We continue our partnership with Paper Sea Quarterly to bring you another article from their latest issue. In Iceland, by Alex Laurel, our narrator takes us through this treacherous yet surreal natural environment with one of our favorite adventurers, Kepa Acero (among others). To order the Paper Sea Quarterly (now shipping internationally!) visit http://www.papersea.com.au/store/.
By Alex Laurel
We arrived in Iceland and drove straight up to the north, this is where we were going to find some good waves. We were there in June, just before the summer, so it was snowy. On the drive up there was so much snow. We were driving for seven hours but everyone was just stuck to the windows, taking in the landscape, passing through all the valleys and a few small towns and hamlets. It’s a mind-blowing country. I am so accustomed to surfing on white sand beaches and seeing palm trees and stuff like that. I usually dread needing to drive ten hours on most other trips but in Iceland it was seven hours of totally new experiences in a unique landscape.
When I go to a surf destination for a surf trip, everyone knows when there are professional surfers. At parties there are often fans coming around and hanging out but in Iceland they are not familiar with surfing and the professional surfers. In Reykjavík, the capital city of Iceland, no one gives a fuck about surfers, you know? The locals were like, so you surf – so what? It was the same throughout the entire trip. I mean up north, we were staying in a ski resort, so people were kind of freaking out seeing surfboards around. They often asked us, “Do you guys know what you’re doing or where you are? It’s a ski resort here, it’s not a surf camp or anything like that,” it was strange. We were surfing into fjords, so there were mountains on both sides. We were sitting out there in the water and all we could see were ski lifts. It was a nice change.
Over summer you can really pick the time you surf. Some days, guys were surfing until midnight. Then it gets dark for a few hours and then boom, sunlight returns for another day. If the tide is no good you can go and get some food and try again for a little surf session after dinner.
There are lots of spots to surf and I think there are many more to discover. We were surfing into fjords and it’s an island so if you’re getting a south west swell with a north wind you’re going to go surf the south coast. If you’re getting a north swell with a west wind or an east wind you can surf up north, there are always options. You might not find epic swell all the time but if you’re hungry for surf, you’re going to find a wave.
You have to be brave because up north the water is two degrees Celsius. I grew up in Africa so the water was always hot. I was stressing about how I was going to swim in water that cold? In France, where I live now, if the water drops to ten degrees I won’t dip a foot in the water. But with the equipment we have these days I barely feel the cold. In Iceland, I would swim for two hours and wouldn’t really feel the cold too bad. If it’s cold outside you psychologically prepare for the cold water and it’s not so bad. You have the big heated vest, thick six millimeter wetsuit, gloves and a hood, everything, you know? I only felt the cold when I dove under the water. I quickly worked out that it’s a good idea to turn your back to the wave and then dive underinstead of swimming through face first. You feel the cold when water hits you in the face, rushes into your hood and around the back of your head. Sometimes we would put Vaseline on our faces, so you have that slight layer of grease to keep the water off your skin, kind of taking pointers from the whales, they have the right idea.
There were a few surfers on this trip, Chippa Wilson, Kepa Acero and Gony Zubizarreta. Chippa Wilson is super cool, very easy going, one of the best guys I have met. If the waves were bad he could make them look world class. The surfers had issues paddling because their hands would seize up, evenwith five millimeter gloves, but Chippa would surf for a long time and still do airs with freezing feet and hands. He was truly impressed by Iceland, he was shooting lots of photos on his film camera.
Kepa and Gony used to travel together a lot when they were surfing on the World Qualifying Series. Gony is still on the WQS but Kepa took a different path. Gony really enjoyed visiting a new country. Even though he travels so much on the WQS he visits the same places over and again. This trip was a bit of a reconnaissance mission for Kepa because he returned to Iceland in September. I remember watching him in the car looking at every single bay that we were driving by to see if there was potential and taking notes. On the second day he twisted his ankle and he couldn’t surf for the rest of the trip so he was just cruising. He’s not like the “I wanna surf everyday” type. If there are no waves he’s content to explore and enjoy the culture.
Iceland’s landscape is mute. I don’t think I heard birds or any- thing. Up north there were occasional noises from the boats but not much, just the wind. When we were driving to the ski resort I don’t think we saw more than ten people in three days. I think the people stay inside. Even if it’s sunny, I don’t think they come out too much.
Nature in Iceland is on a totally different scale. When I go to America everything is huge compared to Europe; the buildings are huge, the cars and the cities are way bigger. I had the same feeling in Iceland, but in relation to nature. In France we have mountains and small rivers and stuff like that but once I got to Iceland everything was huge. We walked to a waterfall that was sixty metres high. Everything felt like it was created on such a huge scale.