Friday , 19 December 2014

Arctic Surfers

About five years ago, my girlfriend, Lauren, and I traveled to Iceland for vacation. Although the cold and windswept island nation is perhaps not the first place that springs to most people’s minds when planning a pleasant getaway, it had nonetheless long fascinated me, and I had wanted to go there for quite some time. As it happened, Lauren, with her fascination for geology, had expressed a similar interest. So we went.

We spent two wonderful weeks circumnavigating the island, sightseeing, hiking, camping out, river-rafting, whale watching, bird watching, sampling exotic Icelandic cuisine, and generally having a ball. It was a trip I’ll never forget, and one that, though five years have passed, keeps cropping up fondly in my memory.  I have only one regret: I didn’t bring my surfboard.

Prior to the trip, like any surfer contemplating the prospect of visiting a locale with miles upon miles of virgin coastline, I toyed with the idea of bringing along my board and wetsuit. Although Iceland isn’t typically known as a surfing destination, I knew the place had waves. I’d read the odd article here and there about some adventurous soul braving the chilly arctic waters, and I was intrigued. I had even found a website that chronicled – in text and photos – the surfing adventures of a US naval officer who had been stationed in Iceland for many years. His website, now sadly defunct, described a sort of cold-water version of Hawaii, with volcanic sand beaches, desolate lava flows, and tubing waves breaking over crenulated reefs.

Iceland's Rugged Coastline

Unfortunately, Lauren wasn’t as enthused about the idea as I was. Not being a surfer herself, she simply wasn’t keen on the prospect of me surfing some isolated stretch of coastline while she sat waiting on the beach, shivering in a down parka. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that Lauren isn’t adventurous. Far from it – we’ve had our share of thrilling adventures together. But as she pointed out, this was going to be a “together” vacation, rather than a “Tom-gets-to-go-surfing-while-Lauren-waits-dutifully-on-the-beach” vacation. We were going to do things we both enjoyed – together. So, to make a long story short, I didn’t bring my board.

Still, despite having had a fantastic trip, the fact that I hadn’t surfed there – the fact that I hadn’t been able to experience the whole Iceland surf extravaganza – gnawed at me. I felt I had missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In short, I felt deprived.

A jagged coastline means ample opportunities to find hidden points and reefs

All this angst came flooding back to me a few days ago when I chanced upon a website offering what appeared to be surfing trips in Iceland. At first I did a double-take. Was this true? I asked myself. I had to read more, so I poured myself a cup of tea and hunkered down in front of my computer screen.

As I soon discovered, the site, which is www.arcticsurfers.is/1, is run by two Icelandic surfers and, does indeed, offer surfing excursions in Iceland – both packaged and customized surf trips. There is even a surfing/snowboarding option.

According to the website, the company was started in 2009 by Erlendur Magnússon and Ingólfur Olsen, two former employees of Arctic Adventures – the largest tour operator in Iceland. Both men are experienced tour guides and avid surfers with over ten years worth of experience surfing Iceland’s rugged coastline. The pair also runs a surf camp near Reykjavik, apparently the only one of its kind in Iceland. They claim that the Iceland surf experience is filled with everything from black sand beach break and peeling point breaks to heaving reef breaks and adrenaline-inducing slabs. Basically every type of wave a surfer – whether a beginner, intermediate, or advanced – would conceivably want.

With my overactive imagination working in overdrive, I pictured these two guys as latter-day Vikings with flowing blond hair and spear-like surfboards paddling out through row upon row of tempestuous north Atlantic swell. I pictured myself right there with them, matching them stroke for stroke, battling the storm-tossed seas, clad in a thick 5-mil wetsuit.

Eventually everything returns to the ocean

What really attracted my attention, however, was the customized surf trip, a venture which promised the “die hard, adventurous surfer” the opportunity to explore the island and find the “best possible surf.” With just under 5000 km of coastline and open to every possible swell the Atlantic Ocean can dish out, Iceland sounded like it offered the true wilderness surf adventure – empty lineups, world-class waves, and dramatic backdrops. Needless to say, I was intrigued.

As I continued browsing the website – reading the testimonials, perusing the photo gallery, and watching video clips – I once again felt that old familiar stirring. The thought of an arctic surf adventure was more a reality now than ever before.

Maybe one day, I told myself, maybe one day.

1It should be noted for the record that the foregoing is not intended as an advertisement for, nor an endorsement of, www.arcticsurfers.is/. Nor am I affiliated in any way with their enterprise. I am simply a guy who stumbled on their website, liked what he saw, and wanted to share it with anyone who might be interested. In short, I want to encourage guys like Erlendur and Ingólfur to keep doing what they’re doing. Skål!

About Thomas S. Garlinghouse

Tom Garlinghouse is a free-lance writer who lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains with his girlfriend, Lauren, two dogs, three cats, and a rabbit. He is an avid surfer who can frequently be found haunting the numerous reef breaks north of Santa Cruz.

9 comments

  1. Tom, Great article, Growing up in New York and recently Stand Up Paddle surfing there in May, I can only imagine the thrill or Chill of surfing in Iceland, the hook for me was a cold version of Hawaii. We hope we have the opportunity to surf there someday. It is definitely on Eko Surf’s European list.

  2. Hi Eko Surf!

    I’m glad you enjoyed the article and thanks for taking the time to respond. Yeah, Iceland is an incredible place — whether you’re there to surf or simply sightsee. I’d love to go back one day — hopefully with my board in tow!

  3. Tom, Definitely with your board in tow! It is amazing how our vacations have changed. Props to Wannasurf.com they help answer my new most important questions. Are we bringing our Surfboard or our paddleboard? When is the best time to go?
    Keep Surfing

    EKO SURF

  4. Elli and Ingo are top notch awesome human beings.

    Here is a paddle board video shot in Iceland that might interest you: http://vimeo.com/26701685

  5. Tom, I surfed Iceland from ’91-98…had a number of surf buddies during that time, Gene Cheatham and JC Cherniga, now of Satellite Beach most prominently. Beautiful beach break out on the Rekyanes Peninsula, about an hour from Rekky, reef breaks near Grindavik and a neat point break at Thorlakshofn on the south coast…..long waits for local conditions to cooperate, tho. Lots of swell but also lots of wind and rain. I can understand your ladies reluctance. Not a great place to hang out on the beach and watch the guy do his thing, no matter how exotic it may seem…..usually cold and at best chilly, not lay out and suntan situation. The Arctic surfers are good folks and will save you a LOT of time in your search. It took years for us to nail down the spots we knew. Good luck!

  6. Hi Geiri, thanks for the video!

  7. John, thanks for writing! I love to hear from people who have actually surfed there. Sounds like you know the place pretty darn well. I’d love to hear about all your surf adventures there. How on earth did you end up there for eight years?

  8. Tom your trip sounds like a trip of a life time great shots too.. I don’t surf but I love travelling and always seem to end up in places were I am by the ocean or on Islands, a few years ago I was in Helsinki at Christmas time (-14 deg)and standing on cliffs over looking the Baltic sea was breath taking. Thanks heaps for your article.

  9. Hi Em,

    Thanks for the kind words. Yes, the trip was incredible. The vistas in that country are breathtaking; you’re bound to get a fantastic photo wherever you aim a camera. I was in Finland very briefly once (at the airport), so didn’t have time to see any of the sights, but I understand it’s a beautiful country. I’ve always been attracted to cold, windswept places (especially coastlines).

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