Maria Petersson, 28, Ahus, Sweden
Self Magazine, Jan/Feb 2017
The first time I ever paddled out on a surfboard, I caught a wave and was hooked. I was 18, traveling through France with a friend. I decided I wanted to surf in other places after I finished school the next year, and I went to Australia and the Canary Islands. Eventually it was time to head home to Sweden, but I didn't want to give up surfing, so I bought a winter wet suit. The water temperature there can drop to 1 degree Celsius-- any colder and it's ice! But once I had the gear, there was really nothing holding me back.
In many ways Arctic surfing feels like a completely different sport than regular surfing. I wear a 6-mm wetsuit with gloves, boots, and a hood. It's weird to be in the water but not really feel it-- I can't steer with my toes because my boots are so thick. If I wipe out badly, ice cold water can sneak into my suit. Usually the hardest part is getting changed: I've surfed in the Lofoten Islands in the Arctic in minus-12-degree weather, and when I take off my wet suit, my fingers freeze. I've CRIED taking off my wet suit-- but the effort is worth it.
In warm water, the waves get crowded and the good spots are kept secret. But in the Arctic, there's this small community where everyone shares their experiences. I've gotten so close with other surfers; it's like a little family. Often it's just a few of us out there on the perfect waves-- a surfer's dream.
I surf most days, sometimes twice a day, for up to three and a half hours. It takes a lot of effort, because the best spots are in remote locations. But once I'm out there, I see snow-covered mountains and eagles, and even whales. There's the midnight sun in the summer, and in the winter you can look up and see these amazing northern lights blanketing the sky. So many times I caught a few waves, and then just lain on my board, looking around, taking in nature. It's powerful. It makes me calm; it's like a religion to me. I think, I'm lucky to be here. Everything is good.