Cold Waves around the World: from Alaska to Russia
We might think Alaïa Bay gets pretty damn cold, but the truth is it gets a whole lot harsher for people in other corners of the world. From Alaska to Russia, these are cold waves only within the bravest surf explorers range.
Iceland has become a sort of lodestar to the essence of what surfing once was. In the world of instant 14-day forecasts, live webcams, and Instagram, it’s precious yet punishing. The country’s southern coast is raw and uncompromising, serving waves that have become prized treasures of Iceland’s surfing community and anyone who harbours that love for wild, untamed places and the stories they share. It’s home to a small but mighty community that epitomizes the desire for true exploration that is fast fading.
“It’s a Trestles-like wave that runs longer than Rincon”, says the head of the Icelandic Surfers Association, Steinarr Lár.
“We started only back in 1996, when suits and gear were not fit for the climate” says Steinarr. “We were just a small group of snowboarder friends that were curious about surfing and wanted to see if this could be done in Iceland. I struggled on a gun board designed for a teenager that I bought in Portugal for over a year before I realised this was never going to catch a wave”.
Battling huge tides, freezing temperatures, and 4 hour daylight windows, the hunt for surfable waves was a task fit for only the truly stubborn and strong-willed. This group of what were once pioneering explorers has blossomed into a community of over 500 Icelandic surfers with a special history and an intrepid spirit and born artistic giants like photographer Elli Thor Magnusson.
Recently though this wave has been fraught with carelessness and aggression from local councils. Thought to be doomed to the same fate as too many breaks that came before, it has hopefully been rescued from the diggers and development by the love and fierce protectiveness of its locals.
Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia
2023 saw the release of a film that pushed the boundaries of surfing’s frontier, this was Kamchatka. This saw 3 Aussies travel to the Kamchatka Peninsula, an outcrop of Russian territory 7000 kilometers from Moscow. For perspective, this place is a whiteout – only broken up by the jagged black peaks of ancient volcanoes and cerulean slabs just offshore. Surfing in 6mm suits in -20 degrees, these winter waves are icy monoliths. The winter here lasts 9 months, with the summer months maxing at 10 degrees.
Kamchatka itself has a budding surf community, with strong locals who opt for diving wetsuits to deal with the frigid temperatures. There’s no sitting in the line up here, as the locals stress. You must keep paddling between cold waves to stop yourself from freezing.
Mullaghmore Head, Ireland
Mullaghmore is not the place for those who like the warm and glassy. Mullaghmore is an offshore reef, that stops giant transatlantic swells in their tracks, before jacking up and slamming down onto the rocks below. There is often no exit other than out the tube. The spot only begins to break at 10ft and works its best at 50ft. These waves take a small village to safely execute, but wow are they breathtaking when everything comes together.
Yaakwdáat (Yakutat), Alaska
If you want to surf Alaska, you’ve got to handle your single-figure temperatures, but the stunning cold waves of Yakutat Bay make sure your challenges are well rewarded. With a population of only 800 (half of which are a part of the Indigenous Tlingit), Yakutat’s surfing community consists of around 30 locals. Only accessible by boat or plane, like much of Alaska, you might want to consider a surf guide.
You’ll pass unobstructed views of the second highest mountain in the United States, Mount Saint Elias, or Yasʼéitʼaa Shaa which means ‘mountain behind the Icy Bay’. Surfing is an important part of Yakutat’s community. At times, the town has as little as 3 hours of sunlight a day during the winters, and surfing helps to keep spirits high.