“It’s a place that makes you happy”
Just hanging out on a North Sea beach for nine months to surf—sounds cool. But Inge Wegge and Jørn Nyseth Ranum wanted to give something back to nature. They did not only build a house from trash, they also collected three tons of it. A retrospective on the E.O.F.T. film “North of the Sun”.
Their first idea seemed as inconsequential as a drop of water in the ocean to Inge Wegge and Jørn Ranum. They just wanted to drop out and surf for a bit—a thought that others had had before them. What added weight to their project was a second idea, basically a waste product of the first one: if we do want to live on a lonely beach, we should also clean it up. And not only that, but also live on the trash of others. That was when the story about how well ultimate freedom and social commitment go together started to develop: surfing, building a house, and at the same time doing something for the environment. “These supposed limitations had something very liberating,” Inge says.
Within nine months, the two Norwegians collected three tons of trash. Measured against the 6.4 million tons of plastic and styrofoam that are thrown into the world’s oceans each year (according to an estimate of the United Nations) this amounts to only 0.00000047 percent, but the attention that they have drawn to this problem with their film “North of the Sun” probably outweighs this by far. In some way it is even helpful when the trash is washed ashore—at least then you have the possibility of disposing of it.
After all, 70 percent of bags, packaging, buckets, CD covers, or toothbrushes sink to the bottom of the ocean or they are decomposed by sunlight during their decades-long journey. In this way, they enter the food chain at some point, poisoning fish or letting them starve, because the plastic in their stomachs makes them think they are full. Also, released toxins often lead to gene mutations. Reducing the amount of waste would therefore clearly be a better solution. Still, Jørn and Inge are modern heroes in a way, because they have elegantly made an invisible problem visible and have pointed out solutions at the same time. To clean up that beach in Northern Norway permanently, they had to live there—and that’s what they did, without producing trash themselves.
First of all, they needed a place to stay. The necessary material was provided by the beach: stones, driftwood, and plastic bottles that served as insulation. “During the first few months we did nothing but build,” Inge says. They hardly had any time off, at least not in the usual sense. But every time they chopped wood, fished, or read, they threw more and more everyday ballast overboard. Naturally, they also rewarded themselves for their efforts and did what they had come there to do: “From time to time the waves were just great, so we simply had to paddle out,” he says. The North Atlantic waves are higher in winter, which is why they had picked the cold season. Of course they sometimes thought about whether it would have been wiser to find a more southerly setting for their project, for example, when the water froze on their wetsuits as soon as they got out.
However, the spectacular northern lights and the pleasant solitude outweighed the little discomforts. And when winter is coming, you are even happier to finally finish your self-constructed hut. They had taken only the most essential tools—and luckily found a first-aid box they could use. Many of those who visit the beach and the five-square-meter hut today are reminded of a hobbit’s home. Well, not quite: “When we thought about how to build the hut, we were inspired by drawings and plans for old Viking houses,” Inge says. In the end, the local conditions determined their way of building—a rock as a windbreak here, even ground there—the hut was built in harmony with nature in every respect. The rent: zero Euros. And no additional charges at all.
Jørn and Inge spent as little as 27 kroner, which is the equivalent of four Euros, and only to be safe. “We bought sugar and a pack of tea, but we really wouldn’t have needed to.” In Norway there are shops that simply give away expired groceries. They also received goods from bakeries that are usually thrown away after closing time. Sometimes they also searched waste containers and quite often found fresh vegetables. This way, they also disposed of unnecessary waste on land instead of producing it.
Jørn and Inge are still trying to keep the place a secret, even though this is not 100 percent possible—even in a sparsely populated country such as Norway word gets around. Nowadays, sometimes two or three people stay in the hut while others camp outside, waiting for it to become available. On the one hand, Jørn and Inge like that because “it’s a place that makes you happy,” they say. But imitation is not the same as having an idea yourself:
“When a guidebook says: walk over this or that mountain, and you will find a hut on a beach, a fantastically beautiful place—then you’re heading out with certain expectations,” Inge says. At their destination, tourists then see that it looks just like in the description, and they tick it off mentally—okay, now I’ve been here. “That’s not what we want. We would prefer people to just head out. If you find something yourself, you build up a personal relationship with the place. This cannot come from outside. It’s something you’ve earned yourself.”
So if you would like to copy the two young filmmakers’ project, try to find your own perfect spot. It could even be a desert island in the South Sea with lots of sun and coconuts instead of expired groceries. There is a lot to do there as well. There are just no trash-free coasts left nowadays.