A land of rugged beauty with stunning seascapes and mountains, the beauty of Norway’s Lofoten Islands drew freestylers Adam Sims and Oda Johanne Brødholt north to explore its windsurfing. Adam and Oda report back on their adventures.
Words Adam Sims, Oda Johanne Brødholt // Photos Jaanus Ree, Håkon Skorge & Matt Sims
Adam Sims – “Heading back to Lofoten was something I promised myself to do the moment I left the place two years earlier. It’s one of the most breathtaking places I’ve ever visited on this planet. Before I knew it all the planning had come together for a return visit and I was heading north in the company of Riccardo Marca, cameraman Jaanus Ree and my girlfriend Alina Shalin. We planned to use a few forecast apps and my limited local knowledge to see what we could find both on the island and the road up there. Here is the results of our expedition!”
Location – Northwestern coast of Norway to Lofoten
Season – March/April are ok from what we heard, but September/October are the best months for wind.
How it works – It runs very much on the same weather systems that strike Western Europe. As the fronts get squeezed north by the jet stream, Norway picks up the remaining swell or the ones that skipped off north Scotland.
What to bring – It’s definitely a cold destination, so pack appropriately.
We had our 5/6 mm Quiksilver/Roxy wetsuits with built in hoods, 3 mm booties and gloves (closed, not open palm mitts). Windsurfing was warm enough with all this gear and surfing was actually really warm with it some days. If you go in earlier September you can have warm calm days where you might walk around in just shorts and t-shirt for a few hours. Generally be prepared for the cold. Phone signal is great up there so you have everything you need in terms of maps and forecasts. Sail wise, you could be using anything, we were stacked on 4.0 and 4.4’s in the beginning and pumping around on 5.2’s at the end of the trip.
Light – Don’t forget the daylight hours disappear fast in Norway in winter. Combine that with the unpredictability of the wind in Lofoten and you find yourself racing around for just a few limited daylight hours trying to find a spot that works.
Hot spots – The Lofoten go-to spot we found was Flakstad. The wind funnelled around this area and it worked in quite a few different directions. Sometimes small to medium waves for surfing, but more often than not there was decent wind for freestyle and freeriding amongst some super dramatic scenery.
The island of Gladstad sits about half way up the west coast of Norway and we found ourselves directed that way by social media recommendations and a strong weather forecast. The island gave us the best sessions of the whole trip, we continued to watch it for weeks after and it had wind stats of around 90% above force 4/5 through all of October and November. Even when everywhere around was windless.
Heading back to Oslo we found ourselves driving straight into a strong storm. We checked a couple of spots back on the mainland south of Bodø, time was against us, but there was huge potential around there, especially to combine wind and waves.
How to get there by car – There are a few ferry options, you can even drive the whole way! We’d narrow it down to one option really as driving costs the same if not more than the ferries due to the heavy tolls around and before Oslo. Drive to the top of Denmark then take one of the ferry routes there to Oslo or the surrounding ports. The ferry gives you a much needed break from driving and also has some reasonable services onboard. There is a supermarket just one kilometre before the ferry in Denmark, stock up there as much as you can, as Norway is pretty expensive when it comes to food, especially the more remote you get.
Top tip for coffee lovers – As soon as you arrive in Norway, stop at a ‘K’ gas station and buy one of the €25 reusable coffee mugs as you can refill it for free in any of these gas stations all over Norway (there are tons of them). A single coffee usually sets you back about €5-7, so it is well worth the investment.
How to get there by plane – You can fly into Oslo and from there you have options to go to Bodø on the northwest coast, rent a camper there and then get the ferry to Lofoten. Or you can fly directly into Leknes on the Lofoten islands, though we didn’t test if they carried gear or not. Wideroe do an ‘Explore Norway Ticket’ valid for unlimited travel in Norway for 2 weeks if you fancy checking out the rest of the country, see www.wideroe.no/en/tickets/explore-norway-ticket for more.
