Sunshine stories

Interview by Glenn Sakamoto

Tell us a bit about yourself.
We’re Petter and Linn, a Swedish couple who share the same hunger for adventure, good food and surfing waves. We started sunshinestories.com as a blog back in 2009 when we went on our first trip around the world together. It was our way to keep in touch with family and friends as well as a platform to develop our creative side of shooting photos and writing. We started to make mini interviews, “sunshinestories” about inspiring people living the lives we could only dream of. The blog grew to a lifestyle blog and we got brands such as Bing Surfboards, Billabong, GoPro, Sea to Summit, The Seea and Fjällräven to support our travels and interviews. Six years later our blog once again grew to something else when we settled on Sri Lanka and created a small surf and yoga retreat for followers and friends around the world to come and visit. It is something that has come together from all the experiences and inspiring persons we’ve encountered on our travels.

What was the surf scene like in Sweden when you lived there? How has it changed since you left?
The ocean where we grew up in Sweden is called Kattegatt. It’s smaller than Lake Michigan and that’s where we first learnt to surf. Being a tiny ocean, the autumn and winter storms can provide a decent low period wind swell, and the coast has some really good set ups so when it all comes together we can actually get some fun surf in Sweden. The water is always cold and we have to surf when it’s windy, stormy and often raining or snowing. It has kept the surfers away for years. There has been a couple of pioneers since the 80s, but until just a few years ago the surfing community in Sweden was very small and out in the water everyone knew everyone. We used to walk down to the surf in wind and rain, covered in rubber, and people would be looking at us from their homes being like, “what’re these guys up to?!”. Now it’s a different story. Developments in wetsuit technology, online forecasting and the growing surf travel culture in Scandinavia has seen a huge increase in the number of surfers. These days it’s not unusual to see 30 people in the lineup, with people driving from Denmark, Holland and Germany to surf our waves on a good day!

Tell us more...
Surf culture in Sweden has taken off really nicely and we have a few great surf shops such as Ohana in Halmstad and 654 in Stockholm. Surfer’s in Varberg carry some of the latest board designs as well as classics such as Bing and also a lot of gear that is designed and manufactured in Scandinavia.

There are a bunch of creative photographers, filmmakers and artists out there that are coming from the Swedish surf scene. The Nordic Surf Film Festival is held in Sweden every year for example. The Nordic Surfers Mag is a Swedish print magazine that comes out twice a year and covers really well written pieces and imagery on Cold Water Surf in Scandinavia. Their slogan is “no palm trees” and that’s very much what the Swedish surf is all about. It’s exotic in it’s own way, and surfing our brains out on Sri Lanka we still miss the surf back home so much sometimes.

Freddie Meadows is a Swedish surfer that is really pushing the boundaries on finding high quality heavy waves, and has found some really amazing spots that can look like that perfect Indo dream. However, they only turn on every now and then for a few hours, there’s no one else around and the coastline is filled with pine trees instead of palmtrees.

If you surf on every forecast you can get up to a hundred days a year, but then that’s every forecast, and often the surf will be below average. This forces us to travel to find better waves. There are even surfers that only travel to surf and never surf in Sweden. We call them “vacation-surfers” as they work really hard in Sweden and live abroad to surf every winter. However, if you’re a hardcore Swedish surfer you can even negotiate to get “surf-flex” as part of your employment contract. This means that if the wind blows from a certain direction and over a certain strength you will automatically get holiday and can go surfing all day!

What made you both decide to start your adventure? Where did you go before ending up in Sri Lanka?
Our travel interest comes from that surf culture. Growing up surfing in Sweden we heard all the stories about amazing waves and the cool every day surf culture abroad, so we travelled to explore more of that and to become better surfers. We took off immediately after high school and we quickly agreed that our dream life together would be to live somewhere in the sun where we can surf peeling waves every day. We worked hard during the Swedish summers at Petters parent’s restaurant G Swenson’s, shot a lot of weddings, and did other small jobs to save up money. We travelled to South Africa, Bali, Laos, Thailand, Borneo, Lombok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Portugal,California, New York, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. We remember being in places like Bali and Thailand and saying “I wish we were here 30 years ago, it must have been amazing” and then we got to Sri Lanka and it was like traveling back at least 30 years in time! After 3 years of travel we asked ourself if we should continue like this or not., It was hard not to have a home, a base somewhere. Also we maybe felt that we needed to grow up sometime and we didn’t want to spoil to possibility to get a university degree, so we decided to move back to Sweden and started our studies in Malmö. It was really interesting and fun, but we surfed on every forecast and still travelled on every little free time we had and spent one and a half month every winter on Sri Lanka. As soon as we got the opportunity to study from a distance we moved to Sri Lanka, thinking we could balance our studies with surfing every morning.

What made you decide to create a surf/yoga retreat?
Arriving to Sri Lanka we found our dream house, a big colonial villa hidden in the jungle in Sri Lanka, but we quickly realized that it was too big for just two students. As we were going to be spending two semesters abroad while writing our final theses we decided to start renting out the extra rooms we had. We made a post on the blog and it immediately grew to become a bed and breakfast. We started getting guests from friends of friends as well as some complete strangers, and the only tool we had used was a hashtag on instagram and a blog post. They all wanted to do the same as we did all day; surf, yoga, adventure and eat good food. In the end we were so busy arranging it all that we couldn’t keep up with our studies and we had already grown a little company with a few staff to help us manage it.

