Surf City, Sweden

The 2012 Winter Jam goes down in Varberg as the coldest surf comp ever

| posted on January 07, 2013

Pure stoke, passion, and a love for surfing in Sweden. Photo: Linn Edfeldt

In Sweden, where it seems to always be winter, there was held a surf contest in December at a secret spot in Varberg, which has been unofficially dubbed Surf City. Contest director Johan Otterdahl tells us more:

What is the Surf City Winter Jam?
It’s a new competition for surfers who live in Sweden and refuse to realize that winter is here. A chance to meet new surfers and share the stoke. It’s also a great opportunity to surf a new spot. I surfed this spot more or less by myself for many years, and I was looking forward to have someone to share the waves with. It’s nestled in one of the most amazing surroundings I’ve ever surfed in, right beside a medieval Swedish castle.

How did a town in Sweden get the “Surf City” title, over Huntington and Santa Cruz?
We never took the title…just borrowed it. Varberg is a surf town (the only one of its kind in Sweden) on the Swedish west coast. It got famous in the ‘80s for windsurfing, in the mid-2000s for kitesurfing and, and in the last 10 years for surfing. I’ve been surfing here since the mid-90s. In the beginning we only knew about three spots in our own town, and there were only 6-10 locals surfing. Now we’ve found around 10 spots, and with them some crowds. The biggest selling surf magazine in Scandinavia is Nordic Surfers Mag and Mat, the founder, lives and surfs in Varberg. We have mostly beachbreaks, but a few pointbreaks as well.

What kind of storm does it take to light up the Swedish coast?
We don’t get the hurricanes like you do in the U.S., maybe some smaller ones every six years or so. But we get a lot of wind. We don’t have too much ocean, so we need a lot of wind to get waves. We need between 23- to 35-knots of onshore winds to get waves in my town and across most parts of the Swedish coastline. I’ve only surfed one Christmas Eve in Sweden. It was me and a guy from Oz.

-4 degrees Celsius and offshore in Sweden. Photo: Linn Edfeldt

What’d it look like on contest day?
When I checked the weather report in the morning, it was -14 degrees C outside, snowing, and the storm was on its way. When I finally came to the spot a few hours before the comp, the wind had turned and dropped. The temperature was now a lot warmer, up to -4 degrees C. I thought there weren´t going to be any waves, because the wind was too sideshore. But I arrived to a clean set rolling in with and empty lineup, with snow falling gently from the sky. During the competition the waves were smaller, but glassier by the minute. We had everything from knee- to head-high waves. It’s very rare to get glassy waves in Sweden. Most of the time we surf big mushy storms. During the whole competition the snow was falling like crazy. But it was at least warmer in the sea than on land. The crowd was around 40-50 friends, photographers, dudes, and random folks taking a walk with the dog. Probably the coldest surf comp in the history of the sport.

What kind of neoprene do y’all need to survive?
Most of the time it’s a 6/5/4mm wetsuit, 5-7mm gloves, 5-7mm shoes and a warm hood. When it’s extra cold we use Vaseline in our faces to keep a bit warmer. Nowadays, the wetsuits are amazing and the surf shops got everything covered. When I started surfing here I used to double-up on wetsuits.

And the surfer who won, a Costa Rican with the last name Gutierrez. What is he doing in Sweden?
Derek Gutierrez is a ripping Costa Rican living just a few miles from Varberg. He´s like all the other Australian, Kiwi, Californians, and Latin Americans surfers, stuck here because of one thing: the Swedish girls! They´re hot, friendly, fit, and somehow love surfers. Derek is a real cool guy who surfs whenever there is an opportunity. He had to borrow a wetsuit to enter the competition. This time of year, we really see who is a true Swedish surfer or not. He´s studying Swedish and speaks it really well; he’s more of a Swedish surfer than most of the other surfers in this country.