Where to stay – We travelled by van and lived out of that on the west coast but we got a small place to stay once in Lofoten. I would do the same again, drive up by van, allow a week or two for the drive up at a slow pace and taking the ferries as and when you want, you can Google the timetables easy enough. Once in Lofoten a base is well worth it. I’d recommend around the Flakstad area, it has quick access to good spots and is centrally located so you can head south towards Reine and Å for sightseeing, or north to more possible windsurfing and surfing spots.
Waves – Waves and wind are a hard combination in this region, but if you want to catch some world class surfing then head to Unstad for its insane lefts, rights and peaky beach breaks. It’s about 20-30 minutes from Flakstad. Flakstad itself also has some reasonably good surf with less current. For wind and waves together then your best bet is Eggum. There’s also a little flat water spot there as well before you arrive in town.
Freestyle – Of course you can do this anywhere, but the best spots were in Flakstad, which worked a lot in south winds. Just around the corner from the main beach was a spot where the mountains compressed the wind, the water was crystal clear with a sandy bottom and a small stream leading to where you launch. It was pretty idyllic and when the swell was running some small starboard tack kickers were making their way in to give us a little boost. This place worked a lot with south wind.
“The mountains rising straight up from the ocean reminded me a little of the dramatic scenery around Lake Garda but on a whole new level with it’s scattered little Norwegian villages and snow capped peaks.’ – Riccardo Marca.”
Oda Johanne Brødholt – “Lofoten is a unique place. If you ask a Norwegian person where to go in Norway, most of them will say go discover Lofoten. At least that is what I have been saying the last 5 years, without even going there myself! I have tried to make it there many times, but in the end, I always chose a ‘safer’ destination for guaranteed wind to train and improve my windsurfing. But this time was different, after arranging the biggest windsurf festival in Norway, “Oda Johanne´s Windsurf festival”, I decided to take a stay-cation at home for the rest of September and follow the wind, with the plan to end up in Loften as our final destination. Sarah-Quita Offringa, Håkon (my boyfriend) and I packed up and first went to the southwest of Norway, (Stavanger) on a great wavesailing forecast. One of the nights was so windy. We had to park our vans behind tall buildings, as we were afraid the vans would flip over! We sailed with 3.0 sails for a few days and then some great freestyle sessions with 4.0’s. This was all in and around Jæren in Stavanger, there are so many spots there. I also liked Refsnes for freestyle, it has small ramps and flat water between; one of the days especially reminded me of Brazil, just a tiny, tiny bit colder!
After a few days, Sarah-Quita had to leave for Tarifa, and Håkon and I wanted to start the drive up north. But first we had one last session in Stavanger, and it turned out to be the best one! It was the day after a huge storm overnight at a spot we just saw from the road near to Jæren. It was huge that day with sets over 4 metres, which I don’t have much experience sailing in. But as it was a point break we could easily sail back out in the safety of the channel and pick up the last big wave in a set and just enjoy a beautiful ride. I was screaming with happiness on the water; it felt like we had won the lottery finding this spot! In the evening after this session, Håkon and I started our drive up north towards Lofoten. It´s a 30 hour drive from Stavanger, but it took us more like 50 hours. Want to know why? Then keep reading!
When you drive north in Norway you can choose the fastest way through a boring landscape in Sweden, or the more scenic road inside Norway. We went for the latter option. It´s a bit slower, but worth it. After making it to Sogndal, we passed an open gate with a handwritten sign saying something about a closed road, but the gate was open and more cars were in front of us. As we were passing the mountains, it started to snow, but we had still summer tyres on! Okay, keep calm, keep driving slow and let´s just enjoy this epic drive, don’t worry about the summer tyres. After about 6 hours driving, and at the same time stopping to film and take photos, we came to a closed gate. Should we open it and keep going? If we did, just one hour further up we would be back on the main road and without any snow.
We had no internet connection or phone signal to do more research on why the road was closed, so we opened the gate and continued. We saw this as the only option as turning around would take five hours and waste the already long drive we had made and risk encountering slippery roads and bad weather. About a few kilometres before arriving at the highway, we understood WHY the road was closed! A huge avalanche had taken place and the road was blocked with huge rocks, about the size of our van! What a shock and scary situation, but we laughed at our naivety and dumb decision. We should have checked the “open roads” notifications before we left and not trusted Siri and Goggle maps so much! So after turning around and a whole day of driving we were actually further away from the north than 12 hours ago. Lesson well and truly learned! At least we got to see a very beautiful part of Norway and the desire to finally experience Lofoten was even greater.
