One difficulty of getting into surfing is that not everyone grows up in Bondi beach. Of course, there are alternatives to relocating your entire family to Australia, like driving to Cornwall for the weekend or smuggling your board into a leisure centre and spending as long as you can on the wave machine.
The advantages to those kind of formative surfing experiences is that they prepare you for carving up water that's a couple degrees off freezing, which generally comes in handy when you live in the UK.
That background also came in handy for Owain Davies and the four other surfers who Jägermeister sent to surf Iceland's swells at the end of last year. That, and the fact that they had a plentiful supply of Jäger to warm them through after spending all day paddling around icebergs. I gave Owain a call to speak to him about the trip.
VICE: Hey Owain. So how did you find the ice surfing? You're not a professional surfer, right?
Owain Davies: No, not at all. The other guys on the trip were pros and semi pros, and I'd been on tour for months, so it was pretty hard trying to keep up with them. There was some pretty hectic swell, too.
Whereabouts in Iceland were you?
No idea. We kind of did a lap of the island and dotted around a few different places. It was amazing; we were paddling around glaciers, jumping from iceberg to iceberg – just pissing around, really. It's an amazing place – volcanic black sand, volcanic beaches with white ice dotted around on it. There's no one around, and loads of fucking massive seals were popping up and scaring the shit out of us, which was fun.
Who else was on the trip?
Ben Skinner, who's, like, the second best longboard surfer in the world. Then there was Ollie Adams, who's another pro from Cornwall, and the two Irish lads – Richie Fitzgerald and Dave Blount – who are both renowned big wave surfers. We all knew each other before, and we just laughed our tits off for a week, surfing and drinking Jäger; it was one of the best weeks ever. I guess instead of hiring stunt men or actors they just wanted some real mates, and to capture that vibe. The camera guy was like, "Pretend I'm not here," and at first we were a bit, you know... but within a couple of hours it basically felt like a stag do. They just followed us on a real surf trip.
Were there any other surfers in the water?
It was just us, really. There were a couple of local surfers who hunt seals and shit – they all seemed pretty far out – but most of the time it was just us in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by some really dramatic coastlines.
Freezing your arses off.
Yeah, I guess it's as cold as seawater gets. The Jäger warms your cockles after, though, which is quite nice. I wore basically all the best gear you can get, and my face still got pounded with hail, snow and wind. It was kind of alright when you were in the sea paddling because it was pretty extreme in the water, so there was a lot of swell and you're paddling non-stop. But as soon as you get out and it's minus 15, it was fucking nuts. One day, after we got out the water, the crew drove us straight to a spa just to thaw out because we were all on the verge of hyperthermia.
What did you get up to in the evening?
We'd try and surf all day, then it gets dark pretty early, so we were kind of free to go and have a giggle. It's beautiful out there – the waves and the women. We did a couple of nights in Reykjavik, which is a pretty wild town. Some guy tried to crush my skull in Reykjavik – that was a weird one. All the guys we met are like Vikings – they all seem to love shagging and fighting.
Where do you surf when you're not in Iceland? Are you mostly a cold water surfer?
Well, I surf here in Newcastle, and the North Sea doesn't get any of the gulf stream. It's not that much warmer than Iceland, really, but the air temperature is a bit more forgiving. The sea gets to about four degrees here, whereas in Iceland I think it's around two.
Cold water surfing is definitely a growing scene. I guess surfing is getting that popular that people are going more and more extreme just to get away from other humans. Even in Iceland, I think there are only 20 local surfers on the whole island, but it's getting more and more exposure. I guess it's rare that you can find such world class waves with nobody out surfing them.
Do you have any more trips lined up?
Me and Ben [Skinner] just got back from Morocco, actually. We went to catch that Hurricane Hercules swell – it was bonkers. It must be global warming or something, because all across Europe there's just monster swells every week. Maybe they'll do a sequel – hopefully somewhere warm.