In Sweden, where it seems to always be winter, there was held a surf contest in December at a secret spot in Varberg, which has been unofficially dubbed Surf City. Contest director Johan Otterdahl tells us more:
What is the Surf City Winter Jam?
It’s a new competition for surfers who live in Sweden and refuse to realize that winter is here. A chance to meet new surfers and share the stoke. It’s also a great opportunity to surf a new spot. I surfed this spot more or less by myself for many years, and I was looking forward to have someone to share the waves with. It’s nestled in one of the most amazing surroundings I’ve ever surfed in, right beside a medieval Swedish castle.
How did a town in Sweden get the “Surf City” title, over Huntington and Santa Cruz?
We never took the title...just borrowed it. Varberg is a surf town (the only one of its kind in Sweden) on the Swedish west coast. It got famous in the '80s for windsurfing, in the mid-2000s for kitesurfing and, and in the last 10 years for surfing. I’ve been surfing here since the mid-90s. In the beginning we only knew about three spots in our own town, and there were only 6-10 locals surfing. Now we’ve found around 10 spots, and with them some crowds. The biggest selling surf magazine in Scandinavia is Nordic Surfers Mag and Mat, the founder, lives and surfs in Varberg. We have mostly beachbreaks, but a few pointbreaks as well.
What kind of storm does it take to light up the Swedish coast?
We don’t get the hurricanes like you do in the U.S., maybe some smaller ones every six years or so. But we get a lot of wind. We don’t have too much ocean, so we need a lot of wind to get waves. We need between 23- to 35-knots of onshore winds to get waves in my town and across most parts of the Swedish coastline. I’ve only surfed one Christmas Eve in Sweden. It was me and a guy from Oz.
What’d it look like on contest day?
When I checked the weather report in the morning, it was -14 degrees C outside, snowing, and the storm was on its way. When I finally came to the spot a few hours before the comp, the wind had turned and dropped. The temperature was now a lot warmer, up to -4 degrees C. I thought there weren´t going to be any waves, because the wind was too sideshore. But I arrived to a clean set rolling in with and empty lineup, with snow falling gently from the sky. During the competition the waves were smaller, but glassier by the minute. We had everything from knee- to head-high waves. It’s very rare to get glassy waves in Sweden. Most of the time we surf big mushy storms. During the whole competition the snow was falling like crazy. But it was at least warmer in the sea than on land. The crowd was around 40-50 friends, photographers, dudes, and random folks taking a walk with the dog. Probably the coldest surf comp in the history of the sport.
What kind of neoprene do y’all need to survive?
Most of the time it’s a 6/5/4mm wetsuit, 5-7mm gloves, 5-7mm shoes and a warm hood. When it’s extra cold we use Vaseline in our faces to keep a bit warmer. Nowadays, the wetsuits are amazing and the surf shops got everything covered. When I started surfing here I used to double-up on wetsuits.
And the surfer who won, a Costa Rican with the last name Gutierrez. What is he doing in Sweden?
Derek Gutierrez is a ripping Costa Rican living just a few miles from Varberg. He´s like all the other Australian, Kiwi, Californians, and Latin Americans surfers, stuck here because of one thing: the Swedish girls! They´re hot, friendly, fit, and somehow love surfers. Derek is a real cool guy who surfs whenever there is an opportunity. He had to borrow a wetsuit to enter the competition. This time of year, we really see who is a true Swedish surfer or not. He´s studying Swedish and speaks it really well; he's more of a Swedish surfer than most of the other surfers in this country.
Have you guys been to Hawaii in the winter? Do you realize how nice it is there?
My biggest dream in the whole world since I was 8 was to go to Hawaii. When I was 26, that dream came true. I spent one week in Waikiki and 10 days on the North Shore in 2006. Big swells hit when I was there, and I only brought my 6’0". I really enjoyed the aloha, and will be back for sure. I walked over to Pipe everyday just to watch. At Pipe I surfed once, and sat in the channel for 4 hours. I got one wave. It was so cool to see it in real life. Waves I’ve been watching on VHS for almost 20 years.
What inspires this madness?
Pure stoke, passion, and love for surfing. The best feeling on earth!
2012 Surf City Winter Jam Results:
1: Derek Gutierrez
2: Pontus Hallin
3: Johan Otterdahl