, he didn’t think twice and bought it together with a friend. After working 24/7 on the house for two years the old building had become what it is today: a modern vacation rental called Lofoten Apartments, that Erik runs together with his girlfriend.
Unstad is a beach break that works best with west-northwest swells and offshore, east-southwest winds and there are three different breaks at Unstad. It’s a combination of sandy seabeds and rocky point breaks. Erik tells us that where the waves break, changes all year around as a result of the storms and that this is also what keeps Unstad an interesting place to surf, you never really know what you’ll get before you’re there overlooking the ocean.
The best time of the year to surf Unstad is between November and March, although you can find rideable waves all year round.
“The winter is by far the most pumping period but surfing during these months is not a fairy tale. It gets really dark and cold, the wind can often reach storm level, as well as snow, rain and hail can fall from the skies. When you’re cold-water surfing, it’s pretty self-explanatory that the temperatures are low, and you need the thickest hooded wetsuit, gloves and boots. I’ve gone through my fair share of wetsuits throughout the years, and it’s been difficult to find a brand that has mastered the combination of thickness and warmth – that keeps you warm for several hours in minus degrees – without having to compromise on the mobility when paddling like Norrøna has managed.”
The Norrøna wetsuit is specifically developed for arctic surfing and meets a high standard for performance, durability, warmth and sustainability. “The ocean is our playground and our responsibility to take care of, not only for ourselves, but for the next generations to come. The fact that Norrøna has managed to produce a wetsuit for these extreme conditions and at the same time used materials that are less environmentally impactful is really great.”
Finally, when asked why he surfs cold-water Erik responds:
“There have been more times than I can count where I’m like why the hell do I bother to surf in the cold. You’re so frozen and can’t feel your feet, hands or your face, the waves may have been shit or I don’t feel like I’ve performed at all. But in a weird way, it’s still always worth it.”