Tag Archives: Lapland

Surfing between snowy mountains under the Northern Lights in Norway

2016-04-02

Surfing brings images of gorgeous coastal waves in Hawaii, California or perhaps in Portugal in mind. Young, tanned surfers smile in the sunshine with surfboards under their arms. Surfing may have its origins in warm seas and sunny places, but some surfers have discovered a special place to ride the waves in the far north, in Norway.

Tatiana Weimer reported in Le Monde that she had discovered a surfing community in the tiny village of Unstad in Norway. Norway may be a somewhat exotic place for surfing, and Unstad even more so. It is located north of the Arctic Circle on Lofoten islands. Essentially, this is Lapland where you are supposed to ski, take a ride on a sledge pulled by huskies, fish, or photograph reindeers instead of riding the waves on a surfboard.

Photo by Unstad Arctic Surf

Photo by Unstad Arctic Surf.

Nonetheless, that is exactly what the first brave surfers have been doing in Unstad since 1963. Only a few were ready to fight the temperatures fifty years ago, but as equipment have developed, more surfers have taken interest in northern waves. In 2003, Unstad Camping was established to provide shelter and accommodation for surfers and travelers (Unstad is a very remote location in a remote region of Lapland, facing directly the Atlantic Ocean. If the waves are great, the wind and rain can be strong as well.)

The remarkable thing is that it is possible to surf at Unstad in winter when it is dark, but the Northern Lights may light up the sky. Another remarkable thing is that the sea is free of ice, even though a few meters/feet above sea level or a few hundred meters/yards away from the shore everything is covered in snow or ice. The explanation is the Gulf Stream which carries warm water from south to the shores of Western Europe, keeping its climate temperate.

A documentary film about surfing in Unstad North of the Sun has been created by Jorn Ranum. Three surfers: Inge Wegge, Jorn Ranum, and Heikki Puussa show how they survive the winter and enjoy surfing north of the Arctic Circle. Here is the trailer of the movie North of the Sun:

If you are interested in visiting Unstad or surfing in Lapland, Unstad Arctic Surf has more information, and they also organize surfing trips and courses.

This is how lovely Lofoten is in summer – view the on-the-road video:

Guide to finding, viewing and photographing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)

2015-11-29

The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) is a spectacular phenomenon that occasionally lights up the night sky in the far north. Green, blue, red, violet and many shades of these colors dance in the sky, forming shapes and pulsating almost like living creatures. Seeing the lights is pure magic that no one will forget. There is no photograph or video that can show how impressive the real thing is when the sky lights up. So, here is a guide to finding, viewing and filming the Northern Lights by yourself.

Northern lights are frequently visible north of the Arctic Circle. It is possible, but rare, to see the lights south of the Arctic Circle as well. In the far north, the lights show up regularly, and spotting them is pretty easy if the following key factors have been covered.

aurora borealis, timo newton-syms, Ruka Kuusamo

Photo by Timo Newton-Syms in Ruka resort, Kuusamo

1. Season. In summer, it is not dark enough in the night to see the Northern Lights. The midnight sun sheds light through the night and prevents human eye spotting Aurora Borealis. Autumn, winter and spring are the seasons for Northern Light viewers.

2. Weather. If it is cloudy where you are, the lights give their show to someone else who is admiring it in a place where there are no clouds.

3. City lights. Even though there are not too many large towns north of the Arctic Circle, you want to move away from the brightest city lights if you want to see the full light show.

In northern parts of Lapland, long term statistics show that the Northern Lights phenomenon occurs in three out of four nights. Yet, if you want to increase your odds in seeing the Northern Lights, you need information on two things: the weather (for clear skies) and solar winds (when a strong burst is going to make contact with earth’s atmosphere).

You can find detailed weather forecasts, for instance, for Nordic countries at national meteorological web pages:

Weather forecast for Sweden: www.smhi.se/vadret
Norway: www.yr.no
Finland: en.ilmatieteenlaitos.fi

Predicting the time when the Northern Lights appear is based on the sun’s activity. The sun continuously emanates electrons and protons to the space. The flow of these electrically charged particles is known as the solar wind. The wind correlates with bursts of sunspots. When a burst causes strong enough solar winds, the particles arrive in earth’s magnetosphere in one or two days. When it happens, the particles collide with gas in earth’s atmosphere and turn on the colorful lights for the majestic show.

