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THE BOYS OF
THE WEST COAST

Throughout the outskirts of Danish society, the tendency is clear: young women move to the larger cities, while young men stay behind in the smaller towns and villages. Where you can find manual labor and education in the trades. Where life is simpler and people stick together.

“The Boys of the West Coast” is the story of boys who made a conscious decision to stay on the western coast of Jutland.

We don’t talk much about the future and dreams out here

 

On the west coast of Jutland most everything is tangible. Life is neither good nor bad, it just is, and that’s all there is to that. You don’t want for much. Well, maybe a bigger fishing quota, a better wave to surf – or a lift home from the neighboring town on a Saturday night. And, of course, a woman to share your life with. There aren’t many of them left out here; they’ve gone east to study.

 

But the boys have chosen to stay. With their feet firmly planted in the sandy soil, they insist that the dunes will remain their home. But for every fifth young man on the west coast, there won’t be a girlfriend. The boys don’t whine, though. They do exactly what society wants youth to do these days: They work in production and in the trades. They get a job. They buy a house. Theymind their own business.

 

We met the boys in Hvide Sande, where the fish auction is half business, half tourist show. In Thyborøn where trawlers and sand eel fishing is the name of the game. And in Klitmøller, a place young men from eastern Denmark flock to – not always just to surf on a summer wave, but also to become some kind of genuine native of western Jutland. What follows are fragments of the lives of young men on the west coast in the year 2016.

KLITMØLLER. Blond Oliver Hartkopp has the upper hand over his friend Kristian Kofoed in the house where a group of young surfers live together. They are both from the eastern island of Zealand, but Hartkopp moved to Klitmøller to stay there for good. At least for now. He won the Danish Surf Tour 2015 and dreams of making a living from surfing.

THYBORØN. Twenty-four-year-old Anders Rytter doesn’t have a girlfriend right now. Then again, his dearest possession is a blue BMW, which can barely pass the speed bumps in the village. Anders has the BMW logo tattooed on this calf and when he earns money he spends it on the car. He and the car have been a couple for almost two years.

KLITMØLLER. At 5:45 am, Adam Peleg is back in the surfers’ communal house after having attended the music festival ‘Thy Rock’ in Thisted. They did not have tickets, so they jumped the fence as soon as it was dark enough not to get spotted by the guards. Peleg is a traveling surfer, but Klitmøller is his home when he is in Denmark. »I can’t imagine living anywhere else than here,« he says. No toilet paper – a persistent problem.

HVIDE SANDE. There is no line at the bar in Søndervig this evening. Yet the boys start out by buying two cases of pineapple Barcardi Breezers. No need to get up and go to the bar for a while then.

KLITMØLLER. »When I went to elementary school out here, there were only four people in the class. Myself included«, says Robert Storm Rasmussen, 18. »The sea means a lot to me. I don’t think that I would be able to take a higher education in Denmark, since it would require that I move to a larger city, away from the sea, and I don’t think I could do without it.«

HVIDE SANDE. It’s the last home game of the season for the soccer club Klitten (The Dune). A local micro brewery has sponsored free beer during the match, but the boys are not that excited, since it is not the Tuborg they usually drink, but what the hell – it’s free, who can complain?

THYBORØN. Jeppe Kjær Overgaard Christensen, 24, has worked on the sea for as long as he can remember. He has a large trawler with his father, and in his clogs he drives around the harbor in a pickup truck, nodding to everyone he passes. They all know him – he spends more time in the harbor or at sea than anywhere else. »All I really dream of is to catch a lot of fish and have a good life. Nice and easy,« he says.

HVIDE SANDE. Frederik Kirkeby, 20 years old, works in a cable park where you can surf pulled by a cable. “Cable wakeboard” is “the coolest board sport. Ever,” as it says on the website. All of Frederik’s confirmation money has been spent in the park, and if he makes enough money one day, he’d like to buy the park and run it himself. »I have no plans to move away from here«, he says.

HVIDE SANDE. When going out, you don’t hook up with girls from your own town. It is just a little too familiar, the young men believe. The disco in Søndervig, however, has established bus transport between the larger cities in the area, so it is easier to get to the disco – and look at some ‘out of town’ ladies. There aren’t many females on the bus though, leaving the boys to entertain themselves.

KLITMØLLER. The sea fog creeps slowly across the dunes near Klitmøller. »I’ve never been good at living in places with lots of people. I prefer to live where you can go out somewhere and just be alone«, says Oliver Hartkopp, 20, who at age 16 moved from northern Zealand to Klitmøller to live permanently at a friend’s house.

