It was a sunny afternoon in September, and everything about it felt more like southern California than Iceland. Eight of us piled into a van strapped with surfboards, and we set off to Þorlakshöfn to find some waves.
Ever since Surfer Magazine opened my eyes to the possibility in the late nineties, I had been dreaming about surfing in Iceland one day. But back then you would have been hard-pressed to find so much as a single native surfer, and the idea of an amateur going out on a whim seemed totally out of the question.
The idea may still seem nuts to people who hear Iceland and think: ‘COLD!’, but there are now in fact thirty or so regular surfers who go out rain, sleet or shine—and a company called Iceland Adventure Box has made the sport accessible to just about anybody with a sense of adventure.
A pleasant surprise
After stripping down to our bathing suits and putting on wetsuits, booties and gloves, we grabbed the boards, hiked up the dunes and made a beeline for the beach. On the sand, Aðalsteinn Rúnarsson—part of Iceland’s small contingent of regular surfers—gave us a brief surfing 101 tutorial before releasing us to the ocean.
As we ventured into the water, my wetsuit pressed against my skin and I expected to feel the frigid water rush in at every moment. But to my surprise, it didn’t happen. We were wearing 6/5/4 millimetre hooded suits and the water proved to be even too warm for the hood. We could just as well have been in the Pacific rather than the North Atlantic.
While I’m dispelling myths, if the idea of signing up for a surf camp conjures up an image of hordes of Zonies on BZs clogging up water, then rest assured that this is Iceland, not California. Iceland Adventure Box owner Leifur Dam Leifsson takes up to eight surfers at a time, and his fibreglass boards, which range from 7’4 to 7’9, were great for the smaller swell that day.
A most wild ride
At some point during the session Leifur offered me a ride on his Thundercat, an inflatable racing boat that he said he was test-driving on the ocean for the first time in preparation for an upcoming race in the UK.
I climbed aboard, he handed me a rope to hold onto and instructed me to put my feet in some loops. Then he took off across the ocean with great speed, making sharp turns, and charging waves, sending us flying into the air. All the while I contemplated what seemed like the very real possibility of losing my grip on the rope—and in no stretch of the imagination could I see the landing going well. In some post investigation, I came across the claim that this is “the world’s wildest beach culture,” and I’m inclined to agree.
Leifur told me that he is trying to bring the sport to Iceland, which didn’t surprise me considering he bought a bunch of surfboards and wetsuits two years ago with no idea if anybody would be into it, let alone himself—a newbie to the sport.
An idyllic paradise
After that adrenaline-pumping ride, I was happy to get back to back to surfing. Everyone pretty much does their own thing out in the water, and even those who nose-dived wave after wave were having a great time.
There’s a peaceful, meditative quality to sitting on the board and losing yourself in the surrounding scenery. As I waited for the next decent wave to come through, I looked on to the beautiful beach and the grass dunes that rose up into the blue sky, and I had to pinch myself: this was Iceland!
Finally after a three and a half hour session, Leifur said it was time to go and I caught one last wave to shore. After struggling to take off our suits, which is the least fun part of the trip, we piled back into the van and it was a quiet thirty-minute drive to Reykjavík. This was easily one of the most epic days I’ve spent in Iceland.