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Rocketship to Reykjavik

Stay Wild

A Roark Revival Adventure in Iceland

Story and Photos by Nate Zoller

Surfers often avoid winter.

We like our trunks. We like drinking coconut milk out of coconuts, shirtless, using the sun as our clothing. It’s been that way since the beginning, since beach-blanket bingo and the Endless Summer.

But in the last few years, wetsuit technology has gotten to a point where it can feel like summer in almost any water temp. You can surf anywhere in the world, in relative comfort. Relative is used because at some point that wetsuit has to come off and at that point the winds can change. Cold can set in with the deepest of intentions. 

Hypothermia is real, but we take the risk.

We head to Iceland in December, where the Nordic winter is just starting to gain traction. We pack our six mil hooded fullsuits and our seven mil booties and gloves and get on the plane. We do this because the North Atlantic is black and angry with swells spinning in every direction.

We act not scared.

Most of the Icelandic winter is spent in darkness, the light peaking over the horizon for maybe five hours a day. It’s not easy to live this way, but a good story never started on Easy Street. So we leave the airport in our Land Rover Defender 110 through the sleet of ice and snow toward slabs that detonate over volcanic rock. Who cares, we have enough rubber to bounce off any reef. No worries.

We arrive and the beach is white with snow.

With heaters blasted, we stick our limbs into the vents. The key to avoiding hypothermia is starting warm, never put on a wetsuit in Iceland with icy veins.
The task of getting on all that rubber usually gets the blood moving, and that means go time. A quick jaunt through a barbed-wire fence, past a few puffins and across a bed of slippery rocks, and there’s the wave, blasting. The only people around are Raph Bruhwiler, Chris Burkard and myself. Immersed in cold, facing the elements straight on. Because if you want to feel something new, you have to put yourself in front of situations like this.

Photo of Nate Zoller by Chris Burkard

Photo of Nate Zoller by Chris Burkard

Six to eight foot slabbing rights, no one around, cold ever-present.

Many surfers have been traveling to Indo in the summer and Hawaii in the winter, and that’s awesome. But sometimes you have to take the other road. The one that has no street lights, with only the slightest glimpse of success. It’s down that road that you will find the moments that make a life lived outside of the ordinary. So go ahead, book a ticket somewhere out of your comfort zone.

Become the nomad you were meant to be. Face life on the road head on and then give it a firm handshake.

You will be greeted warmly, even in Iceland.