Blazing trails in the land of fire and ice When we saw Dan tracing his finger along that vast map of Iceland, we all just new… Somehow, it took him less than a week to randomly befriend Iceland’s first ever surfer. Local bar-owner Vîfill Porleifsson first got surf-stoked from — in his own words — […]
Blazing trails in the land of fire and ice
When we saw Dan tracing his finger along that vast map of Iceland, we all just new… Somehow, it took him less than a week to randomly befriend Iceland’s first ever surfer. Local bar-owner Vîfill Porleifsson first got surf-stoked from — in his own words — a “Beach Boys Elvis movie,” and had his friend at the airport smuggle in some aberration of a plastic pop-out, busted out his old diving wetsuit, and it was on.
“I rode one wave,” said Vîfill, “and crashed the rocks. I rode two waves and crashed the rocks. I did not ride three waves.” This is 1971, in Iceland, so we’re going to give Vîfill credit even if he didn’t quite make it to his feet. But at $15 a beer, it was hard to get buzzed enough to get really stoked on his surf stories. Still, Vîfill was so fired up about his pioneering sessions, he ran home to dig his board out of his garage and, well, he never did actually come back. Or bro down a beer or two.
Sigør Røs and Bjork aside, Iceland’s not nearly weird enough for Dan, who got here a few days early to start romping up icy creek beds and hanging off crumbling volcanic cliffs in search of some magic slab he dreamed up. After one session he’s standing around dripping wet, wetsuit pulled down around his waist with ice dripping from his beard, going, “I love this shit. I’d rather be here than Indo any day. Seriously.”
He has to add that “seriously,” cause the rest of us are all dressed to rescue Shackleford. Seriously.
We’ve been driving around the same little corner of Iceland for almost a week now. Checking the breaks on the carefully printed set of instructions some other travelling surfers handed us at the airport. Paddling out with the dozen or so local diehards. Yeah, some “big adventure” we’re having. The hardest part of surfing here is just pronouncing the names of the breaks. Porhlakshofn, Grindavîk and Krysuvîkurberg. “Head towards, uhh, damn, head that way.” Or decoding the riddle of wind and swell in the matrix of fjords and headlands. None of it was too easy, but it sure wasn’t any sort of pioneering, either. And we didn’t fly three of freesurfing’s finest to the most ridiculous outskirts of surfing colonialism to score Iceland’s answer to Burleigh Point. Even Iceland was unimpressed. And Dan wasn’t having it.
One evening, when we’re finally documenting a somewhat decent session, he just gets out of the water.
“What’s wrong, Dan. Too cold? Too windy? Orca?”
“Can someone drive me down to that bombie we saw earlier. This place just isn’t doing it for me.”
The bombie (if it even was one) was a half-mile up the road. Big. Gnarly. And way, way out there. It was almost dark and colder than a witch’s tit, but there goes Dan, bounding across the moss-covered lava field and plunging into the death-colored sea to explore some grim bombie on his lonesome.
And the next day, when we saw him tracing his finger around that big, unexplored map of Iceland, we just knew we wouldn’t be hanging around this tiny, well-trodden corner for long.
It was hours ago that we decided we definitely shouldn’t be driving. And yet, here we were, fishtailing our ill-suited, little mini-van along the icy, un-guard-railed cliffs of some god-forsaken glacier way way out in inner Iceland in search of… at this point, we’re all so frayed from the extended hours of road-terror it’s hard to even remember. Dane Reynolds is in the far back of the van just glad to not be famous. The guy hates it. Yet, he was super-stoked when a local woman saw him loading up his gear and asked why his “boat” was so small. He grinned ear-to-ear when she touched his wetsuit and said knowingly, “Ahh, plastic.” Iceland was the perfect place for Dane not to be famous. He could just cruise in the back of this death-wish minivan with two of his hometown heroes and chit-chat about indie art-bands and obscure literature. Dane’s got huge respect for Timmy and Dan, the way they’ve carved out their own little niches in this crazy surfing life. He almost seems embarrassed about having barged his way onto the WCT tour so easily. It’s so mainstream. So predictable. But thankfully, Iceland doesn’t give a shit about pro surfing. To keep our minds off our impending doom, we’re taking turns reading passages from Dan’s history book on Iceland, which is almost as crazy as this drive. Staring out the foggy windows at the harsh, unformed landscapes, it wasn’t difficult to imagine the hardships the Viking pioneers of this country had faced. With no trees to burn, there were few fires throughout the long, sunless winter. With no indigenous mammals, fur coats and fatty steaks were few and far between. According to our book, the chief means of staying warm seemed to be raping and pillaging neighboring villages (which apparently is good for the circulation). Even after they stopped randomly slaughtering each other in favour of governmental corruption, well, here, read along with this cheery bit of history:
“Meanwhile, the volcano Hekla erupted three times, covering a third of the country in ash; a mini-Ice Age followed, and severe winters wiped out most livestock and crops. The Black Death soon arrived, killing half the population and the once indominatable spirit of the people seemed broken.”
And this was way before electric wetsuits or decent biofoam. Can we get an “amen” for global warming?
The final stretch of road run along an Uluwatu-style cliff, with a teetering avalanche to our left and a vertical plunge to our right. Swell lines were pouring into the jagged fjord and we can almost smell something amazing just around the corner — if we can only live long enough to find it. “Holy shit, what was that?” D.Hump asked from the driver’s seat. “Is that a wave down there?”
“Keep your eyes on the road, Dustin.” It’s black-ice and snowdrifts. No guard-rail. We’re dead for sure. “Did that thing just spit?”
“The road, Dustin. Watch the road!”
