Words: Elaine Farquharson Dorset SUP Coaching and Guiding
Photos: Titus Kodzoman SUPNorway, Gutsygirls.co.uk & Elaine Farquharson
The ultimate paddling experience is to escape the rat race and get back to mother nature on a self-supported expedition into the wilderness. When you get away from the pollution, and the orange glows of the city you will finally see the universe and the stars in all their magical glory.
The air will be fresh and clean, and the water and scenery are unspoilt. There’s nothing more special than seeing animals free in their natural habitat and living uninhibited. It’s a chance for you to feel the same and the peace and tranquillity is unexplainable as you immerse yourself into the wonders of mother nature around you.
Norway has some of the most extreme and wondrous topography in the world. The flooded U-shaped valleys create dramatic scenery with towering sheer cliffs that surround the water on three sides before opening the land to allow a connection to the sea. The ocean means the water is subject to the tide. Wind effects are consistent with alpine environments, and lakes in the upper fjord reaches or coastal conditions at the mouth of the fjords. It can be very sheltered or exposed depending upon the wind direction.
Between the sides, Nærøyfjord has sections only 250 metres wide with mountains towering up to 1,761 metres high. That narrowness means water energy travelling up the fjords has nowhere to go, and it does create some reflection of water and clapotis however in the summer months this effect is negligible unless a cruise ship passes by.
The wildlife is discrete
On the journey, there are limited places to get off the water and rest, so you are committed to sections of paddling before there is a small hanging valley or shore to land on. The ground is rocky, but luscious vegetation hangs on the mountains with plenty of waterfalls and streams to gain fresh water for wild camping. It’s tranquil and wild however the wildlife is discrete, and the only pests are the occasional horse fly, I didn’t experience many midges or mosquitoes whilst I was there, but it’s wise to prepare. There are also some tiny hamlets with amenities at ferry ports, but I wouldn’t rely on these, so we carried all our food on the trip and restocked at Undredel.
Weather is fun; you will experience four seasons in one day. It’s not cold, but it can be wet, and temperatures can fluctuate making layering the best way to travel. Visibility can vary; however, mostly the clouds drizzle over the mountains creating a dramatic effect. Still, it never lasts for more than a day or two as the sun in the summer months shines hot so you will get the occasional bikini or board short day. Cooling off is easy as you are spoilt with the jade-like fjord land waters or the crystal cool plunge pools of the waterfalls from the snowmelt of the glaciers. This reminds you that you are on par with similar latitudes of Alaska; however, Norway is warmer due to the gulf stream.
Coaching is a fun experience in the fjords. I was working with SUP Norway as an assistant guide. Titus is the director who has set up a fantastic expedition centre on the shores of Gudvangen. He has a wealth of experience and knowledge in cold water exposure, expediting SUP and camp craft as well as his head guide Courtney Sinclair who is a Canadian SUP expedition and endurance race paddler.
On my trip the group had come from all over the world; inland Brits, Californian surf chicks, Reunion Island Lagoon paddlers and Canadian long-distance SUP adventurers. It was a fantastic experience to meet and learn about other cultures and people, and even pick up my French along the way. As a coach, it did make for an interesting learning journey.
As a Brit we don’t think aboutsharks, Norway has them but not the great whites of the warmer waters. Coaching and leading involves a lot of psychology. I have never had to appreciate before how deep waters signify danger to those who live in waters, which are home to many sharks. Helping my client overcome their fears was truly rewarding and a privilege to assist in their personal growth.
Norway has a lot of deep dark waters, but it certainly isn’t somewhere to be terrified of the animals that live within it. There’s a chance of seeing some seals and the odd friendly dolphin but to be honest, the wildlife is very aloof except for the mountain goats.
It does help to have some paddle experience and fitness on these sort of trips because carrying kit creates more instability and even short distances can be tiring for some. After a day of paddling the work doesn’t stop there as camp needs to be made and there’s still some work to be done cooking and setting up a shelter.
So with SUP Norway, they plan gentle distances. They also make no expenses spared on the kit, with fantastic higher-end boards and paddles, great tents, self-inflating camping mats, dry bags and sleeping bags. Plus the food is wonderful, fresh seafood and salad platters initially progressing to dehydrated survival food into the trip but these taste nice not like the old army ration packs and the terrifying biscuits brown.
The trip itself starts at Gudvangen, which is a small village at the start of the Nærøyfjord. We travel the 17 km over a three-day period which allows the group to find their feet, be coached on their skills and gain confidence in wild camping. After a few days, we journey onto the Sognefjord, which is much more exposed and has characteristics more like the sea. Here the wind is more apparent, and the water is open.
This is the longest and most tiring part of the journey; however, the group are rewarded with some luxury camping and facilities at the beautiful village of Undredel. As you arrive, it seems familiar almost magical – the star spangled ceiling of the church was the inspiration for the Disney film Frozen, and then it makes sense as you remember the scenery from Arendel and the home of Elsa and Arna.
Here the group can relax, shower and indulge on traditional restaurant food and the best pizza after roughing it in mother nature for several days. There are some tours laid on for us up to a cute little church on the hill with traditional music and entertainment from the local community who are proud of their ancestry, traditions and religions.
Most of the group have had no experience with wild camping, camp craft and expedition paddling, so the guides are excellent at coaching and teaching the group in these skills. It helps to have spent time in a tent and learning how to pack your bags before the trip. There’s nothing more annoying than packing your suncream at the bottom of your dry bag as you certainly don’t want to be offloading your sleeping bag whilst floating on the water.
It’s definitely a good idea to make a grab bag of these types of essentials. Also, some snacks like trail mix, nuts and raisins and lightweight water pouches, are much kinder than taking heavy bottles and lots of packaging which you will have to carry in and out with you. Practice also packing as light as you can, take less, for example, take a small towel or even better an expedition towel as large towels take up room and soak up too much water, you won’t dry things quickly in the fjords.
Also, be eco-friendly by only using toiletries that are healthy for wildlife and don’t dump chemicals in the freshwater areas. As for toileting, bury it or use one of the compost loos. Be kind to the wildlife.
So there is something for everyone in the fjords whether you are new to SUP or a seasoned expedition coach. It is truly worth spending some time there and soaking in the extreme scenery and calm. You’ll make some fabulous new friends and gain so many new skills plus a sense of pride that you have taken on an adventure and journeyed on one of the most beautiful places in the world. A UNESCO recognised jewel; it’s definitely a bucket list must.
Elaine owns and runs Dorset Sports Physio, based in Weymouth community college sports centre. She offers sports physiotherapy, biomechanics and coaching to the Dorset communities. Elaine’s specialist interest is tri sports and SUP, not only as a competitor but also through her work as a coach and physio. Elaine’s specialist work with the lower quadrant has helped her achieve advanced practice recognition in hip and pelvis and works closely alongside Dorset’s expert hip surgeons and lower limb specialists. Elaine’s facilities offer a large private treatment room, three sports halls, a fully equipped gym, sports pitches, and also racquet courts across the two sites. Elaine also has a hydrotherapy pool and Pilates studio off campus. @dorsetsportsphysio
Founder/chief expedition leader of SUP Norway. His passion and love for the ocean is highly contagious and guaranteed to give you the richest experience possible. Titus is a true ‘waterman’. Surfer, kitesurfer, freediver, lifeguard, yachtmaster, Ex Royal Marine, SUP distance paddler and certified ‘Wim Hof Method’ instructor. He loves to identify and challenge limiting beliefs in himself and others. https://supnorway.com