Journey to The Icebox - Norway's Notorious Slab

Jason Lock

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Updated 53d ago

Back in 2017, MSW published a story about pioneering the Icebox which is a remote, tough to get to Norwegian slab that perilously breaks over some protruding rock. Australian Joel Stevenson (yeah, the brother of Jason 'JS' Stevenson of JS Surfboards) made his way through some sketchy whited-out landscape to surf this mutant and ended up being one of the first to try and tame that slabby hell pit - piquing interest about the locale all across the globe.

Along for the trip back then was photographer Mats Kahlstrom, who documented everything, the journey (because part of the wonder of this thing is how remarkably difficult it is to get to) and then the sessions that unfurled upon arrival. Now though, some four years later, and their journey into the heart of Norway has been turned into a film by director Fredrik Harper, appropriately titled Icebox, and you can peep the trailer below.

Given that we've not heard of anyone returning to the Icebox since that expedition in 2017, we tapped up Fred to walk us through plans for the film, the Icebox in general and how it felt to be somewhere that, for how remote it is, may have well been Mars.

Hey Fred, the film sounds like this crazy adventure into frigid Norway, how did you get involved?
I’d been wanting to do a surf-related documentary for a long time and was kind of waiting around for a good story and subject. I’m a passionate surfer myself and the Norwegian surf community is quite small, so back in 2017 I heard rumours about this Australian guy surfing crazy slabs in probably the most unlikely region of our coast.

If the direction is wrong it’s just an unrideable death wedge

Most people would never dare to dream you could find world-class barrels in this particular fjord, and that fascinated me. I remember I thought: “How the heck is this possible.” I reached out to Joel, drove down to him and we had a nice chat. We got along well and spoke about the waves he was pioneering and his personal life. I immediately felt this was a perfect base for a film and Joel was in. Next swell we started shooting.

At that point I had no clue it would take me three years wrap it up. It’s been hard work and determination, but most of all an immense joy going on these surf missions. The film itself is a 20 min short doc. It’s a blend of techniques. I’ve strived to stage as little as possible to give it a natural feel, but without compromising the aesthetics. Both to portray Joel in an interesting way and to build a nerve and strong atmosphere throughout it.

Joel, back in 2017, finding his way into the Icebox. Yeah, it's surfable but it also breaks right on the rock, as the cover image to this article attests.

Joel, back in 2017, finding his way into the Icebox. Yeah, it's surfable but it also breaks right on the rock, as the cover image to this article attests.

© 2021 - Mats Kahlstrom

So I guess, in those initial conversations it was feeling each other out, who actually had the idea to shoot and document the Icebox?
My idea, but guess Joel had in mind this could fit the format before I approached him as well.

From images we’ve seen, and the footage, it seems you need a dedicated task force to get to it. How remote are we talking here?
It’s a paradox since it’s actually closer Oslo than to any other spot I’m familiar with, but yet such a struggle to get to. We have at least had the benefit to launch a 10ft dinghy boat, but even that can get quite intense on bigger swells.

Especially with expensive camera gear and a bad-mannered boat-engine. It’s possible to get there without one as well, but that requires some hiking and a pretty long paddle.

Your director, Fredrik.

Your director, Fredrik.

Yeah, we remember hearing some stories... let's just say it's an absolute mission to get to. What makes is so special?
To me it’s whole unlikeliness of these waves and all the effort you need put in to scoring it. Surfing wintertime in Norway is a chapter for itself, but this just tops everything. It’s difficult to predict with forecasting, remote, dangerous, cold, insane to watch and the secret element to it all. Taking all this into account makes it a quite a unique experience - especially on the days when things go as we hope for.

And it’s this heavy slabby thing that breaks over some ominous rock – how sketchy is it?
It’s a heavy slab for sure! And it’s breaking on a really shallow ledge. Personally, I wanted nothing to do with being out there [laughs]. When picking the right waves it’s knee to ankle where the lip lands deep, but most waves wedge onto dry rock. It’s all about full commitment and the ability to pick the right waves. Seen it go wrong a couple times and you don’t wanna put yourself in that position.

© 2021 - Mats Kahlstrom

How cold are the water/air temps, and what are people wearing to keep them warm?
Water temps in the winter season usually varies from 8 to 2 degrees and air temps can be anything from 10 to -15 degrees. Days with strong cold winds are the worst. In the water you should have a 6mm wetsuit, thick gloves and boots.

I've used a wetsuit just for the boat ride when it’s messy but I regularly wear several layers of wool head to toe with an exterior gore-tex.

What were some of the difficulties with shooting there?
It’s several factors that made it difficult. First of all, there’s landmarks and backdrops that could reveal the location of the spot, so I had to find angles to keep them out of frame, but worked my way around it.

As you would expect, the harsh weather require some extra careful preparations, but the most challenging thing about shooting this has been battling these very unpredictable weather-patterns.

The weather in this area changes very quickly so these missions constantly happened on short notice and we always made the call the night before.

That meant throwing other obligations aside, pack up, drive down, launch the boat before first light and cross fingers we would score. Often we came back empty-handed, but after some time I understood that this was the name of the game.

Any injuries, and what would you have done if something went majorly wrong?
Stanley Badger got worked pretty hard on the rocks once and came up with smashed fins and deep holes in his wetsuit. I’ve seen Joel in some pretty sketchy situations too, and he has smashed several fins and boards over the years, but luckily no one has gotten seriously injured yet.

It’s a terrible scenario to imagine, but you'd just have to call the coastal rescue service first, and then do your best to beat the cold water as long as you could till they came.

What kind of swell sets this thing off? Does it need a lot of grunt or is it a bit of a swell sucker?
It’s a swell magnet compared to the rest of the region since it has such a deep area of water which channels the swell into that spot.

But it’s fickle in that it needs a quite specific swell direction to create waves safe enough to ride. If the direction is wrong it’s just an unrideable death wedge.

Not an enviable position.

Not an enviable position.

© 2021 - Mats Kahlstrom