Photographer Chris Burkard and prAna ambassador Chadd Konig, along with professional surfers Patrick Millin and Brett Barley, brave sub-zero temperatures in the Arctic Circle to capture moments of raw beauty in conditions that rank among the harshest in the natural world. The bitterly cold seas and wind exact a large price on their minds and bodies, but the reward – adventure, amazement, and self-knowledge – draws them closer together and pushes them to tackle the next frontier in surfing.
Walked to the end of land
as it bends
ice feeds the color
blue sky on the grass
peaks reach and I sit
Third day here in Lofoten, Norway. Coming in from the thick and frigid sea—having fallen and felt a fool—I am feeling more comfortable with the weaknesses that this rugged coastline has sparked within me. Once again, nature points us in the most true and positively vulnerable direction.
We are here to document surfing in the Arctic, however the act of surfing is a portal and only part of the journey. Five grown men staying in a cabin along the coldest, wildest, most thought and emotion-provoking coastline I have visited.
There is a heaviness to this land. Almost too much to digest. It is so old, seen so much and bared witness to centuries of survival, suffering, thriving. At times it is impossible to be outside. One must go within day after day until the elements allow you out. This is the land and sea that birthed the seamen warriors who take part in ocean expeditions—the home of Vikings.
Being here has become an initiation, or maybe always was. This is a rite of passage if you will. A forgotten and abandoned dimension of life; particularly the period we call “coming of age.” For thousands of years cultures throughout the world have engaged in, and at times enforced, rituals and initiations that provided physical, psychological and spiritual earnings.
Here, during the time of the Vikings, some young men spent two or three years with the ashes. Norwegians in that era lived in communal long houses. One house was home to thirty or forty folks. Their beds lined the walls and down the center was a section of pavement for the fire. This was their place for flames, ashes and the “Ash-Boys,” or according to Norwegian fairytales, “Askaladden.”
These boys would sleep in the ashes, tend the fire, chew cinders, eat ashes, roll about, crouch before the fire and take leave from all other facets of life. These boys were traveling through their passage; immersing themselves in some sort of ancient, deep rooted ritual. Now, in our day and age, if a boy wants to sit with fire and roll in ashes for two years society would deem him insane.
Nighttime in the Fjords, the Northern Lights joined me as I sat with fire. Taking time for myself and the acts that provide the physical, physiological and spiritual sustenance that I need, I departed from the warmth of the cabin; packed a sleeping bag and tent; wandered down to the sea; met the stream and followed her through this canyon to a patch of snow dusted grass. I listened to the water, and barely slept because the fire, cold air and Northern Lights kept me so alive. When the sun came I put my face in the stream and ran through snow as far as my lungs allowed. That afternoon, when I rejoined the group of surfers and photographers I knew I needed that time in the canyon. I am better because of it. I have more to contribute to my fellow adventurers, this project and life.
What are you doing for yourself today? What rites of passage can you encourage or allow within your children. Are they seeking and asking for something more? Does our culture need to adopt more rituals, ceremonies and rites of passage?
Thank you Unstad and those that call it home. Your land and sea have provided so much for me.
Learn more about Chadd Konig, prAna Ambassador