'In winter, if you surf for two hours, you can't feel your fingers'

Far from the sun-kissed beaches of Rio de Janeiro and Ipanema, Brazilian surfer Gil Ferreira plunges into Norway's icy waters to ride over the dark swells of the Arctic.

Swapping shorts for a thick-skinned wetsuit and gloves, Ferreira braved freezing weather, rain and seals in the Lofoten Masters, the only surf competition held in the extremes of the Northern Hemisphere.

Ferreira was one of 32 participants in this year's Lofoten tournament, which increasingly draws competitors from better-known surfing nations such as Brazil and the United States.

"In Brazil, it's shorts and straight to the beach. Here you have to get changed and it's minus 5," said Ferreira, 32, a native of the Atlantic Ocean city of Natal.

"In winter, if you surf for two hours, you can't feel your fingers." 

The Lofoten Masters tournament is hidden away among green hills and dark waters of Unstad bay, an imposing landscape better known for inspiring Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe.

Over several days in September, Lofoten surfers gathered at the local Arctic Surf club, run by Marion and her husband Tommy Olsen. Her father, stunned by the quality of surfing during a visit in 1963 with his friends, set up the Masters in 2007.

As 24 male and eight women surfers rode the waters, spectators in woollen hats watched from the grassy hills and the small grey sand beach of the bay, some grilling food with their families.

"It still has the vibe that maybe Hawaii had in the 1960s or 1970s when not many people surfed and everyone was happy," said Maria Petersson, a Swedish competitor.

"It's beautiful nature here, there are whales, killer whales, seals and eagles... There are not a lot of places you have that."

Despite Unstad's long, dark winter, the surfers dismiss friends who call them crazy and describe the spell the waters and landscape cast over them with the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights phenomenon part of the draw.

"When I saw it the first time I was afraid, I didn't understand what happened to the sky," Brazilian Ferreira said of the Northern Lights.

"It was like there were waves even in the sky."

thelocal.no
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