Arctic surfers ride out Norway’s coronavirus blues

"You forget about problems, you focus only on the waves."


UNSTAD, Norway — The surfer in the black wetsuit rides the wave as it crests against a backdrop of snow-covered hills and leaden skies, wiping out close to shore before getting back on his board and trying again.

He is part of a small group of enthusiasts who have been taking advantage of Norway’s flexible lockdown rules to plunge into the Arctic waters off the spectacular Lofoten archipelago.

“You forget about the goddamn coronavirus, you forget about your bills, you forget about problems, you focus only on the waves,” said Kristian Breivik, co-owner of the Lofoten Surf Centre.

As well as the stunning snow-capped mountains that plunge into the sea, the chain of islands north of the Arctic Circle is home to unique cold-water reefs, a millennium-old fishing culture and a thriving population of whales.

In recent years, growing numbers of surfers have moved there, in search of the perfect wave in a setting that enjoys the midnight sun in summer and the northern lights in winter.

Norway’s lockdown, imposed in mid-March, is less strict than most others in Europe. People have been allowed to leave their home, as long as they are symptom-free and stand apart, so the Lofoten surfers are still able to hit the waves.

The country is also gradually reopening as the virus containment measures take effect. Kindergartens started again last week and elementary schools this week.

“I can be out here hiking, snowboarding and surfing and enjoying friends and company,” said national surf team coach Shannon Ainslie — for whom, as a South African, the absence of sharks is a particular attraction.

“So I work and live here … and go surf,” he said. “Life’s good.”

Writing by Gwladys Fouche in Oslo.