Arctic Surfers


Photographer Marzena Skubatz recalls an early morning spent watching the 'Arctic Surfers' braving the freezing conditions of winter in Iceland.

It was still very early when the Arctic Surfer’s van stopped in front of my house. Anton jumped out and I could already see his huge smile from the other side of the street. He had written to me the day before: “Bring outerwear that fits with the weather, towels, good vibes and a big smile.” I smile back, excited for what the day will bring. Anton greets me, and we chat. He tells me about his newborn child and how much he enjoys being a young dad. He has the same sparkle in his eyes when he talks about surfing. Ingo Olsen, the owner and founder of the Arctic Surfers recruited Anton in a very Icelandic manner. “We met in the swimming pool and he asked me if I would like to join them,” Anton recalls, “It was a dream come true for me.” We start our tour at 7:00 AM. It is still dark, so very dark. In the deepest Icelandic winters it is dark for almost 19 hours a day and not an easy place to visit, with the low temperatures and ever present snow. But the Icelanders are tough cookies, with an attitude of complete ease written all over them. At least, the Arctic Surfers are. It is the middle of February and I have been waiting for the right weather for almost two weeks. It seems like today is the day and I get more and more excited as I watch the sun slowly start to rise. But there is a problem; we have this beautiful light but we cannot find good waves. The wind plays tricks on us, so we must be patient again and keep on searching. Anton is an experienced surfer and guide, so he knows the best places, but he also knows how quickly the weather and the sea can change. It is therefore not a big surprise that after five minutes in the water, I can see a snow storm heading our way. It all happens very quickly; I see it coming and within minutes I cannot see anything at all. There is too much snow coming down and the wind is so strong that I have difficulties even holding my camera. Even though I am wearing two pairs of gloves my fingers get so cold that I can’t move them and it becomes almost impossible to release the shutter. The wind gets so strong that I find it hard just to move and the snow fall so thick and heavy that I can’t see what is right in front of me. We all could have used some protective goggles at this point, but even Anton wasn’t expecting this. I am worried about the Surfers, I have no idea where they are. After desperately squinting into the distance for some time, I spot Anton coming out of the water, which reassures me they must be safe. I am overcome with relief and the snowfall lessens enough for us to make our way back to the car. Despite listening to Anton’s instructions and wearing two thick Icelandic jumpers and a solid winter coat, I am still numb with cold, my body freezing. I can’t even begin to imagine how cold it must be for Anton and the other surfers, although I can see it in their faces. I look at Anton and he puts an Icelandic sheep wool sock over his hands. The wool can get wet, but it still keeps you warm. “Well you know what they say,” he laughs, “if the weather is bad in Iceland just wait for five more minutes!”

Words & Photography: Marzena Skubatz

StoryRucksack Magazine