Living in Oslo gives you many fine seasons and waters to paddle. There’s nothing wrong with gliding between fragrant pineclad rock islands on a misty winter morning on the Oslo Fiord but recently I’ve begun discovering and visiting surfski destinations around the world.
Paddling in Oslo goes a long way
In my time off I´ve been freelancing a bit for Getty Images as a travel photographer. Photography is a great vessel to get you going to the next country, village, valley, tribe and now I’ve begun combining it with surfski travel, which has the added benefit of letting me meet many more wonderful people.
A recent photography / surfski trip to Namibia & South Africa
I did a small piece on a surfski trip to Tarifa some time back (Surfski Center Tarifa Review), and am still trying to get my experiences in Southern Africa, particularly the Millers Run in Fish Hoek down on paper. Meanwhile a logistical blunder left me in Oslo without family or car but with my four last summer holiday-days free. So I started thinking about the surfski schools I knew of but hadn´t been to – Zolt in Hawai’i sounds great like Sydney, Kaua´i and maybe Perth do (tip me on other places please!) But four days is no fortnight so I remembered having heard about Surfski Malta, got in contact with the manager and operator Christoffer Camilleri who was quick to help me out on short notice and in the middle of the peak season.
“So you´re going to Malta” the immigration police said, “now which country would that be located in” (sorry Malta).
Not the biggest country, but not to be overlooked
Malta is a country and a huge travel destination blending terrific weather with a really confusing history involving Roman, Arabic, German, Aragon, Spanish, French and British rule, not to forget the Knights of St. John and independency , all this has produced a unique culture, architecture, and cuisine. Interesting and unlike anything I’ve seen in Europe. But this falls outside the scope of this article and I will just suffice to recommend a closer look at Malta and its very friendly people.
Valletta, Capital of Malta
Back to the surfski trip. It was thursday July 24th and I got around to packing while Norway had woken up to total terror alert investigating apparent threats from extremists, live broadcast of a press conference hosted by the Norwegian Police Security Service, police choppers overhead our house and armed police stationed at focal points such as the Central Station in Oslo, the intl. airport Gardermoen and the Ferry terminal to Copenhagen. Or in other words the three transportation hubs we’d use to get the family to Denmark and me to Malta. No sweat though and we were off.
Surfski Malta was opened in 2013 and is Nelo country. It´s not exactly a school as such like Tarifa or the paddling School in Fish Hoek, nor does it claim to be. Rather it´s a surf ski rental that’ll give you good advice, take care of accomodation too. But with new investments it looks like things are moving towards a more complete package for all types of surfskiers , more on this later.
The dedicated founder of Surfski Malta Christoffer Camilleri is President of the Malta Canoe Racing Club, has repeatedly been the K1 national champion of Malta since 2004 and has been competing in World Championships and World Cups for several years with outstanding results.
Some years back a visitor from South Africa saw Chris in his K1 in Malta and having seen the sea around Malta promised to ship a surfski – the very first ski ever in Malta. This happened to be an ancient and thus tippy Epic V10 fitting Chris perfectly and now he was sold. So in 2013 Chris went ahead and got hold of a line of brand new Nelo Skis. The choice was Nelo Vintage and Ocean L/XL, fast beautifully colorful and sleek designs but at a price – stability.
My blue Nelo Ocean Ski and my green Nelo Vintage
My black V14
For those who haven’t owned one and coming from one that has owned and paddled all three – the Epic V14 is sort of equal to the Nelo Vintage and pretty stable compared to the Nelo Ocean Ski. They´re fast and beautiful but they´re not for everybody or even most bodies. They´re high performance skis what have very little initial stability and less secondary stability. They´re not like the outrageously unstable beautiful Nelo 560Ski though. Bear in mind though that this comes from an intermediate surfski paddler.
But the Ocean Skis at Surfski Malta are being supplemented by no less than 11 of the very stable Nelo Viper 55 Ski. I´ve had two Viper 55 Skis and they´re sort of comparable to Fenn XT and Epic V8 by a stretch. Rounder and faster than the V8 less so than XT.
