the Surfing Psychologist
The rolling waves surge as they cross the depths of the Baltic Sea. Roaring and heavy, these enormous mountains of water break on the surf along Bornholm’s sandy beaches and rocky coasts. Some have been pushed by the winds of the sea all the way from Finland or the easternmost Baltic Sea as wide greenish-blue tops, before breaking and disappearing in fine swells along the north coast of Bornholm. The very point at which the wave ends its journey across the Baltic Sea becomes the focal point of a dramatic, intense game. The wave’s movement merges with the surfer’s body and mind as he paddles out on his surfboard to play with it, just before the wave fades into spatter and spray. A brief ride on the wave’s energy merging balance, adrenaline and satisfaction and surrounded by the forces and elements of nature. This is the whole point of the game.
Wave surfing originated in Polynesia, subsequently spreading to Australia, the US and Europe. Surfers have become a permanent fixture on Bornholm, and Swedish surfer Dennie is one of them. All winter long, he dons a wetsuit to throw himself into the waves in all weathers, with ice in his beard and gale force winds at his back as roaring waves race to pound the rocky finish line. It is a feeling of freedom. Dennie is a member of a small Bornholm surfing community. He decided to settle on Bornholm with his family to pursue his passion for surfing on the waves of the Baltic Sea in a community with others. I meet Dennie on a chilly January day just after he returns from surfing along the north-east coast of Bornholm near Gudhjem. This slender, striking man with weather-beaten skin and lively eyes is a clinical psychologist with his own practice, but he is also a surfer and a surfing instructor. We meet to talk about surfing culture, nature and his interest in surfing, which has developed into a small, adventurous start-up where surfing, sustainability and presence converge into a meaningful whole. Dennie comes from Malmö, Sweden, and he has been running the ‘Bornholm Surf Farm’ concept near Gudhjem, with views of the Baltic Sea and fascinating waves, since 2012. “This is my passion,” he starts out. I ask him whether surfing on such a winter’s day is a chilly experience. “No, adrenaline is coursing through my veins and I’m wearing a 7 mm wet suit, so it doesn’t matter if it’s cold when you’re on your way out into the waves,” he responds.
Surfing is done along the Bornholm coasts all year round, but mostly in summer, of course. For active winter surfers, however, the pursuit of the perfect waves is always part of the game. As Dennie puts it: “My heart is pounding even before I get to the beach, it’s quite simple conditioning – I just know something exciting is going to happen: I’m going to be challenged by the sea.”
Dennie shows me around the Surf Farm – and it truly is a farm. There are horses, chickens, rabbits, a dog and a cat, a large vegetable garden, fruit trees and a shrubbery, as well as a greenhouse that was torn to shreds by an autumn storm. Guests and visitors stay at the farm for a surfing holiday or surfing school with community, campfires and a sustainable spirit. To Dennie and his family, nature is the key guiding principle of their existence.
The Swedish psychologist has been surfing since he was 15. He travelled as a backpacker and has surfed almost all over the world. But after having pitted himself against the waves of the Baltic, he fell in love with Bornholm, its waves and its culture. The first time he tried surfing in the Baltic Sea was off Boderne and Hasle, when he and his wife were on holiday ten years ago. When they returned home, they toyed with the idea of moving to Bornholm to enjoy their retirement on the island. But after a while, they couldn’t let go of the idea, and they asked themselves, “Why wait?”. Dennie looks me in the eye: “You must never wait to follow your dreams. It’s my passion, you know.” When Dennie and his family came to the island, surfing was very new. “Someone called the police as I was on my way out one stormy winter afternoon,” he explains. “They probably thought I was crazy or was going to do something stupid, because back then it was unusual to see a man paddling out through the waves in stormy weather.” Some probably consider it an extreme sport, but Dennie calmly explains: “It involves hyperfocus, adrenaline, control and breathing – as well as testing your limits and daring to let go.”
After a guided tour of the farm, we’re sitting in the small living room of the old farmhouse, where Dennie talks about his surfing school. He has now been giving surfing classing for many years, alongside his studies and his work. His trainees are not just inquisitive novices and young people, but children and senior citizens aged from 7 to 75, including children with autism spectrum disorders. And when the topic turns to surfing school, he beams with enthusiasm: “I want everyone to be able to feel the rush and say ‘Yes!. I can do this, I can ride a wave’.” He resolutely rises from his chair, straightens his back, pushes out his chest and takes a few steps forward, beaming. “Like this, with their heads held high. In my view, they’ve moved on, they’ve turned their anxiety and frustrations into something they can use.” As far as his personal experiences are concerned, he says: “It’s a matter of using your instincts professionally and diverting the energy from giving – such as in a demanding job, where you show empathy and have to accommodate the needs of others – to taking in the energy of the waves and following their flow.” I begin to understand what he means. It’s a matter of being self-aware and self-confident in the process of following the waves’ psychology.
His passion for surfing and teaching provides a completely different life, especially in the summer. This is when young and old alike meet at Bornholm’s surfing schools, and at Bornholm Surf Farm they also take part in a small Swedish/Bornholm eco-certified surfing concept. Dennie is convinced that he is seen as a cool, laid-back surfer dude when holiday guests and surfing students arrive in the summer. “I know I’m a role model to many of the young people, so the first thing I do on the beach is pick up rubbish, because I want to show them that thinking sustainably is cool.” Surf Farm is the setting for many more activities besides Dennie’s surfing school, though. He also invites people to SUP Safari (Stand Up Paddleboard) with excursions to places like Helligdomsklipperne. But the passion of Bornholm’s surfers revolves around the game and the art of riding the energy of the waves. It’s a matter of not struggling against the wave, but using it, following it, and letting it consume you with energy so you are propelled by the water. The Bornholm waves invite experiences that delve deeper than the surface of the Baltic. They invite you to partake in an intense, transformative game which, according to Dennie the Surfer, anyone can learn to play.