Utan berättelser hade surfing känts tomt. Vi älskar att höra, se och läsa om händelserna, vågorna, platserna, människorna, myterna och drömmarna. Vi har alla möjligheten att bidra till andras glädje och erfarenhet med vår egen lilla historia. Det är det fina. Surfhistorier kan vara sanna eller ihopljugna. Eller ofta en mix. Det centrala är viljan att dela med sig och fylla surflivet med ett gott innehåll.Surfjournalistik, när den är som bäst, är just fascinerande och berikande historieberättande. Det förstår du när du läser artiklar av Michael Kew. Han skildrar surfingens sista utposter med sin penna och kamera och får oss att uppleva det han ser och hör. Många gånger kommer hans mail (eller flaskpost!) till surftidningarnas redaktioner från små atoller i Stilla Havet. Nästan lika ofta från destinationer norr om latitud 55.
Vi är nyfikna på Michaels upplevelser i Skandinavien och livet som surfjournalist. Vi ställde några frågor vid lägerelden. Inte för att ”grilla” honom, utan snarare för att få höra hans berättelse.
How do you want to introduce yourself?
I’m a humble freelance writer who also does a little bit of photography. I’m 34 and have been involved in making magazines since I was 12. I’ve been surfing for 26 years. I was born and raised in Encinitas, California, and I now live in Santa Barbara. I have Swedish heritage in me, which is one reason I am honored to be a part of NSM.
Our readers know you as the author of the beautiful article about the Faroe Islands in NSM issue # 6 2009. You also wrote an article back in 2003; “Distilling the vodka coast- Scandinavian reflections”. How did your relation with surfing in the Nordic countries begin?
When I was around 15 years old, I was really involved in the international death/black metal scene (I made my own metal ’zines), and many of the best bands were Scandinavian. Norway was producing a lot of black metal, and Sweden and Finland had some unreal death metal bands (Grave was my favorite). By being into that music genre, I was introduced to Scandinavia via the music, and with my ’zine I made many pen-pals in Scandinavia, one who was a Finnish girl who I ended up actually meeting in person in 2001. We’d been pen-pals (not email, but real paper letters!) since 1991. Anyway, to a teenager in sunny Southern California, Scandinavia seemed like a magical, mystic landscape, and I was intrigued to visit. The surfing part of it just came naturally—I knew there had to be waves all over the place, especially in Norway, and the waves I found at Lofoten in 2000 were world-class.
What parts of Scandinavia have you visited so far?
Norway, Sweden, Finland, Greenland, Denmark, Faroe Islands and Iceland.
When visiting Sweden in 2001 you met characters like Binge Eliasson and Peter Klang. What happened during your stay?
Binge was gracious and generous to welcome me into his home for two weeks; I got to know his family pretty well during that time. He took me surfing and basically introduced me to the Stockholm lifestyle. Peter and I had good times as well, some partying, some surfing, cruising around. It was a great trip and I have wanted to revisit Sweden ever since.
Did those guys influence you to choose the name “the Vodka Coast”…?
Actually, I’m not sure how I came up with that, but I think I thought of it while in Finland, drinking Finnish vodka.
You scored an, by Swedish standard, epic day at the spot Mats Väg on the east coast. Any story from that session you can share with us?
I remember Binge told me to pour hot coffee into my wetsuit because the air and water were so cold. It was late November and there had been a really cold storm, which of course made those waves. It was my first and only time surfing in freshwater, which was weird because there was no salt taste. The lineup was much more crowded than I had expected, too—I had no idea Sweden had so many surfers!
Let´s talk about storytelling. To sit in front of a campfire and share stories are for many of us an important part of being a surfer. What perspective do you have on storytelling and surfing?
Stories are very important conduits of stoke. To tell somebody about an epic session you had or a new spot you found, to share information and revel in the lifestyle we are so lucky to have. Everything in life has a story attached to it—some good, some bad, some funny, some sad—but we are better people for gaining knowledge and insight from other peoples’ experiences. We can’t all experience the exact same things as the guy next to us, but sharing is giving. It’s a generous part of our collective surfer minds. Think how dull life would be if nobody told any stories!
Which ingredients are important when you write an article about a surftrip? Is it the action in the surf, the quality of the waves or maybe something else?
Usually it is the destination itself—the culture, the history, scenery, and location. I am really interested in how other parts of the world exist and operate. The surf is always a bonus, but it’s not the primary focus of my writings. I’ve been to some pretty fickle places as far as waves go, so to surf in those spots makes all the time and expense worth every bit of it.
You are also a gifted photographer. Is it possible to tell a good story only with pictures?
