Northern Aloha

Upon my arrival in Isafjördur yesterday, Boogie and Marlies introduced me to Maik, a young German guy working in the restaurant across the street from where Polar Bear is tied up. Maik, it turns out, is a surfer here in Iceland and in true surfer fashion he immediately let me know that I shoulda been here yesterday, as the saying goes. But there was still a little swell so Maik offered to drive me out to a break not far from Isafjördur after he got off work at 5pm. Marlies and Boogie joined the expedition and we loaded into Maik’s Toyota pickup truck for the ride to Saebol, a “village” on a cove two fjords west of Isafjördur.

Yes, surf in Iceland. Think about it: it’s an island in the middle of the ocean…of course, there’s surf. The south coast of Iceland, open to the entire expanse of storms and swells from the Atlantic Ocean as it is, has well-documented surf. But surf here on the north coast of Iceland surprised me, so I was excited at this unforeseen development. But isn’t the water cold, you ask. Sure, but no colder than New England or Alaska. And like those two other places where I’ve surfed, crowds aren’t a factor when surfing Iceland. Count me in.

The “highway” out of town was little more than a narrow two-lane road but at least it was paved. It ran through a tunnel several kilometers long heading west — actually, it’s two tunnels in one: there’s a fork in the road in the tunnel — IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MOUNTAIN — that provides access to the first fjord west of town — and emerged near the top of the fjord that is home to Flateyri, a top that was flattened by an avalanche a while back. Upon reaching the next fjord west, we turned off the pavement and on to a single-lane dirt road that required Maik to lock the hubs on his truck.

Up we climbed on this numbered, regional highway, and crested the ridge atop a pictureque green valley running north down to the sea. A steep descent brought us to Saebol: two small farms, a dirt airstrip and a small alabaster church overlooking the water. In the farm beside the church lived Betty, a friend of Maik’s who taught at the university. How she gets in and out of that valley in wintertime is beyond me. It’s snowmachine (snowmobile for non-Alaskans) country, for sure. But given the avalanche terrain all around the head of the valley…yikes. But in Iceland, the highway department apparently plows the dirt track twice a week. Hell, there was good cell coverage right along the beach — at the bottom of a valley home to a couple of people. Talk about having your cake and eating it too: solitude but all the amenities.

At Betty’s, we met up with Danny, a Canadian attending grad school for marine-resource management in Isafjördur. Fortunately, Danny had a pair of wetsuit boots that fit me since I had apparently neglected to put mine in my bag with my wetsuits when I left the U.S. on Thursday. Whoops. Danny also had a longboard I could use which was also good since the surf was small and onshore.

But dammit…it was surf! And it was surf on the Greenland Sea. It was a beautiful hour or so of surf in a stunning setting of cliffs ringing the fjord, the green valley at our backs, the small white church on the bluff — all with new friends. The essence of a surfari, for sure, and a great way to start this second leg of this summer of adventure.

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