My Viper55 Ski in action in Norwegian mid winter
This will leave intermediate paddlers with a choice of upgrading to an Nelo Ocean Ski or downgrading to a Viper from the Swordfish/Evo II/V10/etc. they likely have back home as Nelo hasn´t got anything in this segment yet. But the Viper is actually pretty fast and surfs very well with a proper surf rudder, so the choice makes good sense to further Surfski Malta as a surfski destination for both beginners and advanced paddlers. I guess that most guests at Surfski Center Tarifa paddle something faster at home than the V8 very commonly used in Tarifa, and in the same way I actually think a Viper 55 Ski will be the right choice for most recreational skiers visiting Surfski Malta, even if we might prefer something more intermediate if we were at home.
A few intermediate boats that I guess 90% of recreational surfskiers would be happy in when paddling at home in known conditions:
My Think EVO II & my Epic V10
My Fenn Swordfish and Eirik Verås Larsen coaching
Malta as a paddlers destination has a bit of the same Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality as a Viper 55 ski vs. an Ocean ski. You´ve got the huge bays an inlets of the North East. Vast crystal clear bodies of quiet water fitting an intermediate paddler in an Ocean Ski. But if you venture outside the bays you´re in the Mediterranean Proper and you will have rapidly changing conditions, big rolling waves on quiet days and breaking downwind on others, it´ll be perfect for an intermediate paddler in a Viper 55 Ski.
Matthew Schembri & Christoffer Camilleri on a windy day
Chris has cleverly set up two surfski Centres in Malta. One operating mainly in the winter (October to April) in western Mellieha Bay and one downtown in St. Julians at the end of the prevailing downwind in winter peak season (above).
21km downwind route from western Mellieha Bay to St. Julians
It was summer during my visit so I stayed next door to the St. Julian base. The hotels here are fine tourism machines, but just next door you´ll find charming old fishing boat houses built by the old boat launches and now home to Christoffers St. Julian boats.
It´s a wonderful feeling strolling along the old boat launches at seven in the morning next to colorful fishing boats floating on inviting crystal clear waters.
Surfski Malta St. Julians
No garden? – No problem!
While setting up your boat at the shack you´ll no doubt meet old fisherman Xavier who is back from a long night of terribly bad fishing which he´ll be glad to elaborate on. He has been in place since 1959 and his cockney accented gloomy fishing reports are a quite cool reminder of the colourful history this country has to offer.
Morning paddle in St. Julians
Just three steps from the boat shack is the Mediterranean and you´ll launch your ski from here. Wiggle your way between colorful wooden Maltese fishing boats and enter the bay of St. Julians. Surrounded by medieval and baroque palaces and churches plus many not so medieval chain hotels, you can stare at the blue bottom 10 meters down. The bay is in wide open connection with the ocen and thus only protected in some wind directions, which is why you might experience placid water become a rolling tub in no time. It´s a touristy place for sure, but it does have it´s own considerable charm to be paddling downtown between ancient spires and old grumpy fishermen.
As of now Surfski Malta is a surfski rental that can also fix your accommodation without any fuss plus offer paddling advice, but it’s not a surfski school as such. You can come to train in fine boats and good conditions, but need to know what you´re doing in a surfski as there´s no one coaching you or paddling with you. To be perfectly honest I as an intermediate paddler with only 4 years of experience had no option what so ever to venture outside the bay into the open ocean without something a bit more similar to a Swordfish/modern stable V10/EVO II and without company knowledgeable about local currents, reefs, traffic, winds and runs etc. Recently though Chris has invested in a powerfull dingy stored in St. Julian’s, showing that the business plan of Surfski Malta is evolving and that in near future guided paddle trips / runs will be a part of the product line.
Limestone arc – the Azure Window – Gozo Island
Surfski Malta just opened up in October 2013 and has already got a decent fleet and many followers on FaceBook. They held quite a few races during that short time, and many more are planned, check out their FaceBook site for the cool race reports. I believe that Surfski Malta has a great potential for beginners/intermediate paddlers as well when they take delivery of the New Viper 55 Skis and wrap a bit of a tuition package around the really fine product they actually have – slick skis, warm water year round mixed with Maltese nature, culture and cuisine. It’s a strong start and I’d be interested in visiting again later to try the downwind from Mellieha to Valletta.
I find it very interesting that more and more surfski operators are popping up. Christoffer Camilleri is very dedicated, knowledgeable and very helpful person. I have no doubt that with time this will emerge as a leading surfski destination with it´s very own twist.
Mellieha Bay, photo by Surfski Malta
You can read more about Christoffer in his own words here Christoffer Camilleri
And about Surfski Malta here