Into the Wild: Bart de Zwart’s Epic Stand Up Paddle Quest in Lofoten

Embark on a thrilling journey to the untouched wilderness of Norway’s Lofoten islands with renowned ultra-long-distance paddleboarder and adventurer Bart de Zwart. Last year in May, Bart left his sailboat in French Polynesia and traveled all the way to the North of Europe to paddle through the dramatic landscapes of the Lofoten archipelago on his Starboard Touring board. From navigating fjords flanked by towering peaks to encountering majestic orcas and charming puffins, join us as we delve into Bart’s exhilarating paddle adventures, offering insights into preparation, encounters with wildlife, and the sheer beauty of Lofoten’s rugged terrain.

Bart, thank you for joining us to share your recent adventure in Lofoten. What inspired this journey?

Hello Mathieu! Well, despite my thrilling life sailing on a catamaran with clients to remote wing, sup, surf, and kite spots, I yearned for the solitary and challenging experience of stand-up paddleboarding in unexplored territories. Although this is an exciting life full of adventure, I have less time to do stand-up paddle adventures in other places around the globe. An adventure for me could be anywhere as long as it involves; a big change in surroundings, which could be nature or culture or a big challenge. I had my eye on Norway for quite some time—a large and beautiful country full of warm and welcoming people. My friend Svein, the founder of Starboard, is a proud Norwegian and often spoke fondly of Lofoten’s rugged beauty, which ignited my curiosity and prompted me to embark on this unforgettable journey. The Lofoten islands are an archipelago in Norway. It is known for its dramatic scenery, high mountains, and deep Fjords and lies just above the Arctic Circle.

It sounds like an invigorating expedition. How did you prepare for such a remote adventure?

I had a small window between family visits, dental appointments, and going back tour boat in French Polynesia.  I checked the weather, and the decision was made quickly. I bought tickets, packed the essentials, and five days later, I was there.  Knowing I needed to travel light, I packed only the essentials – my reliable Starboard Touring inflatable board, a a 3-piece Lima paddle, two small drybags, a bivak bag, a water bag, and some warm clothing.  It all fits in my inflatable bag and one small duffel bag. I also rented a small car to get me to good starting points for my paddle adventures. Sleeping under the stars or in my car and foraging for food added an element of spontaneity to the adventure.

Take us through your paddle adventures in Lofoten. What were the highlights?

My first paddle adventure was Trollfjorden, a deep fjord with high mountain ranges on both sides. I got lucky with the weather; although it rained most of the night, the sun broke out in the morning. You won’t see many people or other paddlers around these areas. Plenty of adventurers are heading here early to beat the ‘crowds’ on the road. For most people, it is too far, and too cold, but it is so worth its nature, and the scenery is astonishing.

I was happy I still had my drysuit, which was made for me for the Yukon 1000-mile race; back then, the weather was so warm that we hardly used it, but I used it every day in Norway.

I paddled for a few hours to get to the fjord, and then once inside, I kept looking to the sides rising high up, layered with snow. The snow was melting; this made for some pretty spectacular waterfalls.

I read that even some cruise ships enter this fjord; it is narrow enough to make that very exciting, but today I was by myself. I felt pretty insignificant next to the giant rock formations without a soul around.

The next two days, I visited the small fishing villages and paddled short trips to Fredvang, the start of my next paddle adventure. It was windy and slightly offshore. It took me a few hours to get around the North to the valley Stokkvikelva in Lofotodden National Park, a broad, lush green valley with nothing but a tiny little hut just big enough to give shelter to a passing hiker or paddler. Even though this was only a few hours from the village, it felt like I was at the end of the world, all by myself. Lonely but at the same time remarkably beautiful. I contemplated staying here for a few days, but there was still so much more to see, so on I went. The next night I slept at one of the deserted beaches, but rain put me back in the car for the night.