Definitely! People are visual creatures, so to be able to physically see what the story is all about is sometimes much more impactful than just reading words on a page or computer screen. A photo story is also useful for somebody who doesn’t speak your language—they can just look at the photos and know what the story is all about! Look at what National Geographic does with their photo features—minimal text, but the world’s best photography. When you think of that magazine, you don’t think of the writing, do you? It’s all about the photos. And, of course, the same goes for surfing magazines. Many people I know never read anything in a surf mag. They only look at pictures.
How do you want to describe Scandinavia?
Scandinavia is one of my two favorite parts of Europe (the other is the U.K.), so it’s easy for me to describe how wonderfully rich it is in all areas. There is such a deep aspect of history in your countries, a sense of cultural pride and immense respect for Mother Nature and for your fellow human. Your countries are beautiful, mysterious, compelling, well-functioning, peaceful, clean, innovative, educated, and the world is better because of it!
Have you noticed any unique cultural aspects in Scandinavian surfing?
You have to be pretty dedicated to be a surfer there, especially in winter. Also, surfers there aren’t spoiled with waves like us Californians are, so they are more grateful for whatever surf they can get. There also seems to be a certain hardiness and confidence that comes with being Scandinavian. I have a lot of respect for Scandinavians and the coastlines they get to surf. Being that it is so fickle makes it that much more special.
How do you choose your destinations?
I tend to go the opposite direction of the crowd. I also choose places not just for their surf quality. If I only went to places that had epic surf, I’d only be going to the same places as everybody else! For a writer who tries to create art about someplace different, there’s no point in that.
What is the most appealing aspect in searching for surf and a story in places above latitude 55?
Certainly the chance of scoring waves in a place that isn’t known for surfing—that’s what makes is special. If it’s easy and predictable to find good waves, that can be kind of boring. Also the aspect of cold makes things more exciting. No risk, no reward!
Which surf spots in Europe do you think are the most popular with professional photographers nowadays?
I noticed Ireland is getting a lot of attention with all the tow-surfing going on. I think France is the most popular because a lot of the surf-companies are based in France.
If you find a wave like Jeffreys Bay hidden somewhere, are you going to make it public or buy a cottage there and just surf empty perfection until everybody else shows up?
I certainly wouldn’t publicize it and tell everybody where the spot is. That would take the fun and adventure out of it for somebody else to find it on their own. I’m sure there is another J-Bay somewhere, but it has no roads to it and is very, very hard to access, or outright impossible. And it probably breaks infrequently.
If you are an unknown Swedish surfer with a big self esteem but crappy technique, is a brutal wipeout in front of the photographers on the North Shore your best chance of having your picture in a big surf mag?
The wipe out would have to be really serious to get your photos published in the big magazines. It doesn’t matter where you are from. It really depends on how good you surf. I know it’s hard for a Swede to get a really good quality wave in Hawaii because the locals will not let a good wave go by not ridden.
In your experience, how many undiscovered good spots could there be in a place like Norway?
Well, when you consider its incredibly vast maze of islands and fjords and the amount of inaccessible (by roads) coastline, I would say Norway has hundreds of unknown surf spots. It would be cool to do a proper Norwegian boat trip to some real remote areas. The spots people surf in Norway now are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Norway has some world-class (J-Bay?) waves waiting to be discovered.
Are you coming back to Scandinavia soon?
There’s a good chance I will be in Sweden late this year, and it would be great to get a few waves and say hello to you all.
Thanks for all the joy you bring into our lives with your stories. Where can we find more of your articles and photos?
I don’t have a website but I’m published regularly in worldwide surfing magazines and websites like Surfer, Transworld, ASL, Tracks, Surfer’s Path, Surfer’s Journal, Surfline, SurfNews, etc. I do have a blog (peathead.blogspot.com) but I’m not very active on it. Thanks to NSM for having me!
När vi släcker lägerelden för kvällen och kryper in i tälten vet vi att vågorna ska bli mindre och oregelbundna nästa dag. Men vi vet även att fler berättelser väntar oss oavsett vågkvalitet, och det är dessa vi kommer att minnas och prata om. Kanske hamnar vi själva också i någons historia under den här resan. Till exempel: ” Jag kommer ihåg när vi tältade i Lofoten med den där skribenten från NSM, och han satt i line-up i 2 timmar och klagade över läckande sömmar på våtdräkten när han hade glömt att dra upp dragkedjan. Ingen sa något förstås!”? Ett litet bidrag som säkert förgyller någons dag.
Publicerad i Nordic Surfers Mag #8