HVIDE SANDE. Søren Hansen, better known as Hotdog, waits in the kitchen of his own house. All the boys in Hvide Sande have nicknames, but not everyone can remember how they got them. »Maybe he just ate a hot dog in a strange way one day. It doesn’t take a lot to get a nickname around here«, explains Thomas, one of Søren’s friends. Yesterday they both went drinking in Søndervig, and now Hotdog is sitting here on a Sunday morning, waiting to get picked up to play an away game for the soccer club Klitten.

KLITMØLLER. Johan Wigren, a 28-year-old Swede, came to western Jutland to work as a doctor and to surf. He met the young surfer collective, and now he has become one of the guys, with all that it entails, including partying, fights and fun.

KLITMØLLER. Liver pâté on toasted rye bread with fried eggs and raw onion. »I swear this is the best open sandwich I have ever had«, Oliver Hartkopp exclaims before he has finished chewing, and a bit of the heavenly combination sputters out between his lips and back onto the plate. The boys in Klitmøller live Peter’s father’s place, and there’s always room for an extra boy for a shorter or longer period. »I wouldn’t have been able to live out my dream if it wasn’t possible for me to live here. They’re a bit like a second family to me«, Oliver says.

THYBORØN. Jeppe looks down at his clothes, »I look like a tourist«, he walks over to the car, where he finds a pair of blue overalls behind the driver’s seat. »If it continues like this, and they continue to cut fishing quotas, then we have to sell. The ones that decide the cuts in the quotas don’t understand. I’m out there every day«, he says.

HVIDE SANDE. It’s 4:40 am Sunday morning, and men dance with men at the ‘Poppen’ disco. When it opened last year, the owners wondered why so many German tourists stopped out front and took pictures of the sign over the entrance. Turns out the word “Poppen” means “to fuck” in German. This night only a few women are left in the bar, except for the ones in the music videos playing on the wall.

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Many young people would in fact like to begin a higher education outside of the big cities. In 2016, municipalities in predominantly rural areas had to turn away from 28 to 58 percent more of the applicants at local institutions of higher learning compared to the year before. The figures are from research carried out by ‘Denmark at the Tipping Point’, an organization that works for a more fair treatment of the Danish peripheral communities. In the Greater Copenhagen area, the picture is quite different. This year there was four percent fewer refusals than the year before. Behind this is a growth in the number of places at institutes of higher education, as well as a decline in the demand for certain fields of study in the metropolitan area.

Gender distribution of persons aged 18-29 years in selected municipalities expressed in percentages.

Male

Female

Lemvig0

0

Ringkøbing-Skjern0

0

Thisted0

0

Copenhagen0

0

»It’s a sick idea that everything has to be big«

 

Over 80 percent of the country’s net exports come from the outer regions of Denmark. It is partly to protect the interests of these areas that higher education needs to be more evenly dispersed. But also for the benefit of the young people who do not want to move far away. For the sake of developing – and not dismantling – the communities that lie furthest away from Copenhagen and other major Danish cities. This according to Kim Ruberg, vice chairman of the organization ‘Denmark at the Tipping Point’.

 

In Denmark a total of above 900 fields of higher education are offered in 42 municipalities – the rest of the 98 municipalities have no places of study. A variety of reforms in local government, police, and the legal institutions, have – in Kim Ruberg’s view – »removed the core in a number of small and medium-sized towns.«

 

»This is about creating a reasonable volume of education, so that the business community can continue to exist there. It’s also about encouraging young people to stay and make a living in the place in which they were educated. We need more people to settle down in the places, that people are leaving today.«

 

But is it not expensive to work against the market forces?
»The spreadsheets will always show that small is bad and big is good. But if you have a better dispersion of smaller educational institutions, you can save on management. It takes a lot of bureaucracy to maintain larger entities, but that is an aspect rarely taken in to consideration.«

Voices of
The West Coast

 

Listen to the boys tell about life on the West Coast and their hopes for the future

About the project

 ‘The Boys From the West Coast’ is produced by photojournalist Anders Rye Skjoldjensen for Politiken in cooperation with LFH Design and Storyfriend.

 

Politiken Research has conducted calculation of data from Statistics Denmark and a study done by the organization ‘Denmark at the Tipping Point’.

Photo & Video: Anders Rye Skjoldjensen

Text: Anders Rye Skjoldjensen & Flemming Christiansen

Website: LFH Design & Anders Rye Skjoldjensen

Project sponsored by: Storyfriend

Translation: Philip Von Platen