No Hassle Air Travel with Inflatables SUPs
The best part about inflatable paddle boards is the hassle free air travel. Typically most airlines will allow 1 checked bag and 1 Carry on. So the best way to do it is pack light and keep all your trip items in your carry on and then check the ISUP at the counter. This method almost ensures you will be able to fly free with your paddle board anywhere in the world opening up freedom to travel the globe with your SUP. After a quick easy check in from San Diego we were off on our journey across the pond.
Weekend Layover in Belgium for the Worlds Largest Electronic Festival
Tomorrowland is a 3 Day Electronic Music festival just outside of Antwerp Belgium in the town of Boom held every summer in July. We figured it best to partake in the festivities before making our way to Norway to paddle and spend the weekend in Antwerp first. We also had 2 new friends who would join our crew in Antwerp for the Tomorrowland festival and would follow us on to Bergen, Norway for the Tall Ships. They arrived as scheduled and the crew assembled at the Hilton Antwerp for a frothy Belgian Beer and a cheers to the start of Tomorrowland.
We hoped to paddle some of the waterways in Antwerp Belgium but the city officials said they are strictly off limits as the currents are too strong from incoming and outgoing tides so we had to cut our losses and walk around the city to see the sights from land. Antwerp is the global trading center for diamonds and an old city filled with quaint little cafes, historical buildings and cathedral clock towers. It’s also home to some of the best beer brewers in the world. I don’t really drink beer but when in Rome. We enjoyed a beer selection from a local cafe and I truly couldn’t believe how deliciously good each and every beer tasted. Each had a smooth unique flavor and it was like nothing I had quite experienced with other beers back in the states. So the story goes the first beer brewers in Belgium were monks living in the abbeys brewing beers to feed the community in a form of self-sufficiency as early as 1595. Needless to say Belgians have been brewing beer for a long long time and it shows in quality of the beer.
With over 175k people in town for the Music Festival of Tomorrowland we assembled our group and spent a few days enjoying the festival. Over 220 nationalities come from all over the world to dance the weekend away many camping just outside the festival. Over 20 massive stages and hundreds of the world best DJs mixing beats all day and all night. The festival is filled with over the top sound, lighting and stages complete with dancers, fireworks all set in the green countryside of Belgium filled with lakes, trees and rolling hills. An experience like no other and the best part is meeting people from around the world and at any giving point you are surrounded with people from a dozen different countries. You could almost call it the world cup of rage. After dancing till our shoes wore thin we where ready to leave Belgium and get over to Norway to do some paddling. The weather had been warm and sunny the entire time in Belgium and with the same foretasted for Norway we couldn’t wait to get on the plane and head over.
Luck Turns for the Worse as We Head to Norway
We left the hotel in Antwerp eager to jump our morning flight with plenty of time to spare. The airport was only 30 minutes at most away and even shorter by train but we opted to go by car with so many people, sups and luggage. Once we hit the freeway we hit an immediate gridlock that never let up. Then to top it off our driver got behind the slowest truck in the slowest lane and proceeded to stay there as other cars negotiated the outside lanes and even with our requests he made no attempts to speed up the situation. 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40, minutes 60 minutes and still no let up and a few ambulances buzzed by we realized we are not going to make our flight. Total bummer and sure enough the ride to the airport had taken us nearly 1.5 hours leaving us 30 minutes to unload, check in and clear security. Good Luck! We scrambled and attempted to rush to the gate but they shut us down. We had to rebook the next flight later in the day and this would get us in at 11pm that evening rather than 2pm losing a full day in our beloved Norway.
With Bergen just a short 4 hour flight from Belgium with a stop in Oslo we would be in by late evening and ready to paddle first thing the next day. However, The transfer in Oslo was anything but smooth and with really no time to waste flying in from another country we had to pass international customs and collect bags and inflatable sups then recheck them and continue to our gate. When we rush booked the flight we never thought to realize they didn’t give ample time to make the transfer from Oslo to Bergen. Stepping off the plane in Oslo with 30 minutes to spare this didn’t seem like something that would be possible especially after realizing the departure gate for Bergen was on the entire opposite end of the large Oslo airport. With the clocking ticking it was either leave the paddle boards and luggage behind at the baggage carousel or wait and miss the flight. We opted for the former and scrambled to catch the flight with no intention of missing another flight in the same day. We all ran a marathon across the airport and barley made it to the gate with minutes to spare and very very sad the paddle boards would not be with us. This again caused us to lose another full day of paddling in Norway under crystal blue skies. The bags would later get delivered the following day but having no luggage or sups was a total bummer. The silver lining is we had finally made it and flying in over the majestic snow capped fjords and lakes littered with gingerbread houses and boats it was a sight for sore eyes.