A lineup full of true Swedish surfers. Photo: Linn Edfeldt

Have you guys been to Hawaii in the winter? Do you realize how nice it is there?
My biggest dream in the whole world since I was 8 was to go to Hawaii. When I was 26, that dream came true. I spent one week in Waikiki and 10 days on the North Shore in 2006. Big swells hit when I was there, and I only brought my 6’0”. I really enjoyed the aloha, and will be back for sure. I walked over to Pipe everyday just to watch. At Pipe I surfed once, and sat in the channel for 4 hours. I got one wave. It was so cool to see it in real life. Waves I’ve been watching on VHS for almost 20 years.

What inspires this madness?
Pure stoke, passion, and love for surfing. The best feeling on earth!

2012 Surf City Winter Jam Results:
1: Derek Gutierrez
2: Pontus Hallin
3: Johan Otterdahl

Tucked beside a medieval Swedish castle, Sweden's Surf City Winter Jam 2012. Photo: Linn Edfeldt

  • Jimmy the Saint

    Good on you guys, -14C is hardcore!

  • dgcova

    its always pretty nice to see someone who demonstrates passion of our sport.
    what you guys are doing is so amazing….it pushes up the sport and the gears develop.

  • Td

    Not the coldest ever….red bull was doing these 10 years ago with solid surfer in solid surf:

  • tc

    I could barely stand to be there, on the land, in September/October some years ago, had to flee. Cant imagine being in the water in December.

    Proud and/or insane.

  • Rob

    Awesome read, can´t even imagine how crazy that is…

  • Dave

    Wind-swell surfers also seem to face the coldest weather. My son and I surf the Great Lakes, our record for coldest session (air temp) is -11F. You know you have to end the sesh when you are too iced up to paddle anymore. But year, the girls are way better in Sweden.

  • BenHI

    Great article. Really enjoyed Sweden, Norway and Finland. Not enough waves but good people, good times. Girls were nice but too pale and big and hell yeah can they drink….and the food was ok. Portugal and Italy was the best. Supertubos!

  • Gus

    There is windswell in Dubai/UAE coasts of the Arabian Gulf. Not so cold, but the local girls cover up more than Swedish ones.

  • Mat

    Great! love to see that we are not the only ones !
    here on the north shore of the gulf of the st-lawrence (Sept-îles, QC, Can) the coldest air temperature I went in the water was -18C, but I am not as good as those guys !
    thumbs up guys ! our season just ended up today because the gulf is frozen since 1 or 2 days 🙁

  • butchoi seso

    How cool to surf in a very cold place, for sure you did not enjoy the waves why because it’s cold peace. why not try to surf here in tropical island Philippines. please check

  • matty

    if u wanna get the goods better off to eastcoast sweden, nice long points when its on. water is 1+ now and 5- in the air.. better hurry out before the ocean freeze for ths winter

  • MD

    Inspires me. A relatively cold winter here in southern California compared to our other winters and I now will not complain. I will be stoked to be out there as I know I should be and this little article got me back in the positive frame of mind.

  • Steve Wimer

    The surf looks awful small, and the weather looks awful cold. It’s better be two girls for every guy there because it’s so cold.

  • Sean hardick

    Oh my god this is awesome, If I’ve got the right guy then I was in Hawaii and sat daily at pipe with Johan and three other friends and got to witness one of the same incredible swells of January 2006. We sat and watched Slater, kalani rob, Tamayo Perry, Jamie O and a 12-13 year old Jon Jon splashing on the shore line! Great work on promoting the surf scene in Sweden, I’m pretty sure you talked about doing just this back then! I’ll be visiting Sweden in a year or so for a friends wedding so will have to give this place a go myself!


    YAY! Thats my country and hometown, finally getting som recognition

  • Lauren

    My aunt lives not far from there and called me to tell me that she saw some surfers out in the water getting waves and having a good time. I didn’t know it was probably this! She always wants me to try to surf there also so I can visit and put my Swedish lessons to use. Now I really want to go…