Surfing in Iceland
When you’re planning a surfing holiday, you’d think of heading to Australia, Hawaii, maybe even Cornwall, right? But it turns out that Iceland has a small but committed surf scene. Surfing in this country is not for the faint-hearted; Iceland is renowned for its harsh weather and quick-changing conditions. But if you’re up for a challenge and want to surf where few have surfed before, try out some cold water surfing in Iceland.
Where to Surf in Iceland
The first thing to note is that no matter where or when you surf in Iceland, the water will be cold. Seawater temperature around Reykjavik sits at around 5 °C in the winter and at most is 10°C in the summer. So, in the winter you’ll need a thick wetsuit to be relaxed enough to surf. This is why surfing in Iceland is known as cold water surfing. The most frequented spot for surfers in Iceland is the Reykjanes peninsula, the area south-west of Reykjavik. It’s about a 60-minute drive from the capital area and offers some incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean. Sandvík is one of the beaches in the area suitable for beginners. There, instead of the beach being covered with sharp volcanic rock like many of Iceland’s beaches, it is covered with black sand. This is a wonder in itself if you’re used to yellow sand beaches. The best time to surf in Iceland is from October to March; yes, the water will be colder than in summer. The waves will also be better, due to all the storms that hit Iceland in the winter. For autumn/winter surfing, you’ll want to wear a 5-6mm wetsuit. However, if you are a complete beginner to surfing, it is not advised to try for the first time in Iceland without lessons of any sort.
Iceland Surf Shops
If you are not traveling to Iceland with your own surf gear, contact Adventure Vikings to get hold of a board, wetsuit and everything else you’ll need. You must contact the office at least 24 hours beforehand to arrange the collection of the gear you need. Also, their office is closed on weekends. Or, if you want to be shown the ropes, Adventure Vikings also offers beginner surf lessons. The gear is included in the price and they’ll only run the surf school if the waves are suitable. For those intermediate or advanced surfers, Adventure Vikings offer a guided surf tour that is less instruction and more wave catching. For the intermediate and upwards surfers, there is also the Artic Surfers company offering a range of surf tours. But the Arctic Surfers don’t just offer single day excursions. Their Adventure Surf Tour lasts for five days and covers food, accommodation and several other perks, including entry to some geothermal pools.
It’s important to note that all of these tours are very weather dependent, and could be canceled on short notice if the guides feel the conditions are not safe. So, hope for the best, but be prepared for your holiday to take an unexpected turn. Regarding the Arctic Surfers’ multi-day tours, they have a series of plan B activities up their sleeves, just in case.
Safety When Surfing
Like any outdoor sport, the most important consideration is respect for nature. Don’t take unnecessary risks when faced with the elements. Never surf alone; always go with a friend and tell others where you are going. Since surfing is not so popular in Iceland, you may find only a handful of people at your chosen surf spot, or no one at all. So, if help is needed it may be far away. Make sure you know how to read weather reports and tide charts and study them diligently. If you’re surfing in Iceland for the first time and are not joining a tour, tag along with some locals who know where to go and when. The Icelandic surf community will be easy to contact since they’re small and well-connected. Stay within your ability limits and, for Iceland in particular, stay away from sharp volcanic reefs. Surfing is a very physically demanding sport, and the Icelandic waves are no picnic. The better shape you’re in, the better equipped you are to surf here.
For everyone’s safety and to maximize the fun, Icelanders prefer to share the waves rather than compete. There won’t be huge crowds to impress here like there are on Bondi Beach. Respect each other’s space and respect the environment. If you turn up to your chosen surf location and you’re beginning to doubt the safety of the situation, follow your instincts. Stay out of the water and instead enjoy the solitude of the beach. Enjoy the patterns the water has carved into the dark volcanic rock. Or, take the decision out of your hands and join a tour. They’re qualified to make the call and if they say yes, it’s time to surf.
Samuel Hogarth, Reykjavik Cars.