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Photo: Elli Tor

Back to the roots of surfing with Artic Surfers

The dream of empty waves is something every surfer constantly seeks. We were tended to believe that surfing was only meant to be in warm locations, surrounded by palm trees and incredible reefs. It is not our fault – we just didn’t know. Then came the point in our life where the wetsuit technology got better and where plane tickets got cheaper. The world was ours and we had the chance to go to new places, unknown to people still. We had the chance to reconnect ourselves to the sea, to the true essence of surfing that passionate surfers used to talk about – the kind of feelings that give you shiver just by thinking about your love for the ocean. It is something unreal to surf by yourself, and it may require a thick wetsuit and an incredible motivation to do so, but most people say it’s worth it. We agree. It really is. 

As winter is coming and we are all complaining already about the snow and the cold we have to go through, I am here to give you a different winter getaway that involves cold water, exceptional landscapes and a natural beauty that is hard to find. But most importantly, good waves, just waiting for you in their cold joy. You hear me, I’m definitely talking about Iceland. We had a chat with Arctic Surfers, which offers Surf, Sup and Snowboard Tours in Iceland. If you’re like me, you must think that taking a tour is something useless, especially that exploring by yourself without a guide shows you the true culture of a location. Iceland is different though, especially if you want to go out for some adventures, which you definitely do. 

Arctic Surfers is based of two guys that grew up in Iceland with snowboarding in their life, then found the joy of empty waves around the corner of their house. It was a wild adventure to get where they are now, it isn’t easy to find where to surf and especially, when to surf in Iceland. It requires to give up everything you were doing, drive for hours, get out in the cold and jump in the freezing water. It is challenging, but isn’t what the true essence of surfing is all about? Going to Iceland bring you to a small surf community that lives everyday with the traditional respect of the sea we sometimes forget. It is a one of a kind destination, I admit, but a fantastic one.

We had a chat with Hreinn Elías, which is one of the founders, and you will probably get as inspired as me when I talked to him. 

Warm water can wait – it’s all about the cold now! 

How did the idea of launching Arctic Surfers came into your mind? 

My partner, Ingó Olsen, was working as a tour guide doing all kinds of trips, from rafting to camping. He was saving his money for surfing as you have to drive a lot here, and gas is expensive. Iceland is not like anywhere else in the world because of that reason. Spots are all over the place, you have to take the day off to go surfing because it is very quick to turn on and turn off. You need to know your science to surf here, and that’s what we do. We have accumulated knowledge of surfing in Iceland for almost 20 years and we use that to surf, offer our services and bring people with us. 

Was it something you thought about as a career while growing up? 

When I was a kid, I remember taking a Bodyboard, teaching kids how to swim and for so long I went to pools and tried to surf on it [laugh]! But I actually just started surfing about 4 years ago in Portugal. I didn’t know you could surf in Iceland until a couple years ago, and that’s when I decided to turn Artic Surfers into reality. 

Portugal to Iceland, you definitely need to adjust yourself to a different climate!
Yes, but you don’t feel the cold when you are in the water, so it isn’t that bad. 

That’s true, especially that you have a wetsuit and you’re well-equipped for that kind of weather! 

Exactly! Honestly, the only part you will be cold during the surf is when you stand outside, watching the waves. 

So you run as soon as possible into the water! How was it like to start surfing at such a late age? It seems always harder when we’re older. 

It is probably better to start as a kid, but it is also not easy to learn how to surf in Iceland because it is not like other places, to have a routine of leaving your house in the morning to go surf warm seas. Here, you have to go for a real adventure, look at the maps and chase the waves in crazy conditions. I am doing it with guys that have been surfing for a long time, so I am putting myself in more advanced situation. 

Who are your customers – do you mostly get pro surfers or it is anyone with enough motivations to follow you? 

We mostly take intermediate to expert surfers, so a lot of pro surfers and production works with companies. Brands come to us to do shoot, advertisement or documentary. They know we will arrange everything and take them to the best places. 

That’s a great way to put Iceland on the map, when you think of it. It brings awareness of what’s going on in Iceland, especially that it only got popular a couple years ago. Everyone is dreaming of it since then [laugh]! 

Exactly! For people that never travelled here before, we offer them an amazing experience. This is important for us – you don’t just come here with your surfboards. Even pro surfers came here with a team before, trying to find something on their own and they just end up driving in circles, not finding anything. We are surfing our arses off you know! That’s why it’s good to hook up with us because we know where to go and when. It’s tricky in Iceland, it’s really uncrowded surf here, and it will probably never be. You have to really know where you need to go and at what time to fully enjoy it.

Uncrowded surf forever… seems like a dream! Is the surf culture pretty big or there’s not that many surfers around? 

Hmm… Not that much! Probably like 15 hardcore surfers and maybe around 40 in total. 

Wow, that’s impressive, it is so small! I’ve been looking at your website and you were saying that every season is different, why? 

The swells are bigger in winter and spring. The weather here is always changing. Within one and a half hour, you can drive, have a summer kind of day and then get a snowstorm! And when you’re driving back, you will have rain like it was spring. It is crazy! We have less daylight during winter, which makes it hard to find the surf, but the waves are bigger and we always end up finding! 

As for the summer time, we have 24 hours daylight, which means you can surf 24 hours a day, but you have more time between swells and it is definitely smaller. 

What are your goals right now towards the company? Change the perception of people about Iceland? 

Mhm… we want to keep things as it is, keep it small. We don’t want to grow it too big, we only take a few people out except if it is a special thing, like a bachelor party. We do a lot of those actually, [laugh]! We like to offer people the experience of surfing by themselves. 

What’s the nicest story about Iceland? 

My story [laughs]? 

Yes! Something about you and Iceland. We always hear the opinion of pro surfers and photographers, but what about you? 

Mhm, there is so many! I guess I love the summer here because of the 24 hours daylight. Being able to stay up all night with not many people out is really cool, it’s like you’re in a constant sunset mood. I really love going on the road, far away from the city up north and surf spots where we have cabins at and natural water next to it, with a few breaks around. We surf all day long and do a BBQ, then we go to the hot tub to keep ourselves warm! 

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All photos by Elli Thor

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