The next town was one of my favorites, Reine, a colorful, picturesque small Norwegian fishing village with its typical Bordeaux red, brown, and yellow houses, fishing boats, and drying of the stockfish everywhere. The following day, I pumped up the board again and paddled inside the fjords. Reine has an inside lake with three fjords sticking out as fingers. I paddled the first Forsfjorden, a shorter but spectacular fjord with again some lovely waterfalls. Next, I battled the north wind to go to VindFjorden. The tide was going out, and I had to walk the last kilometer because I ran out of water. At the end of the fjord, I hiked over the mountain to the other side to a giant beautiful beach. On the top of the mountain, I stopped for some food, but I couldn’t sit around too long. The wind was cold, and I had to stay moving. I found a small restaurant and had some well-deserved fish for dinner.

The following day I visited the Lofotr Viking Museum in Bøstad. A great way to see how the Vikings who lived here not only survived the harsh winters but also thrived in this environment.

I relied on the small supermarkets you can find in every small town to supply food and drinks.

Your encounters with wildlife must have been extraordinary. Can you elaborate on that?

Maybe I liked Reine so much because I spotted some orcas, a big group of about 8 outside the village. For me, orcas are a fascinating, intelligent, and graceful species. I was inspired by the orcas and wanted to see more of the water wildlife, so I decided to drive all the way up north to Andenes. I read that there is a gathering place for whales. I didn’t realize that the gathering place is about 10 km offshore, and with the 20 knots winds, I thought it wouldn’t be wise to paddle that far offshore. So I changed planes and went to the next coastal town Bleik. There is a small island just offshore named Bleiksøya. One of the few gathering places for Puffin birds. You know, those cute small birds with big round beaks. I slept on the beach right in front of the island. I woke up early because the winds were supposed to be lighter in the morning but would gather strength up to 30 knots during the day.

With the strong side wind, the 3 km paddle to Bleiksøya was not easy, and I was glad when I made it onto the island. Again I was all by myself amidst literally thousands of birds. 

The most numerous of the birds out on Bleiksøya Island are the puffins. Around 80,000 breeding pairs come to Bleik every year, arriving on 14 April and departing on 10 August. These dates remain virtually unchanged from one year to the next, only varying by a day or two in some years. Again, animals with such feelings for timing and direction fascinate me.

On the mountain of Bleiksøya, I also saw many white-tailed (sea) eagles gliding on the winds, seemingly without effort, just riding the endless winds with their wingspan of up to 2.7 meters. With a good effort, I returned to the same beach I started from. I somehow expected to be blown more downwind and have to walk back to the car. I enjoyed a Norway breakfast (muesli with yogurt and fruit) with a view of the island full of birds.

A captivating place and a worthy end to this fantastic time in the Lofoten.

The following day I had a beautiful drive back to Trømso and flew back the next day on to the next adventure.

For our readers planning their own Lofoten adventure, what advice would you offer?

Firstly, come prepared for all types of weather – even in summer, the conditions can be unpredictable. And when it comes to gear, I cannot recommend the Starboard Touring 14’ x 32” enough. Its double chamber design offers added safety in colder waters, essential for exploring this rugged terrain.

Thank you, Bart, for sharing your remarkable journey with us. We eagerly anticipate hearing about your next expedition.

My pleasure. Until next time, keep exploring!

For more insights on paddle adventures in Lofoten, here are Bart de Zwart’s top recommendations:

Best Time to Visit: May – September for extended daylight hours and moderate temperatures. February – March for picturesque snowscapes and a chance to witness the Northern Lights.

What to Bring: Warm clothing, a Gore-Tex jacket, or a drysuit for colder conditions.

How to Get There: Fly into Narvik or Tromso and rent a small car for convenient exploration.

Weather: Be prepared for a mix of warm, cold, windy, and sunny conditions.

Recommended Gear: Starboard Touring 14’ x 32” with double chamber for added safety in cold waters.

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About the Author

Mathieu Astier

Mathieu is the hyper-active founder of TotalSUP and a multilingual online marketing veteran with more than 20 years of experience working for top international internet companies. His love-at-first-sight for Stand Up Paddling in 2013 led him to build one of the leading online media dedicated to SUP in English and French and to turn his family lifestyle towards the ocean.

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