Searching for Open Water along Norway’s Winter Coast

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Fanatic Team Riders Lena Albrecht and Kai Nicholas Steimer brave winter Norway's cold temps on the hunt for adventure
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Most people who seek adventure in the depths of winter are looking to ride the snow covered mountains, or trek the iconic arctic landscape.  Winter thrill-seekers that I know (self not included) aren’t looking for a frigid water adventure that includes paddleboarding.  In the depths of winter, we (foolhardy or not) paddlers are often compelled to seek out open , as in not frozen, water.  Taking that sup search up coastal Norway is another whole level of adventure.  Check out what Fanatic team players, Lena Albrecht and Kai-Nicolas Steimer, decided to explore, Norway’s Sognefjord, in the depths of February’s deepest chill.   The following article was written and photographed by Fanatic Sup.

In January, in the middle of winter in Europe, two Fanatic team riders , Kai-Nicolas Steimer and Lena Albrecht, decide to discover Norway – regardless of extreme conditions including temps far below zero degrees.

Live the Search:  iSUP adventure Norway!

Kai and Lena were not equipped with snowboard or skis.  No, they started their winter journey to Europe’s biggest glacier with their inflatable standup paddleboards (iSUPs), drysuits, an off-road-trailer and a twenty square meter tent.  They were accompanied only by Lars Jacobsen, a photographer from Hamburg and Maximilian Stolarow, a filmmaker from Berlin.

The two athletes had the idea to discover places far away from their hometown Hamburg and distant from well known, warm destinations that one would normally consider for winter stand up paddling explorations.  These two were ready for real adventure.  Their goal:  to explore undiscovered landscapes using inflatable sups, in regions so remote they would not meet another soul on the way.  This was their idea of a winter vacation.

Fanatic Sup Norway Kai Nicholas Steimer Lena Albrecht Lars Jacobsen-sup salute
Kai Nicholas Steimer and Lena Albrecht, Fanatic’s intrepid iSUP team howling for adventure! Photo: Lars Jacobsen

Taking Adventure on the Road

After three days preparation with a lot of organization and research, Kai and Lena began their trip with one car plus trailer, loaded with a tent and heaps of watersports equipment, including their Fanatic inflatable sups. Kai and Lena then took the ferryboat from Hirthals, in the north of Denmark, to Langsund, Norway.

They left the well-known roads to drive through Norway’s beautiful, lonely valleys and frozen landscapes seeing the lakes and rivers covered in ice and snow for the first time. Finding a place to stay for the night, with just a tent in that rough landscape, proved challenging.

Fanatic Sup Norway Kai Nicholas Steimer Lena Albrecht Lars Jacobsen-sup search van
Have inflatables, will travel! The iSUP adventure van in flight. Photo: Lars Jacobsen

Norway’s Frozen Landscape

“They knew it would be cold, however none of them expected minus 21° during the first night.

The iciness didn’t only affect their bodies, but also froze all of their food and their gas for the stove. That’s when they started to doubt if this was a good idea.  However, even though they worried they had underestimated the temperatures and rough nature, they remained fixed on the goal: to discover the biggest fjord Europe´s with their iSUPs.

After a long journey through deserted, snow-covered landscapes driving along roads that were hard to pass, they arrived at Sognefjord. The lonely quietude covering whole landscape was immense.  It felt disquieting for the city slickers from Hamburg and Berlin.

Fanatic Sup Norway Kai Nicholas Steimer photo Lars Jacobsen Lena Albrecht coastline
Norway’s rugged coastline and pristine snow make paddling the Sogne Fjord a visual masterpiece for intrepid folks. Photo: Lars Jacobsen

Norway’s Deepest Fjord:  Sognefjord

When they awoke and looked out of their tent the next morning,  the whole world was asleep under a blanket of snow. Motivated to discover that impressive landscape, Kai and Lena immediately inflated their iSUPs to paddle to the deepest and longest fjord in Europe, the Sognefjord.

It was by far their most thrilling paddle adventure.  They were alternately challenged by trying to avoid falling into the ice-cold water and being overwhelmed by the silence around them.  The two team members witnessed the stunning scenery of Norway’s incredible landscapes including the rough cliffs along the waterline without meeting a single soul. A newfound chilling, but really outstanding experience for the two Fanatic riders.  After a successful tour they completed the day at a campfire looking into a magnificent arctic landscape.

