Surfing in Iceland

Iceland, the big island in the northeast Atlantic with almost 5000 km (3000 miles) mostly still unsurfed coastline, have emerged as a destination for adventurous surfers. We had a chat with local surfer Ingó Olsen an early pioneer for surfing in Iceland and founder of Arctic Surfers. (Photos by Chris Burkard)

How did you get into surfing? How was your first experience surfing in Iceland?

Me and all my friends I surf with we are all snowboarders to the core of things, that is where we come from and that was our passion. Surfing is something we took up in summer time while we waited patently for the snow to come again. We got introduced to surfing thought our good friends that were running Týndi Hlekkurinn (The Missing Link) which is Iceland’s first and only true and real snowboard shop. This was back in ´96.

After sharing a small foam surfboard and pretty much eating sand all day at a shore break at high tide on a beach we decided that this was something we needed to look into. We would surf in spring, summer and fall and then snowboarding was our main winter activity. With time surfing took over as our main passion and the main thing we would put our time, money and effort towards. There was so much to explore and discover. There is so much out there!


What is the surf scene like up there? Have you seen it change?

The surf scene in Iceland is small but very tight. It is put together with a very driven and dedicated group of people that have been surfing here for the last 15-20 years. It is not for everyone to surf Iceland year round, it is only the tuff´s and braves that paddle out for Dragons in high winter. To surf in Iceland demands lots of traveling, home work and effort.

Their fiska sem róa – those who catch the fish are the ones that go fishing!

The scene is changing and evolving, new generations are getting into it and slowly learning. It is not easy to be a surfer in Iceland, you have to be dedicated and willing to take the good with the bad.


What is it like to surf on Iceland? What is the challenges and what’s the benefits?

Wow… where should I start!?

Iceland is unlike any other place in the world. Iceland by itself is different, unique, beautiful, amazing, remote and challenging. You can ask anyone you know that has been here and they will tell you this tail.

It is pretty epic, traveling through this ruff and beautiful country looking for what the weather elements have been cooking up. Surfing in Iceland is not all about scoring magical waves every day, it is about the whole journey and the adventures that follow.

Challenges would be a couple of different things but mainly that we are dealing with Icelandic weather: “The only thing that you can rely on and is for certain about Iceland and surfing here is that there is nothing for certain when it comes to Icelandic weather” -it has a mind of its own and can change with out notice.

Another thing would be that Iceland is not a cheap place to visit or live in, the cost of things is one of the the challenges you will face when traveling here or living here. But the perks are many and e.g. simpler things in life are for free and everything else is high quality: Fresh air, fresh water, good food, geothermal energy, fun and interesting culture, friendly and helpful people, and a beautiful country that offers solitude in and out of the water and the next adventure is around the corner.

No one said it was easy to surf in Iceland, but it is pretty epic and special!


What are your best tips for staying warm on a cold water surf trip?

Number 1 and 2 is having quality surf equipment! Also making sure you have energy to burn before you hit the waters, bringing warm clothing and having the right approach. To and exit from your surf sessions in winter is a game changer and you shall avoid standing in the wind as you get dressed. It’s a combination of several small things that will help you stay warm.


Tell us about Arctic Surfers!?

The Arctic Surfers journey started back in 2010 between two friends that had fallen in love with surfing, we loved Iceland and had been surfing here for about 10 years and we wanted to explore and see what is out there. At that time, we were all snowboarding at a high level and traveling lots for the best snowboarding both in Iceland and abroad. We had been working as professional guides in Iceland for a number of years and spent all of our time and money traveling Iceland for waves and the adventures that follow. After meeting up with or stumbling upon a number of traveling surfers and pros that had come to Iceland in the hunt for waves for about 10 years and having a very positive impact on there visit we thought to our selves: perhaps we should make a surf company! That might give us the opportunity to keep exploring surf and snow in Iceland.

This was our way or our idea to be able to explore Iceland, meeting interesting people from all over the world that would help us cover our costs and budget. We started out in a 20-square-meter-garage with just our personal surf equipment, all the money we would make for the next 5 years went into traveling Iceland and buying/importing surf gear for our operations and keep exploring the Icelandic cost line.


When is the best time to come to Iceland for surfing? 

The best season to surf depends a bit on what you are looking for.  For proper swell and waves the best season would be considered from August – May. High winter holding some of the best and biggest swells in a mix with other adventures makes it a fun time to visit Iceland. The summer gets some swell but not as frequent and not as strong/big. Summer has its advantages with light 24/7 to play with, warmer weather, water and nature in its bloom.  As long as you have the energy you can keep going for it as it does not get dark. We have four seasons here in Iceland and every season brings something special to the table and we surf all year round.


Read more about Arctic Surfers by visiting their website here, or give them a follow on Social Media:

Arctic Surfers   @arcticsurfers

Secret waves, a short video featuring Ingo by Tom Cockram .



Earth by filmmaker Ben Weiland, who went north with Dane Gudauskas, Tanner Gudauskas, Heidar Logi and Elli Thor. (Added April 24, 2017)

Cold lines (with Lee-Ann Curren):

Trailer for Chris Burkard’s Under an arctic sky: (Read our review of the movie here.) 

Down Days: Iceland with the Gudauskas brothers:

FERÐIN: With Joel den-Besten, Freddie Meadows and Jacob Wester. 

Added 16 July 2018. The Fjordman starring  Asher Pacey, by Ryan Mattick.

Added 21 November 2018. Now with Heidar Logi. By Elli Thor Magnússon.

Added 11 April 2019. Nordurland with Torren Martyn and Laurie Towner.

Added 15 January 2020. Chasing the shot Iceland by Mike Bromley and Ryan Meichtry with Elli Thor Magnusson, Heidar Logi Conor Maguire, Natxo Gonzalez, Russell Bierke and Noah Wegrich.