It’s hard to imagine ‘hurling yourself into freezing North Atlantic waves’ would be near the top of many peoples’ list of ‘things to do at nine am on a Sunday morning in Iceland’. Or even near the middle. Well, in an epic attempt to grab life by the balls, I decided to forego the stodgy breakfast and strong coffee this particular Sunday morning, and replace it with a mouthful of seaweed and a slap of icy water across the face.
Hooking up with ‘surf.is’ owners Leifur Dam Leifsson and Steinar Bachman at their Kópavogur base, I was trundled into the fun bus with seven other eager beavers, all Icelanders and all newbies. Leifur and Steinar started the surf school last year with the goal of bringing surfing to Iceland and proving all the doubters wrong. “When we started this, we had no idea if it would be a success or not, or whether we’d just be stuck with expensive surfing gear gathering dust. This is why this project was so exiting to us. Surfing is the last thing that comes to your mind when you think about Iceland.”
A thirty minute drive led to Þorlákshöfn on the south coast, its long, black sandy shore empty bar a few old soda bottles in the distance, rattling around in a stiffening breeze. Leifur tells me that introducing surfing to the locals has been a difficult task. The words ‘no wonder’ spring to mind. However their heroic efforts at convincing both locals and foreigners that Iceland in fact is the Hawaii of the north are beginning to pay off. “We’ve been doing really well this year; hundreds have gone though our course and rented gear. We knew the ace in our pocket is the world class waves we got here, not to mention the diversity of wildlife”. World-class waves AND a motto of ‘If you can dream it, we can do it’. Forget the weather, I’m sold!
Psyching myself up, I set to the task of stripping off and getting suited and booted. As I tugged up zips and struggled with hood and gloves, the guys assured me that I was donning top of the range gear that would keep the cold at bay. Guess I’d know soon enough.
Making our way down to the beach, we passed several disbelieving stares from a group of gore-tex’d Americans. It struck me just how trippy nine amphibious looking creatures in a desolate car park might look to your average morning walker.
Once assured that everyone could swim, we hit the beach for surf lessons 101. The company runs surf lessons from May through autumn, finishing up around the beginning of November, depending on conditions. They also rent gear all year round. We were guided through basic moves and positions as well as safety and rules of the water, each student gripped by a golden glimpse of surf-bum glory on the horizon.
After a quick jump around and warm up, the fun times commenced. Under the shadow of sleeping Eyjaflallajökull across the bay, the sea was soon a mush of arms, legs and boards, with everyone struggling to practice the instructions and catch their first ride. There were a couple of triumphs but most of the time was spent either under the waves or laughing at each other as we resurfaced redfaced and spluttering. It was fun. Steinar and Leifur really looked after their brood too, keeping an eye on the currents and swells and gathering us in if we wandered off.
And amazingly, it wasn’t cold. At all. Well, maybe a little.
Exhilarated and knackered (though none of the locals wanted to admit to feeling tired or cold… naturally) we dragged our boards up the beach after an hour’s session. Not being a super macho Icelander, I felt perfectly comfortable with my screeches and oohs and ahhs as I peeled off my wetsuit and pranced about trying to dress as quickly as I could without losing my towel in the snapping wind. Wiped out I fell asleep on the ride home, my hot chocolate and snúður sugared drool serving to further cement my loser status among my hardcore compatriots. Ah well, I’d proved enough for one day. My shivers might have drawn eyeball rolls, but I reckon everyone secretly felt that surfing at Þorlákshöfn had earned them a serious step up the kudos ladder.
Oh, and for the record—the stodgy breakfast and strong coffee tasted a hundred times more glorious when I got back.
AdventureBox runs a wide range of outdoor sports courses and day trips. For more info see www.adventurebox.is or call 00354 571 2900
- Website: www.adventurebox.is