Iceland is a lesser-known paradise for brave surfers. You will need to keep your cool and stay frosty to have a fighting chance of enjoying the tough waters off the Icelandic coast. Those involved with surfing in Iceland are a tight-knit community. Yet, the market offers very little in terms of purchasing the right gear, so rather stick to rentals when you go out with the surf schools.
Surfing in Iceland demands a Viking-grade surfer with the right mindset. Instead of casually walking a white sand beach and cooling down with some coconut water. You will also be braving the North Atlantic waves on a black sand beach and getting warm with a nice cup of cocoa. See what more this Icelandic adventure can offer you that other places can’t in this article.
What You Need to Know Before Surfing in Iceland
Surfing in Iceland is most likely not on the list of top 10 things most would ever consider doing. But the truth is, surfing here is more common than you might think, and using the right gear is the key to surfing in some of the coolest waters on earth.
Iceland = cold, right? For the most part, yes. You won’t be surfing down a hot lava stream or jumping on a board in the quiet and serene hot springs. You will be challenging the extremely harsh North Atlantic Ocean and the massive waves that are formed there.
The temperature is always the first thing that comes to mind. The North Atlantic Ocean is a cold body of water, and there isn’t much we can do about that, but there is something we can do about how cold the water feels. The waters around Reykjavík in the southwestern part of Iceland are usually around 10 °C in the summer and mostly around 5 °C in the winter. This means that a thick wetsuit with a snug hood should be your outfit of the day.
Unfortunately, the air isn’t going to be much of a help either. If you are used to surfing in other parts of the world, you will often have the sun to warm you up if the waters are a bit chilly. When surfing in Iceland, the temperatures are going to be up to 20 °C on a warm summer day, and most likely around 10-15 °C on average. The sun is nice and all, but you can’t escape the ocean winds and chilly weather. Make sure to have somewhere warm to go afterwards, so you don’t catch an unnecessary cold.
When to Surf in Iceland
Iceland surfing is tricky when it comes to the seasons. You’d think that most of the good surf days would be in the summertime when the weather is fine, but that is unfortunately not the case. The trade-off in Iceland is that while the weather is warm and mild, the waves are going to be slightly smaller and less frequent. In the winter, however, the waves are pristine and reward any brave soul that dares to challenge them.
In the summer, you will have long, warmer days, and be able to surf under the midnight sun (which is an otherworldly experience). This means that you can afford to spend some time on the beach and in the water to wait for the right waves.
In the winter, the days are short, and the weather is harsh. This means a short timespan with safe Iceland surfing conditions. But since the weather is more hectic, you will have larger and more frequent waves hitting the shores. It will also be way colder, which means that you need to be more careful both in the water and outside of it.
The shoulder seasons provide good mixes of these conditions. Both spring and fall are good options for anyone who is looking for a cost-effective alternative with a little bit of both worlds.
Safety and Iceland Surfing
Depending on how adventurous you are, surfing in Iceland is always an option. However, unless you are considering a career change to become a seal, we suggest you keep to the days with reasonable weather at sea. The currents in a lot of the spots around Iceland are strong enough to pull you out at sea, regardless of how strong of a swimmer you are. Iceland surfing for beginners should be kept to the appropriate parts of the coast.
Apart from that, you should keep to the general rules of engaging with the elements:
- Never go surfing alone
- Always tell other people where you are going, when, and for how long
- Check the weather reports before heading out
- Don’t go to areas that you don’t know, and if you do, always bring an experienced friend or guide
- Make sure to have the right gear
Best Places to Surf in Iceland
Depending on how good of a surfer you are and how adventurous you feel, different spots will provide you with different challenges. See our list below for the popular surfing spots in Iceland:
- Sandvik – a nice beginner beach on the Reykjanes Peninsula where you can surf in a somewhat protected bay. It is roughly 60 kilometres southwest of Reykjavik, which makes it a great day trip destination.
- Porlákshöfn – another good beach for a beginner. Offering a little more of a challenge than Sandvik, Prolákshöfn can be challenged by beginners who are ready to step up their game - just a little bit.
- Eyvik – close to Tjörnes, you can find a spot that is a good, intermediate place for surfers. A nice, clean break with clear waters and a beautiful black beach, right next to the whale watcher’s paradise of Húsavik.
- Grindavik – the beach for experts can be found not far away from the beginner beaches. An area with proper violent breaches that are hard to predict and even harder to surf. You will always find good surfing here but should not be braved by beginners or people that are not confident in their swimming.
The Iceland Surfing Community
The Iceland surfing community is a tight-knit and small community, like many others on the island. As with most adventure sports groups, you can easily find enthusiastic people using social media to promote their organizations. Often, they are very friendly towards outsiders who want to join in for vacation or are simply curious about their odd interests. Don’t be shy to reach out!
Braving the Icelandic waters takes some skill and knowledge. That's why most adventure tour companies will have some surf schools for excited tourists. These are important if you want to have fun while also being safe. These schools fit the avid surfer as well as the beginner. See below for some Iceland surf schools:
- Adventure Vikings – A recognized surf school for beginners. They have a good track record and offer many other adventure tours for tourists.
- Arctic Surfers – A community of surfers who are the hardened Viking equivalents of the classic “surfer dudes”. These guys will take good care of you and give you an authentic experience of surfing in Iceland.
- Reykjavik Attractions – A lesser-known surf school that can also cater to beginners.
No smoke without fire, right? To have a surfing community in Iceland, there must be somewhere to get the equipment. Unfortunately, the surfing scene isn’t large enough in Iceland to have major surf shops. But luckily, most adventure shops will have a section for wetsuits, dry suits, and other necessary equipment.
Getting your hands on a surfboard might be tricky, but most adventure places will have you rent the equipment. Luckily, you will likely be renting a surfboard in Iceland rather than buying one if you are not going to move there on a semi-permanent or permanent basis.
Key Points for Surfing in Iceland
So, what do we take away from surfing in Iceland? See our list below:
- It’s cold – you are close to the arctic in freezing waters and harsh weather, so be prepared to be cold.
- Summer vs. Winter – the wintertime offers large and frequent waves, but summer can be the time to go for maximum comfort and awesome midnight sun.
- Location, location, location – the Reykjanes Peninsula offers many popular surfing locations. These are available for both beginners and pros.
- Get in with the crowd – contact the locals for the best treatment and rent the needed equipment rather than buy it.
Now that you know the ins and outs of arctic surfing, make sure to rent the car to fit your board and brave the waves!