“Lofoten is a unique place.”
When we arrived in Lofoten some local windsurfers contacted us and told us where to sail. The local crew are a group of thirty windsurfers, mainly 30-50 years old, with many of them sailing since the 80s. The ones we met mostly freeride and slalom sail. They have a facebook group where they write to each other so they can sail together and when we arrived they wrote in the group that we had made it to Lofoten and we all met up at a spot called Stordalen. This day was a windy one. Rain, really cold and in the end we ended up driving too long to another spot and probably missed the best wind. As there were no freestylers living there, the local windsurfers could not recommend a freestyle spot for us. We used Google maps and found a freestyle spot close to a church at Valberg. It was hard to get planing, as it looked more windy than it actually was, and was pretty cold too, but we got the windsurf ‘fix’ we needed. One of the locals that joined us told us said they were having lighter winds than normal for the time of year, but I didn’t mind. For the first time I had decided to go somewhere not just to windsurf. I wanted to surf, hike, mountain bike and discover new places. This trip was not for training windsurfing, it was kind of like a holiday not having a “new move” to practice. So I did not care that we could not windsurf every day. Anyways we sailed 30% of the days, surfed 50%, biked and hiked 20%. Never bored, and the views made me feel like being in a dreamland. Lofoten was even more epic than I imagined. The first day we met so many other ‘van life’ surfers who were really friendly and set the tone for what turned out to be a great trip. I can´t wait to go back there again, and now when I tell everyone to go there, it will be with an even bigger smile on my face. My best memories would be waking up in the morning right at the beach at Flakstad, watching sweet waves while having breakfast, and then going out surfing, followed by mountain biking or windsurfing. Going to bed fully stoked about the incredible nature we have in Norway.
Gear to bring
Windsurf gear, surfboard, sup, hiking shoes, warm clothes, a camera and a mountain bike… and a van with a bed, hot water shower, kitchen, heater and a fridge full of food if you really want to live it up! The coolest way to stay is in a van, but if you are flying, there are plenty of houses to rent just in front of the sea and surrounded by beautiful mountains.
We were there at the end of September and beginning of October and I sailed 4.4 – 7.8. The weather in Lofoten can change in a second, so you need sails from 3.7 to 7.8 if you want to be on the water in all kinds of conditions. The sailing can easily be planned on forecast so you can pack appropriately last minute if on a short trip. Bring a 6 mm wetsuit with a hoodie, boots and gloves and you will be perfect in the cold water. For extra luxury, have two wetsuits with you, so if you have two sessions a day then you can always have a dry one to change into. Visa cards are widely taken, so no need for cash only.
The locals normally sail at Buksnesfjorden, Austnesfjorden, Laupstad, and Svolvær. The mountains can block the wind in certain directions at some spots, but as there are many other options where the wind is cleaner without any ‘blocking’ mountains, it’s not a big problem.
Winter sailing is best avoided as it only offers a few hours with light.
There is no place to rent windsurfing gear, but it’s easy to get a surfboard at the surf centre in Unstad (www.unstadarcticsurf.com). This is a great local family business that runs a very successful cafe and surf school. They also do great accommodation and serve the most amazing cinnamon rolls in Norway, sooo delicious! Most days we had really good waves at Unstad for surfing, but when it was too big we went to Flakstad where we surfed and SUP’d with a nice seal!
No wind alternatives
If no wind, there’s world-class surfing, hiking and fishing. If you love mountain biking, then hit the ‘Smørdalskammen’ trail. It’s one of the best mountain bike trails I have ever done. At the top you have a 360-degree ocean view and can see all the mountains too. As for surf, we had waves every single day, and in September/October there were just a few surfers in the water. Best season for waves is autumn and spring.
It’s easy to fly with Norwegian and SAS. Norwegian offers a good deal on excess baggage on their website. It’s easy to rent cars at the airport and you’ll definitely need one!