Deep dive into freezing water and stunning landscapes, as Sabine Skiba follows cold water surfers in the Lofoten Islands.

If you google ‘cold water surfing,’ you will find titles with phrases like “how to enjoy and survive cold water surfing,” “how to stop freezing,” “stay out of trouble,” and “surfing tips to keep you from freezing to death.” The list goes on and exposes why only a few dare to try this extreme winter sport.

Moreover, cold water surfing photography is an experience that not all photographers like to endeavor on. However, the unbearable weather may be worth the breathtaking pictures of thrilling glaciers and the passion behind cold water surfing.

Today, Sabine Skiba narrates her trip to the Lofoten Islands as she follows the glacier chunks, captures mesmerizing stories, and interviews three different cold water surfers!

copyright: Sabine Skiba, www.sabine-skiba.com, contact@sabine-skiba.com, Hamburg 2022
copyright: Sabine Skiba, www.sabine-skiba.com, contact@sabine-skiba.com, Hamburg 2022

Cold Water Surfing Through the Eyes of Sabine Skiba

The hashtag #nopalmtrees describes pretty much what cold water surfing is like.

The air temperature is about -8 degrees. The temperature of the water is 3 degrees.

Perfect surfing conditions.


The bay of Unstad is crowned as the paradise for northern surfers. It is located on the Lofoten Islands – 300km north of the arctic circle – and surrounded by incredible snow-covered mountains.

Driving along a narrow and slippery icy lane is the only way to the beach. It’s early morning and there is already a van stuck in a mess of snow and ice.

copyright: Sabine Skiba, www.sabine-skiba.com, contact@sabine-skiba.com, Hamburg 2022

Crowded with surfers in the summer… but the opposite in winter.

Then there are mostly locals who jump into the icy water with their 6mm hooded wetsuits, boots, and gloves.

The water is clear, the waves high, the air salty and with luck you can surf under the northern lights at night.

Essentially, an arctic paradise.

The surfers’ faces coming out of the water speak for themselves.

cold water surfer by sabine skiba
Photography by Sabine Skiba

Cold Water Surfer Interviews

During her stay at Lofoten, photographer Sabine had the chance to interview three different cold water surfers. Read on for insights!

cold water surfer by sabine skiba
Suzie
Please introduce yourself

Suzie: I’m Suzie, a 27-year-old originally from the Czech Republic, living in the North for a bit over three years.

How did you come to cold water surfing?

Suzie: I’ve always been drawn towards cold. When I was deciding where to settle down –after years of hopping from one place to another – I remembered there were these islands in the north of Norway that felt like a place I could belong. I was not surfing at that time, maybe I tried couple of times on holidays before, but I knew about Unstad and about surfing there. Since I am an active and competitive person, I wanted to learn it myself. So before taking the last flight from Oslo to Lofoten I stopped by a surfshop in Oslo, bought all the equipment, and started the journey.

I never looked back really, I got bitten by the surfing bug and been fully addicted ever since.

How do you keep yourself warm?

Suzie: We all have very good hooded wetsuits and thick gloves and boots. But I am naturally a very cold blooded person so during the winter months I am constantly cold. Cold when I’m waking to the water, in the water and after, I am cold for sometimes, several hours.

The worst part that we all have to go through is the changing part – sometimes in blowing winds and temperatures far below zero… it can be pretty painful.

What is the best thing about cold water surfing?

Suzie: I think there’s something special about the cold that makes one disconnect from the world in a bit different way than surfing in warm waters.

I’m not a big talker in the water either, I’m there mostly and selfishly for myself to find some calmness from my busy life. Cold water naturally doesn’t attract crazy loud crowds and those who are attracted to it are usually pretty weird and unique people which makes the cold water surfing community one hell of a kind… and that I’m very grateful for.

My favorite thing to do on those crispy cold dark mornings in the winter months is to wake up before the sun rises (if it rises), drive to Unstad and just sit there in my car, drink coffee and wait for the first light to hit, and sometimes magic happens and I get perfect peeling waves just for myself before any other morning birds show up.

cold water surfing by sabine skiba

cold water surfer by sabine skiba
Matti
Please introduce yourself

Matti: Hey. I’m Matti, 35, from Finland.

How did you come to cold water surfing?

Matti: I was living and studying in northern Finland and had to do an internship for the wilderness and nature guide course I was doing. Instead of doing a second winter internship I jumped on Google and found this little bay up in the Lofoten Islands. Headed up for the summer season and kind of liked the place. I ended up scoring world class waves so now I’ve been living up here on and off for the last 4 years.

How do you keep yourself warm?

Matti: I think the most important thing is a good wetsuit. I just got a new one and was able to almost triple the length of my surf sessions. Also helps to have a good meal an hour or so before hitting the water. Gives the body a bit of extra energy to burn.

What is the best thing about cold water surfing?

Matti: Empty lineups. Definitely. Even on a busy day, it’s nothing compared to the crowds on the point breaks of the gold coast that I grew up surfing on.

cold water surfing by sabine skiba

Jay
Please introduce yourself

Jay: Hey, I’m Jay. I’m 21 years old from the Gold Coast, Australia. I run a marketing agency remotely and travel to places in the world that inspire me.

How did you come to cold water surfing?

Jay: I grew up surfing in boardshorts in 24°C bright blue water and golden sandy beaches with crowds of thousands! Pretty much to exact opposite of surfing in the arctic.
But when I was about 12 years of age I saw a photo of someone surfing with big snowy mountains in the background. I knew straight away that this was an experience I needed to have.

How do you keep yourself warm?

Jay: I’m definitely not conditioned for this temperature being from the subtropical climate of the Gold Coast. So I keep moving as much as I can in the water, clapping my hands together and talking to people. I’ve also started swimming every morning off the jetty of the lodge where I’m staying – I think that’s helping for sure.

What is the best thing about cold water surfing?

Jay: When I catch a wave and paddle back out I look at the mountains around me. It’s a feeling of transcendence. I’ve never felt more alive than that.

cold water surfing

More about Sabine

Sabine Skiba is a lifestyle and sports photographer based around Hamburg. Her authentic work catches dynamic moments and movements. She prefers to capture stories with natural light and in atmospheric surroundings.

Whether small editorials or large advertising productions, she is always looking for staging individuals and brands lovingly. Sabine loves to be outside and to travel for her job, she calls the world her home. Sabine is currently on stay on the Lofoten Islands and in North Norway.

Among her clients are Tigerbalm, Lululemon, mobile.de, Stadium, and many more. For bookings, collaborations, and general enquiries or just to say ‘Hello’, feel free to contact her via her website.

Make sure to check out the Cherrydeck Profile or website of Sabine Skiba for more of her work. If you liked this project, don’t miss out on our previous Project Spotlight stories.

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