Why Denmark’s ‘Cold Hawaii’ is surfing on virus wave

On Denmark's rugged western coast, far from paradise islands in the tropics, "Cold Hawaii" has become the place to be for surfers stranded by travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Why Denmark's 'Cold Hawaii' is surfing on virus wave
Surfers at Klitmøller in September. Photo: Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP

As the name suggests, surfers seeking out the perfect wave near the town of Klitmøller are not put off by chilly waters or nippy air, nor the lack of palm trees.

This raw and rugged coastline, often under grey and bleak skies, has drawn a growing number of board aficionados in recent years.

Covid-19 has “really created a big boom,” says Mor Meluka, a 34-year-old Israeli who settled here with his family 11 years ago.

Surfing enthusiasts from Denmark and nearby countries “used to travel the world”, but now, “since they can't go anywhere we are definitely experiencing more guests than usual,” he tells AFP.

Together with his wife Vahine Itchner, Meluka runs the “Cold Hawaii Surf Camp”, a surf school that employs 15 instructors in the summer months and continues to give daily lessons even in the off-season.

“You can't really know what kind of waves you're going to get. It's always different waves. If you go to a perfect surf place like Bali or Tahiti, you know exactly how the wave is going to break. Here, it changes all the time,” says Itchner, who moved to Denmark at the age of 10 from Tahiti.

A new addition to the world's surfing hot spots, it has yet to be invaded by the masses.

Klitmøller, a town of just 1,000 inhabitants, is an unexpected destination for surfers, due to its geographic location and the absence of any surfing tradition.

One of many fishing villages that dot the Jutland coast, the spot has long been popular with windsurfers. Surfers started coming in the 1990s, with locals initially eyeing the newcomers with suspicion.

Photo: Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP

Nowadays surfing is an integral part of the local culture — and is even part of children's schoolday, with surfing lessons on their schedule.

Sjoerd Kok was one of the early pioneers.

A 42-year-old Dutch computer programmer, he moved here 17 years ago “for
the surfing”. His enthusiasm hasn't waned a bit, as interest in the town continues to soar.

“A couple of years ago I told myself this is the peak… But no, it still expands.”

Itchner and Meluka say they expect surfing to take off across Denmark, a windy country already known for its kitesurfing.

“It's going to become a famous surf spot!” boasts Itchner.

In the land of 'hygge' — the Danish concept of cosiness and comfort that promotes a sense of well-being in daily life — Klitmøller epitomises the art form better than any other place.

“The right word is the word 'cosy': to go surfing and then go home and light a fire and drink a hot chocolate.”

READ ALSO: Danish paddle surfer sweeps across sea to Norway

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Danish paddle surfer sweeps across sea to Norway

Danish stand up paddle surfer Casper Steinfath completed an unusual crossing of the Skagerrak sea between Denmark and Norway on Sunday.

Danish paddle surfer sweeps across sea to Norway
Danish stand up paddle surfer Casper Steinfath arrives in Kristiansand. Photo: Jens Nørgaard Larsen/Ritzau Scanpix

Steinfath, 24, arrived in the Norwegian port city of Kristiansand after paddling 137 kilometres from Denmark while standing on his surfboard.

The stand up paddleboarder had left Hirtshals in Denmark just under 19 hours earlier.

“I really wanted to give up on the way. It was so tough and my body is completely empty right now. But I did it and it feels fantastic,” Steinfath said.

Stand up paddle surfing is an offshoot of surfing in which riders stand on their boards and use a paddle to propel themselves through the water, instead of sitting until a wave comes.

Steinfath completed the journey between the two Scandinavian countries just before 8pm on Sunday.

“The last four hours were an extreme struggle. I was paddling in a side wind and with a lot of current, but my brother was shouting from a support boat that I was going to do it, which helped me not to give up,” the Dane said.

The 24-year-old, who is a four-time world champion in the discipline, said preparations for the long trip had been difficult.

“Weather conditions are impossible to know in advance. Skagerrak is in charge and I just have to paddle,” he said.

A similar attempt to make the crossing in 2017 was aborted by Steinfath 12 kilometres short of the finishing line due to adverse weather.

“I prepared differently this time. For the last month I’ve been getting up at 3am to prepare my body for paddling in the dark and cold,” he said.

A dinghy with two lifeguards on board and a 12-person support boat were behind the Danish surfer as he made the crossing.

But no assistance, other than handing over food rations and moral support, was needed as the crossing was successfully completed.

At around 6pm on Sunday, press officer Ole Svarrer had warned that Steinfath was experiencing difficulties.

But the Danish surfer came through to complete the feat and arrive in Norway.

READ ALSO: Braving Norway's cold: Surfing above the Arctic Circle