Words Kari Shibevaag
I love the town, the nature and also the people who live there. Svalbard is the home of the polar bear where for most of the year, the mountains sit shrouded under a cover of snow and ice. From the first time I set foot on the place on a snow kite expedition last winter, I felt a strong connection. But, I had yet to hit the water on my sup so this new adventure had been simmering away on my bucket list for some time now.
I landed early October and the snow had just arrived. It was just how I remembered it from last year. The soaring mountains dominating the view all the way down to the ocean. The cosy little town already with a thick dusting of snow. It felt like I was home again.
This time my bag was packed with kit for the ocean but there was so much snow I could have brought my skis along and made a biathlon of it. I had my fingers crossed for some clear weather, but when it comes to sunny days in Svalbard you need a bit of luck.
EXPLORING THE NORTH.
More and more people are taking their sups away from the sandy beaches of their comfort zone and heading towards frigid waters where ice flows down the fjords and for a few weeks the sun sits a several degrees below the horizon. Hmm…maybe the sand and the coconut trees are getting boring for people? Or perhaps they are looking for more hardcore style of adventure. Maybe they just want to see the Arctic before it melts back into the sea.
It is troubling to think how we are putting out so much pollution that the Arctic is melting. The reality is, it’s getting too hot up here. Is it just too far away and too far ‘off the radar’ for people to care? If our great cities were sitting on the precious ice I wonder how many of us would start our cars up in the morning. If you visit Svalbard, you can see for yourself that the ice is retreating by the year. I realise I’ve strayed from my story here and don’t want to hector anyone but this is always in my mind when I’m interacting with nature to have fun. I am trying to live a simpler life, and try to think more what I am using and doing.
But back to Svalbard. And the reasons that the Arctic has such a grip on my attention: I am just in love with the ice, the nature you find up here, and even the determination you need to actually get in to the water. It’s a bit harder to put on your wetsuit and jump in when you have the cold facing you and icy water trying to creep down your back. But a day out here is so much more invigorating than a whole week in the Caribbean. Well, for me at least.
To paddle around the ice structures, knowing it can collapse onto you, or that a polar bear can swim up to you is almost reckless, crazy, but I love this feeling. One iceberg actually calved just meters from my board. I could feel the power of the ice hitting the water and the energy of the waves lifting my board. Yes, it can be dangerous but the ice has my full attention. To be out in the Arctic winter is to feel alive.
Is it cold? Yes it is cold. But after many years in the Arctic freezing my ass off I know that the equipment you use is vital. It’s not the same putting on a suit made for winter in continental Europe and a suit made for the arctic. The boots and gloves are different too. If you have the right gear and prepare for it, then it’s actually very nice and you will get a session you will remember for the rest of your life. SUP INTERNATIONAL
Kari’s tips for visiting the Arctic:
• Bring a hooded 6mm wetsuit, at least.
• Bring a thermos so you can have hot water on the beach for your extremities and also hot drinks.
• Bring real wool for extra cold days – wear it under your wetsuit and change into fresh layers after your sesh.
• Take a couple of days before you hit the water to acclimatise to the cold. It will make the entire process easier.
• Take breaks and restore your energy but don’t sit still in the cold. Keep moving.
• Never SUP alone. Bad Arctic weather comes out of nowhere.
• Always pick up the plastic that you see around you.