Snow clouds hang heavy as the wind-lashed bay thunders; a leaden, spray-whipped swell relentlessly thrashing the shore. Dug into the snow, a ramshackle hut with washing machine windows pipes a thin stream of smoke into the air, immediately caught, carried and lost by the howling polar gale.
Inside, two brave souls clamber into frost-stricken wetsuits, icy shards falling from their gloves and boots as they rubber up. Squealing on their makeshift oil drum woodburner, the kettle promises momentary relief, hot water to thaw their hoods from yesterday’s exploits, ready for today’s mission.
They have to be hasty; aside from the biting cold which “freezes the blood to ice”, there’s only a few hours of daylight this far north of the sun, and there’s still wood to chop and trash clearing to be done. They take a deep breath and push open the door, the arctic winter hitting them full force as they dig out their boards from under their handmade home and head towards the water.
This is a million miles from the paradise of glossy travel magazines and office daydreams. Here, in the furthest reaches of Norway, on a hidden polar beach there are no palm trees, white sands or glassy peelers . But for filmmaker Inge Wegge and his friend Jørn, for nine months, this was their paradise – plain and simple; they “saw nothing and everything” that winter, on their own.
If you watch one surf film this year… Scrap that, if you watch one documentary film this year, North of the Sun should be it.
Taking a Day 10 in the big smoke at the annual London Surf Film Festival, I had expected to come away inspired. But I never expected this. Inge and Jørn’s decision to live for nine months through an arctic winter, surfing a remote beach and surviving only on what they could carry in their rucksacks could have come across as pretentious. Their mission to build a hut from the driftwood they found and spend the days they weren’t dancing across frozen Atlantic swells beachcombing the flotsam that washed up on the shoreline (they cleared three tonnes of sea trash by the time they were done) could have come across as worthy. Their acknowledgement that “if something terrible happened no-one would know” could have tarnished their expedition as foolhardy; but it didn’t.
North of the Sun was, without doubt, the most engaging, enlightening, moving and impactful film I have seen in a long time – simply because the people who did it were great guys. They weren’t preaching, or promoting or profiting – they just found a beach and wanted to see if they could survive the winter there, surfing the waves and doing their bit. That was it. Brilliant.
And I wasn’t the only one that thought so. When the credits rolled in Riverside Studios that Saturday night, applause, hooting and whistling shook the auditorium for what felt like hours. Then when Inge made his way down to the front – flown in from Norway for a special Q&A – everyone got to their feet, a standing ovation for a young man who bucked the trend, took surfing out of its niche and showed us what was possible.
It might not have fulfilled the paradise stereotype, but when Inge told us he was heading back to his hut in two weeks’ time, to do it all again, well right then it became clear he had found his own personal happy place, that elusive Elysium where the life you live and the world you live it in pulls everything into focus. Those nine months north of the sun changed him and I think everyone at the Film Festival felt a little changed by it too.
Here’s to paradise, wherever you find it.
North of the Sun subsequently scooped Best Documentary and the prestigious Viewers’ Choice awards at the LondonSurf / Film Festival.
Thanks to London Surf / Film Festival for bringing North of the Sun into our lives. And roll on next year. Not sure how you’ll top that – www.londonsurffilmfestival.com