Fanatic Sup Norway Kai Nicholas Steimer Lena Albrecht Lars Jacobsen-sleds
The call of the wild: pure adventure! Using Fanatic’s iSUPs as s sled with fins removed. Photo: Lars Jacobsen

Glacial Lakes and Surreal Beauty

It is quite different to paddle in the outback of Norway’s winter than in the middle of Hamburg as the two paddlers found out during their next session. Since it isn’t possible to pass the road to the glacier lake by car, they had to pull their iSUPs (fins taken out) along the snow-covered ground through the icy woods to get from their camp to the glacier-lake.

The unreal beauty and the deep, shining blue of the glazier was impressive

Upon arriving at the lake they were were stunned. The unreal beauty and the deep, shining blue of the glazier was impressive. They stopped in front of the solid frozen lake to enjoy this arctic scene. Unfortunately there was no water, only ice, and so they had to move on, searching for the next place to paddle.

Eventually they returned to their camp unsuccessful in finding open water, but having traversed 14km of walking through deep snow.

Fanatic Sup Norway Kai Nicholas Steimer photo Lars Jacobsen-water shot
Norway’s chilling reality puts Kai Nichoas in seventh heaven. Photo: Lars Jacobsen

The Journey Home

The weather changed, the temperatures dropped and it started snowing.

Famished and near exhaustion, they finally arrived back at their car. Even though Norway’s rough conditions had pushed them close to their limits, their call for adventure was still unrestrained.

On the journey home, the team cruised along the coast, where they found some nice swell arriving from Scotland. Even temperatures like minus 11°C could not keep Kai away from sup surfing the perfect shoulder-high waves with his Stubby.  Another new experience for him and the team to watch.

In the end, the challenging conditions and cold did not stop Kai or Lena, but only opened their eyes still further to the versatility and passion of traveling with iSUP equipment. These two continue to look forward to many more standup paddle adventures in landscapes no paddler has seen before!

Fanatic Sup Norway Kai Nicholas Steimer Lars Jacobsen-snow paddle
Kai Nicholas reflects on the resiliency of Fanatic’s equipment in sub-zero temps/ Photo: Lars Jacobsen

Questions for Kai:

How did you get the idea of going iSUPing in icy temperatures?
Kai:  Oh, anyone can do it in summer/warm temperatures. We just wanted to try something different. It certainly has a lot to do with our desire for adventure. Norway is not a standard destination but an overwhelmingly beautiful place. We paddled in solitude and a dead silence.  It was something we neither of us had ever experienced before. We were on the Sognefjord, the longest and deepest fjord in Europe and we we did not even meet one fishing boat. Left and right there were massive cliffs – simply amazing.

What equipment did you take?
Kai:  Very warm clothing, thick wetsuits, our drysuits and, of course, our Fanatic inflatable standup paddle boards. They are practical in many ways: light, handy, but also more robust than the hardboards.  With iSUPs, you can just slide over rocks to the water grind. I had the Fanatic Ray Air Premium, a great touring board, about 11 feet long and quite wide. When you have the necessary stability, one can look at the beautiful landscapes and not have to be too focused on paddling or staying upright.

And you could paddle everywhere there?
Kai:  Many lakes were frozen or only partially open. At the glacier, we had to pull our boards behind us over the surface of ice. This was also a tremendous experience. The blue color of the glacier was outstanding and you could already see it from far away. When we were in Stavanger, at the seaside, I surfed my Stubby Wave sup surfboard at minus 11 ° C in shoulder high waves. That’s what I love so much about standup paddling – diversity.

Would you recommend Norway?
Kai:  Absolutely. I would go back there any time – but next time maybe with better preparation. This trip we decided on quite spontaneously. We googled the destination, organized the trailer, packed our gear and, after three days, we started. The weather forecast said that it would be a little warmer – but it was not. Those who are more sensitive to the cold should not sleep in a tent, because keeping the temperature warm proved quite difficult. But there is also nothing better than waking up on a fjord in perfect solitude, that´s for sure.

Fanatic Sup Norway Kai Nicholas Steimer Lena Albrecht Lars Jacobsen-winter sup
When adventure calls … Fanatic team riders Kai and Lena answer! Photo: Lars Jacobsen