Words by: Leon Poultney - Photos by: Simon Clay
Forest, tunnel, lake, mountains. Forest, bridge, fjords, more mountains, another tunnel. Traversing the 360km route that runs from Bergen airport in Norway to the isolated cluster of houses and farms that is Hoddevik in the north west of the Scandinavian country is akin to being stuck in a cheap cartoon - one where the animators have saved time and money by repeating the same backgrounds over and over again.
If it weren’t for the sat-nav in the car slowly counting down the kilometres as we race through the picturesque, if a little repetitive scenery, I'd begin to question my sanity and navigational skills.
There is a purpose to the mind and bum-numbingly beautiful hack through the Nordic scenery and that is the promise of breath-taking vistas, consistent waves and empty line-ups in a small and very unlikely oasis of surf in the North Sea.
FAR FROM THE MADDENING CROWD
The British summer of 2014 has been fairly good for those looking to gain the sort of olive complexion one might find in Mediterranean countries but it has been absolutely useless if you live on the south coast of England and you're even the tiniest bit interested in sliding across wave faces on a board-like object.
It has been well and truly flat, a classic Blighty summer where seemingly larger and more aggressive hordes of holidaymakers have descended on the beaches of my hometown of Bournemouth, spilling into Cornwall and infiltrating the furthest reaches of north Devon.
While those catching waves in the murky waters of the east coast enjoyed some pumping surf, the slightest hint of swell in the Atlantic Ocean and the English Channel saw the wet stuff fill with kids on foamies, desperate locals on oil tanker longboards and middle-aged men on SUPs - all jostling for a ride and inevitably wounding each other in a flailing mess of limbs, paddles and fins.
Large and aggressive hordes of holidaymakers have descended on the beaches of my hometown
So when the guys from Mini asked if I'd like to borrow one of the marque's new motors and go on the hunt for surf in the deepest depths of Norway, I jumped at the chance. The thought of surfing alone clouded any rational thought patterns surrounding logistics and the sort of mileage required to reach such an unlikely surfing destination.
IT'S A LONG WAY TO H-BAY
The trip begins, like many, at Heathrow airport where a British Airways plane bound for Bergen awaits. At around £250 for a return ticket, it's an expensive option but it's quick, comfortable and BA are by far the best airline when it comes to not ripping off customers who want to pack their own boards.
Just under two hours later, the crew of equally desperate surfers, a snapper and I arrive in the miniscule Bergen airport on the east coast of the country where a shiny new Mini Countryman awaits. Boards are loaded onto the roof rack, gear is shoved in the boot, we stop briefly to marvel the amount of stuff we've crammed into (and onto) such a small car and then I punch Hoddevik into the sat nav.
It takes a few moments for the on-board computer to calculate the journey before flashing up the route: 364km, a toll road, two ferries and an estimated arrival time of 8pm. It's just gone 11am, that's a lot of time in the car.
We actually arrived in Hoddevik closer to 11pm. A combination of seemingly endless amounts of stunning scenery, which prompted a number of photo opportunity stops, and poor planning - we completely mistimed both ferries - ensured the journey took the best part of a day.
But it was a day well spent. Not much on this earth compares to the sheer drama Norway has to offer with regards to scenery. Perfectly smooth roads carved their way through deep, craggy valleys. Enormous bridges spanned crystalline fjords and mirror-like lakes appeared around most corners.
"If the surf is as empty as these roads, we're in for a treat," Lewis, fellow surfer, WaveLength Magazine staffer and custodian of a fine double-barrelled name, mused from the passenger seat.
Thoughts of completely barren line-ups would have to be parked for the night, as our extremely late arrival meant we only had time to hastily check into the LaPoint Surf Camp, one of just two hostels in Hoddevik offering a reasonably priced dorm room for the duration of our stay.
The next morning we awoke to grey skies and the smell of fresh coffee emanating from the kitchen The staff at LaPoint are a friendly bunch - the place is set up like a large house so all guests share a kitchen, dining and living area, so not chatting to your fellow surf-mates is pretty much unavoidable.
We quickly began quizzing the team about surf reports and wave height only to be told it was a pretty poor forecast compared to what they are used to. The large, sand-bottomed c-shaped bay at Hoddevik - dubbed H-Bay - is perfectly set up to receive south-westerly and westerly swells produced by raging storms in the North Sea.
The large, sand-bottomed bay at Hoddevik is perfectly set up to receive south-westerly and westerly swells.
On a good day, perfect corduroy lines march from the open ocean and down into the bay, which is flanked by two giant rock mountains either side of it, until flawless waves finally peel and break on the powdery white sand of the beach.
A large chunk of the previous day's drive had been carried out in the dark, so the full force of Hoddevik's natural beauty didn't really hit until that second day. The approaching route winds its way along tight, single-track roads that begin by hugging vast fjords before climbing the weathered hills.
