Conor Maguire swaps the cold confines of Ireland for the one letter different Iceland. Going beyond the wall looks fun eh?
Ihad been dreaming of roaming in between Iceland’s imposing fjord’s for years. I felt very lucky and privileged to have been asked to go there for a Reef project on very short notice by my wonderful team manager, Paolo. About a week after the invitation I was happily boarding a plane in wet and windy Ireland bound for Iceland two hours later.
I was expecting to be met with sub-zero temperatures and snow blizzards the moment I left the airport. Instead I was greeted by a familiar North Atlantic howl and persistent drizzle as I
walked out the revolving doors. It seemed as though I was entering a part of Ireland I hadn’t seen before.
This little nomadic island on top of the world had been very high on my checklist for as long as I can remember. I never expected to feel so at home the moment I arrived.
As I walked out of the airport two very friendly Nova Scotians were waiting patiently for me. Logan Landry and Mike Bromley were grinning ear to ear as they politely helped me with my bags. We had only met virtually previous to the trip. After a few minutes with the boys it was easy to see why Canadians, and especially Nova Scotians, have such a good reputation. They had both been to Iceland quite a number of times. Logan considers it a second home having spent a few weeks there for eight consecutive years. Mike had been there the year previous filming his highly anticipated film ‘Perilous Sea’.
The pair were clearly very comfortable in the area and that rubbed off on me. The lads chucked my stuff in a van which would become our second base for the trip. We drove further and further outside the city until we were bouncing down gravel lanes. Off in the distance I could see a picturesque wooden church on a hill with a distinctively Icelandic mountain in the backdrop, albeit without the characteristic dusting of snow. We
kept driving. I thought, “we must be getting close. We’re quite a ways away from the ocean out here.” The mountains got bigger and the city got smaller. Logan took a turn up a tight driveway which seemed to be leading to the colourful
THE MOUNTAINS GOT BIGGER AND THE CITY GOT SMALLER
church on the hill. It turns out we were staying in a beautiful wooden cabin right underneath God’s house. We were completely in the middle of nowhere, but it was perfect. We even had a promise of fun waves the next day. The only thing that could have made it better was if it snowed.
I woke the next day to two new cabin inhabitants. Annouck, Canada’s Reef manager and Shannon Brown, Ozzy ripper and expat. Annouck is like the mum we all miss when we’re away. She has all your needs met before you need them. Shannon is a man full of wisdom and more than happy to share it with whoever is smart enough to listen. The five of us got on like a house on fire from day one. On our long drive to the ocean from our new recluse my eyes were glued to the van windows. Iceland is a diamond sculpted by the relentless forces of nature. It is what I imagine Ireland was like many years ago when glaciers still crept through valleys, carving beautiful pieces of art as they went. While making our way through never ending valleys with jagged, unplanned peaks jolting out of everywhere we passed herds of majestic wild horses, centuries old turf houses and plunging waterfalls waiting to be lit up by the morning sun.
I had been so immersed in what was surrounding our van that I had completely forgotten about the surf. We rocked up to a perfect little right hand point break with nobody around.
We got incredibly excited and jumped out of the van only to realise it was absolutely freezing! We quickly learned that a three foot Icelandic point break looks a lot more inviting from behind the windows of a warm van. We awkwardly wriggled into our suits in the pleasant warmth and ran down to the sea. I sat floating out the back with a huge grin on my face as I looked back at the uneven landscape. The sun had risen just about as
high as it would for the rest of the short day. It would remain there shedding a mystical golden hue on the land from gaps in the clouds. I couldn’t have been more content. I had travelled to Iceland keen to see it’s incredible surroundings. To be sitting in the ocean surfing fun waves with a few friends was the icing on the cake. After two long surfs we were exhausted and ready for dinner. We drove back through the valley admiring low light bounce from pinnacle to pinnacle, completely satisfied.
Our cabin had no wifi, so after dinner we actually had to converse and get to know each other. Shannon is an expert card player and brought a deck with him. He taught us a few games and got our heads spinning. I thought bringing a bottle of Bushmills to make hot whiskeys would be essential on a trip to Iceland. This also got our heads spinning. I was flabbergasted to hear nobody knew of the delicious beverage that is the cure to all. After their first sip, everybody was hooked. It was the drink of choice for the rest of the trip. Or at least until the bottle ran dry. It turns out a card game fuelled by whiskey can get quite competitive. Shannon was easily wiping the floor with us, while Logan and I were in a heated battle for second on a few occasions. The deck was wisely put away as we made our way to bed.
