Cheat Codes To Improve An Icelandic Surf Adventure
"I couldn’t believe I was getting barrelled in Iceland, I was frothing so hard I even ate lunch in my wetsuit."
Iceland isn't for everyone, but if you're curious (and thick-skinned), that frosty little island off Greenland can make for a surf trip to brag about. Just ask Swedish-based Australian ex-pat, Joel Den-Besten, who just realised his grom dream, pulling off an Icelandic strike. After studying the charts and making some last minute adjustments, he discovered that the standard of wave can get close to matching the mind exploding landscape of the region. Though Joel's a little more accustomed to the chill than the rest of us equator-huggers (he competes and freesurfs in the Baltic Sea regularly), with enough rubber and some intelligent planning, the bucket list might just have space for this kind of adventure. Stab thought it would be beneficial to extract and share a few teachings from Joel to enhance any future Icelandic experiences.
Keep your plans flexible
"Conditions on Iceland can get crazy and are super unpredictable. Weather patterns spin up from the north Atlantic extremely fast, generating huge swell and strong winds. These systems can appear and disappear exceptionally quick which means you may need to change your itinerary at the drop of a hat to find shelter or chase down some more exposed energy. The wind is the biggest problem on Iceland and it's common to see nice lines of swell getting ripped to pieces as they make their way towards land. Due to unexpected conditions on our trip, we split it in two, spending the first few nights on board Aurora-Arktika, a steel hull sailing boat based in the Westfjords, and the second half on land exploring in our Defender."
"With surfing cold water, it's important to listen to your body. Make sure you're fuelled up and that you're warm, almost sweating before you hit the water. It's all about the first hour or so. This is when you will feel the most flexible and sharp so you want to make the most of this period. Then, once the cold starts to creep into your body you will feel some pain in your hands and feet as they begin to lose feeling. Then your strength, reaction speed and timing starts to slow down and you can experience some blurred vision as your eyes struggle to focus. This is when you should be thinking about getting out and warming up again. It's important to try and warm the body back up slowly. I was super comfortable in a Hooded 5/4/3 Adelio suit, 5mm gloves and boots."
"The nature and landscape on Iceland is worth a visit just on its own. While we were on board the Arktika we were lucky enough to experience close up encounters with humpback whales and dolphins while cruising between spots. The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, can be seen on cold, clear nights throughout the autumn, winter and spring and will leave you in awe. The dramatic landscape in the Westfjords explodes out of the Greenland sea until it reaches a certain height and then stops as if someone has cut the entire top of the mountain off, creating these huge flat plateaus in the sky. Its important to respect and preserve this relatively untouched part of the world, so try to leave no trace of your visit."
Travel in good company
"Embarking on an Icelandic surf adventure is not like a relaxing visit to a tropical island. It's important to have a good crew around you as you'll be spending a lot of time in a car, boat or small house waiting for conditions to cooperate. The search is half the fun, but you will get cold, wet and hungry and this can bring out the worst in some people. Make sure your crew is happy and relaxed and able to make quick, united decisions if the weather forecast changes and you need to move. The last thing you need up there in that beautiful setting is a drama queen moaning about some insignificant bullshit."
Access all areas
"Hire a car, preferably a FWD that is approved for F (dirt) roads and be prepared for long drives. This will give you the possibility to check out a bunch of coastline that you would never get to see on an organised tour. The dirt roads can be slow going and you may find yourself driving a couple of hours just to check one spot but the views along the way make the drive enjoyable. The raw beauty alone makes Iceland worth a visit but if you are lucky enough to score some unforgettable waves it will be an adventure that you'll compare all others with in the future."