A person with their back to the camera standing in front of a body of water in Iceland

Your Guide to Surfing in Iceland

Surfing and Iceland are two words that aren’t typically said together. When you think of surfing, you imagine beautiful beaches on the coastlines of Hawaii, Australia, or South Africa. You think of bright blue water, warm golden sand, and bathing suits with flip flops. Surfing in Iceland, an extremely Northern country with cold, rough waters, is a lot different.

Whether you’ve never thought of it before or you just watched the Netflix documentary Under An Arctic Sky and feel inspired, surfing in Iceland is growing in popularity. But knowing how to get started can be a bit trickier, especially considering the sport is so new to the country.

When it comes to surfing in the ocean surrounding Iceland, here’s what you need to know.

Travel to: Iceland

When to go

Icelanders and visitors alike surf in Iceland all year round. Regardless of the season, passionate surfers find something to love about every month. It is important to note, however, that not all of the seasons are the same when it comes to surf.

Spring (March to April)

Spring brings consistent swells with days that are beginning to lengthen after winter. The air is a bit warmer and surfers are often able to find some decent days on the water. That being said, there is likely to be a lot of downtime waiting for the right waves, as the waters are starting to calm after winter.

Flowers on the coast of Iceland
Spring flowers blooming on Iceland’s coast | © Emma Francis/Unsplash

Summer (June to August)

Summer is much warmer in Iceland, with the midnight sun bringing endless hours of sunlight. In fact, in July, the sun does not set at all. Unfortunately, the surf isn’t as consistent as the colder months, meaning while the days are long and beautiful, the ocean won’t offer nearly as many waves.

Autumn (September to November)

Autumn means winter is coming, and the temperatures and water are beginning to prepare for the elements. The days are getting shorter and the temperatures are dropping, which means the surf is slowly starting to reach it’s fullest potential.

Winter (December to February)

Winter is the harshest season in Iceland, but the best in terms of surfing. The weather is cold and unpredictable, the days are short and dark, and road conditions can be treacherous. That aside, winter offers the best swells of the year, amazing light, and the potential of seeing the Northen Lights. If you can brace the cold, both in the air and in the water, this is your prime surfing season.

Green northern lights over Iceland
You may even have a chance of seeing the northern lights in Iceland! | © Jonatan Pie/Unsplash

Water temperatures

The warmest water is near the end of summer and the start of the fall season, with water temperatures ranging anywhere from 10-14°C (50-57°F). Winter, on the other hand, brings the coldest temperatures with a range of 3-5°C (37-41°F). It’s important to note that the temperatures are always colder in the North than in the South, so depending on where you surf, the temperatures will continue to vary. The coldest place you can surf is up North in the dead of winter, while the warmest would be in the South at the end of Summer.

What to bring

Surfing in Iceland, regardless of when you visit, is no walk in the park. You won’t be packing a bathing suit and sandals like you would in most locations: you’ll be packing a performance wetsuit and boots. Here are the essentials you shouldn’t forget to bring:

  1. Wetsuit with hood
  2. Neoprene shoes, gloves, hood
  3. Swimsuit for under wetsuit
  4. Towels
  5. Warm clothes (winter boots, hats, mittens, etc)
  6. Camera or go-pro
  7. Surfboard
  8. Hand warmers
  9. Warm blankets

To make things easier, there are a number of tour operators that make the process of packing much easier with gear rentals. Bringing a surfboard onto an airplane isn’t always easy, so explore your different local tour options and ask about renting equipment.

Svinafellsjokull Glacier, Iceland
Iceland in Winter can be unpredictable! | © Azis Pradana/Unsplash

Where to Go

For beginners

Finding a beginner surf spot can be difficult in Iceland, as many of the country’s surf is located at point breaks. However, some of Iceland’s black-sand beaches on the south coast, such as Porlákshöfn or Sandvíkare great spots to try out if you’re still mastering the basics of surfing.

For intermediate surfers

Surf in Iceland tends to be better suited for beginners or experts, so it can be difficult to find that middle ground for intermediate surfers. But fear not! The waves in the Reykjanes Peninsula are some of the best and most consistent in Iceland.

For experts

Iceland is a haven for expert level surfers! If you’re looking for a challenge, head to Grindavik, a reef break spot where waves swell more than many other places on the island. In the Reykjanes Peninsula, the popular Thorli offers consistent swells for advanced surfers.

What to expect

Surfing in Iceland is one of the most unpredictable, cold, and beautiful things you’ll ever experience. It’s almost impossible to say what each day will bring and you’ll never have the same surf twice. That makes knowing what to expect a bit difficult, but generally speaking, here’s what you’ll likely experience:

The weather can be harsh

Iceland is known for its harsh winters and unforgiving weather. Even if you visit in the summer, the weather can change in an instant from bright and sunny to high winds and rain. Being prepared for the weather and travelling accordingly is vital for a successful surf trip. Pack the right things, travel with an open mind and keep a positive attitude even when the weather tries to challenge you.

The beaches aren’t typical

If you’re going to surf in Iceland, you must be aware that most of the beaches are point breaks or reef breakes, meaning there’s little to no sand and the beach breaks directly onto rocks or cliffs. This makes surfing difficult, especially if you’re a beginner. That said, there are some great beginner beach breaks that will make learning a lot easier if you don’t have much surfing knowledge.

A person with their back to the camera standing in front of a body of water in Iceland
For experienced surfers, Iceland can be the next big adventure | © Mihnea Stoian/Unsplash

Plans will change

Understanding the weather and water is key for surfing in Iceland. It takes research, experience,  and a connection with the water to know when the surf is going to be just right. That means on most surf trips, plans will change. Being adaptable to weather and knowing when to make a shift in plans will go a long way in ensuring you have a great trip with the right waves. Surfing with a tour group experienced with surf will make it easier to judge the weather and water.

How to prepare

Preparing for a surf trip in Iceland is necessary. It will definitely be an outstanding experience, but without proper preparation, surfing in Iceland can quickly become dangerous.

  • Know how to swim. If you’re not a strong swimmer, surfing in Iceland will be both difficult and dangerous. In fact, many tour companies won’t allow those who aren’t strong swimmers to surf.

  • Experiment with surfing before you go. Arriving in Iceland with no prior surfing experience will make your trip a lot more difficult. If you can, learn the basics of surfing before embarking on a trip to Iceland; that way you can really enjoy the waves once you get there.

  • Research the seasons and the water. There are two major factors that will determine how your surf trip will play out: the water and the weather. Do your homework on the weather trends, water temperatures, previous successful surf months, and more.  

  • Reach out to the locals. There are tour operators that have years of experience surfing in Iceland and they will know how to answer your questions and concerns. Speaking with them directly will help make trip planning ten times easier.

While it’s certainly not the most conventional surf destination, surfing in Iceland is sure to bring new experiences and life-changing adventures to those brave enough to attempt it. With a bit of research and pre-planning, anyone can enjoy an amazing surf trip in Iceland!

Would you consider surfing in an Arctic country like Iceland? Why or why not?

Jesse is a blogger and content creator who loves travel, the outdoors, and her dog, Molly. With a never-ending bucket list of places to go, she's is always up for an adventure and loves trying new things. When Jess isn't planning her next trip, she can be found watching Netflix documentaries, enjoying time by the water, or eating soft serve ice cream. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, or check out her blog.

Positano, Italy
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