Think of surfing, and you probably picture bronzed athletes under glorious sunshine riding turquoise waves on to pristine white beaches. You probably don't think of the Arctic Circle, although the beaches here are certainly white. More than a thousand surfers come to the Arctic waters in northern Norway every year, even during winter, when the conditions provide extreme sports enthusiasts with a unique experience.

AFP photojournalist Olivier Morin spent 10 days photographing surfers in the freezing water off the Lofoten archipelago, and was rewarded with several sightings of the northern lights (aurora borealis) as well as some of the area's unique wildlife.

Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
A surfer looks at the northern lights (aurora borealis) illuminating the sky over the snow-covered beach in Unstad, in the Lofoten archipelago, inside the Arctic Circle in northern NorwayOlivier Morin/AFP

Unstad Bay has some of the most stunning landscapes in Scandinavia – and some of the warmest waters, too, as the Gulf Stream keeps the sea clear of ice all year round. It's not exactly tropical, however – the sea temperature in winter is around six degrees Celsius, while the air temperature hovers around zero.

Brave surfers don full body suits, five to seven millimetres thick, with hoods, boots and gloves. "Being in the Arctic is a surfing adventure, a completely different experience from anywhere else in the world. Surfing here is more of a mission. With the cold, you can't just put on a suit and do a bit of surfing, you have to be fully prepared," said Tommy Olsen, owner of Unstad Arctic Surf.

This unusual destination attracts Scandinavians and surfing enthusiasts – amateurs and professionals – from around the world. The location allows people to ski and surf in the same day. Instead of encountering sharks like in traditional tropical waters, the surfers in Lofoten are more likely to see seals and killer whales, and – if they are lucky – maybe even the northern lights.

Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
A man looks for a remote surfing spot in a fjord near FlakstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
A woman carries a surfboard on the snowy beach in FlakstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Arctic surfing
Two young Swedish surfers head to the water after spending the night in a tent on the snow-covered beach in UnstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
Surfers walk along Unstad beach, covered in snowOlivier Morin/AFP
Arctic surfing
Instructors give a surfing lesson on a snow-covered beach in UnstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Arctic surfing
A close-up of surfers in water in UnstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Arctic surfing
A surfer uses with surfboard as a snowboard in UnstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Arctic surfing
The northern lights turn the night sky green over UnstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Arctic surfing
A surfer rides a wave as the sun sets at the end of another short day in UnstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Arctic surfing
Surfers ride a wave at the snowy beach of UnstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Arctic surfing
A photo taken through a window shows a snow-covered beach in UnstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Arctic surfing
Mist-covered mountains surround a fjord near TangstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Arctic surfing
A horse walks across the snow in UnstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Arctic surfing
A sheep shelters from the weather in UnstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Arctic surfing
An Arctic weasel stands among snow-covered rocks on the beach in UnstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Arctic surfing
An Arctic weasel peers over a rock on the snowy beach in UnstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Arctic surfing
An Arctic weasel runs across the snowy beach in UnstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
Snowy mountains are reflected in a fjord near Delp, in the Lofoten archipelagoOlivier Morin/AFP
Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
Dark storm clouds are seen behind a snowy peak in UnstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
Waves break on the beach in FlakstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
Surfers ride a wave as evening falls in FlakstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
Surfers ride waves as evening falls in FlakstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
A surfer leaves the water in FlakstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
People prepare to surf on the snow-covered beach in FlakstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
Surfers unload their gear in FlakstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
A surfer prepares to enter the Arctic waters in FlakstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
Storm clouds approach FlakstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
The northern lights (aurora borealis) shimmer in the night sky behind snow-covered hills in FlakstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
A traditional Norwegian church in FlakstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
The village of Reine in the Lofoten archipelagoOlivier Morin/AFP
Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
The traditional fishing village of Hamnoy in the Lofoten archipelagoOlivier Morin/AFP
Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
Vidar, a surfing instructor, warms up before going into the water in UnstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
Dwarfed by snow-covered hills, two surfers enter the water in UnstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
Surfers leave the snowy beach of UnstadOlivier Morin/AFP
Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
Bacdropped by the northern lights (aurora borealis) a surfer stands on Unstad beachOlivier Morin/AFP
Norway Arctic Surfing Northern Lights
A surfer is silhouetted against the northern lights (aurora borealis) on Unstad beachOlivier Morin/AFP

In his blog about the experience, Morin says he had visited Lofoten once before in April 2015, but the snow had almost all melted. "I vowed to return when it was still winter and the landscape around me was white," the photographer said. He spent several hours a day in the icy sea, carrying a camera protected in a waterproof housing, until cramps forced him out.

Morin saw his first aurora borealis. Although he had lived in Scandinavia for two years, he had never had the chance to observe this phenomenon. "And here I see three in a row," he said. "A magical show, euphoric, as if someone had turned on the light in the night."