ice surfing 06

It’s 9 o’clock on a cold November morning as you crash your bike coming down an icy slope on your way to work. Somehow you manage to escape with only minor bruises and muddy pants. As you get to the office, a few nerf gun rounds almost immediately hit your face and neck. Working on your code ends you up between a rock and a hard place. It’s almost noon and you still haven’t really gotten anywhere. By now you are completely frustrated. You open the office window, and notice the wind blowing. In fact, the wind is strong enough to shake the glasses of an eighth story window. A solid, cold northwestern force is coming over the icy Baltic waters. You scan the horizon and notice the white stormy lines and birds hovering across them looking for small fish. What a dramatic and violent scene.

You take your nerf gun and fire a few rounds to the back of Mikk’s neck to get his attention. A quick nod gets him to look out the window. Straight away you know he’s thinking the same thing as you are. You set out in a hurry, knowing that on a cloudy day like this you only have about three hours of sunlight left. You get home where everything is already packed and ready for days just like this. Slip into your wetsuit, put on your slippers and grab your GoPro. A quick detour on the way to pick up Mikk and rush through the midday traffic – every minute is vital right now. You quickly go over the game plan and do a mental checklist of the gear you have with and everything you must do. Loud music takes over the car stereo – we need to be ready for what’s about to come.

A remote and lonely beach surrounded by a forest is only half an hours drive from Tallinn. The pine trees are severely bent in the wind and loose sand tickles you as you make your way across the beach. Wind has piled the ice near the coastline and has left small and large chunks of ice floating on the shallow waters.

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The waves go four meters high and seagulls hover above them just by staying in one place against the wind. This is as bad as it gets – without the proper gear, you wouldn’t last five minutes in these waters. Hesitation seeps in for a second as you start thinking it over. Still, you force yourself to unpack your gear. Removing your gloves to tie the knots properly grips your fingers with pain almost immediately. But get it wrong and you’ll be in trouble since the first second. The lines, the valves, the wetsuit zipper on your back, the harness attachments- anything could give and there’s no room for error, so double check! Take a deep breath, accept your fate and go.

Climb over the slippery and sharp ice wall, steering the kite with one hand and holding the board in the other. You tumble down the barrier and land feet first into the freezing ice soup. You lift your legs high as you walk until you get through to more open waters. Let yourself fall back first into the sea, lifting your feet up and pushing them into board straps. With a sudden jolt, your storm bird pulls you out of the water as you edge your blade hard and lean back. Avoiding the ice chunks, you ride farther out. The waves come at you and throw you up into the air as you speed towards and over them. Splashing back down, you stay on your feet, drawing scars into the dark monster bubbling below you. It roars and groans as hesitation gets washed away and rhythm of the sea sinks deeper in to you.

ice surfing 04

You soon leave the waveswell behind as you welcome the more steady giants of the open sea. You climb up one side and down the other of these mountains. It’s possible to lose the sight of shore deep down in the wave valley. In those moments, all you have is the pull of the kite and the dark November sky above you, the howling wind in your ears and the constant splash of water against your feet and body. An occasional seagull screaming in the distance, a hint of a seals back disappearing into the deep and black unknown beneath you. These waters have been known to swallow ships whole, you catch yourself thinking.

You gain more speed and pilot your bird quickly up overhead while shooting your heelside edge off the tip of a large wave. A strong and violent force pulls you 10 meters into the air, leaving you hollow in your chest. The monster below has gone quiet as deep and utter silence takes over. The wavelines come into perspective as you eye them up and down the bay. Farther away you glance pine trees and hills stretching behind them. Seagulls are no longer in the distance, but flying right beside you.

A familiar roar welcomes you as you close in on your old friend again. She welcomes you back as you land on the front face of a breaking wave. Speeding down her, you almost manage to escape, until she wipes you off your feet, taking you with her in a whirlpool of cold white air bubbles and pitch black darkness. Your board escapes your feet and is carried to an unknown direction. When mother nature is done with you, she spits you back out.

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Freezing water drains from your face and eyelids until you are able to see again. Your kite has managed to escape the beating and is sitting 24 meters above you, waiting for instructions. You spot your board a few meters away and pilot your bird to drag you to it before the next wave catches it. You can only last about ten minutes neck deep in this water before losing control over your body, so better get it right the first time.

It’s getting darker by the minute now and you start heading ashore. It’s always satisfying to ride towards the coast, letting the foamy waves carry you as you dance on their tips, carving wounds to violent breaks. Finally, you manage to crawl over the ice wall and reach the sand. You cannot feel your feet and your hands have gone numb with pain. Mikk is also back and you help each other pack our gear, too humbled by the experience to say much. By the time you’ve wrapped everything up, it’s pitch black – all you see are lights from distant passing ships.

Driving home, you start warming up. All the stress and frustration has been washed away, replaced by humility and calm. The soundtrack has switched to the more mellow tunes and you process the experience, still not talking much. This kind of a state can last for days. It’s what keeps pulling you back to the beach. You feel privileged just to go there and come back. One with the nature, respecting and humbled by it.