DEEPEST DARKEST ICELAND
Where feral surf trips turn bad but staggering near-arctic landscapes and entertaining locals make up for it. Kinda.
This feral surf trip to the remote and inhospitable West Fjords of Iceland was brought to an abrupt end when a deep low associated with hurricane Sandy risked isolating the expedition. Intrigued by the high quality edit and idea of going to all that effort only to have to turnaround (the region is only really accessible by foot), we caught up with the talented 27-year-old UK-based film-maker James Aiken to find out more.
How did this trip come about?
This trip came about very suddenly. My friend James Bowden, a photographer, and Dan Crockett, a writer, had been planning to go to Iceland for a while, and a few days before they left they invited me. So before I knew it I was sitting in the back of a beaten up old Subaru eating dried cod and driving through lava fields. A few days into the trip we met Danny and Vidar, a Canadian and an Icelandic guy who had begun to plan the trip into Hornstrandir which features in the film.
Had you done any other similar expeditions like this before?
Nothing as remote. I have spent some time in the mountains, a mixture of climbing and skiing, so I have a basic understanding of the principles. Danny, the Canadian who was with us is a really experienced alpinist and was very comfortable with sustained periods of time in exposed locations.
It must have felt good when you finally caught sight of the coast and were able to unload your gear?
Yeah, we were originally going to be gone for over a week and needed to carry all our food for that time. We also had a surfboard each, all the necessary neoprene, food for eight or nine days, skis and poles, ski shoes and the sleds. So quite a bit of weight initially.
The chances of being forced back by bad weather must have been at the front of your minds all along no?
We had gone through most possibilities before we left. On route we found ourselves navigating in white outs and sometimes traveling at night. But we had arranged a phone call to get a weather forecast once we had arrived at the coast. The only signal in the area is at the top of a 600m peak so it was a pretty full on day to make that call, and it was not good news. A massive low associated with Sandy was coming in and we definitely did not want to get trapped on the northern side of the mountains, so we had to head back first thing the next morning. We got back just in time as once it hit it was pretty bad, all flights were cancelled and all the roads were blocked. I actually ended up stuck in Iceland a week longer than I intended.
That one right-hander we see in the clip looked fun…
The whole region has great potential although the main issue is the way the lows tend to sit right overhead. Especially in the West Fjords there is not much time after the storm before the swell dies out due to its close proximity. Having said that we had great waves either side of the trip.