Upon reaching the summit, the scene opens up to a view of the tiny village of Hoddevik below, home to around 15 permanent residents and a couple of farms. Nestled between two enormous mountain faces is the bay, which is so clear and blue, it looks a bit like a melted glacier mint.
"The mountains either side of the bay protect the waves from the wind," reveals LaPoint resident surf instructor and mini-ramp ripper Hjalmar Olsen. "It can be really blowing up by the house but as soon as you get to the sea, the waves are glassy. We get perfect conditions a lot here," he adds.
Hjalmar also reveals that several other spots are available if Hoddevik gets too big or blown out. "Ervik is another bay just around the corner, which produces a more high performance wave rather than the long walls at Hoddevik," he adds.
A bit of local exploration will also throw up a number of rocky reef breaks, hidden beachies and hard-to-reach spots that will have barely been surfed. Offer the guys at LaPoint a few beers and they might even take you to a few local secret spots.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature wasn't producing the goods on our first day surfing the icy cold and crystal clear seas of the bay. The swell was set to pick up just after we were due to leave but that didn't stop us getting wet. Even without much ground swell coming through, the bay produced beautifully clean ripples that were perfect for a big, heavy longboard.
It was almost impossible to distinguish the sea from the horizon at points. The jutting mountain faces funnelled fog and low-lying mist into the bay, turning everything an eerie milky grey. The water's surface was so smooth and undisturbed by the wind that the first we knew about a set was when the first wave was right underneath us.
Although completely flat days are rare, they're also not a trip-ruining disaster. The surrounding switchback roads are perfect for bombing on a skateboard, the hills and mountains sit begging to be explored and the local bodies of water are teeming with fish. Boredom isn't an option, although stocking up with beer and munchies is strongly advised before you arrive. The nearest shop is a 20-minute drive away.
'MAD' MADS JONSSON
"Nothing much compares to this place," explains Mads Jonsson, ex-professional snowboarder and resident board rider at the Strandro lodging and restaurant located just in front of the bay at Hoddevik.
"We go out and hunt most of our food, we fish the seas, we forage and we make the most of our surroundings," Mads explains. "Guests can experience what it is really like to live and surf in the wilderness but with the bonus of hot showers and comfortable beds," he adds.
The former pro regaled the group with tales from his past, discovering surfing and escaping the madness of California over a freshly caught and cooked meal of local fish and chips.
We drank too many bottles of red wine, played some guitar and finally stumbled back to our bunks at LaPoint via a pitch black stretch of road, only to be greeted with a steaming hot tub, more beer and freshly baked cakes.
Eating, drinking and partying isn't particularly conducive to a bearable dawnie but we dragged ourselves out of bed for one final miniscule session. The waves weren't much better than the day before but hints of the incoming swell were beginning to show.
We reluctantly dragged ourselves out of the water to pack up the car, fully aware that the drive back was going to take at least six hours without a stop. Whilst throwing the boards on top of the Mini, I had a vivid flashback from the previous evening.
Mads Jonsson was telling me about his plans to run a helicopter route from Bergen up to Hoddevik for well-heeled, time-stretched customers. The thought was hugely appealing as my foggy, hung-over head wrestled with the long drive ahead.
We said our goodbyes. Forest, tunnel, lake, mountains. Forest, bridge, fjords, more mountains, another tunnel. Boat. Airport.
A Facebook message appeared on Lewis's phone just as we were boarding our flight home. It was from the guys at LaPoint Surf Camp. The swell had arrived and they were enjoying 4ft perfection without another soul in the water.
I closed my eyes and dreamt of helicopters.
SURFING IN NORWAY: ESSENTIAL INFO
Travel: Fly into Bergen for the shortest drive or take a flight into Oslo with SAS or AirFrance to keep the ticket price down. Hardcore road-trippers could take a cheap ferry from Dover and tackle the 25-hour drive.
Average costs: £250 flight, £100 fuel
Accommodation: A bed in a dorm at LaPoint without equipment hire starts at £28 per night. Rooms at Srandro are slightly more expensive but more suited to those looking for luxury. Camping on the beach is available at low cost but it's cold.
Average costs: £100 per person for a three-night stay with towels and linen
Food and drink: Norway is expensive, so expect to pay through the nose for booze. An average meal is around £35 a head without drink so stocking up on essentials at the largest supermarket you can find on route is advisable. Full kitchen facilities available at LaPoint Surf Camp.
Average costs: Pint of beer = £6; Bottle of wine = £25; Meal for one = £35
Equipment: Ignore the sea temperature figures in surf reports, they lie! Even after a balmy summer, the water is most comfortable in a 5:4:3 wetsuit in September. Thick boots, gloves and hoods advisable for those braving the winter swells. Take a selection of boards, including a longboard and funboard for the crumbly walls of H-Bay.
Average costs: Wetsuits and boards available to hire at negotiable prices