Somewhere between Norway and Greenland there’s a tear shaped island by the name of Bear Island. A place where polar bears are said to roam close to the lineup, the weather is ever-changing and the beaches are empty. Except for Kristine Tofte, her surfboard and a rifle.
Bear Island was discovered in 1596 by arctic explorer William Barents. The origins of its name is as frightening as it’s straight forward. Crossing over to the island from their vessel, Barents and his crew met a polar bear on the swim. Hence the name. Even though the king of the cold North hasn’t been seen lately, a polar bear is one local you don’t want to meet either on land or in water.
What William Barents felt when he discovered Bear Island is beyond our imagination. But the feeling a surfer experiences by discovering a peeling wave is a familiar one. The joy of watching waves break. Understanding how the current moves, where to paddle, mind surfing the thing right in front of your eyes, just minutes before you’re actually tripping down the line for the first time.
Kristine has travelled the world, she’s visited some of the most famous spots in the world, she’s done the traditional road trips and surf adventures. She’s done Hawaii. She’s explored Europe. Bear Island differs from them all. A spot check with a rifle on your back and a polar bear lookout on land isn’t everyday life for most surfers.
Empty waves, spectacular scenery, exotic unlike anywhere else. Bear Island might sound like an arctic paradise. But all is far from perfect. Especially when it comes to man-made pollution. According to local records, there's only nine people who live on the island, so Kristine has more than waves on her mind when it comes to protecting this stunning coastline.
Kristine, how is it to live and work in a place like this?
Life on Bear Island is great. The nature is jaw dropping with steep mountains rising directly from the ocean floor. Arctic birds, spectacular light. I especially remember the first sunset after months of midnight sun. Bear Island is located so far north that in the summer months, the sun never sets. The winters are drenched in darkness.
What’s at stake when surfing at places like this?
The biggest risk is probably if I get hurt or experience a serious hold down. My polar bear lookout isn’t wearing a wetsuit, so it’s not easy to get any help in the sea. There haven’t been any polar bear sightings in years, but we always wear a rifle whenever we leave basecamp. You never know what might lurk around the corner.
Surfers are selfish. Especially when it comes to waves. But when crowds aren’t an issue, how does it really feel to surf these arctic waters?
As the only surfer on the island, it’s a bit lonely in the ocean.
Still, I’ve had some epic days by myself and it’s mind blowing to surf a place where almost no one ever has surfed. But honestly, I’d prefer a friend or two in the line up with me.
And you mentioned there seems to be a plastic problem, there's only nine people on the island...
Unfortunately there’s so much garbage on these beaches. But we do our best to contribute to removing it. Most of it is from the fishing industry. There are lots of dangers out there, but the fact that only 9 per cent of the plastic that’s produced is recycled scares me. 11 per cent is burned, the rest ends up in nature.
We’ve decided to do what we can and remove as much plastic as possible, while we’re here. After all – you can’t surf empty waves all day long anyways.