A travel story by Kain Mellowship
It’s 9.30 pm, and I’m standing on a black sandy beach struggling to don my armour to protect me from the chilly Atlantic elements. For most people, this would be wool sweaters, gore-tex jackets, mittens and the warmth of the inside of their car. For me, it’s 6 millimetres of neoprene. Still wet and cold from my last surf, it’s no easy feat to get into my wetsuit. I jump around like I’m running across hot lava as it tries to grip to every part of my body.
I notice a car of tourists watching me while they wait to board a ferry to a nearby island. Eventually one of them opens the car door which almost gets blown off its hinges, fights the howling wind and comes over to ask me what I’m doing.
Me: “I’m going surfing.”
Him: “Excuse me? You’re going what?”
Me: “Ummm, I’m going surfing. Y’know, you paddle with a board, and you catch….”
Him: “Hahaha!! You’re in idiot!! Isn’t it cold?”
Me: “It’s actually not too bad at the moment, especially compared to the trip I made in winter. Now THAT was cold!!”
He looked at me like I was missing some brain cells, wished me luck and told me not to die out there.
That seems to be a pretty standard response when you tell people you’re surfing in Iceland-and understandably so. It’s not really the first thing that comes to mind when you think about “the land of fire and ice.” I mean, the word ICE is in the name of the country. There’s your first warning. But that isn’t enough to deter groups of surfers from trading boardshorts and club tropicana vibes for 6mm neoprene wetsuits and ice-cream headaches. As Iceland’s tourism industry constantly booms, so does the number of surfers braving the wild Atlantic swells that pound the volcanic shores in search of perfect, ice-cold barrels.
With 4970km of coastline, you’d better have your favourite playlist ready as you’re gonna be doing some driving. Admittedly the geographical features of Iceland make a lot of its coastline inaccessible, especially during the winter months. But with enough of a sense for exploration and the right vehicle, there are countless waves just waiting to be discovered. It’s nice to think that you might be surfing a wave that has never been surfed before, right?
The surf community consists of around 20 local surfers, so you can pretty much guarantee that you’re going to have a lot of waves to yourself. In my 18 days, I drove 5120km (the equivalent of almost 4 laps of the ring road), and not once did I surf with another soul. If this happened at my home breaks in the south-west of Western Australia, I’d have to pinch myself and check to see where the hidden cameras were. I’ll be honest though-I would’ve loved to have had a companion in the water. It would’ve made that midnight session on the south coast a little less frightening.
Summer offers 24 hours of light to work with, meaning you could spend the whole day driving around, checking different spots and still manage to get an epic session under the midnight sun. Water temperatures are also much milder and can rise to a balmy 12°C. Unfortunately, swells are not as consistent and unfavourable winds can make finding clean waves a tricky task.
Winter is the most consistent time of year for swells and offers plenty of good waves. On the downside, there are around 4-5 hours of effective daylight to work with, so you’d better have a good grasp on local conditions as you don’t have much margin for error. Water temps of around 5°C mean that only the hardcore surfers will be braving these frigid waters, as well as the occasional seal or orca. But no matter what time of year you go, or what type of waves you score, you’re going to come home with amazing stories to tell about “that time I surfed in Iceland.”