Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with an incredible force that breaks on the black sand-covered coastlines, Iceland is arctic surfers' paradise. The sport has been on the rise in recent years, with more people than ever exploring the Icelandic beaches, all with the same purpose of finding the perfect surf spot.
Surfing here has spellbound not only the international adventurers and professional surfers. Initially brought to Iceland by American soldiers who stayed at the NATO base in Keflavík, the sport quickly got picked up by adventure hungry locals, and in recent years it has become increasingly popular among Icelandic men and women. To find out what is the compelling element about arctic surfing in Iceland, we ventured out with a couple of female arctic surfers, Heiða Birgisdóttir who has been surfing for almost 20 years and Rut Sigurðardóttir who just started surfing this winter.
Heiða, who works as a lead designer for an Icelandic outdoor clothing brand got her first surfboard in 1998, making her an expert of sorts when it comes to reading and riding the waves. In addition to surfing, she seeks the thrill of an adventure in the Icelandic wilderness through mountain biking and snowboarding. The ocean however, has a special place in her heart: "There is no way to describe the incredible feeling of heading out in the cold ocean and feeling the power the raw untamed power," Heiða describes.
Rut, on the other hand, who used to work as a journalistic photographer for an Icelandic newspaper, is a newcomer to the world of arctic surfing, as she got into it in the fall of 2016 and instantly got hooked. It led to her quitting her job to pursue the Arctic surfing life style on regular basis: "From the first time I entered the ocean, I was obsessed with the surf and I just couldn't get it out of my head. Every time the forecast looked good, and I was stuck at work, I was in pure agony. It was such a stressful feeling. I was constantly thinking about the amazing adventure that I was missing out on and I just could not take it any longer. So, I decided to quit my job and started working as a freelance photographer. I haven't looked back since then." Rut says it is a dream come true being a master of her own time and being able to hit the wave any time an opportunity presents itself.
Both Heiða and Rut got into surfing the Icelandic way – without any formal training, just a group of friends who decided to make it on their own. Little by little, they started understanding the waves and getting a hang of the surf. "When you understand the vast power of the ocean, you start respecting it in a completely different way and you realise how unique it is to live on an island surrounded by the Atlantic," Hei›a says with a bit of seriousness in her voice. "Even if surfing is all about having fun, we also take safety quite seriously." Arctic surfing requires wearing a thick wet suit (made for arctic conditions), being a good swimmer, knowing where to find your weather information and most importantly, never heading out alone.
When it comes to their health and diet, both Rut and Heiða agree that arctic surfing is a healthy lifestyle that provides an amazing exercise for both body and mind. Rut for example, has experimented with being both a vegan and a pescatarian, but now mainly enjoys a vegetarian diet. She does however enjoy the occasional fish and when asked why, she explains: "I'm Icelandic, so I do eat fish. But it's only because of the purity and quality of the fish here in Iceland – I wouldn't eat it anywhere else in the world”.
About the future of the arctic surfing in Iceland, in particular for women, both Rut and Heiða agree that surfing is here to stay, and that the positive examples set by the local surfers will likely inspire more to join in.
Icelandic skyr sauce
100 ml skyr
1 tbsp lemon juice
Zest of ¼ lemon
Mix into a bowl the skyr,lemon juice and zest in and season to taste. Add 2 tbsp dill oil to the sauce just before service.
100 ml rapeseed oil
100 gr fresh dill
Put the oil and dill into a blender, mix a few minutes (until warm), strain through a cloth. The result should be a dark green and flavourful oil.
Pickled fennel & pickled pearl onion
100 ml apple vinegar
100 ml water
100 gr caster sugar
½ fennel bulb, thinly sliced
6 pearl onions
Peel the perl onions and blanch for 1 minúte in boiling water, strain and put aside in a small bowl. Slice the fennel as thin as possible and put aside into a small bowl. In a pan mix the vinegar, water and caster sugar and bring to a boil. Divide the liquid into the bowls and leave to rest for at least 30 minutes before serving.