Bergen Norway and the Tall Ships Festival
Norway was experiencing some of the hottest weather and summers in 110 years some of the locals claimed and had we arrived to temps in the mid to high eighties and sunny skies something very uncommon in Norway. Bergen is considered the rainiest city in Norway so to be blessed with weather so nice this far north we considered ourselves very lucky and it only added to the excitement of catching a paddle in one of the beautiful countries and cities in the world.
With no boards and a day behind we had just a day to spare before the Tall Ships started to arrive in the harbor. No Paddle boards yet or luggage we opted to walk around the city and check out some local pubs and harbors.
The Tall Ships Races & Festival
The tall ships races is a festival that happens every 4 years in Bergen. Many sea fearing countries in the world have a tall ship they keep in pristine condition and enter into the race with a crew of mostly young sailors in training under 25 years old. A tall ship is best described as a vessel powered by sails and no engine. They almost look like pirate ships and are an overwhelming display of ropes and masts and makes one wonder just how much a captain and crew would have to do to keep the thing working with so many different ropes, pulleys and sails. The race is not for money but more for bragging rights and all ships leave from a designated city and race to the next city as in this case Harlingen Netherlands to Bergen Norway. Then the ship who gets to port first is considered the winner and anytime you see their crew at the bar you buy the drinks. The fleet of ships are of all sizes ranging from 50ft up up to 400 ft. Typically the larger ships pull in first but it varies. Once all the ships are in port a huge parade complete with all the crews of each vessel along with a marching band from Bergen.
Then around the harbor they set up stages for traditional sailing songs, local bands and musicians along with some of the most impressive displays of seafood you could ever imagine. And its not just seafood they offer up but selections of reindeer, whale meat, and tons of other local delicacies. It’s a food lover’s dream and only adds to the fun of viewing the ships while walking around the harbor. With whales being an endangered protected species it was shocking to see the meat offered for sale as sausage or cooked at every vendor booth.
Terror Threat against Norway & Tall Ships Festival
We couldn’t be more excited to paddle amongst the ships and suddenly our luck turned for the worse. Norway received a series of terror bomb threats and the tall ship festival was singled out in the threats. That being said they completely cut off the harbor to all vessels other than tall ships. A total bummer we would only be allowed to paddle inside a little cove and view the tall ships from a distance. Still an amazing site but again not what we had planned. Typically you can pull boats and vessels in the harbor and view the ships from water level. After hanging around the ships for a day and enjoying the food and sun the luggage finally showed up the following evening so we made plans to explore the countryside behind Bergen and experience the lakes and waterways and finally catch a paddle.
Bergen Tall Ships Sneaky Paddle
With the tall ships festival in full swing and all the ships lined up across the harbor we had to sneak a paddle in and get some pics. We thought we had no chance until we asked a couple military officials from one of the large docked patrolling destroyers and they seemed to want us to try and said go ahead but we will come and escort you out. A dare almost and with the setting sun we had to jump in and try to snag a few sick shots with the world’s largest tall ship from Russia. We quickly pumped up the paddle boards and without hesitation jumped in. We got a few shots off before the military came over and quickly ushered us back to shore and gave us a stern lecture the harbor was officially closed for anyone but the tall ships. Stoked to get a couple shots off we quickly deflated the sups and jumped back in the whip and speed off.
Exploring Surrounding Bergen
With so many lakes and endless waterways we made our way just 2 hours drive outside the city. The drive offered up views of castles, farms and huge bridges and tunnels bored into mountains. With so much water and spots to explore it was a paddler’s paradise. We opted to just randomly pick a spot on the car GPS map and after winding around a bend found a perfect little place to park and jump in the refreshing water. The water was in the mid sixties and we were surrounded with rolling grassy hills along the shorelines with little rock islands sprinkled along the waterway with people enjoying lunch and sunbathing. Just down the way was a large suspension bridge connecting the islands together. Lots of views and felt unreal to finally get wet and catch a paddle. After a few hours of goofing off we decided to head up into some freshwater lakes up above the hillside.
