We watch as the sun flirts with the horizon, it gives a gentle touch and begins its return to the skies. It is 2 am and we are still checking the flying conditions.
Just 4 days earlier, I arrive in Bodø, a small town in northern Norway, where Dusty, my brother from the wild and Kjell, a local pilot with a passion for free flight and technical tinkering, wait for me at the airport. Kjell, our host, has had a long affair with Brazil where he has found many kilometers of flying and, his better half Veronica.
Once at home, he shows me his house and his, biggest pride: his workshop, a pristine room with three different sewing machines, home made tools, glider fabrics of every kind and enough lines to repair all the wings in town for life. Everything is customized. He passes me a fat sleeping bag, points to one corner and leaves the space with a “sleep well”.
Three hours have passed since I touched the Scandinavian land, it is 4 am and I go for a walk about to experience, for the first time, the dark-less night with long shadows. Summer on this side of the planet is short but its days are endless, and sleeping is not a priority. There is a Norwegian saying “do not sleep away the summer nights” which is some of the best advice one can get in this magical land.
It is 10 am, I have slept for no more than three hours and somebody yells loud and clear: “breakfast is ready”. I join the big table packed with locals and guest pilots. Kjell & Veronica’s house reflects a perfect mix of the South American energy and Scandinavian perfection: breakfast with fish, Champagne, and celebration.
After our two-hour long welcome breakfast, it is time to try the flying goodies that Bodø has to offer. This coastal town possesses vertical walls facing every possible direction. Flying here is all about being at the right place to nail the shifty windows and characteristics of this time of year. We jump in the car and drive five minutes but our first stop is blowing from the back. We drive for five more minutes and find a wind facing wall at Mjelle. It is rare for this place to be working but today, it is perfect.
A short hike takes us to a dreamy launch, we open our gliders quickly and take off into the laminar southwesterly flow. We glide to the southwest heading into the wind to enjoy the water from above while our downwind line delivers the full picture: A turquoise ocean that hugs the base of uncountable granite peaks while a patient sun gives us nearly 24 hours of daylight to fly. This is definitely a brand new visual, a new planet for me.
Our day continues with long smiles, amazing veggies and meats off the grill and 7 more hours of flying memories to share. In Norway the summer days do not simply continue, they never end. A long dinner becomes early breakfast, early breakfast turns into brunch and like magic, we are back on our way to a new flying site.
It is 4 pm, and the northerly wind is blowing strong, Ole, our Norwegian pro skater/snowboarder flying buddy is itching to show us his favorite place in town: Bratten, a activities park with a 20-meter sea cliff surrounded by the typical fishing houses.
Bratten is definitely the perfect spot to burn some of the calories we’ve gained during our long dinner. After spending more than 5 hours playing close to the grassy ground and breathing some fresh and fishy Norwegian air, we are ready to get back to the big table. This time the main dish turns out to be reindeer, which is a special treat for any Norwegian. Reindeer roam free in Norway and can only be taken care of by Samis, the indigenous population of northern Norway. The taste of this stew is simply amazing.
The long dinners/ breakfast/ brunch keep being part of the ritual. In Bodø, flying is a seasonal dessert for our big family with a sweet tooth. To close our long feast in Bodø, we decide to go to the main flying site Keiservarden and get our last piece of cake. Despite the iffy forecast, we find hours of gentle lift to appreciate our last aerial view of the Norwegian mainland.
It is time to move our mailing address further north. At 3 am, we jump into Dusty’s camper and aim for the main harbor to catch the ferry to the Lofoten Islands, a fantastic archipelago in the county of Nordland.
This is Dusty’s second visit to Lofoten, who had fallen in love with Norway four years ago and has visited the country every year since. This year, he upgraded his tent to a camper house and drove it all the way north to ensure, this time, an unknown return date.
He has had a fresher affair with Brazil. His girlfriend Nathalia from a small city outside of Sao Paulo has been his copilot for more than a year. We are also joined by his old Norwegian friend and budding pilot Rune, along with his dog Kompis. Rune is an experienced outdoorsman who has been all over the planet keeping alive his Scandinavian roots. His enthusiasm to find at least a short sled ride in every corner reminds me my first flying years, it reminds me of the simplicity and real rewards of our passion.
The cloudy weather at dawn finally lets us take a two-hour nap before we touch the islands. The sound of the ferry horn wakes us up and lets us have a glimpse of our next destination. Back in our mobile home, we drive north to what it will be our first stop in Lofoten: Unstad.
