“I fell in love twice in the late ‘80s. First with my partner Hilde, then with Lista,” says Leif Eric Arneson (56). He was born in New York and raised in Connecticut, U.S., and as his name suggests, he has Norwegian ancestry.
Hilde Antonsen from Fredrikstad met him when he was on holiday to windsurf in Key West in 1987, and she eventually enticed him to come to Norway after several trips together in the United States.
In the autumn of 1989, the couple from Eastern Norway drove to Lista in an old and dilapidated Nissan Cherry, packed with a mountain tent in the boot and surfboards on the roof. In the windsurfing community, there were several stories of endless sandy beaches and some of the Nordic region's best wind and wave conditions, so Leif had to see it up close.
“It was love at first sight and it had a real wow factor. We surfed all day, lit fires in the evening and spent the night right by the beach at Bausje or Havika along with several other tired surfers. The community was not very big, but more and more people were coming, and I made many good friends from different parts of the country who had also travelled a long way to experience the conditions at Lista," says Leif.
During this time, there were no mobile phones, internet or weather apps. You heard the weather forecast on the NRK radio station, or you called the lighthouse keepers at the various lighthouses, and that was it.
“But at Lista we knew that it was always windy, and it was possible to sail in all wind directions. Well, except north-northeast, but it was relatively rare," says Leif, who has windsurfed since he was 18 years old.
“It's not easy to describe why I got hooked on this sport, or what is wrong with me since I am still just as obsessed after so many years. I just love being on the water and having fun every time I go out. Perhaps it is the feeling of mastery that you get from being in harmony with the forces of nature, and that you can constantly get better at something or learn something new.”
The old Nissan was soon replaced with a pickup with a fiberglass topper on the cargo bed, where Leif and Hilde could sleep, and after their son was born, the couple used an American truck camper. With even better comfort, the trips to Lista became far more frequent, not only because of the surfing, Leif admits, but also because Hilde is an avid hiker and hobbyist photographer. She found great pleasure in taking pictures of nature and the bustling bird life here, and both have been impressed by Lista's exciting war history, with attractions such as Festung Lista Hangar museum and Nordberg Fort.
“The family has several vehicles from World War II, so you could say that we are more preoccupied with war history than most," says Leif.
His fascination with Lista did not diminish when he one day saw several American Cadillacs drive in a line through the streets of Vanse. Leif was completely speechless, and when all of a sudden even more American cars drove past him, he had to pinch himself, it was almost too good to be true that there was such a hefty Amcar community right here.
“What luck! Such happiness! I had never heard of the American Festival before. Since then, the annual street parade has been a highlight for many summers, and it has been even more fun to participate in the parade either with my own Willy's Jeep, or sitting on the bed of one of the trucks from the Festung Lista museum,” Leif says.
Despite the fact that he is now a middle-aged man, he has far from lost his zeal for windsurfing. Leif can be found on the beaches of Lista no matter the season, and although he probably prefers the summer season with its long and light days, it is primarily during the winter and autumn that the truly great storms ravage. If Leif finds himself at home in Åsgårdstrand at that time, he kicks himself for not being at the beach.
“So now we have bought a year-round residence at Lista, behind Nordberg fort. Living the dream!” the American chuckles happily.
The plan is to live here, when he and Hilde retire. Whether Leif will surf just as hard then, he does not know. But Lista offers so much more than strong winds and big waves that he is not particularly worried about getting bored.
“The nature of Lista is very special, and there are great hiking trails in the forest, on the mountain and along the sea. One of the things I particularly like to do is snorkel. There are so many cool things to see under the water, and out here the ocean is often crystal clear. If a day for some reason is not windy, I can paddle on my Stand-Up-Board, go for a mountain bike ride or try my hand at wave surfing," says Leif.
He and his partner have lived in Sarpsborg, Grimstad, Trondheim and Åsgårdstrand, and with their windsurf boards on their car roof, they have taken road trips to most of Norway, where they have been impressed by its many great cities and places. But still, nothing can compare to Lista.
“Whether you are at Festung Lista Hangar museum, Nordberg Fort, on the surfing beaches, on a bike ride, in the shops or among new neighbors, the locals are always nice and hospitable,” says Leif.
Lista is a small area, and out here he finds that people perhaps greet one another a little more than anywhere else in the country. They seem genuinely interested in getting to know visitors, and always have time for a chat.
“I can't think of a better place to live my life,” Leif says with a smile.
Here is an overview of the different beaches, spots and companies that teach you how to surf.
NOTE! Parts of the Lista beaches are bird and plant conservation areas, so remember to respect the protection rules.
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