Norway is an international gold mine when it comes to the dramatic surf shot. The Lofoten islands, towards the country's northern tip, are framed by stunning mountains and the area can be graced with pristine, peeling waves - they're images you have certainly seen on pages of surf mags across the world.
But the conditions are rarely easy; frigid, fickle and unforgiving you're likely to get skunked after sticking a few hours' drive to the coast from inland. But that hasn't perturbed the country's surf scene from breaking out. And now, a small group of women have banded together, braving the harshest of forecasts in a bid to “inspire more girls to get into cold water surfing", and that's no cake walk when the water dips to a giddy minus four degrees.
Spot guide + images: Norway
Sara Biance Gilje, 28, who lives in the country's capital city of Oslo, has fallen for the icy embrace of Norwegian waters. After a skiing injury mashed her ACL (in both knees), Sara decided to bench the mountains and focus on a different pursuit. Shifting to Portugal, she quickly took up surfing, and then scouted places to live near the sea for four years, before heading to the west coast of Norway and finally setting up home in Oslo.
Now, Sara works diligently to support women who want to take up surfing, helping those who live for the thrill of the chase in the North, or Norwegian, Seas. It's a noble pursuit and one that caught our eye when Sara fired through the above edit. We had a couple of questions about the female surfers of Norway, the burgeoning surf scene in general and why it's important to inspire women to get in the cold stuff.
Tell us a bit about yourself, where did you grow up and how did you get into surfing?
Okay, so I am 28 years old and I live in Oslo, Norway. I am studying to become an osteopath and I'm finishing in a year. I grew up in the middle of Norway, and when I was a kid I used to hate seaweed... I was a little afraid of the ocean because we did not have one near to where I lived.
After that skiiing incident, I just wanted to find something else to do. So I was travelling around for almost four years, surfing. I also run a company with three other girls called "Ivrig" (Eager) - we work to inspire other girls to do more extreme sports like surfing, skiing, biking and more. We run camps and other events. After all my travelling I fell in love with cold water surfing in Norway and I wanted to inspire more girls to try it.
And the surfer girls of Norway, how did everyone meet? And who started up the movement and why?
After getting to know the surf community in Norway, I realised that it was not often you see other girls in the water.
And also, you don't see many when travelling around the world either. So with a couple of films, I wanted to show everyone that there is a community of girls surfing in cold water and that they can surf.
We are not pro surfers but we really love what we do. The group of girls that surf in Norway is not that big so, more or less, everyone know everyone - I just gathered some of my friends and we had a good time [laughs].
Is there a strong group who are close, or are you welcoming of anyone who wants to join up?
Usually, when we are filming, I ask around to see if anyone wants to join, and when maybe some of the girls say " hey i know this girl", and then another one joins and so on. So yes everyone is welcome, but in the edits there has not been beginners, only girls that has been surfing for a while.
What’re some of the difficulties of surfing in Norway?
Where I live now I need to drive at least two hours to get to the nearest surf spot. So that can be a challenge. Sometimes, when you want to catch the clean morning surf, you're up at 4:30 am. And the season in Norway is in the winter, and as you can imagine Norway is a cold country.
So you need a 6mm wetsuit. And in the middle of winter I use 8mm boots and 5 or 8mm gloves. When you have so much extra weight, everything goes in slow motion. Your popup needs to be faster, your paddle needs to be stronger and your arm movement needs to be more accurate. But, when you conquer all these things, the perfect wave feels so much better.
It sounds tough. What kind of waves do you like surfing?
This is so cheesy, but when I started surfing one of my best friends said that Kelly Slater once said that "As long as there's a wave, you can surf". That has been stuck in my head everytime when I'm thinking "ohh it dosen't look that good".
So I don't think I have a favourite kind of wave, especially because you don't get waves that often here and sometimes I can drive two hours for 1ft@6 seconds swell, and 30mph wind, and that's a good day [laughs].
But of course who dosen't like a glassy day in Indo? I lived in Morocco for some time and the waves there....wow.
How often does the group get together to surf?
When I used to live on the west coast, we went when ever there were waves. But now I try to travel as much as I can. So, it's so much fun when we get together to make these edits and just surf, eat and sleep for two weeks.
Having experienced more consistent waves abroad, what is it about Norway that is so special?
It is always special when you have some of your best experiences with friends and in your home country.
I don't know, it's... how you feel after the surf because you did put on that wetsuit in - 4 degrees and it was cold - but you are stoked because you saw your friends get good waves, you got good waves. And maybe there was an eagle flying over your head and mountains around you with snow on the peaks? It is just magic.
And then you get inside after and eat really good food and a hot shower. I travelled around the world but there is nothing like home, and if you are able to surf at home, then that is truly special.
What would you say to young women who aspire to be surfers?
Find stoked girls and boys who really love to surf, that can push you to always try new things. And commit, it takes time but you will meet so many cool people on the way and see so many magical places. And it should be fun, in the end it should be fun.
So, where is your favourite place to surf?
That's easy, Jæren- Norway.
What’s the vibe like in Norway at the moment?
The vibe is good, we are waiting for the winter and some swell and the sport is growing more and more.