Northern Lights prediction service for Lapland: www.aurora-service.eu/aurora-forecast/
Predictions for other regions: spaceweather.com

Viewing the Northern Lights

Viewing the light show is simple: look at the sky. When the Northern Lights are alive, the northern sky is the silver screen for the show. The colorful lights are easily seen by the naked eye, no instruments or aids are required. In order to maximize your viewing area, position yourself so that nothing blocks your view to the northern sky.

The lights are not harmful, they are dancing at the height of 100 km / 62 miles and above from earth. Only an extremely strong solar wind may cause disturbances to sensitive magnetic and electric devices.

You don’t have to search for a particular place where seeing the Northern Lights is supposed to be guaranteed or the views are better than in another place. It doesn’t make a difference if your viewpoint is at the top of a mountain, bottom of a valley, at the yard of a rented cottage or at a car park. Especially in Lapland, ski resorts, hotels, and activity centers like to advertise how their place is the best for viewing the Northern Lights, but in reality, only the previously listed factors matter.

There are hotels, like Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Finnish Lapland that has cottages with glass roofs. Then, you don’t have to go out at all, but you can sit on the couch (in the dark) and wait for the light show to start.

Apps and alerts for Northern Lights

Some Nordic national meteorological institutions have public alert systems that send out email messages when the Northern Lights are expected, and a number of ski resorts, like Levi and Ylläs in Finnish Lapland have their own mobile applications that alert of lights. Alert applications that can forecast the appearance of lights in all areas are available for Android and Apple mobile devices.

For Android phones and tablets:

Aurora Alerts

Northern Lights Alerts

For Apple mobile devices:

Aurora Forecast

Northern Lights Alerts

Alerts via Twitter twitter.com/Aurora_Alerts
Web page that shows the situation in Lapland www.aurora-service.eu/aurora-forecast/

Photographing the Northern Lights

You can try photographing the rapidly changing lights with an ordinary compact camera or camera phone (choose the night mode), but if you want to capture decent images you need better gear, and you have to know how to use the gear. You need:

– A camera that can take good images in high ISO setting. The higher ISO value you can set, the better your chances are for capturing a sharp image.
– A lens with wide aperture. f2.8 or less is recommended.
– A tripod.
– Spare batteries if you intend to take more than a few pictures in cold climate. Freezing temperatures quickly suck out life from batteries.

Tips for shooting the Northern Lights:

– Set the largest aperture your lens allows.
– Choose the highest ISO value that still provides reasonable image quality.
– Set the focus at infinity. Do it manually. If you can’t, focus on the most distant object you can see.
– Set the exposure time to as short as possible. For instance, if the aperture is f2.8 and ISO value is 800, try exposure time between 4 and 15 seconds.

aurora borealis, carsten frenzl, Kilpisjärvi

Photo by Carsten Frenzl in Kilpisjärvi.

aurora borealis, whatimom, Canada

Photo by Whatimom, in Canada

The Lighter Side of Traveling in the Far North: A Day at the Reindeer Races

2015-03-26

Lapland is a land of surprises. We all know that Santa Claus has his home in Lapland – in Rovaniemi, Finland to be exact – but it may be surprising to you what reindeers are doing when they are not in duty. Some of the reindeers, it seems, like to race.

Reindeers raced for about 210 meters/230 yards slightly uphill. Two animals raced against each other and the winner proceeded to the next round. Video recorded in Koskikatu in the center of Rovaniemi. It is a pedestrian street, and a primary shopping area of the city.

The race speed is so high that the riders are wearing helmets.

For more fun events, habits and places in northern Europe, check out the book The Lighter Side of Finland by journalist Russell Snyder. He has observed life and people of Scandinavia for years and has discovered the funny side of the northern culture and people.