This memory comes to us from John Brodie, who is currently on the North Pole.
New Year’s Day By John Brodie
They say the best experiences often go unwritten- this one almost did. Before moving to Sweden this March I managed (with some help from friends) to set up a visit to a small island in Stockholm’s archipelago. I began writing this story in Hawaii last year and wasn’t able to grasp the commitment and the all around manliness that comes from entering, and hopefully exiting, Swedish waters in the thick winter. While working for Patagonia in San Francisco, I’ve taken my Ocean Beach beatings, but this was raw. I hope you come to understand it took a year and a move to Sweden to fully understand what I saw on new years day.
I was sitting at the Volcom Pipe Pro, I had just witnessed Mark Healey and his blonde Samurai ponytail make a drop on an absolute bomb. I began to daydream about where I was one month ago. Nearly 6,867 miles and 11,052 kilometers from Oahu’s North Shore, in the heart of Scandinavia.
My warm blood was not adept to the unforgiving Swedish winter. Every single day I followed a routine of failing to dress accordingly. Growing my beard out only would lead to embarrassment in an attempt to keep up with the Vikings. On the first morning of 2013 I woke, slightly hung over. After stumbling to the closet, I button up my red and black Jack Spade flannel and charge up the Nikon D60. Anxiously, I sip on a cup of green tea in hopes that my bones soak it up before my phone rings.
Torö is an island about an hour northeast of Stockholm by car or by bus if you’re into that. Don’t worry walking onto a bus wearing a 7mm wetsuit won’t get any weird looks…it’s just another day at the office here. Maybe, if you had a moose attached to a leash instead of a surfboard.
The clock strikes 13:00 and Camilo Blomqvist pulls up in his Volkswagen. Car seats assemble in back of his surf rig, it’s clear to me he is a family man. We shake hands as he hands me a fresh cup of coffee. In about two hours time at 15:00 the sun will set and the darkness will flex it’s biceps, drowning us beneath the notorious Nordic winter. So, without hesitation we slam into the icy roads, and two surfers from opposite ends of the world stir up a fascinating conversation full of similar views of what it takes to lead a life full of stoke.
Camilo, half Portuguese and a half Swedish, has been sliding around the island since he was sixteen. He is the man behind Nord Surf – a surf brand out of Sweden, founded in 2002 by a bunch of crazy, maybe stupid, adventurous survivors of the cold-water frontier and makers of custom surf craft. It’s as if they laugh off the frozen snot stuck to their faces. The more you smile in these conditions the harder it is to freeze I guess. Inspiring stuff. Camilo began to tell me about a heat-tent project he was putting together at the time. The funds would come from the locals, for the locals who have finished the latest three-hour session at Torö. Sorry boys, I think I’d need a little more than a tent. A giant microwave maybe?
This place is home for conquerors of the cold and I know I grew a few more chest hairs from just being out there that day (yes, I checked). When it all comes down to it, it’s the similar feeling that we get when we pull up to our home break. That feeling is global even when the temperature reads 4 degrees in the air and 2 in the water. A life full of stoke is a life that finds time to park the car at your local break. A little cold-water stoke.
Camilo began to tell stories of the island; the numb Baltic sea brushing up against the shore building walls of ice as tall as a fishing boat. In front of us, the one-way road wraps around a pond that serves as a cracked mirror to the pine trees above. Herds of drunken moose call this bitter place home. If we were to roll down the windows we’d hear an echo of fermented apples splitting between their teeth.
Every American carries the immigration gene but most of us don’t know it yet. It is a genetic code lodged deeply in all of us. My slightly olive skin tone was not the only thing passed down from my Portuguese Grandmother. The freckles on my nose are most likely from my Irish Grandfather, but something else came with that. Something that I thought would weaken with maturity – an urge to move far away. It is pretty simple really, a trait as hereditary as green eyes. It is in our DNA and is pushing out of every pore toward a new American dream.
After I booked a one-way ticket to Sweden in March of 2014 I found out I didn’t have a plan.
I landed in Stockholm as a semi-stubborn and reckless surfer from California. Two bags, a camera, a handful of journals, the essays of Emerson and a knack for making the best out of madcap situations were all I brought with me. In April, I found myself on the West coast of the country. I took a step off the train and looked up at the sign: Gothenburg Central Station. I was lost. Five homeless weeks came next as I bounced around hostels and park benches until they kicked me out. Good coffee and a bottle of Pastis de Marseille fueled my adaptation. I made friends with fear and remembered what surfing had taught me while a constant state of vulnerability in foreign land began to teach me how to live in the present and to smile while doing so. My Ancestors must have felt something similar during their first days in California. They must have been scared out of their pants.
Camilo parks the rig and we watch the Baltic Sea fold and wrinkle like a sheet of black tin foil. Wind swell produces head high sets rolling west over a snow-covered shoreline. Camilo’s stories are true. In his natural habitat he pays little attention to the unforgiving Nordic winter as she flexes her biceps and the darkness settles in. The sun rises at eleven and sets at three in the afternoon during this time of year, leaving only small window for a crew of dedicated souls to pull on their seven millimeter suits. A custom board full of volume is needed to keep afloat above charcoal in the half salt, half fresh water. Despite the salinity and negative water temps, island locals have been entering and hopefully exiting Swedish east coast waters since the 60’s. The wind pounded my rib cage and the sun began to set, reminding me of all the things I left behind at home.
Over seven months I rediscovered myself as a humble transplant. A nomadic life had just begun in the heart of Scandinavia and the success of my transcontinental travels grew by virtue of the American “move far away” gene paired with some of surfing’s most unpretentious teachings. While confident, the Swedes are not known for talking about themselves– which is part of the reason you don’t hear much about the surf here. The other reason might be the blinding darkness. But you should know that there is a tight knit and committed culture of surfers here. I told you before when I got off that plane I didn’t have a plan, but I can tell you now that I do – to tell the story of surfing in Sweden.
*This article was originally published in Nordic Surfers Magazine.