November 23, 2022
By Ingjerd Haarstad, Champion of the Jæren Coast Hope Spot. Featured image by Willy Miljeteig
The Jæren Coast Hope Spot is located just next to Stavanger, the “oil capital” of Norway. The country is ranked as having among the highest living standards in the world, but unfortunately, also has the third highest rate of climate change deniers. I have to admit, the idea of advocating for the ocean here – using all means (and swim strokes!) felt somehow a bit naïve, but not unimportant.
This coast is also considered one of the most notorious coastlines of Norway, and one of the roughest ocean areas in the world rolls along these shores. As a lifeguard, freediver and instructor having spent hundreds of hours in these waters, I felt experienced and focused, but also quite humbled by its roughness.
On the second of April, I began the first stage of swimming the entire length of the Hope Spot – 80km. The temperature was about 4-5 C (~40 Fahrenheit) and the ocean was just about to wake up to spring. I was completely dependent on the thickness of my wetsuit to manage the first 2,5 km. Addressing the importance of protecting more of our oceans was the focus of the first swim. Thanks to the cold, the first stage was the shortest of them all, but a good start nonetheless. Once the water temperature started to rise, I was able to swim longer distances, the longest being 7 kilometers. I attached a GoPro to my mask to capture my journey just as I was witnessing it myself. Underneath the water’s surface was beautiful kelp forests that I got to enjoy for most of the stretch, but the most important result of bringing my GoPro along with me was being able to document and share some of the threats our ocean faces, including plastic pollution. I was the first one to swim the entire distance along this coast, which made the news not only locally, but nationally.
Throughout each of the 20 stages, I addressed different problems and threats that the ocean is facing. Each stage had a specific theme. Many scientists and marine biologists joined me at different points to help me highlight these themes.
We were passing numerous stunning sandy beaches along our coast and we swam past many historic events and sites. On stage three, we swam along the footsteps of the first settlers in Norway from some ten thousand years ago. A moraine, now visible as a little pebble rock island that we passed by, was the first ice-free landfall area where the first settlers in Norway were able to cross, wading in from Europe. According to the written legend, around the year 1,000 one of the sons of the great Viking chiefs ended here with his ship. In the same location, in 1896, three ships also went down on one particularly stormy night.
The 15th stage was perhaps the hardest emotionally. I had just lost my biggest supporter, my father, just days before. Now, I tried to bring his presence and aloha into my strokes.
When swimming in these stages, all senses are increased, and I embraced being in the present; the here and now. They need to be because in many ways you are actually swimming in the biggest unknown wilderness there is – the ocean. Approximately 80% is still not mapped and 90% of the ocean is still unexplored. Even our own Hope Spot area is not fully explored.
It wasn’t until after the swim that I was able to reflect deeply. On behalf of the ocean, I am now even more upset about how recklessly we humans treat the seas. We need to increase our knowledge, and fast.
“People can’t care if they are unaware” is something Dr. Sylvia Earle often says – words that I resonate with deeply.
On the last swim on August 8th, I was met by family, friends, supporters, and other swimmers from the previous stages. Several people joined in on the last swim strokes to the end of the coastline. The whole swim was really a team effort. Along the way were scientists, marine biologists, ocean lovers, helpers, and supporters. I’m almost sad it’s over but I feel so grateful for having met so many incredible people who all share a goal of trying to make a wave of change for our ocean.