Møt Elisabeth Tønnesen

Meet Elisabeth Tønnesen

Text: Ida Strand
Photo: Elisabeth Tønnessen (private photos)

Keen free diver and underwater hunter who has made his own harpoon. Photographer, leader of the Rogaland underwater hunting and freediving club, with many irons in the fire. Elisabeth Tønnessen has an eye for the small details, eagerness to shoot the biggest fish and a heart for the sea and for letting people of all ages experience what freediving has to offer.

We have shared photos from Elisabeth's own photo collection for this article.

The love of the sea started in primary school. -We were on a class trip to Kvitsøy, an island outside Stavanger. Then someone put diving masks on us, said "take a look at this", and from then on I was fascinated. Is this available here in Norway! I thought, says Elisabeth about her first encounter with life underwater. She started freediving in 2007.

- I did a lot alone in the beginning, then I started getting to know more people. We started the club in 2015, and it has become a great environment. We now have approximately 250 members. We want this to be for everyone and not a performance-based scheme. It must be an inclusive and safe environment.

It is clear that Elisabeth has her heart in the club's work. As a manager, there is a lot of administrative work to keep track of, but it is the environment they help create that motivates.

- What I think has been the best thing about starting this club, and which I hadn't thought much about before we started, is that people have found friends, and become really good friends. Being able to contribute to friendship is incredibly fun. And all the trips and meetings we have are incredibly nice. It's a very, very nice bunch.

The club has held annual children's courses, adult courses and in recent years they have held courses for the tourist association's youth group and for 4H. And on Elisabeth's wish list is to bring in more people who are passionate about leading and organizing children's courses. The club is also involved in clean-up campaigns in the sea and has good cooperation with the other diving clubs in the area, where the clubs meet a couple of times a year and remove large amounts of rubbish, for example outside quay areas and breakwaters. Tønessen also highlights the good cooperation with Kersti Kesper and Ryflylke outdoor council, who assist with hoisting up and removing large washing machines and car tires and lots of what the freedivers find. The club also has its own campaigns where they remove old ghost stones, which cause a lot of suffering for fish and shellfish in the sea.

But Elisabeth is more than just an inclusive zealot, she is also a rawhide with a harpoon. Once a year, the trip goes to Northern Norway, on a pure hunting trip, with good friends from the club. Then the days are filled with two diving sessions, and the afternoons with gutting fish and cabin food. When the trip is over, the freezer is filled with fish. The fjord year's trip to Hamarøy ended with the purchase of an extra freezer when she got home. And Elisabeth shot her first halibut.

-On the first day, I saw my first halibut, and I got really excited. You know, all the thoughts that go through my head: I have to get a perfect shot, because it's big, I'm not rigged well enough. And then Kveita stabbed, the second before I shot. But a few days later I found another halibut, not the biggest, but then I was ready.

Elisabeth speaks with great enthusiasm and has a wonderful sense of humour. What is that hunting feeling like, we wonder.

-When you lie in the current and see the big cods coming up, there is no better feeling than that. It's like you can dream about it at night... Hunting gives a total presence. In order not to scare the fish, you have to be very careful. You get into a focus that makes you forget everything else, you're just in it.

Svein Erik Ørstavik with his first halibut, caught at Hamarøy.

- Diving for me provides exercise, a nature experience, but what I feel gives me the most is that I get close contact with nature. You have the opportunity to observe so many species on one dive. On a walk in the forest you don't usually see many animals, but here you get the opportunity to get up close and observe many species. It feels like you are in an untouched and undiscovered landscape, says Elisabeth Tønnessen.

When we ask Elisabeth to highlight some trip highlights from 2020, she also mentions a family trip, with 6-7 families, and a total of 15 children aged 3 to 15 years. They slept in tents and lavvos, the children got to dive and enjoy themselves, and in the evening there was a bonfire and sausage grilling. The place they chose for the family trip was well thought out. - We chose a place where there was deep water to give the children safe access to the sea, but also a place with a varied underwater environment. We made sure that most adults got their own dive during the trip, but on such trips the focus is more on the children than hunting, and it is done more on the children's terms.

Other diving highlights of the past year have been the many winter dives. Tønessen has been in the lake once or twice every week throughout the winter. - Me and someone called Celiné Bjerga have had a regular diving trip on Friday mornings throughout the winter. We went out early in the morning and it was dark and typically windy and overcast, but it was always nice and the visibility is so good in winter, says Tønnessen. It is obvious that the two dive buddies have enjoyed themselves on trips with a high well-being factor, and Elisabeth tells about everything from trips with a focus on testing dive times and depths, to trips on photo hunts for various species.

And for those who follow what Elisabeth shares on social media, we see that pictures of a strange little animal keep appearing. What's the deal with slugs?

- No, I'm hooked then, Elisabeth laughs. After all, I just swam over them for many years before I noticed them. I think it was last year that I first discovered them. But they are so nice! It was the snails that got me started with underwater photography. I tried to take pictures of them with the GoPro, but it didn't turn out well, so I bought a new camera to document a bit, says Elisabeth. With advertising photography as a full-time job, Tønessen tried for the longest time to separate work and hobby. But then it has also had a ball with underwater photography.

-Especially now in winter, it's nice to take pictures when you can't hunt as many fish. Taking pictures gives a bit of the same feeling as hunting fish. At the same time, it's nice to convey other joys at the sea and diving, you can overlook so many nice things. But that's what I also like a bit about photography, you hunt and look for something, preferably a specific species. But then you never know what will turn up. You may find a new species of snails, or a seal or dolphin may appear.

Elisabeth and her partner René Sethereng are also happy to test out new recipes with the food they collect from the sea. The last seafood project the couple had was testing out different recipes made with scallops. The favorite was roe soup. As the finishing touch, the top of the wreath cake or the roe in the scallops - Elisabeth shares the recipe with you!

Roe soup à la Elisabeth

Clean the scallops and calculate 2 scallops per person. Save the roe from the shells.


Roe from 3 scallops
2 dl lobster stock
3 tablespoons of butter
1/2 dl water
1/2 dl fish stock
½ shallot
1 dl cream
salt, pepper and sugar to taste

Reduce the lobster stock, butter, water, fish stock, shallots and cream to 2/3, add the roe for the last ten minutes. Season with salt, pepper and sugar and whip up the soup with an immersion blender just before serving. Serve with scallop muscle, crayfish, sweet potato chips and herbs as a side dish.

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