Surfing, for some, is a hobby. For others, it’s a way of life. If you surf, no matter what your level, you have some serious waves to catch, because we are going to give you the info on some of the best surfing spots in the world. The caveat? They are all in arctic locations. Cold water surfing has its own amazing draw, and once you are cresting on that icy swell, surfing may never be the same for you again!
Surfing in Subzero Temperatures
You may be wondering what surfing in subzero temperatures is like. Well, it’s a lot like regular surfing, except for a few very important things. Obviously, you need a quality wetsuit, one built for movement and trapping that body heat. Make sure you get warm in it before you paddle out, because in that water, there is no heat to take.
Secondly, the difference in water temperature affects the waves somewhat. The water seems somehow thicker (because it is!) than tropical waves, and you need to compensate just a bit. In the Arctic, cold, denser water is left behind when ice freezes.
Also, make sure you spread your wax well, and check very closely for micro-cracks in the board. If you miss some of those pores or don’t get over every crease, as soon as you get out, your board could get stressed from the water freezing. That being said, the feel of the thicker water makes it seem like you stick to the waves like you never have before. Truly a fantastic ride!
While not a place that many ever think of when considering surfing, Iceland is home to a small, but very devoted, surfing community. They have covered every inch of their coastline to find some truly amazing swells.
ArticSurfers offers a heck of a lot to people who want an arctic adventure, but our favorite is the Surf and Snow Tour. You spend six days surfing in places that most of the world doesn’t even know about, and go backcountry snowboarding as well. Heli-skiing (don’t get confused by the name, you can go with sticks or a board just as well) can also be added to your trip, to have a triumvirate of stellar arctic activities. Think about it. Surfing swells to rival Maui, though it’s not like Pe’ahi, but then again, you’re going for the swells, not for 120-foot waves.
In the afternoon, you could be boarding down a slope most have never gone down before, and the next morning you could be taking a helicopter up to drop you off on a completely virgin run that no one has ever gone down before. Finish up your day by heading back out to surf at Ollie’s Point, and then back to the base camp on Trolls Peninsula to have a soak in the hot tub (trust us, you’ll need it!) This is one trip that just begs the true adventure traveler to take it.
Up to the Top of Norway
Dubbed “the most beautiful place in the world” by countless travelers, the Lofoten peninsula of Norway, which is at 68 by 9 degrees (yeah, that’s right, nine degrees off of the North Pole) is an amazing destination, and the surfing is incredible. So much so, in fact, that an entire industry has grown up around surfing there, and the surfing school there is second to none. Unstad is the name of the place, and you can check them out at http://www.unstadarcticsurf.com/.
The interesting thing is, no one ever considered surfing in Norway until 1963, when a pair of young Norwegian men who worked on ships that traveled the world picked up the skill during their travels. When they came back, they made their boards based on the pictures on the cover of the then (and still!) famous Beach Boys album.
Surfing north of the Arctic Circle took a 25-year hiatus, until another local surfer rediscovered Unstad after hearing stories about it. There is another region in Norway, Stavanger, that caters to a small but thriving surfing population, though it isn’t arctic surfing. He went north from there, and found monster swells with perfect barrels. The best part is that he convinced a surfing magazine to go with him, and arctic surfing in Norway was rekindled, and the flame hasn’t wavered since. It’s a thriving mini-resort now, with packages for surfing beginners as well as accommodations and rentals for those who know what they are doing.
Siberia has long been known around the world as one of the coldest, most inhospitable places on Earth, barring Antarctica. This is not to say, though, that it is uninhabited, nor is it bereft of surfing. Heading up to the top of Siberia, again in the Arctic Circle, there are no established schools, no surf culture to speak of. But those who are truly hardcore head there to catch some awesome waves.
There are some places which are recognized by the hardy Russian surf community, such as near the small town of Teriberka, and some awesome waves near Ribachiy Peninsula. Mostly, though, heading to the north of Russia is for those who truly love extreme adventure and exploration and, of course, surfing. Stories of those who have gone tell of surfing in storms with 35-mph-plus winds, and driving through places using GPS only, with zero visibility, and snow higher than the roof of the car. Hardcore indeed! If you go, make sure that you pack the best arctic gear you can, because the hotels are few and far between!
This one may throw some people, as most don’t realize that the U.S. touches the Arctic Circle. You are right if you are thinking of the lower 48. But head on up to Alaska, though, and you will find that you can find some killer waves in 38-degree-Fahrenheit (and below) waters. Mountain Dew even sponsored a young filmmaker, Nathan Balli, in a film about surfing the Arctic. He went to Aialik, Alaska and surfed the waves nearby, becoming the first documented person to ever do so! You can check his film out here.
He is pretty much a legend as far as Surfing Magazine is concerned. One of the fabulous things that came from the film is that there is now a small surfing community in northern Alaska, and you can get up there and find a board shop in Aialik that sells pretty much everything you need. There is even a local guide who makes his living taking people on his boat, the Milo, to find surf spots. Mike and Scott, the local surf gurus and boat runners, recommend going in either April or September. Particularly cool is when the groups of local sea lions follow you, just to see what those crazy humans are up to.
It isn’t literally “arctic,” but this one had to be on the list. Antarctica is the quintessential conquest for extreme explorers around the world. One of the most difficult places on Earth to reach, King George’s Island is the only place on Antarctica where eight different countries have permanent bases. Pretty much the only way to get there is to travel from the southernmost tip of South America. Red Bull, along with the Chilean government, sponsored their best surfer to head down, and they found a lot of waves and great swells, though paddling is out of the question. For that trip, you need a tow-in to pick up the waves. Research is still being done to figure out what the best times of year to head there are.
If money is no object, we suggest talking to the Chilean government if you want to head there to surf. They seem to be open to it, and Javier Vasquez, the Maritime Governor of Chilean Antarctica, is a supporter of the idea of Antarctic surfing. Just remember, you have to take everything with you. There isn’t a surf shop within more than 1,000 miles.
Arctic Surfing Is Here to Stay
Arctic surfing has been kind of an underground part of the sport for extreme thrill seekers, but is beginning to catch attention from the mainstreamers. Awesome waves, near-perfect swells, water that is denser than normal that your board seems to stick to and float on like it’s air … surfing in the frigid deep is an experience that you will never forget.
Check out a famous documentary (in the surfing world), Arctic Swell by Smugmug films. It’s pretty gnarly. Surprisingly, arctic surfing has gained a lot of traction with high-altitude hikers, as the combination of the cold and surfing is super exciting. As it is for the rest of us.
Get online, check it out, and go hit a frigid barrel today! So what do you think? Will you ever do it—or is arctic surfing beyond the final frontier for you?