The drive up the hillsides had windy roads filled with farm houses and cabins all in perfectly kempt condition. We even came across a mossy forest of trees that looked like something out of a movie set. Soft spongy foam across the ground with endless rows of pines with little leafless branches sticking out endlessly around the trunks of the trees. We parked and walked amongst the forest and soaked it all in. It was so quiet and serene you could hear a pin drop.
The Viking Village?
Scouting for paddle spots we came across another spot to check out at the end of a long point. Once parked we hiked in about 500 yards to get to the sea and we stumbled across what looked to be an old village with a big rock dock jutting out into the ocean. The only thing left of the lodges where hundreds of large stones some huge and some small all jointed together in what looked like a chaotic method using the natural form of the stones like puzzle pieces to form the walls. Along the trail and hills that lined the shoreline where remnants of these houses one after another until we rounded another corner and found what looked to be a huge old dock. It contained to large rock walls stretching into the ocean as if to receive a a ship up above water. All of it was very very dated and ruins of some kinds from way back in the day situated on this idyllic coves at the tip of a headland. The surrounding forest was covered in large crazy looking trees of all kinds, moss and oddly carved and shaped stones. It made you wonder just how peaceful it would have been to live out hear a thousand years ago and sail off into the sunset to plunder foreign shores. After a full days exploring and paddling we headed back into the city to catch some nightlife.
Artsy Vibes and the Nightlife
Bergen is filled with tons and tons of art on walls, statues, sculptures, art museums and artists. There a lots of murals and paintings in the city streets along with a few areas were artists are setup painting out in public on murals and houses designated for art. There are also tons of really cool art stores and galleries with local artist’s works on display for purchase. The city center is also filled with lots of historic statues of famous diplomats and political figures as well as fountains and sculptures around every corner. It’s a university city as well housing 3 colleges and when school is in session hosts tens of thousands of students.
With the Tall Ships in town the nightlife was pumping in the city and doesn’t really get started until around midnight. The nightclubs stay open until 4am and are filled with endless party goers. Being one of the most expensive countries in the world a big night out aint going to be cheap and with seventeen dollar beers and twenty five dollar cocktails most Norwegians host a pre party at the house and after party when the clubs close as a long night buying drinks at the bar can quickly suck your bank account dry. But the downside of expensive drinks is counter balanced by the amount of good looking people at the bars and clubs. Norwegians are some of the best looking and well-dressed people in the world and it’s astonishing to see so much beauty of both the males and females in such high numbers. Not one person is bad looking or poorly dressed and everyone is very friendly and speaks English. After a long night on the town we turned down to explore more of the city of Bergen in the morning.
The Floyen to the Lookout over Bergen
Just above behind the main port of Bergen are large cliffs that shoot straight up from the sea several thousand feet. At the base of the cliffs you can ride a train called a Floyen that runs on rails all the way to the top to a lookout area and get a 180 view of the surrounding area. The Floyen train is constructed on a steep track and has lots of windows so the ride up is much like being on a roller coaster going up a steep steep incline with 360 views. We arrived early to sit in the front seat and get the best view in the house as we rode up the steep incline to the top lookout. Bergen is situated inside a massive maze of islands, fjords and inlets all interconnected and the vantage point from the top of the mountain gives you an amazing perspective of all these landmarks. There are also hiking trails and park benches at the top to sit and relax and soak in all the views.
Exploring the Tall Ships
Best part of the tall ships festival is several of the vessels’ are allowed to be boarded by the public to explore the ships and host a bar and live music on the top poop deck. It’s a great way to soak in the ships and views of the harbor as many ships tie up to one another and you get a chance to interact with the crew and hob nob amongst the yachtsmen. The most fascinating of all was the Russian Tall Ship Kruzenshtern a 4 masted Barque the largest in the world measuring in at close to 400 ft. in length with a crew of 227 men. Standing on the dock looking up at this thing was truly a breathtaking site.
So long Norway
With the Tall Ships festival coming to a close it was finally time to make the long journey home. Always hard to leave such an amazing country we vowed to come back and make the journey to the northern cities we had heard so much about. Until next time…
About the Author - Marc Miller is the founding partner of Isle Surf & SUP an online retailer of paddle boards & surfboards. He has been involved in board manufacturing, product development and website management for Isle since its inception in 2004. He also writes the Isle Surf & SUP Blog. An avid surfer and paddler for the past 2 decades when hes not in the office he can be found on foreign shores searching for waves and fun.