© 2022 - Ingvild Schultz.

Caribbean Surfer in the Arctic: “It Was the Session of a Lifetime”

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Yeah, Norway got it good this past swell. Reeling freight train barrels as the same swell that pounded Europe, squeezed itself north of Scotland, reintensified locally and then blasted into Scandinavia. You can see some of that action here.

But for Guadeloupe-born Tom Juban, this may have been the session of a lifetime. Visiting his girlfriend's family in Norway for the holiday period, this legend didn't expect to surf at all, let alone go head-to-toe in rubber (he rented the wetsuit, gloves, boots and hood) and huck into some incredibly wide open barrels.
“It is only my second time here in Northern Norway,” he said. 

“I'd seen all the excitement around this big swell and how it was about to hit Europe, so I looked at the forecast for Unstad here in the Lofoten Islands. It was a big surprise when I saw it would be offshore wind with 13ft@18 second period. 
 “My mind was blown, and I posted a screenshot of the forecast. A good friend from Hawaii (Kai Katchadourian) hit me up telling me that it would be a crazy day. The upper left would work and it would be an all-time high. I told him I didn’t have any boards with me, since I was on holiday and not on a surf trip chasing the wave. Kai told me “Dude I have a quiver over there and you can borrow my 6"10 semi gun”.
“Now I didn’t have any excuse. Last Monday, we drove in the dark all the way to Unstad. I quickly checked the spot and it was on.

“With only four hours of daylight at this time of year, I rushed to Unstad Arctic Surf, rented the full wetsuit package to survive the cold (being from the Caribbean and all), grabbed Kai's board and the dream was on.

“The session was crazy, the locals super friendly. The sets were getting bigger and bigger, a few broken boards and some crazy rides from the locals. During the session I got more and more comfortable with the break, the wetsuit and the board.

“After two hours in the water and a couple of close outs, I got this wave [above]. I was so stoked to make the first section, put my hands on my head and didn't believe it was real. I saw the second section, went for it, didn't make it out and broke the board on it. That was the end of the session for me. Around 2.30pm, it was the end of daylight. 
“Overall it was a really special experience surfing, with stunning backgrounds, - snow all over and just a few people in the water. Huge shoutout to Kai for the board (sorry again for breaking your stick!”
And on surfing the frigid Norwegian Sea vs the Caribbean. “It's quite the difference,” he said. “The organisation is pretty important here. If you forget your boots or your gloves, you are screwed, there is no way you can go in the water. On this day the water was 5° Celsius (41°F) the air 0° Celsius (32°F).

“Once you are suited up and in the water, it's actually relatively warm, except for your face while duck diving. The paddling sensation is strange at first, because you have big thick gloves. The thickness of the wetsuit, a 6/5mm, on the arms and shoulders also makes it more tiring.

“The wave was long, so to go all the way back to the peak was an endurance game. To paddle to get on the wave is harder as well. I was glad to have a bigger board, it definitely helped to catch more waves.”

Overall though? “Overall it wasn't that bad, totally worth it. I did a two hour session without being too cold. But due to all the thick gear, my body felt as tired as I had done a four hour session in the tropics. At least you don’t need sunscreen here.

“Luckily the place I rented the wetsuit from had locker rooms with hot showers to remove the suit, just a couple of hundred meters from the spot. Not needing to remove the gear in the freezing snowing cold probably helped for the whole experience as well. Huge respect to the Viking locals who deals with these weather conditions on a regular basis! It was a session of a lifetime.”

Cover shot by Andreas Wolde.