Filmmaker Q&A: James Aiken

We’ve been pretty keen on cold water surfing this winter season. There’s something about travelling to remote places to surf moderately good waves in ridiculous temperatures that is interesting, to say the least. So we’re going to continue investigating this questionable decision with the help of filmmaker James Aiken. He recently wrapped up a short film about a trip to an incredibly remote area in Iceland. And as these trips tend to go, he ended up somewhere much different than where he began. 

Norður: Almost Arctic from James Aiken on Vimeo.

How did you come to know about the region?

It was an odd sequence of events. I initially was in Iceland with writer Dan Crockett and photographer James Bowden. We were looking for waves but also a genuine look into Icelandic culture, so we headed for the West Fjords, an area which is not really on the surf map at all. Once there we met Danny, a burly Canadian ice climber, and Vidar, a local fisherman and carpenter. They had been planning a trip like this and were keen to have some extra people come along. Unfortunately, we all had to head back to England, but I booked a flight back a week later.  

How come you travelled so far for a few ankle-biting waves?

I think I had got to an odd place in surfing. I did not feel particularly inspired by what I was doing within it, and I wanted to create a fuller experience from a trip. It’s easy to be really involved with your own experience of it, but generally there is so much amazing stuff happening in these places that the actual surfing becomes an optional extra.

How long were you out there filming?

I was in Iceland for a month in total. It took quite a while to prepare the route and gear once we had committed to the trip. The trip to Horstrandir was about eight days in total, but most of that was the hike/ski there and back. We only had a day there before we had to leave. The storm that chased us back across the glacier actually stopped all flights out of the West Fjords and blocked the only road with drifted snow, so I was stuck in Isafjordur or a week longer than planned.  

What were the average temperatures?

Generally, it was not too bad, maybe minus five to zero Celsius at sea level. But I wouldn’t like to say the temperatures up on the glacier, pretty fresh.  

About how many people actually live there?

Hornstrandir was totally abandoned in the 40s. It was almost like they just dropped tools and walked away, so you can really get a feel for how life would have been there. A few people have summer houses in the area, which can be accessed by boat or plane in the summer, but once the autumnal storms hit, the area is totally deserted. The nearest town is Isafjordur and has maybe three thousand people. The whole area is wild and not really like any other part of Iceland.

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