Arctic adventure: kayaker conquers icy extremes of Svalbard in Norway

The final challenge would be timing the jump from the waterfall. We aimed to minimize exposure to falling ice. Precision and timing remained crucial as we sought the perfect moment for a once-in-a-lifetime leap.

  • 5 months ago
  • January 9, 2024
6 min read
journalist’s notes
interview subject
Aniol Serrasolses, 32, is a Spanish professional kayaker who boasts a portfolio of first descents and world records in extreme whitewater challenges. Raised in the Catalan Pyrenees mountains, his lifelong dedication to kayaking has led him to global waters, clinching prestigious titles including the World Championship and North Fork Championship, and recognition as Kayaker of the Year at the White Water Awards. Committed to sustainable practices and social responsibility, Aniol co-founded the Serrasolses Brothers Program (SBP) with his brother Gerd, promoting river conservation and kayaking among underprivileged youth.
background information
Extreme kayaking, a competitive sport which includes navigating perilous waters, demands that athletes complete courses swiftly, typically in one-minute final races. Specialized kayaks, crucial for safety and performance, must be light, buoyant, and regulation-compliant, paired with helmets, life jackets, and supervision. Athletes tackle difficulty levels of IV or V in this expert-dominated discipline. The Association of Whitewater Professionals (AWP) World Series organizes globally recognized events and maintains athlete rankings. More details can be found at AWP Kayak and Paddle Surf Web.

SVALBARD, Norway — My kayaking journey began in the tranquil waters of the Pyrenees Mountains in Catalina, Spain where I grew up. Eventually, my passion for kayaking would take me around the world. My recent adventure into the Arctic Ocean meant trading the serene waters of my youth for the tumultuous, ice-laden seas.

To prepare, I poured over satellite images and climate data, undeterred by the risks and captivated by the mystery of the untamed. Armed with detailed plans and a bold vision, I tackled the Arctic’s unpredictable landscape. My chosen route took me to the Svalbard archipelago in Norway [a chain of scattered islands], which offered breathtaking landscapes and daunting challenges.

During my intense journey through the Arctic, I met with the unbridled beauty of nature. This frozen wonderland included a maze of ice surrounded by stunning scenes and risky waters, testing my spirit each step of the way.

Read more adventure stories at Orato World Media.

Young man transitions from kayaking in Catalina to the world’s most amazing waterways

From a small town in the Pyrenees Mountains, my passion for sports ignited at a young age. At 12 years old, my brother took me kayaking for the first time. Not only did he introduce me to the sport, but he shared essential skills and knowledge. As time went on, I learned important techniques, and more crucially, how to interpret the river’s language.

I joined a local club, and by the age of 15, academics took a backseat to kayaking. Rafting became my entire world. I felt called by the enchanting allure of the river. Although I was an adept swimmer, kayaking offered a unique synergy with nature. I reveled in navigating the currents, becoming one with the surrounding landscape.

My passion for kayaking escalated with time, and I dreamt of traversing the globe to face the most formidable rivers. Taking on numerous expeditions, I accrued distinctions for my daring descents. Gradually, my hobby morphed into a professional endeavor, and I gained recognition from the World Championships, the North Fork Championship, and won Kayaker of the Year at the prestigious White Water Awards.

When my dream to face icy waterfalls in the Artic Ocean crystallized, I spent months preparing. I scrutinized Google Earth, gathered data, and studied images. Through my research, I became acutely aware of the ever-changing challenges posed by the volatile ice and capricious weather. The ice can be alarmingly unstable, shattering in moments. Meanwhile, the rivers alternately freeze and thaw. Finding a safe location became paramount.

In Norway’s Arctic Ocean, kayaker navigates tunnels, waterfalls, and icy fountains

I felt a surge of excitement when I discovered my destination: the Svalbard archipelago in Norway. Specifically, I targeted Nordaustlandet, the second-largest island in the archipelago. I quickly assembled a fantastic team and we set out to achieve my dream. The 11-member crew included friends, photographers, cameramen, and fellow kayakers. We convened in Norway from all corners of the world, bound by our collective anticipation.

From Svalbard’s capital, we embarked on a 36-hour PolarX boat ride to the location, navigating through surreal landscapes. The hues of the ice and water looked astounding as we steered northeast toward the island. In the hostile terrain, we faced risky overnight stays due to the presence of wildlife like polar bears. We searched for the perfect area from which to launch and despite some initial challenges, we persisted.

Our diligence led us to promising wetlands and sub-ice rivers, navigating through tunnels and icy fountains. Finally, we found a majestic 20-meter ice wall with a perfect waterfall. Approaching this spot proved perilous due to the unstable ice and the wall’s height. We navigated by boat, traversing streams and crevices, and attached a rope ladder to a stable piece of ice.

Upon reaching the ideal location, we felt exhilarated, yet hypervigilant to the precarious terrain beneath us. The final challenge would be timing the jump from the waterfall. We aimed to minimize exposure to falling ice. Precision remained crucial as we sought the perfect moment for a once-in-a-lifetime leap.

Extreme kayaking: “Approaching the precipice, I plunged into a world of astonishing beauty”

The crew in Norway diligently monitored the weather and discovered a brief window between the turbulent storms and gales. Our opportunity finally arrived, and I felt my heart pounding, anxious to take advantage of the perfect moment. As I climbed into my kayak, a maelstrom of emotions engulfed me, from pure excitement to an intense rush of adrenaline. I took a deep breath, felt the gentle breeze on my neck, and set off in my kayak, floating on the water.

Navigating the river, I saw a spectrum of blues and turquoise, reflecting off the white of the pristine snow. As I approached the precipice, the afternoon sun illuminated the breathtaking landscape and I felt myself plunge into a world of astonishing beauty. It was like moving inside of an unforgettable visual spectacle.

This moment I long dreamt of became reality and it remains vivid in my memory to this day. That magical, ineffable experience felt like the pinnacle of my kayaking career. When I finished the route, the sense of elation and the thrill of accomplishment were palpable in the air. My team and I erupted in celebration and shared happiness.

Throughout my kayaking career, I faced daunting challenges and moments of profound solitude on the river. These experiences made me a resilient person with inner strength and fortitude. Kayaking is more than a sport; it’s a profound connection with nature and a journey that offers unique insights and extraordinary experiences. Each excursion strips life back to its essence and immerses you in wild simplicity. 

Photos provided by Aniol Serrasolses, David Sodomka, and the Red Bull content pool.

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