Sweden: home of IKEA, meatballs, incredibly beautiful women and more Volvos than you can poke a stick at, right? Well, you're right. But -- as I was about to find out one freezing cold, dark, stormy, Swedish winter morning -- there's a wave or two as well.
Swedish winters are straight up gnarly. Growing up in Australia before coming to this part of the world, I could count the number of times I'd been below 10 degrees. But here, once you've factored in wind chill, it's not unusual for temperatures to drop to 14 degrees below. You can bet you'll be wearing your mama's tea cosy then. Once you've added ice, snow, wind and rain to the mix, it makes for not much fun in the sun.
I'd learned in my Swedish class that the Vikings used to take magic mushies to give them extra strength before going into battle. I thought that's what my mate Didine was on when he told me there was “wave surfing” here. But truth is stranger than fiction, as I found out when I rocked up for my first Swedish dawnie.
Didine is a Swedish surfing veteran. He's my girlfriend's friend's sister's boyfriend. Hailing from Moroccan shores, he, like me, grew up surfing warmer waters. But living here for over 14 years, and with a thirst for surfing as big as the rest of us, he's been searching for waves and scoring. He assured me the drive was well worth it, so we shoved the kiddie seat aside, piled our boards into the Corolla and aimed south into the Swedish darkness.
Rocking up, it was not dissimilar to Mundaka in the Basque region. Greeting us was a small fishing village with a harbour and, believe it or not, a reeling, right-hand point break. The waves weren't as big as expected, but with a solid, ride-able 3–4 feet I wasn't complaining. There were even some little barrelling sections.
If you want to surf in Sweden you have to be prepared to toughen up. Greeting us on arrival at the harbour was a sign on the toilets that read: “Surfers prohibited from changing into wetsuits”. Ignoring the sign, we headed in. With sub-zero temperatures outside there was no way in hell we were changing out in the open.
As we entered, an old man, or gammal gubbe, appeared out of nowhere and tried to stop us. Old men in Sweden must sit at home watching reruns of Grumpy Old Men – every time you test the rules, they're on hand to enforce them. We assured him, wetsuits in hand, that we were just going to take a leak, and filed in.
Didine knows the harbour master who put up the sign and reckons the locals don't like the surfers much and get annoyed with having wet floors all the time. We could change here before a wave, but would have to change in the phone box when wet.
Donning our Viking helmets, gloves and boots, we jumped off into the harbour and paddled out. It wasn't a hard paddle by any means, but once in the line-up it became deceptively tricky with the waves coming a lot quicker than expected.
The take-off was fast and furious, with the added complexity of my rusty legs behaving like a Greek statue. I quickly found that feet placement was critical. But moving my feet in water this cold was like those IMAX dudes climbing up Everest, with every movement requiring enormous effort.
“Up until 10 years ago there were only a few people in the line up. But with surfing become so readily available on the internet, the crowds are coming and it's not uncommon to see double the amount today.” says Didine.
In the water it was like a UN conference, with representatives from Ireland, California, Morocco, Australia and New Zealand - all with the one common thread of Swedish girlfriends or sambos. Hey, we sure as hell didn't come here for the weather. All in favour of jumping a plane to Hawaii – but motion denied.
I once thought the most exotic wave I would get in my life would be in the South Pacific, or maybe Southern Europe or South America. But that was before discovering that Sweden offered plenty of ice cold incentives to get off the couch and onto the surfboard.
If you want to try out surfing in Sweden there are places within a short drive of all the major cities. Torö near Stockholm has been surfed for over 20 years, while Mölle, Vik and Kåseberga on Skåne's three coastlines have waves to suit all abilities.