Photo: Alex Laurel

Nixon Surf Challenge 2011 Lofoten Islands

Words by Nathan Myers

The writer sits on the beach. Shivering. Tapping his pen against the page. Tap tap tap.

Out in the water, blocks of ice. Seal-suited surfers tremble beyond the foamy gusts of Arctic offshore. Cold frontiers. Snow on the beach. Been there, done that. The writer had beaten these novelty sessions to a pulp. Saharan sands. War-torn wastelands. Into the wild. No one out. Yippee hooray…and tap tap tap.

The more things change, the more things stay the same. PU Thrusters. Jeffrey’s Bay. Kelly Slater. This is progress. And so we blaze into the frozen perimeter to encourage crowds where they dare not convene.

The photographer stood nearby. A polar bear in double-jackets and goosedown rolls. Click click click goes the mountains, the foreground, the “lifestyle." A thousand words at 25 frames per second. How could a writer compete with that.

We went. We surfed. We came home. It was:

a) Pumping.

b) Going off.

c) Perfect.

Click click click. Tap tap tap. The media dudes held down the beach. Selling surf.

Profiteering crowdism as they hype escape. Irony upon irony. It was a living.

“You ever think about doing something else?" asks the writer.

“Sure, like what?" He’s got 20-grand worth of gear on the beach…equally suitable for documenting rare humming birds.

“I dunno," says the writer. “Something else."

“I used to work in a hotel. I hated it. Everyday I’m just glad I’m not there."

“But we’re probably gonna both ends up broke and homeless by the time we’re 35. Doesn’t that worry you?"

“I try not to worry," says the photog.

A set rolls through and the conversation stops. An air. A barrel. A turn. They surf like advertisements. Working. Posing. Flaring up in the cold.

“Shots look sick," the photog says. “Killer backdrop."

The writer nods. Taps his pen. Stares to sea.

“It looks really, uh…what’s the word, writer?"

“Cold."

“Ha ha, yeah. That’s it."

The photog is popular. Top guys call him to shoot. High fives at all the parties. He gets the most drunk. He hasn’t surfed in years.

One of the surfers comes back to shore. Burly. Bearded. Six-millimeters of rubber. Big smile romping through the snow.

“Man," he says, “It’s cold." He’s not complaining. Just saying. Snow is falling. Talk about the weather.

“We should build a fire," suggests the writer. “Drink some whiskey. Get the blood moving."

The surfer nods. Looks back out at the waves. Another set. Click click click. “It’s fun," he says. “You should get a couple."

The writer nods. It looks:

a) Cold.

b) Fucking cold.

c) Not fun.

The writer’s wetsuit is 4-mil. Too small. No hood. He surfed the day before and felt his limbs disappear from his body. Numb. Dead. Gone. By the time he actually caught a wave he was too anesthetized to find his feet.

“Yeah," he says. “Totally. I’m out there."

His suit is still wet. Brittle. Goosebumps in the icy wind. Regrets and concerns. Thump thump thump of his heart.

“It’s a state of mind," says the surfer, watching him shiver-change. “Staying warm. You can’t think about it. That’s the key."

“I think too much sometimes," says the writer. “All the time."

The beard says nothing. Just watches the waves. Another set. Click click click. Not worrying the future, the cold, the irony.

With his wetsuit on, there’s no turning back. The writer turns to compose a little farewell wave on his way to the water’s edge and finds them watching him. Perhaps gauging his chances of survival, of being consumed by orcas or knocked unconscious by ice blocks. The cold tide presses against his 2-mil, too thin booties. Slippery stone and brittle wind. Another surfer is coming in to shore. Just one left in the lineup. If he waits any longer, he’ll be alone out there. Frozen. Dying.

The surge pushes over the cobblestone and his 3-mil legs. Brrrrr, stop thinking. Stop thinking. Stop thinking.

He stops moving. The last lonely surfer is coming back to shore. Finished. They’ll all be shivering on the beach waiting for him to catch a wave. Watching his frozen corpse bob on the foam. Wishing he’d simply built a fire. Cracked some whisky. Tapped his pen until some meaning spilled out. Some thoughtful warmth. Some cold water novelty. His legs are numb. His hands disappearing. One last glance to shore.

“Come on, let’s do this," the beard is jogging down. Ready to paddle out. “Leave your story on the beach."

He rushes passes the writer up and slides out over the surging tide. Already paddling. Already duckdiving. Already Brrrrr.

The writer takes the leap and starts to paddle. His arms are going numb. His breath is taken. His thoughts are frozen. This is progress.