The World’s Best 10 Cities for Surfers: Reykjavik

From Stab issue 58: Stab reveals the metropolises where a man can lock down a satisfying occupation, be entertained in the most degenerate manner, where he won’t be vilified for his free expression and where a hunk of fiberglass can be put to exceptionally good use…

First up is number 10: Reykjavik, Iceland.

Words by Jed Smith, Designs by Shinya Dalby

Imagine a place on earth inflated by nordic princesses who ain’t afraid to ride a horse to victory and where y’gots reefs and points and wedges that yearn for a surfboard on their backs and where the sun don’t set in the summertime. But, whoa! There’s a reason Reykjavik is number 10 among the cities. A few things ain’t so awesome: the winters are psychotically cold and long, it’s ground zero for the collapse of the world economic system and the cost of living is outta hand! Hoo!

Why you’ll want to live there: Despite the name, the climate is actually pretty reasonable courtesy of the Gulf Stream that runs through Iceland. Come winter it’s warmer in Reykjavik than New York (which by the way is only a five-hour flight away), and if they’re brave enough to surf the freezing beachies at Rockaways, NYC (which are sooo much worse than reefs, points or slabs cause of the amount of duck diving you’re forced to do) then there should be more surfers heading to Iceland soon, with it’s vast array of wavescapes (reefs, slabs, points and cobblestone beachies) and year-round swell. Being located so far north, however, means the more equatorial cats such as yourself are gonna have to make some seasonal adjustments. In winter expect a total of four hours light a day and 20 come summer. If it weren’t for all this time indoors, however, you wouldn’t have the rich cultural output of the Icelandics nor the seemingly endless activities and festivals that run through the darker months. Meanwhile, the standard of living is considered among the best in the world, with a trademark cushy welfare system (which no one uses), impeccable healthcare, one of the highest life expectancies on the planet and almost all Icelandics being fluent in English. Not a single M16 wielding fascist among ‘em, either.

Where to stay: There’s nothing cheap about Iceland. It’s got the budget hostels of the rest of Europe but for a more sophisto spin, try the Foss Baron Hotel, a three-star dig with rooms artfully decorated in accord with the French Baron and his many prostitutes that lived there in the 1900s. That’ll set you back about 80 bucks a night but if you’re trying to, I dunno, make a much younger woman your wife or something, take the Hotel Borg. Built back in the 1930s, the hotel was restored to its original art décor style in 2006 and now comprises customer furniture in all the rooms, marble bathrooms and garden views. Stab, of course, prefers 101 Hotel, located in the hipster part of town that bears the postcode 101. The bar lights up and that fireplace? Melt my plastic on another tumbler of Cognac!

Getting Out: Café Rosenberg is where it’s at. It’s also the bar where in 1993 the world first heard that brooding brunette woman with the weird eyebrows we now know as Bjork. Today, it’s home to Iceland’s annual folk festival and hosts gigs every week. The club scene is pretty advanced, too, but it’s all about culture up here. Booze is taxed heavily and up until 1989 beer was totally illegal. As a result the onus is on creative events such as the many design, photography, music, film and even Lego festivals hosted by the country.

Grinds: Iceland was once behind in terms of gastronomy due to very little of it’s volcanic landscape being cultivable. The diet was all meat (hangikjot i.e. smoked lamb sangers, cured ram, singed sheep heads, black pudding), fish (hákarl i.e. cured shark, hardfiskur i.e. protein-filled dried fish strips) and sweets (snudur i.e. frosting covered pastries). That’s changed with a post-modern cuisine now strongly infused with some Japanese style cooking in line with Iceland’s huge fishing yields. Take one of Reykjavik’s premiere restaurants, Fish Market, which relies on domestic produce with the option of cooking it on the country’s sole Robata grill – a mechanism that uses crazy Jappo charcoal to singe shit at 1200 degrees Celsius (normal charcoal burns at a paltry 600). The result is tender meat ready to burst with that delicious yellow-ooze we know comprises of meat sweat, fat, blood and oil.

Work Detail: Being an island, most of the finance is generated from marine based industry (fishing, manufacturing of various marine products, metals and electronics) as well as software and a burgeoning woolen design industry (think of the sweaters! Dane knows what I’m talking about). The tourism sector is also swelling in Iceland but, ah, just don’t ask what happened to their banking sector. Yike!

Water And All That: With nothing to its south until Brazil, there’s no shortage of waves up here and it’s got the setups to match. There’s Porlackshöfn, a lesser version of Torquay’s Winkipop, plus dozens more reefs, points, cobblestone beachies and slabs dotted around 5000km large coastline. There’s been some high-profile trips up here too, including one with Reynolds and the Malloys (which we ran way back and that featured in the movie Castles in the Sky). Now, the water’s pretty fresh but no worse than Ireland in the winter and it’s very unlikely you’ll see another soul in the water, or sharks for that matter although fishermen occasionally drag up man-eaters in their nets.

One More Thing: This place is extremely pretty: glaciers, fjords, green hills, gardens, lakes, all that s***. But it’s also got a bunch of live volcanoes, one of which, Eyjafjallajökull, dropped its guts in 2010 temporarily suspending global air travel. Chances are you’ll be fine but then, is the chance you might see your shins smelted live in front of you a chance worth taking? Stab says yes.

The Good and the Not-So-Good
+ Incredible natural phenomena including Three Miss Worlds since 1988 and the miracle of Aurora Borealis aka the Northern Lights, no crowds, surprisingly good waves.
- The cold is kinda nuts, winter is too bleak for words, and the joint is massive so we hope you like driving for waves.

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