The Scandinavian Frontier of Freestyle
Canadian whitewater boater Tyler Curtis thought he’d never find a river that could match the diversity of play features of his beloved Ottawa River until he ventured to Norway five years ago. Curtis was initially drawn to Scandinavia for its plethora of steep, big-water creeks, the likes made famous by the Teton Gravity Research films, now cult classics. But more recently, Curtis has set his sights on discovering the hidden holes and massive waves that make Norway, Sweden and Finland an unheralded playboating epicenter.
“The rivers that flow east out of Norway have a long drainage so they have time to collect and become bigger volume rivers,” says Curtis. “You can find monster waves similar to the Ottawa River’s Bus Eater or Garb or the Dries of the New [River] in the northern parts of Sweden and Finland.”
But other than Norway’s Skjaak wave, which hosted the 2001 European freestyle championships, and a handful of features centered around the city of Kongsberg, just west of Oslo, Curtis says “many of these places have never been paddled or perhaps may not be paddled again for a number of years.” This spring, Curtis surfed the massive floodwater features of Norway’s Gloma River and ventured to Sweden, where he discovered some untapped gems. “Sweden is on the top of my list as the paddling population is very minimal and there is much to explore,” he says.
The biggest challenge to paddling in Scandinavia is sorting logistics and dealing with the area’s sky-high fuel and food prices. Without a vehicle and local knowledge of how snowmelt and rain affect various runs, Curtis says Scandinavia is “mission impossible.” He and Norwegian boater Mariann Saether have attempted to make northern Europe more paddler-friendly with Norway Daze, an outfitting company that handles trip details out of Oslo. Curtis and Saether host and guide groups of paddlers during the summer-when they’re not out road-tripping and boating Scandinavian rivers on their own. “I will continue to chip away at as many rivers as possible but will not even put a dent in the vast amount of great whitewater waiting to be paddled,” says Curtis. – Conor Mihell