The south of Sweden is perhaps one of the last places on earth from which one might expect a professional surfer to emerge. Yet Maria Petersson, clad head to toe in thick neoprene, is living proof that anything is possible with the right amount of willpower, talent, and perseverance.
Maria has not called Sweden home for the past nine years, however, because her surf travels taken her further afield to places as far flung as the Arctic circle and the little-known breaks of the Lofoten Islands in Norway, where the midnight sun fosters two am surf sessions.
“It’s so magical to surf at two in the morning,” Maria says. “Norway actually gets pretty good swell in summer. The first times I ever surfed in those cold conditions, it was a big struggle to get used to wearing a thick six-five-four wetsuit, with seven-millimeter boots and gloves and still trying to be flexible. Standing outside in -10º C, taking your gloves off, then trying to take off the rest of your suit with frozen fingers—that’s a challenge! I can admit to crying a few times.”
Although Norway is slowly making its way into the surfing public’s eye, it’s not exactly a surf destination. “There are so many things that are fascinating about the place, but mostly the waves,” Maria says. “I have never lived in a place where you get such consistently good swell with perfect winds. And the best of all: no-one in the water—or if someone is in the water, it is most likely a good mate. I must say that it’s definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever surfed. You sit in the lineup watching the snow-covered mountains while an eagle flies by, and it really just makes you smile, every time.”
Maria took to the water relatively late in the game—at the age of 18, in Hossegor, France—yet is a competent wave-rider and has built a devoted following on Instagram with a dedicated team of sponsors keeping her on the road (Lapoint Surf Camps, Little Devil Surfboards, Karlton Surfboards, Odd Molly, Inspireus, Random Bastards and Livepantai).
She has lived in Australia, England, Spain and Norway. “I find it really hard to choose which one of these places I would want to live in because they all have good waves, and they all have good, special qualities of their own,” she explains. “I try to live in places where I can involve surfing in my everyday life. I think it’s important to do what you love in life, to appreciate what you have and to live every day to the fullest. That’s the motto I try to live by.”
Currently camped in Ericeira, Portugal, Maria says she is no good with long term planning but sees Bali as a next possible destination. “At the moment I am pretty content being in Ericeira, with really good waves and a good surf crew,” she says.
She rates her most memorable wave as Los Lobos, an island between Fuerteventura and Lanzarote in the Canary Islands: “One of the longest and best right-handers I have ever surfed. I especially remember one magical surf there, where a friend and I went out on a big swell, the whole spot to ourselves for a few hours.”
Despite her proclivity for cold climes, she is quick to admit: “I’m actually secretly in love with warm waters—the sun, and surfing in only my togs, but the waves and the scenery in the Arctic are just breathtaking and that’s what makes me always go back there. The people I surf with in Lofoten are some of the most inspiring I have ever met, they are just genuinely good people who never hesitate to jump in the water, even if it’s below freezing and there are snowstorms. I have found a good little crew in Ericeira as well.”
Maria’s first competitive outing was in the Lofoten Islands, and she finished fifth out of thirty-five competitors. She has surfed competitively since, but is drawn rather to the free-surfing lifestyle. “Competitive surfing never really appealed to me. It is a whole different vibe competing compared to free-surfing, though I will still attend smaller, local competitions just for fun if they happen to be in the area where I am.”
On being a rare sight when she hits mainstream waters: “I have never had any bad experiences being a girl in this male dominated sport. Of course, as in all sports, you do meet those guys who can’t stand seeing a girl surf better than they do, which is sad—for them! But mostly, guys are just stoked to see girls out in the lineup.”
“I am really lucky having such supportive sponsors. Lapoint is giving me the opportunity to stay and travel to different countries. Odd Molly is such an inspiring brand, supporting me doing what I love with beautiful clothing—pretty much the only clothes I wear. Livepantai gives me custom-made fins, really improving my surfing. Little Devil and Karlton keep me in custom-shaped boards.”
Ask Maria where she might call home now and she’ll tell you: “I guess I don’t really know what place to call home. Every place I move to where there is surf, I feel at home. I actually don’t travel that much anymore; I just move to different places, which is better than living in a suitcase. The only downside of moving to different places and countries is that I miss all my really good friends everywhere, so I would like to live in all places at the same time.”
See more from Maria on Instagram.