Iceland is the last place you think of for a surf trip. But it stands as one of the best experiences we've ever had
by Bec 26 February 2019
When I told people we would be surfing in Iceland, they were shocked (and rightly so) but they also responded with “Iceland has waves?!”
Iceland is an island in the middle of the North Atlantic so of course it has waves! It actually has really good waves!
We had watched the Award Winning Film, Under an Arctic Sky (available on Netflix) and admittedly I thought, I could never do that. Mostly because I feel the cold really easily.
But when it came to choosing a destination for a European Winter Wonderland adventure, my partner was won over by Iceland (over skiing in the Austrian Alps or sleeping under an ice igloo in Finland) simply because “we can surf!” So it became more of a reality that we could be living out the adventures in one of our favourite documentaries.
I did some more research into surfing Iceland and all I could find was how dangerous it could be with the turbulent ocean and Mother Nature’s mood swings. I became nervous and avoided planning it for ages.
It wasn’t until I found Arctic Surfers that I began seriously considering it again. I learnt that these were the same Icelandic locals that helped shape the documentary because of their knowledge of the country and are pioneering surfing in their country. They are a passionate team of explorers who hunt waves for a living. They offer bespoke surfing tours (for the intermediate to advanced surfer), SUP tours and snow tours.
We visited Iceland for one week. I had planned an itinerary full of adventures and had left 2 days spare. Our third day I had reserved for surfing.
However it turned out that we were exhausted from the previous two days of adventures – Snorkelling the Silfra, Snowmobiling and hunting the Northern Lights that we needed a rest. Coupling this with -2 temperature, with snowy and windy conditions, we decided not to book surfing and we relaxed in the Blue Lagoon instead.
That meant the only other day to surf around our other pre-booked adventures was our last day. We kept checking the weather and it wasn’t looking promising. I gave up on the idea that we would surf. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.
On our last day, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast at our incredible hotel, Canopy by Hilton. We hadn’t booked anything and my partner’s face read disappointment all over it. We decided to relax. My partner was going to do some work and I was going to go shopping.
As I was walking down Laugavegur, the main shopping street of Reykjavik, I kept catching glimpses of the ocean. It was as still as a lake. The sun was shining and there was no wind. I wasn’t even cold (but perhaps I had just nailed the layering thing by now, I mean it had been 7 days!)
I called Dan.
“I think we should go surfing.”
I’m a big believer in my gut instincts and I was being pulled to call Arctic Surfers to suss out the surfing conditions. It was midday by this stage.
Ingo answered my call. Ingó Olsen is Arctic Surfers’ founder, chief of operation and the soul of the company. Ingó has spent the last 15 years exploring Iceland’s rugged coastline, discovering secret spots and finding new waves and adventures along the way.
Ingo commenced a requirements gathering phase with me where he seeked to understand what type of waves we were after, how often we surf, and our level. I also reiterated that we were leaving tomorrow (our last chance!!).
“OK – let me find some waves for you and I’ll call you back in 15 minutes”
Ingo and his team are the first generation of Icelandic surfers and are pioneering the sport in their country. Many of Iceland’s waves have never been surfed before and new areas for surfing are constantly being discovered. Some breaks only work twice a year or some waves may never be surfed again. The inconsistency is thanks to Mother Nature. The weather is their guide. It sends them on epic journeys far and wide as they seek out new waves and adventures.
“OK – I found some. It’s honestly the best arctic conditions for surfing. I’ll pick you up in 30 minutes”.
That was that. I ran home, literally. I was in a shoe store when we finished our call and I had to leave the store while the lady was retrieving my size from the back store room.
I don’t know if it was the excitement or nerves that made us get ready so quickly, or a concoction of the two. Clothes were flying everywhere, as we pulled on our structured layering order.
We left so fast we hadn’t even eaten lunch. We scoffed two Snickers bars each (under Ingo’s instructions for energy) and put on our brand new 100% Icelandic woollen socks that were going to act as an insulator under our neoprene booties (local knowledge perks!).
Ingo drove us out of Reykjavik to an empty point break of clean spilling waves. I really couldn’t believe it. We were here. The sun was shining and there was no wind!
We paddled out into an empty break, another first! With all the right gear supplied by Arctic surfers, I actually didn’t feel that cold, surprisingly!
The waves were so good that we surfed for hours. Mellow, clean peelers with no other soul to snag them.
Half way through our surf, a cute and curious seal popped it’s head up and gave us a look as if to say “what the hell are you doing out here?!” I laughed so loud and looked up at the sky and around me. I was bobbing in the middle of nowhere. The sun had begun to set and the sky had cast a stunning golden hue across the North Atlantic Ocean. In that moment, I was so elated that I was surfing Europe’s last frontier.