No swaying palm trees, no bikini-clad beach babes, and no need for sunscreen—welcome to surfing in the Arctic Ocean! The shallowest and smallest of the earth's oceans, what the Arctic lacks in size it makes up with in the ferocity of its weather and seas. Professional surfers Pat Millin, Brett Barley, and Chadd Konig recently made a trip to the frozen clime, and along with photographer Chris Burkard, came home with some amazing images and video. After he had thawed out, we caught up with Millin to get the scoop on surfing in the Arctic Ocean …
So when you're looking at the globe trying to pick a surf trip destination, how do you end up picking somewhere above the Arctic Circle like Norway?
For me, it’s all about the adventure and the chance to get off the beaten path. Surfing within the Arctic Circle is insane—it’s rugged, freezing, expensive, and unexplored. I feel that whole northern territory is like a cold water Indonesia. I’ve just started to scratch the surface and that get’s me excited.
What are the challenges one is presented with when surfing above the Arctic Circle?
The biggest challenge would be the weather and ocean swell—there’s usually too much of both. The weather is constantly changing, too. It goes from rain, sleet, snow, and hail, back to snow, gale-force winds to perfect sunny skies all within an hour. On top of that, the water is in the low 40s and usually accompanied by a negative wind chill. It’s hard to motivate to get out there sometimes, but luckily there’s good coffee.
While sharks may not present a problem at that latitude, are there any other critters you need to be aware of?
The area I visit in Norway is home to one of the largest Orca whale populations on the planet—they make sharks look like toothless puppies! I’ve had a couple encounters over the years—it’s incredible to be in the water with a wild animal with that much power and size. It’s like being in a cage with 15,000-pound lion. You respect the lion, try not to be seen, take deep breaths, and slowly remove yourself from the situation.
It's a silly question, but people are going to make comments about "shrinkage." How long does it take to thaw out after an Arctic surf session?
About the shrinkage … The things your body can do to protect itself is incredible [laughs]. Once you surf you’re usually cold for the rest of the day and it take hours to thaw out. You can really feel your core temp drop, and you’re constantly craving meat
Why go to the far reaches of the world to score waves of the same quality you'd find in your backyard?
It's all about the adventure of it and the chance to explore and discover new surfing frontiers. There’s nothing better than hiking over a ridge and seeing a perfect, unridden, undiscovered wave reeling down the line. It gives me goose bumps thinking about it. In that very moment when I'm hooting, hollering, and screaming at the top of my lungs is when I feel the most alive.
You really seem to be drawn to that part of the world, what keeps you coming back to places like this?
To disconnect from the man-made world and reconnect with nature. It's so important to escape the masses of Southern California and get into some wide-open space. I also got adopted by a Norwegian family—Tommy and Marion Olson—they've been a huge influence on my life, so I try and make it a point to go and visit them once a year.
Video courtesy of smugmug.com
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