Travel Inspirations & Experiences

Olivier Morin, photographer, surfer in frozen water


Olivier Morin has been a photojournalist with AFP since 1990. Based successively in Bordeaux, Lille, Stockholm or Milan, he is now editor-in-chief of France’s photography department. His athletic exploits attracted me. Passionate about surfing, Olivier discovered the practice of this sport in cold water, even freezing, in the Lofoten Islands, Norway, a few years ago. It is now a rite, he surfs there several times a year, no matter the temperature of the water or the air. A crazy and invigorating interview.

Why the photo, how did you fall in the bath?

By laziness :)!

I always preferred to go as quickly as possible in the understanding of things. Words, essential in all fields, did not escape this rule. It happened to me, when I was a teenager, to “read” comics without going through the bubbles, just the drawings. With the quality of comics like Tintin, Asterix, Lucky Luke … I understood the story. In hindsight, I believe that this approach, very immature, unsavory, shaped my eye.

Do your photos allow you to retranscribe emotions or societal changes? Or both? Or more?

A large majority of the covers have been sport in my career, the emotion is an integral part of the sport photo. Joy, sadness, effort, over-effort, victory, defeats, etc. All is emotion. This is one of the parts that I prefer today: the feeling. That’s what I find when I photograph surfers on the Arctic coast of Norway or elsewhere in the cold.

You have two passions, surf and Norway, and you have managed to merge the two. How did you get caught?

More exactly Surf and cold (since always). It turns out that Norway, for Europe, is the most accessible quickly to find regular waves because of its west coast exposed to the North Atlantic swell. And that everything is snowy in winter.

Since then, I felt in love with this Arctic coast of the Lofoten Islands in winter.

Seven or eight years ago, I stumbled upon an article by Tom Curren (Californian legend of world surfing in the 80’s) who tried to surf in Unstad (Lofoten). It was the click. Since then, I’ve been going there several times, trying to tell the pleasure and / or the daily life of the visitor or the native to surf in the cold. Here again the feeling.

How do you do, concretely, to surf in 4 degrees water?

Today, the equipment allows you to surf or immerse yourself in any weather and any condition.

The difference with the temperate zones is that thickness of the combination that makes the gestures (especially rowing to pass under the waves and return to the line-up) much more tiring. In temperate combinations make 4mm-3mm (trunk-limbs), very flexible. For Arctic conditions it is rather in the 6mm-5mm, less flexible.

And the slippers of a thickness of about 6-7 mm, which modify a little at the beginning the “hit” of board.

In the water I wear a wet suit (not waterproof) of 5.5 mm, geoprene (vegetable neoprene), 7mm slippers, gloves of 6 mm, short fins to move me quickly and safely. The camera is in a waterproof case.

Last winter, the cold snap that plagued Northern Europe did not spare Scandinavia and the Lofoten Islands … It was so abnormally cold, that one evening, very windy, at the exit water after water shots and at night, in the 50m that separated the beach from the car, my suit whitened and hardened. She was freezing. It was – 27 ° C to the thermometer of the car, but, in the wind, it was well below ….

Extracting these combinations is difficult in general and in the cold in particular, it may require outside help. Once naked and out in the open, you have to get dressed fast enough because that’s where we really get cold, even if this transition is rather pleasant. I have often kept this combination on me all day, including driving to change places, either because it was more comfortable or because I could not remove it alone .

How do you manage to have fun in these conditions?

Immerse myself in an icy water, is a real pleasure, my senses are more sharpened, purified, the sensations are very intense, they really bring me to another state. As if I only had the essentials left. In these moments, I do not feel too much on the same planet.

Pleasure in these conditions is a pleasure that revolves around the feeling and the visual. It must have been immersed once in this ocean at 4 degrees C and overhung by snowy fjords to understand that it is extremely easy to feel elsewhere. The decor is as effective as the feeling.

a touch of caress, cold indeed, but a touch, soothing, relaxing and invigorating at the same time … We feel very very alive.

It’s an addiction, a real one.

When you’re on your board and in such cool water, do you feel like you’re having a particularly rare experience?

Yes. There is a real exoticism to immerse oneself in these places, the banana which is read on all the faces that come out of the water in these conditions, neophytes, or confirmed, baptism or pro, testifies to the pleasure as extreme as the are these conditions.

When, in addition to the aurora borealis, illuminate the evenings. Irresistible and unforgettable. Mesmerizing. Addictive

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