Nord by Nordwest: The Evolution of Surf in Germany

Nord by Nordwest: The evolution of surf in Germany’s North Sea

By Natalie Jacobs

Last year marked the first annual Nord by Nordwest Surf Skate Film Festival in Hamburg, Germany. To familiarize us with the area, film fest founder Jens Steffenhagen, gave KTV blog readers a brief history of surfing the cold, choppy waters of the North Sea. This year, in preparation for the second and more expansive installment of Nord by Nordwest, we caught up with Jens for an update on the surf scene in Germany today and details on the festival.

This year’s festival, taking place April 4-6 in downtown Hamburg, keeps surfing at its core but spreads out into other art forms with photography and paintings on display and live bands playing throughout. The festival this year also has a larger board expo and features some skate films.

“I run a surf magazine with two friends in Germany,” says Steffenhagen, “and we screen movie nights in all of northern Europe—we are in Switzerland, in Denmark, and Sweden and Germany — in major cities every two months. That’s how he came up with the idea of Nord by Nordwest: Why not make a huge weekend out of it?” But since they are doing screenings all the time, Steffenhagen wanted the festival to feel different, bigger, more unique than the screenings, to take advantage of the location and community in Hamburg. “It’s still mostly film,” Steffenhagen explains, “but we wanted to include other parts of surf culture.”

While the festival features films from directors all over the world, the energy and excitement that Germany has for surfing can’t help but influence the festival. It’s not that surfing in Germany is necessarily new; Germany’s sections of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea were world class destinations for wind surfing back when the sport was incredibly popular in the 1980s. But surfing as we know it has been gaining in popularity there lately, thanks in part to the global trend toward cold water surfing that is proliferating through Denmark, Holland, Canada, parts of the United Kingdom, and the eastern coast of the United States. Steffenhagen explains that the Internet for surf in Germany, as with every industry everywhere, is making it easier to show people what’s happening there. And for Germany, that has meant big brands.

“In Germany, we have people who are treated like stars. There are a lot of people who get coverage through their sponsors, and this changed over the last few years, like it did everywhere. Brands like Nike that are famous for sponsoring people… and by sponsoring I mean they get some free stuff and stickers to put on their boards… are now coming to Germany.”

That’s great for the industry and the individuals who are reaping the, albeit small, rewards, but it does something to the surf culture, shifting the tide in subtle but deeply felt ways. “It has created a bit of star hype that I personally don’t like,” Steffenhagen explains, “because surfing in the North Sea is very… there’s some kind of camaraderie that we share in the cold water, so if it becomes fashionable, you can imagine what that means after awhile.”

This kind of hype is not something that can be reversed once it is set in motion, but events like Nord by Nordwest that are committed to showing a more authentic side of surfing, and people like Steffenhagen who are interested in surf for the art of it, keep the community focused on what matters. For the weekend of April 4-6, what matters is surf films, gallery shows and live music.

Check out the film lineup and details on the festival here: http://nordnordwestsurffilmfest.de/.

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