Welcome to Sweden

Welcome to Sweden

By John Brodie

Camilo began to tell stories of the island; the numb Baltic sea brushing up against the shore building walls of ice as tall as a fishing boat. The one-way road wraps around a pond- a cracked mirror to the pine trees above. Herds of drunken moose call this bitter place home. If we were to roll down the windows we’d hear an echo of fermented apples splitting between their teeth.

SWE_NSM_8 SWE_NSM_7Every American carries the immigration gene, but most of us don’t know it yet. It is a genetic code lodged deeply in all of us. My slightly olive skin tone was not the only thing passed down from my Portuguese Grandmother. The freckles on my nose most likely from my Irish Grandfather but something else came with that. Something that I thought would weaken with maturity – an urge to move far away. It is pretty simple really, a trait as hereditary as your green eyes. It is in our DNA and is pushing out of every pore toward a new American dream.

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SWE_NSM_4After I booked a one-way ticket to Sweden in March of 2014 I found out I didn’t have a plan. I landed in Stockholm as a semi-stubborn and reckless surfer from California. Two bags, a camera, a handful of journals, the essays of Emerson and a knack for making the best out of madcap situations were all I brought with me. In April, I found myself on the West coast of the country. I took a step off the train and looked up at the sign: Gothenburg Central Station. I was lost. Five homeless weeks came next as I bounced around hostels and park benches until they kicked me out. Good coffee and a bottle of Pastis de Marseille fueled my adaptation. I made friends with fear and remembered what surfing had taught me while a constant state of vulnerability in foreign land began to teach me how to live in the present and to smile while doing so. My Ancestors must of felt something similar during their first days in California. They must have been scared out of their pants.

SWE_NSM_5SWE_NSM_1He parks the rig and we watch the Baltic Sea fold and wrinkle like a sheet of black tin foil. Wind swell produces head high sets rolling west over a snow-covered shoreline. Camilo’s stories are true. In his natural habitat he pays little attention to the unforgiving Nordic winter as she flexes her biceps and the darkness settles in. The sun rises at eleven and sets at three in the afternoon during this time of year leaving only small window for a crew of dedicated souls to pull on their seven millimeter suits. A custom board full of volume is needed to keep afloat above charcoal in the half salt, half fresh water. Despite the salinity and negative water temps, island locals have been entering and hopefully exiting Swedish east coast waters since the 60’s. The wind pounded my rib cage and the sun began to set reminding me of all the things I left behind at home.

SWE_NSM_6SWE_NSM_3Over seven months I rediscovered myself as a humble transplant. A nomadic life had just begun in the heart of Scandinavia and the success of my transcontinental travels grew by virtue of the American “move far away” gene and some of surfing’s most unpretentious teachings. All the confidence need The Swedes are not known for talking about themselves, which is part of the reason you don’t hear much about the surf here. The other reason might be the blinding darkness, but you should know, there is a tight knit and committed culture of surfers here. I told you before when I got off that plane I didn’t have a plan, but I can tell you now, that I do – to tell the story of surfing in Sweden.

*This article was originally published in Nordic Surfers Magazine.

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