Surfing is usually associated with warm climates, where the smell of coconut oil drifts through the air and bronzed bodies catch waves off golden-sand beaches fringed with palm trees.
But waves do not care about temperature, and a small but growing number of hardcore surfers are forging bikinis and board shorts in favour of thick neoprene suits to ride waves in some of the coldest places on the planet. The rewards of seeking out cold water surf destinations are in the intense, isolated and often overlooked landscapes, where wind chill and primordial surrounds take the sport to a new level. Crowds are at a minimum, especially the further north you go, and you are likely to have beaches all to yourself.
In a land of hyperbole – the biggest state, the tallest mountain, the longest coastline, the least roads – Alaska can now take the title of the United States’ best cold-surfing hotspot. The long, sandy beaches of Yakutat are internationally known, but they are not the only place to catch a wave in Alaska. Hardy surfers ride swells off of Kodiak Island, the US’s second-largest island, while adrenaline junkies ride the bore tide into Turnagain Arm just outside of Anchorage.
With an abundance of northern shoreline, Canada has -- unsurprisingly -- a thriving surf scene. On the west coast, surfers hang ten off of Vancouver Island, with the little town of Tofino boasting the title of 'Surf Capital of Canada'. Gord Johns, the executive director of Tofino’s Chamber of Commerce, credits the area’s surf culture to “temperate rainforest, clean ocean, sandy beaches, and perfect waves to learn on.” Ladies visiting Tofino should try the all-girls surf lessons at Surf Sister.
Along Canada’s east coast, surfers flock to Nova Scotia for its empty point breaks, particularly in areas close to Halifax. Visitors can research the area through the Surfing Association of Nova Scotia.
This small island-country is home to just one lonely surf operator, Arctic Surfers, which offers packages that combine surfing and backcountry skiing – an odd pairing that you will only find in a cold-water surf destination. But perhaps the best part about surfing in Iceland is the country’s abundance of thermal springs. Thaw out in nature’s hot tub after a cool day on the waves.
This rocky island nation is famous for its blustery weather, which in turn creates fantastic conditions for large swells. If you can handle the cold temperatures and often-grumpy weather, you will be rewarded with an amazing view of Ireland’s craggy coastline, seen from a surfboard. And one of the most pleasing aspects of surfing in Ireland is the après surf: warming up in front of a fire in a cosy pub, with a rich and filling pint of Guinness in hand.
Most folks surf off the west and north coasts, and the northwest shoreline of County Donegal is particularly popular, especially during summer months.
Like many of the other icy surf spots listed here, Norway’s appeal lies not just in its point breaks and beach breaks, but in its dramatic scenery and pristine beaches. Like Alaska and Iceland, Norway also enjoys extended daylight hours, allowing greater flexibility in surf times. Popular areas are near Stavanger, a coastal town close to many good breaks.
Russia’s surf terrain is relatively unexplored and remote, so a trip here will require a lot of advance research as well as some serious coin. With the Baltic, Caspian and Black Seas, as well as the Pacific and Arctic Oceans, Russia is primed for serious, cold and remote surfing.
More temperate surf resides in Sochi, on the Black Sea, while hardier surfers catch waves near Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East. For inspiration, check out Arctic Surf’s blog posts on surfing in polar Russia.