The road veers sharply left and plunges into the sheer mountain. For 10 minutes we drive through a singlelane tunnel. The first vision the new light on the far side grants us is the of our own little J-Bay, frosted like a fairy-tale Christmas just for us. We stop and stare in pure amazement, when suddenly the most famous surfer in Iceland goes running past in his wetsuit. “We’re out there, right?” Dane Reynolds says, not really asking. Dan and Timmy race to catch up.
After all we’ve been through, it’s hard to believe we’re driving over another icefucked glacier, pushing further into the vast unknown of outer Iceland. It’s hard to believe the same subtle fingers that strummed our morning lullaby are now gripping the wheel, fish-tailing our mini-van hell up another black-ice death-trap road-trip. But Timmy Curran is determined. He strikes a figure both fragile and fierce. And yet, every time he hits the water he thinks he’s in the heat of his life. Every time he launches and aerial, it’s in defiance of the entire ocean. Even his beautiful little acoustic love songs are steeped in a dark, kinetic melancholy. And now, seeing the determination grip his angular features as he navigates our doomed soccer mommobile up the icy slopes it’s clear that, as far as we’ve come, it’s not been far enough.
Yesterday’s frosty J-Bay was fine. It photographed beautifully and delivered nice long rights. But for Timmy’s lofting, goofyfoot approach, it just wasn’t quite doing it. So we warmed up over a few coldies and considered our unplanned options. The generous locals set us up in a nice little cabin in the hills, even going so far as to turn the heat on before we got there. We fell asleep watching the Northern Lights dance across the freckled night. And in the morning, when we learned that the swell was no longer hitting our pointbreak, the question fell upon us all: far enough, or further still?
It was never a question really, more of a courtesy call to our frazzled nerves from the previous day’s drive. And as we crested this next series of frozen mountains and poured down into the far valleys we knew we made the right decision. Iceland sprawled out before us. Naked. Unspoiled. Uncharted. As we spill out into the less-frozen plains and, beyond that, the shimmering blue Arctic coast, the mood in the van seems to shift. We shuffle the iPod to a more upbeat playlist and start scouring the jigsawed headlands. The sky is clear. The swell is visible. And the jagged, outlands of remotest Iceland begin unveiling a cornicopia of possibility.
One of Timmy’s own songs comes on through the iPod and he quickly changes the track, slightly self-conscious about his rapidly growing side project. But then he recalls for us a story of being at a party with Jack Johnson when one of Jack’s songs came over the speakers. Jack didn’t even seem to notice. His music had become such an internationally accepted standard, he barely seemed to hear it any more. Not that Jack’s music wasn’t nice — appreciated by millions worldwide — it had just been heard so much, well, you could barely hear it.
And maybe that’s what we were doing way, way the hell out here. Surfing Superbanks and Pipelines was great, of course, but it was also a tune we’d all heard plenty before. Think about the last time you saw a picture of giant Teahupoo. Sure, it’s clearly the most impressive wave on the planet, but the we’ve been flooded with so much imagery of it, we barely even see it anymore.
And so, bored with massive Chopes and perfect Pipe, we close our eyes and imagine something new.
“Everyone close your eyes,” says Dustin from the passenger seat, “and imagine the type of wave you’d like to surf.” “A left,” says Timmy.
“A slab,” says Dane.
“I don’t care what we surf,” says Dan, “as long as it’s sick.” And just like that, there it was. A hundred yards off the beach. Shimmering in the low-flying Arctic sun. A left. A slab. And — yes, Dan — sick.
From the golden warmth of their Bali paradise, Taylor Steele and Dustin Humphrey dreamed of this wave months ago. They imagined snow-covered backdrops. Thick gnarly lips. And water so cold you needed a sweater just to edit the footage.
Now, walking through downtown Keflavik in a heavy downpour at two am., Taylor is explaining why. “The whole point of a surf movie is to inspire people,” he says, oblivious to the bucketing rain. “With a movie like Campaign, the idea is to get them to push their surfing, to try a new trick or something. But for this project, we want to inspire people to try surfing somewhere different, or even just to travel somewhere new. To break out of their everyday bubble and experience something completely unique.”
It’s our final night in Iceland, and everyone is in high spirits. We can’t check the footage from our all day slab session, because it was all filmed on 16mm Bolex cameras. But it’s vivid enough in everyone’s memories, anyway. The slab was a dream. A golden vision on the furthest outskirts of anyone’s surfing imaginations. And just three surfers sharing barrel after crushing barrel with no other surfer around for — seriously — thousands of miles. An unforgettable session.
And now, stumbling around in the pre-dawn rainfall, Iceland seems like an entirely different place. Before we came here, all we’d heard about were all the gorgeous women, eclectic artist-types and sweet disco nightlife. But in our whole time here, we’d seen nothing remotely resembling those things. In fact, we’d go entire days with no other human contact. There were times when Iceland seemed all but deserted.
Now, in the oddest of hours, in the foulest of conditions, Iceland was in full bloom. Clubs pumping on every corner. Nordic goddesses cat-walking the rain gutters in high heels and wet leather. And our Iceland hosts — the small, tight-knit group of local surfers who’d generously shared everything with us — roaring like Viking warlords into the torrential night.
“Mostly,” says Taylor, “we just didn’t want this film to be a sequel to anything. We wanted this to be completely unique. And to do that, you have to take risks, and you have to go further than you thought you could go. Sometimes you’re going to come up empty. But sometimes — like this time — it all just comes together.”
But even as he’s saying this, it’s clear his mind is already heading somewhere else. Somewhere way way out there that none of us ever dreamed of going surfing. And moments later our crew will all become scattered into the wildness of the night, losing our ways and finding ourselves all over again in this final, furious exploration… wondering where we’ll wind up next.
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