It is hard to be still inside the camper while Norway is at her fullest outside. I have to jump non-stop from the right to left window. On the right the famous Fjords are calling loud “come over here man we are just a short hike away” while on the left the turquoise Atlantic water teases me with a gentle message “I am not as cold as you think”.
An hour and half have passed and we don’t want the drive to end, but it does for good. Dusty finds a good spot to park, opens the back door with arms spreading wide and says “this is Unstad, welcome home”. We get out of the car and immediately suffer from a laughing attack, the choices to play in our new backyard are not just surreal but countless.
Our sleep-deprived bodies are begging us for a rest so the whole crew jumps into the camper bed and relax meanwhile the wet clouds that roll into the valley and the everlasting sun create color spectrums all over. We see the show throughout the window and hang for a bit but the colors are getting too attractive to stay indoors, so we get out to look for the pile of gold and instantly find it! Right at the south-westerly tip of the bay we ran into a nice hill that faces the post-stormy laminar wind.
I find a dry spot on the beach, open my glider, kite up hill for a couple minutes and bingo! There is plenty lift everywhere, the night-day party has started!
There are uncountable corners to play and get close to the terrain. For the first time in a while, I am camera-free. Dusty scores a few shots with my bulky DSLR and then joins the low level party.
Once we are satisfied with the low expression session, we lay back in our harnesses and start to climb. Forty meters higher, we find ourselves flying in front of a crystal clear mountain lake, no more excuses to avoid the morning bath.
Layer after layer, Unstad keeps blowing our mind. From the lake level, we jump to a tall sea cliff that helps us to get enough altitude to appreciate the fjords reaching behind the front face.
By now, we know that we are not changing our base camp location anytime soon. Unstad has hypnotized us.
It is about midnight and we gather around the natural stone kitchen and living room Dusty and Rune had constructed. I stoke the fire, Rune creates some transcendent frequencies with his didgeridoo, Kompis greets the neighbors and the rest of the family get the salmon ready for the grill. We sit down together and look at the same place: the big wall we have just flown. Our thoughts drift toward the same question: which corner should we hit tomorrow? Hold it! It is already tomorrow!
It is 3am, the light and the wind are perfect and Dusty dares to say “should we get back there again?” We laugh and stay close to the fire while the sun plays with our equatorial brain.
Fours hours later, after a great live acoustic concert from our new Swedish neighbors, he says it again “should we get back there now?” This time nobody laughs and at ten pass nine, after a 2-hour hike, we find ourselves looking for a good place to take off from the big face at the end of the valley.
It is still early and the wind is a multi-directional festival. If the book is right, we should start to feel the sea breeze eventually kicking in. We keep hiking up until we find a perfect grassy launch, high enough to enjoy, at least, a long sled ride back to the beach. Chapter three was right and the sea breeze starts to take over. We are not in a hurry; the panoramic view catalyzes our pace. We slowly get ready and jump into a perfect cycle. Gliding down the green valley we switch from big rocky peaks to long vertical walls that end up in the ocean. A gentle lift lets us extend our ride and soar all over the Unstad valley.
A healthy air time has passed when I realized that the ocean has some new and well shaped lines. The easy pace vanishes and a strong need for landing attacks me.
Swell is cranking! It wasn’t a myth there is stellar surfing in Norway!
In 2 minutes, I am back on the ground running on the main road toward the only café in town, where I have seen tons of boards.
Tommy, the owner, is right outside. We start a friendly conversation that ends up in a priceless trade: A thick wetsuit and sweet board for an aerial shot of his cherished hometown to be hung on the new camping common room wall. We shake hands, I get inside in the neoprene outfit, grab a good looking surfboard and run back down to the water, feeling like a little kid meeting the ocean for the first time.
The next days pass among new friends, laminar wind, epic rides, midnight flights, smoked salmon, cold baths, tons of hiking, unpredictable conditions and almost zero sleep.
We arrived to Lofoten with the idea of driving all over the islands in search of paradise but we had it all along. Here I am, 10 days after, saying goodbye to my always growing family in front of the camper that didn’t move since we found that perfect parking spot on day one and, knowing that, Dusty, and our mobile home, will stay on this beach indefinitely.
My ferry leaves the islands and while I see Lofoten disappearing in the horizon, I reflect on a strong reminder courtesy of this Viking land: “free flying helps us appreciate the unknown”