The Arctic Sea Kayak Race is a paddling event held in the archipelago of Vesterålen, Norway, in the end of July every year. ASKR as it’s commonly called has been arranged since 1991. It started as a project among friends who paddled together and lived in Vesterålen. They really liked kayaking together but they needed a reason to meet in the winter months when the darkness and more colder weather gave less opportunities for kayaking.
Kayaking in Norway is great! Kayaking in Vesterålen is no exception.Vesterålen is located just north of the Lofoten Archipelago, in Nordland, Norway. It is not okay to equate Vesterålen with Lofoten. It’s like saying to a Dutchman that they are from Belgium. 🙂
I have been kayaking in Norway several times before. This year my friends Maria, Patric and I decided to visit the ASKR.
We traveled by car from Göteborg in Sweden to Vesterålen. The journey to and from Vesterålen is a long trip, 24 hours non stop driving. The trip through Sweden is a perfect opportunity to observe how our beautiful nature changes. I can highly recommend it.
We arrived at Vesterålen the day before registration started and we stayed the night at the Sortland Camping. Sortland is the capital of Vesterålen with about 9500 inhabitants. Registration is held in Skjellfjords small harbour just 10 km west of Sortland. Upon registration we definitely decided for the activity we had preliminary booked in advance. There are three different activities to choose from. ASKR Ramble is a three-day guided tour of Vesterålen with day trips at about 10 – 20 km. ASKR Long Ramble is a three-day guided tour with longer day trips, about 30-40 km around a major part of the Vesterålen archipelago . The third option available is a sea kayaking course, the ASKR Camp, which starts from the picturesque fishing village Skipnes. Skipnes is also the finish for both the short and long ramble. After observing weather forecasts and getting some advice from the organisers, we decided to participate in the long ramble.
Once we had unloaded the kayaks and parked the car in Skjellfjords harbour, we could paddle to the first night camp on Sunday evening.
On the website of ASKR you can find information about the climate in Vesterålen. It may vary. The temperature differ from 8 to 25 degrees Celsius during this time of year. The registration day was really nice with clear blue sky, sunshine and a temperature above 20 degrees. But the first paddling day became gray and cold. We paddled in probably one of Norway’s most beautiful fjords, but because we had a thick fog, we could only guess how beautiful it was. This stage was also the longest on the ramble. It was approx 38 km paddle. The opportunities to go ashore was limited, at least for a group of 35 kayakers. The time in our kayaks became quite long. When the weather is a little less nice, it is important that everyone in the group keep time for the launch and during stops so that no one should have to wait and risk of freezing. That was the only major concern I had for paddling with such a large group but it worked surprisingly well. The guides had good control even though we were 35 kayakers. When we came ashore on Gaukvaeröya the first evening, clouds began to ease and eventually crack up completely. Then we got our reward for the entire day’s hard work.
The scenery from Gaukvaeröya was stunningly beautiful. After supper we gathered by a campfire, where the guides informed us about the environment and tomorrow’s stage.
We woke up to sunshine and clear blue sky. The paddling from Gaukvaeröya was varied and fun. The first day’s dreary weather was completely forgotten. The remaining two days we paddled in fine weather with light winds. The pace during the ride was relatively high for being such a large group but we also had time to explore and play some in the whitewater close to islets. If you are interested in paddling the long rambe, make sure to do some paddling before attending. We were very lucky with the wind and the current. If we would had headwind and countercurrent it would have felt much harder. If you are not that frequent with your paddling I recommend the shorter Ramble.
The paddling continued and we came to more amazing places. Åsand was our guide’s favourite spot, which was not hard to understand. A long white sandy beach with great views from the tent sites. The guides were very good at bringing together all participants every evening in front of a campfire. There, they gave information about the area and the next day’s trip. They also created a pleasant atmosphere where we as participants got to know each other a little better. The participants came from different parts of Norway, a large group from Denmark, a brave Italian and we were four from Sweden.
The long tour passes quite exposed coastlines. North Atlantic waves can grow significantly here. The tide is also significant here. It can be as much as three meter between high and low tide. It requires a security approach that we are not so accustomed to in Sweden. Therefore, there was a following boat close to the group and when we paddled one part that was exposed we also had some coastguard vessels not very far away.
The wildlife is fascinating in Norway. We saw eagles and porpoises every day. Lots of seabirds. We passed an island with thousands of puffins flying back and forth searching for food. There was a herd of killer whales in the area that we unfortunately never saw but we saw white sided dolphins that was playful. The last day of the tour, we paddled into the old fishing village of Skipnes. The last kilometre into Skipnes we paddled traditionally in a V-formation. Here we met up with the participants from the short ramble and those who had done the sea kayaking course. Skipnes is a small fishing village that is very isolated. The only way to get here is by sea or air. Here is also the heart of the ASKR located. It is an idyllic place with only a few houses and sheds. When participating in the ASKR it is possible to rent huts in Skipnes. We stayed at a campsite above the village with magnificent view of the surrounding areas. After arriving on wednesday a dinner was held in the local restaurant for all who participated in the ASKR.
Thursday was a day off from paddling to prepare for the Friday’s two kayaking competitions. Some chose a soft day and spend time on in Skipnes to care for their blisters. Others made an top tour to the nearby mountain top, Tinden. A fun kayak building competition was held in the harbour. We were divided into different groups. Each group had to nominate three participants who received a large piece of cardboard, a wooden board, tape, a couple of knives and pens. The task was to build a kayak in 15 minutes which later should be used in a kayak race. An entertaining and fun competition. Only one of four kayaks managed to finish but all participants tried to make is as long as possible.
Friday is the last day of the ASKR and is the official day of competition. For several years the competition has been a marathon for sea kayakers. Now, is also a Surfski race held. For the second consecutive year, ASKR organised a race in the International Canoe Federation Surfski World Cup. This year the competition attracted three great surfski paddlers. Dawid Mocke from South Africa, Sean Rice also from South Africa and Joep van Bakel from Holland. The Surfski Race this year became a struggle between these three in which Sean Rice followed up last year’s victory and finishing in front of Dawid Mocke and Joep van Bakel.
The entire ASKR ends with a very nice banquet. Great local food and a very fun host. Participants in the races was awarded with generous prizes. A brand new sea kayak is the first prize in a lottery among all participants in the ASKR. The draw for the kayak was determined in a very exiting and entertaining way. To sum it up. The whole experience was very good. A good arrangement, fun paddling in wonderful surroundings and new friends from all over Europe. If I’m going back? Absolutely! Maybe not every year, because of the distance from Göteborg. This is a thing you should have on your to do list, especially if you are a paddler from Scandinavia.