WE ROCKED UP TO A PERFECT LITTLE RIGHT HAND POINT BREAK WITH NOBODY AROUND
We woke well before dawn to white flakes falling from the night sky. Inches of the white stuff was packed tightly against our front door. In the pitch black, we jumped in the van and made our way towards the ocean once again. The valleys had been transformed and looked completely different from the morning before. As dawn creeped in, the moon set giving off the last of its silver glow turning the valley into a luna-like wonderland. The sea was considerably stormier. The swell had some mighty punch behind it. We had a brief but fun surf and made our way back to base to make a plan. Logan is a good friend of
local surfer Heidar Logi who is Iceland’s first professional surfer. They decided that a mission just about as far North as you can go in Iceland would be the perfect place to hide from the storm and get fun waves. An eight hour drive north to take us a few degrees south of the Arctic Circle seemed like a fantastic idea.
We commenced our journey the following morning. A few hours in and we got hit by the mother of all snow storms whilst in the middle of absolutely nowhere. The snow was falling so thick and fast we didn’t even have the option of appreciating what were
undoubtedly amazing surroundings. As night fell, Logan decided to share that just up ahead were sheer cliffs with unguarded roads. Blissful ignorance of the treachery that lay below would have saved us a few uneasy hours. Watching the thick snow flakes fall in front of the full beams was hypnotising and almost put us in a trance like state. Eight hours of driving slowly turned into eleven. With a synchronised sigh of relief, we saw the
glow of our cabin in the darkness of a small town far north. Bed never sounded so good.
We got up well before dawn in the hope of pumping surf. A dawnie in the depths of winter in Iceland is actually a sleep in almost everywhere else. 9.30am saw us digging our trusty van out of the snow. By first light we were down at the shore screaming with excitement.
A white blanket had cosily wrapped the town up all nice and snug and the sea was like a sheet of glass… or ice! Slow lines rolled in in an orderly fashion. Not massive, but we knew the swell was building. It wasn't until daylight came that I realised how far back in the fjord we were. I was amazed that any swell got in there at all! Two huge white walls extended proudly into the ocean, guarding this perfect little reef. As we jumped into our
wetties, knee deep in snow, the swell started filling in. It was the best surf we’d seen the whole trip. Hoots and hollers ensued as we surfed until our arms couldn't move anymore.
We crawled back up the cliffs to a half frostbit, very stoked Mike. After our surf we packed our bags and hit the road once again. All in all, it was a total of 20 hours driving for one surf that will remain in our memories for ever. I suppose you
could say we were just passing through.
As we drove home in content silence I was thinking to myself “This trip couldn’t get any better”. Right on cue, Shannon let out a “WHHAATHHHUUHHH”. As I eagerly peer out the window I see the whole sky light up like a sunset on acid. Shades of green and purple danced across the sky over glistening mountain tops, as Shannon and I hung out the window on top of each other. The light from the city effected their intensity, but it was enough for me. We arrived back to our cabin in awe of one of the best days of surfing in our lives.
The next night was unfortunately my last. We sat around our little table sipping whiskey, playing cards and reminiscing. Unforgettable experiences with people I had never spoken to just a few weeks previous had solidified lifelong friendships. I took one more wander out into our garden and saw a ghostly glow form above our roof. I looked up to see the aurora begin to flare up one last time, as if to say goodbye. I called the lads out. Because we were so far outside the city, the colours were incredibly intense. Huge bands of colour undulated like a leaf in the wind above us. We were once again mesmerised and transfixed on the sky above. I couldn’t have asked for a better goodbye from the wonderful land of fire and ice. I think I’ll take it more as a “see you soon, mate”...
ALL IN ALL, IT WAS A TOTAL OF 20 HOURS DRIVING FOR ONE SURF THAT WILL REMAIN IN OUR MEMORIES FOR EVER
One thing you're guaranteed in Iceland is a poop load of weather. Below: Chapel of the open sky. Right: Frosty funnel.