06/02/2013 | by Alex Dick-Read
Photo by Eli Magnusson
It’s currently the coolest place in the surf world. And for good reason. Here’s some travel detail from The Stormrider Surf Guide.
Few European surf destinations can claim to be real frontiers and certainly none on the huge scale that Iceland represents.
Iceland sits mid-North Atlantic, soaking up swells from all directions. Protected beaches, long pointbreaks or heavy slabs of volcanic reef are all on offer and twisting coastlines provide shelter from the malevolent Arctic winds and swells. Freezing temperatures, strong winds, snowstorms and lack of daylight all add to the unique experience that Iceland offers to those willing to take a walk on the wild side.
With 4970kms of coastline to explore, Iceland presents a rare opportunity to surf virgin territory, yet most Icelandic surfers only ride around the Reykjanes peninsula, close to Reykjavik in the southwest. Low-pressure systems spawned in Baffin Bay, wind up south of Greenland before sending groundswells slamming into the peninsula, the first stop on the transatlantic swell highway.
These swells can be giant and very powerful, building suddenly, and they’re often accompanied by raw winds and stormy conditions. The Reykjanes peninsula is covered in old lava flows so most of the waves break over volcanic reef or basalt rocks, sharp substances that take their toll on booties (and bodies). One exception is the black-sand beach at Sandvik, providing a rare beginners’ spot, though it can often equal the ferocity of the reefbreaks when the swell gets overhead.
Thorli is another popular choice with a defined paddling channel. It attracts the Reykjavik regulars to the south coast in N winds. The Snaefellsness peninsula to the NW of Reykjavik also picks up plenty of swell from S to W, with more beachbreak than the Reykjanes but mainly 4WD access trails and few documented, bona fide surf spots. Vik is the southernmost point on the island and attracts any hint of swell down a submarine canyon onto quality black sandbanks. Beyond this lies a wilderness of waves …
Tides exceed 5m and there are only a few spots that can handle all tide heights. Even the sole beachbreak at Sandvik struggles to break at high tide.
Winter is the most consistent swell season with excellent waves regularly hitting all sides of the Reykjanes. The problem in mid-winter is getting the right conditions to conspire in the very short span of daylight. Strong winds, chilling temperatures, snowstorms and large tidal fluctuations are just some of the variables. September to November can be good months, with manageable air and water temperatures, and frequent low pressures. May-August sees plenty of summer flat spells in the southwest and could be a good time to explore the east and the north coasts for Arctic windswells.
It’s impossible to talk about surfing in Iceland without talking rubber. Water temps bottom out around 3-4ºC requiring seriously thick 6mm rubber and 7mm boots and gloves. Late summer water can hit 12ºC so a 4/3 and no gloves is do-able, but remember, the windchill factor can have a big effect and the constant winds can often gust up to 100km/h.
By Air – All international flights arrive at Keflavík International Airport, 48kms from Reykjavik, with Iceland Express, Iceland Air, BA and SAS maintaining regular scheduled and some seasonal flights. Charter flights are also available from European cities. Air Iceland operates regular scheduled flights from Reykjavík to major domestic airports with bus connections to over 40 towns all over Iceland. Íslandsflug operates scheduled flights to three destinations domestically from Reykjavík and also offers charter flights.
By Sea – The Faroe Islands’ Smyril Line operates a weekly passenger and car ferry service from Bergen in Norway and Hanstholm in Denmark to Lerwick in the Shetland Islands, the Faroe Islands and Seyðisfjörður in Iceland.
A rental car is essential, even if you’re only surfing the Reykjanes peninsula. All its roads are manageable with a normal car but a 4WD will prove very helpful if travelling north to the Snaefellsness peninsula or south to Vik and beyond. It is illegal to go off-road where no track exists and headlights must be on at all times, day and night. The total length of the Ring Road around Iceland (National Highway 1) is 1339km. Most smaller roads are gravel, narrow and usually take much longer than planned. Many mountain roads are only passable in summer – check road conditions before travelling and travel in convoy or leave an itinerary. BSI Travel runs regular bus service to most parts of the country, especially around the Ring Road. Special offers include 1-4 week unlimited bus travel round the Ring Road or daily tours, but getting to the surf will be difficult. Most coaches have bike racks so carrying surfboards should be no problem.
Like just about everything in Iceland, rental cars and accommodation are expensive although hostels are available and 68 campgrounds are open from June to mid-September. The minimum age for driving a hired car in Iceland is 21 years and 25 years for a 4WD. Half a litre of beer at the pub costs at least 500kr. Bring in as much food and alcohol as possible.
From The Stormrider Surf Guide – Europe, available in book or eBook at www.lowpressure.co.uk
This text and image are taken from TSP94, the current issue.