A number of key technological advancements have expanded the world of wave riders over the years, directly impacting our ability to explore and discover new surf zones. Affordable air travel, swell forecasting and Google Earth have all been game changers, but perhaps nothing has done more to open up surfing frontiers than the wetsuit.
While Jack O’Neill’s invention was originally aimed at lengthening his Central California surf sessions, the wetsuit did a lot more than that—doubling the world’s surfable landscape and effectively bringing surfing out of the tropics and into the higher latitudes. Over the past decade or so, wetsuit technology has improved to the point where we can now comfortably surf water right down the freezing point, which means that the there is now nowhere on earth that a determined (and maybe slightly crazy) surfer can’t catch a few waves.
While major industry centres such as Santa Cruz, Torquay, and Cape Town might all have bustling surf communities that brave the elements and depend on their neoprene on a daily basis, there are a few surf destinations out there that really test the strength of our rubber (and our resolve). Here is a list of five of the best, coldest, most beautiful surf zones on the planet.
Five-years-ago, not many people knew that Norway had a surfable coastline, but these days you can’t throw a shaka without hitting someone who has visited the Lofoten Islands (more info, HERE). The bay at Unstad might not be Indo quality, but it certainly has one of the best backdrops in the game. And it’s not like the waves aren’t good. Left and righthand points on either side of the bay frame a rippable beach break that fires under frigid conditions, with water temps dropping as low as 3 degrees C (37 degrees F). Want to know when to go? Check out our regional guide, HERE.
People have been surfing Alaska for decades now, but the real exploration has been happening over the past five years or so, with discoveries such as a legit right-hand slab making Seward’s Folly look downright appealing. Mike McCune and Scott Dickerson have been leading the charge as of late on their fishing-trawler-turned-surf-exploration-vehicle named the Milo, which makes regular exploratory forays out of Homer and Seward during the fall and winter (when water temps drop into the slushie range).
Cold-water destinations are typically pretty close to the poles, which means lots of storms and lots of swell. Perhaps nowhere in the Atlantic benefits from the cold winter weather as much as Ireland, where locals like Fergal Smith brave freezing water, brutal winds, and enormous waves to score kegs at the numerous slabs the Emerald Isle has become famous for.
The country with the coldest-sounding name, Iceland has become the go-to location for surfers and photographers looking to score waves in front of beautiful, snowy backdrops. The water stays relatively moderate (around 10 degrees C or 50 degrees F) during the fall, but winter on the north coast can get downright frigid.
Southern South America
There’s South America, and then there’s way south—zones like Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia, and the Falkland Islands, which are far enough down that they flirt with Antarctica. The water is cold, the weather inhospitable, and the waves fickle, but for the few who put in the effort—like Argentinean brothers Julian and Joaquin Azulay (aka the Gauchos Del Mar)—the payoff is often worth it.
Cover shot by Chris Burkard