One night a Swedish surfer jumped over our wall. He’d been travelling from Australia and wanted to stay with us. His name is Nick Holmgren and he really loved the place. He ended up taking our guests on guided surf session every day and we all had a really good time together! In the end of the season we had two options, move back to Sweden to study for another year and get our degree, or continue on this path and develop this concept we “accidently” created on Sri Lanka. The next day we asked Nick if he wanted to help us open up the retreat, he said yes and we decided to go for it.

From that moment on we’ve been really busy working to fund it all as well as continuing to design the whole concept. In the early stages we didn’t know anything. We considered teaching the surf and yoga lessons ourselves, doing the cooking, the sales, the marketing, the emails and everything else. It’s a good thing we didn’t and we managed to get a hold of really cool people to come and help us create the experience. We decided it was going to be an all inclusive experience, a week of the things we like the most in Sri Lanka and in life and we worked hard to communicate our product to our followers.

Nick is a well known Swedish surfer, surf coach and is also a sports psychology coach and he helped us with our idea of creating a surf coaching methodology that goes beyond the standard surf camp approach of people just being pushed into waves. We wanted to give the best possibilities for surfers to develop as surfers and have fun with us at the same time. Our concept includes daily in water lessons combined with interactive theory lessons and one to one surf video analysis of every surf session. Combined with yoga twice a day, small adventures and excursions through the week and good healthy food for our guests every day it all became a magic recipe for the travelling surfer. We were fully booked our first week! We didn’t even have enough beds or cutlery in the house, or enough staff, it was a crazy first few months. We kind of did the opposite of building a company the traditional way, first we spent 6 years on creating our story and our brand, and then we created the retreat. But it came together as naturally as the next blog post on our blog.

What do you both love about Sri Lanka and why is it ideal for surfing and yoga?
We love the weather, the waves, the people, the food and the culture. That’s a lot, but it all comes together as a perfect mix of everything in a Sri Lankan rhythm of life. There are waves for everyone. Beachbreaks that are ideal for beginners, mellow reef breaks and points for the intermediate surfer and also really challenging surf for the avid surfer. Ahangama where we are located is in the midst of the Sri Lankan version of the “Hawaiian North Shore.” The coastline is packed with wave after wave. There’s space for everyone and it’s not (yet) crowded!

It’s beautiful to practice yoga at dawn to the sound of monks chanting in our nearby temple. Sri Lanka is home to Ayurveda and Buddhism, and yoga is a big part of life here. The food culture and the traditional way of life is very yogi. Having travelled to a lot of tropical countries we always love coming back to Sri Lanka, it’s so smiley and welcoming!

How does surfing and yoga bring meaning to your life? What are the benefits?
Linn: “Surfing gives me a joy that makes me giggle like a baby and the older I get the more I realize how precious that joy is. Without yoga I feel sick. I feel like I’m at a breakpoint when it comes to yoga. It has been a good compliment for my surfing but so far my yoga practice has been more for my body. Now I feel ready to dive deeper and explore more on a spiritual level.”

Petter: “Surfing and yoga is an amazing combination. I did my first yoga session ever on Sri Lanka with Lyndon Mason in Hikkaduwa and I was hooked. It really helps surfing in many ways by strengthening and aligning the body but also with finding the chi, the perfect balance between strength and relaxation. It is really hard to accomplish this in the surf, but when you do you feel like one with the wave and everything works. I think surfing is something all yogis should try and the same the other way around, surfers should all try yoga. The two practices complement each other so well.”

What is your favorite board? Your favorite place to surf?
Linn: I only surf longboards. My favorite is a 9’2 Bing Squaretail or Petters classic 9’6 log that I sometimes get to steal. I love peeling, knee high waves far away from the crowds. We’re lucky to still have our own secret spots here in Lanka land.

Petter: “I love to surf all kind of boards. With every board you have to approach the wave in a different way and it forces you to be more creative. I like the design element and the craftsmanship behind boards and I try to surf as many types of boards as possible to understand them better. My favorite board at the moment is my Bing 5’2 Fish. It’s so fast yet as it’s so short you can still control that speed and turn it. My all around board is a 5’8 Bing Dharma as it just surfs so well in everything. Traditional longboarding is like yin yoga to me, I have traditional 9’6 Bing Noserider Lightweight, it works perfect in the waves here. It’s so important to slow down and be really precise with the movements, to align properly and to read the wave.”

What’s next for Petter and Linn?
We’re working on developing Sunshinestories Surf & Yoga retreat to be even better. We’re putting a lot of attention into the small details. We have a grown a little family of surfers, yogis and creatives with Sunshinestories now, and we are trying to involve everyone to be part of the concept. The blog will continue and we will also continue to travel and explore. We also have some exciting new projects going on here on Sri Lanka. A lot is happening fast here and it’s fun to be part of it.

To learn more about Petter and Linn and Sunshine Stories Surf & Yoga here. Jeep and water photography by Melchior van NigtevechtAll others provided by Petter and Linn.