WELCOME TO THE BEATING HEART OF YOUR ADDICTION
WE ARE THE SPIT
THE TRADE WINDS
THE HOWLING GALE
WE ARE BACKWASH
We’re fleeing to the north, to just below the Arctic. We’re all in need of an adventure, it’s been a hot summer which is great, but it is the winter storms that bring the fun for us and they are coming to the north now. Our team has come together organically, a shared lust of adventure. Comfort in the unpredictable nature of the north links us. Surfing is the glue.
A running start. A day of fun waves just after we arrive. We haven’t ventured far, Reykjavik’s go to wave, a pair of quality boulder point breaks just south of the city. Nine souls in the water, as crowded as it can get in Iceland. The locals are friendly and the vibe in the water is mellow. It’s refreshing to know that this is all of them. We’re going to be alone down the coast, that is why we are here.
We drive and we drive. Stunned, we pull over in awe and try to take photographs that will fail to recreate the beauty and awesomeness of the country. It rains and it rains and then the skies clear and we stop and we stare. Again, cameras out, back in, move on. The going is slow but no one cares. The blinkers are off and surfing is temporarily forgotten.
A narrow side road diverts us to a bend in the coast and a cliff top view. A small river snakes around a rock stack, cutting through the black sandbank and out emptying a lagoon into the sea. The shape of the sandbar is creating a perfect right-hander but it’s just too small to surf this evening. It’s got the potential, but not today. We mark the map, and move on.
At a point where the glacier meets the sea, a fast flowing lagoon is spitting chunks of thousand year old blue ice out into the grey ocean. Taz and Noah haven’t wasted any time and they are out there, catching a lift on a bus sized piece as it speeds out of the rivermouth. A curious seal chases them to shore and we laugh at the madness of it all as the drizzle envelops us in a cold damp blanket. Back over at the lagoon I spot a flat rock perched above the glassy clear water and can think of nothing else. It’s time for a swim. The water hits my body like a sledgehammer and unrecognisable noises spout from my mouth. I can’t breath or talk until I clamber up the bank and find my clothes. Suddenly the day is brighter, my eyes refreshed perhaps. We spend the afternoon back in wetsuits and paddle around the icebergs, sometimes they roll and break and house sized pieces of ice tumble in the dark blue depths. We are stunned by the sight but become well aware of the danger, and the cold, and retreat back to the shore.
Darkness is gradual most days, it’s a slow fade from grey to darker grey. Tonight we know night is coming and we need shelter from this relentless wind and rain. Salvation is the remains of an aeroplane fuselage, crashed into the endless expanse of volcanic gravel, sweeping from glacier tongue to the sea. It’s a haunting sight in the half light, but a welcome refuge. Tents spring up in the lee of the metallic ruin and a welcome fire is nurtured to life. Rum is passed around and we talk of surf trips past to the soundtrack of wind and rain drumming away on the tin walls.
Swell is coming, the data streams down to the smartphone and we can’t argue with that. We chat in another Icelandic roadhouse, an institution here, complete with endless coffee and hot dogs of dubious quality. Tomorrow morning, it’ll be hitting our spot and we all agree we need to sleep there to greet it at first light. Access is across a long tongue of soft black sand and it’s decided we load the best of the four wheel drives and shuttle our team out to the point. Skies are clearing, the wind is swinging and the sea becoming smooth. Spirits are high and waders and eiders scatter and take flight as this strange bunch of humans come thundering along the beach, grins ear to ear.
Nobody can deny, this is one hell of a camp spot. Beauty and awe in all directions. As dusk falls the first faint glow of green illuminates the northwestern horizon reflecting into a far glacier. Darkness brings the kind of cold that we haven’t experienced yet and our fronts are grateful for the driftwood fire, whilst our backs curse the bitter air being sucked into the flames. The green glow becomes brighter and sweeps all across the northern sky. Leaping, twisting and fading before coming back stronger than before. There are purples and blues in there too. Can anyone else see this? I feel like I can hear it, but there is no sound, just the occasional shout ‘Did anyone just see that?!’ and the crack and spit of the fire at our feet. It’s so late, and so cold now the driftwood is running out. We just can’t tear ourselves away from this show going on in the sky. Amazed, shivering and eyes drooping, I don’t know who retreated back to the tents first, but we all follow slowly behind, climbing into down filled bags whilst the Aurora projects it’s dance on the canopy of our tents.
I find Taz, the youngest and most eager of our group slumped at the foot of the great rock stack. He’s staring silently out to sea. I catch his eye as I walk up the beach. He says nothing and neither do I. The early morning is bright and clear, but frigid. A stiff offshore breeze had picked up early and whipped along the beach, carrying with it the cold of Iceland’s glaciers and sending it out to sea over our promised corner of coast. The shoreline is motionless. The swell hadn’t arrived overnight as we thought it would, in fact it was smaller than before. The horizon is corrugated and big swells are marching to the east but far out to sea. From here the coastline wraps back up to the North, away from the new swell. The realisation is that we’re not going to get what we had waited for.
We’ve settled for an average beach break down the coast a little, waist high and weak little left-handers expire softly on another black sand beach. We are overlooked by giant green cliffs and thousands of sweeping fulmars. We have fun in the soft waves and back on the black sand cherish the weak sunshine. These weren’t the waves we were searching for, but nobody is disappointed. On a surf trip, in a country as astounding at this, surfing is just the added bonus.
Backwash Issue Two is a surf anthology featuring Japan, the photography of Chris Burkard and Sergio Villalba, Hamish Laing and Woody Gooch. Kalani Lattanzi swims at Nazare, whilst Amy Kotch surfs barrels whilst pregnant and John Peck knee paddles out as he has done since 1958.Purchase