Dancing around a maypole, drinking more beers than a thirsty cow in a drought, eating the likes of pickled herring, boiled potatoes and Surströmming (for the brave), or simply packing up the car and travelling to the countryside with friends and family for the long weekend are what most Swedish people can relate to as the Swedish Midsommer!
A tradition that has been around since as early as the 1500’s to welcome the coming of summer time, the season for fertility and the longest day of the year. I have been living in Sweden for a year or so now in the Jämtland region in a place called Åre in the north of the country, moving here with my brother Samand hopefully also youngest brother Henry in the future. And while last year’s midsummer was spent with good friends consuming many beers, fishing through the never dying light of the midnight sun and waking up to hearing the voice of the neighbor of the cabin we were staying in politely asking my friend to move his tent off his back porch, this year I was looking for a different approach to the holiday.
With the snow starting to disappear nearing the end of spring, the snowboard was shoved to the back corner of the garage and the surfboard gathering dust waiting for its next trip back to Lofoten, I was getting a little restless and eager to get into the water again. I had heard of this river wave about 30 minutes from Åre, a ‘secret spot’ generated by massive amounts of water moving downstream from the melting of the snow on the mountains in the spring, mixed up with heavy rainfall. This phenomenon results in water pushing fast against a number of shallow rocks and creating a standing wave that you can surf.
10:30pm on the eve of midsummer and I had been out in Åre’s bike park with Darren and Simon from Huldra Pictures, helping them with some test filming for the upcoming Bike Festival. As we packed up the camera gear and pondered our next movements, it was clear sleep wasn't an option as it still felt like 6pm on a regular Australian summer night. Tales of surfing and the next trip to Norway started, when our rider Victor who we had been filming for the night had mentioned of a standing wave his friend William had surfed in a river 30 minutes away. After a phone call for directions and a repack of the car, we were off down the main highway before crossing a train line and heading down a gravel track, arriving at our destination just on midnight.
There’s something special about arriving for the first time to a surf spot (even if it is an unconventional one like a flowing rapid at midnight in the Nordics!); your own music blasting out of the speakers on the journey there, the anticipation of what lies over the hill, or the sand dunes and that sound of the swell thumping against the unforgiving beach or reef as you turn off the ignition to your car, which in this case was the sound of water cascading down a number of sets of rapids on a sweeping bend of the river lined with pine trees .
The excitement as we made our way through the pine forest to the river was high to say least. The roar of the rapids louder and louder as we approached and then there it was, a wave in motion, continuously breaking. With the air temperature around 7 degrees we made a fire to keep warm and sussed out the wave and how far down the river I was likely to end up before being able to grab my board again and paddle for the bank, at least 100 meters.
So, I squirmed my way into the thick hooded wetsuit, gloves and booties and then within 20 minutes was standing on the edge of the rock formation eroding to the black blur of the fast moving water beneath me. As I leapt in and got pushed instantly towards the wave at a rate of knots its power and forced ripped the board from underneath me and spat me out the back as if to say ‘your kidding aren't ya mate!’ (I pictured the river saying it in an Aussie accent for some reason…). It threw me under another set before I got to my board and then another set which was so shallow one of my fins smashed against the rock, destroying the fin box and sending the fin to the bottom of the river. A panicked paddle to the bank where the water goes dead and I clambered my way up the rocks and back 100 meters upstream to start again. Twin fin this time!
I eventually managed to dial into the wave and get some really fun rides throughout the early hours, surfing till about 3am, stopping every so often to have a drink of water or coffee and warm my hands by the fire. It was my first time surfing a wave like this and with the mist moving up the river and the midnight sun starting to rise again after dipping just below the horizon, I stood stationary on my board with the water thundering beneath my feet and felt happy about my midsummer endeavours and just as happy when I got to enjoy a nice cold beer by the fire at the end of the surf at 3:30am.
I’m an Aussie, and it was Swedish midsummer after all mate…