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Pulsating Iceland

A travelstory with Kai Katchadourian and Christopher Friis

They say all storms originate in Iceland. The vast, icy, vulcanic world up north has long been forgotten by the world of windsurfing and it is only in recent years that the island has begun drawing some attention again.

Kai Katchadourian and I decided to pick up the challange and venture out into natures most unforgiving windsurfing adventure and spend two weeks in the icy paradise, living in tents along the coastline in search of world class surf breaks.

A Rough Start
Despite facing an overwhelming logistical problem caused by the main sponsor for the trip not following through, leaving us with no vehicle and no way to get to Iceland we kept our heads high and took a good look at the forecast for Iceland. A big storm system was heading in from west and we knew something big was going to go down up there, and we didn’t want to miss out on it, so we booked our flights, Kai flying in from Finland, Robert, our photographer, flying in from Copenhagen and myself from Billund in Denmark.

Touchdown didn’t come with any less drama as Kai’s equipment didn’t arrive until 2 days later and I was stopped by customs with over 200 kg of sails, boards, rig components, tents and camping gear. Luckily I made it through without having to pay anything and we could start our journey out through the barren vulcanic landscape which was constantly reminding us of the fact that this place was till very much alive underneath the surface, driving past hot springs and geothermical areas where boiling mud sent a sulfoic steam directly out of the ground.

First camp, first surf
As we drove along the ruggid Reykjanes coastline we were left thinking of the endless potential of this place whilst we set up camp at a beach near the airport.  The next morning became something of a socked-in affair as it became a waiting game with the weather to take advantage of the conditions and get started as soon as a hole in the sky appeared.

Grindavik was pumping shoulder to head high waves, all running down towards the habour and both Kai and I immidiately rigged our gear and headed out in the cold, icy clear, blue water for our first taste of Icelandic surf. No more than half an hour after we got started Kai had to give in to the cold and pretty soon I followed too, but the session, none the less had left us both with a big smile on our face, hungry for more. This was only the first taste of the approaching storm.

Later that afternoon we moved up the coast and was met by a Church and a Graveyard at Gardur. The sea there was veroucious, we later found out that this was a place where more ships had been lost at sea than any other in Icelandic waters. It was blowing side onshore 45 knots, with 4 meter waves serving a serious level of intimidation. After an approving nod Kai and I saddled up on our smallest equipment and launched into the zone.

After nervously going in and out for a few runs I started pushing it bit by bit, eventually going round a few wave 360’s and launching into a big straight air jump, but agreed with Kai that the best move we made this day was getting back on dry land safely again.

Airport Hotel
The storm was still in full force when we drove past a section of the highway which was particularly exposed to the wind. Robert shouted that the light was perfect and I immediately brought the car to a grinding halt before turning it around and driving towards an omnious looking reef break in front of a sign that read ”Airport Hotel”. It was just a disgusting, cold death burger of a wave breaking directly onto sharp lava, but I rigged up as quicky as I could and Kai helped me out.

When I got out there it was obvious that I was in a situation which was greatly underestimated from the safety of the car. It was still blowing 40 knots and the current swept me downwind incredibly fast. I took a few runs and launched into another wave 360, almost getting caught on the inside and getting crushed on the lava rocks. That was enough for me and I quickly made it in before I had to pay some kind of sacrifice for being out there. It was a good call as a set of waves had just cleared out the entire playing field.

We decided to call it a day after that experience and moved down to Sandvik and set up camp again, reflecting on a day where both Kai and I had pushed it a few notches beyond reason.

What we came for
We both knew this was the day the charts had been pointing at. Grindavik was about to give us an experience of a lifetime. We arrived in the early morning, the wind was on the light side, but the waves were there. Logo high, peeling down towards the habour like a few days before. As the tides began to turn and we walked out over the slippery rocks in our thick wetsuits and light wind setup the waves began to really push in and raised themselves to a solid mast high, hollow peeler.

For the next two hours Kai and I were dropping into the massive clear blue waves, knowing this was exactly the place we were supposed to be. Grindavik continued to impress with it’s hollow sections and ruler edge consistency and I have to say, seeing Kai slashing the waves and launching himself over the sections didn’t look like he was far off from his Maui home, myself struggeling a bit to get used to the starboard tack conditions. Robert had moved down to the water and was standing in water to his knees, just to get the right angle for the photos. As the energy ran out and we came off the water Kai was quick to draw a comparison to the likes of Backyards and Happy Opu on the Hawaiian islands.

Northern Lights
With a big swing in the weather and the major accomplishments on the water having been accomplished we cruised around the island to truly suck in the magestic Islandic landscap. It’s incredible that we have such a vibrant place, with such good surf conditions within a two hour flight of most airports in Northern Europe.

As we gathered our tribe for the last outing in Reykjavik, and sharing a nice meal together with our good Icelandic friend Rafn and his wife Hjördis we spotted a reen wave of light across an opening in the sky. Even soft spoken Rafn marveled at it briefly. Certainly a gine sign of a very memorable trip that had just happened for the right reasons. We barely scratched the surface of the potential Iceland offers, but with the locals calling that day in Grindavik one of the two best days of the year, we were all stoked to have scored it and knew that our timing had been spot on!

Kai: ”Iceland is a part of my program when it sets up let there be no doubt. I just don’t think I can handle it much colder than that first day without a sauna on the beach or something.”

Chris: ”Iceland is a heaven for windsurfing, surfing and SUP’ing, there is no doubt in my mind that I will be returning there more and more often, going on forecasts, it’s simply too good to miss out on.”