Above: Norway Photo: Chris Burkard
The winter season in the Northern Hemisphere is the best time of year for surfing. Consistent storms track across the North Pacific and North Atlantic Oceans churning up larger swells. During El Nino years, energy can be especially fierce in the North Pacific, resulting in record breaking swell events. While many coastlines on the top half of the world light up during this season, there are some surf regions that define a hardcore winter surf experience. With advancements in wetsuit tech, these five surf zones have opened up some real treasures over the last decade if you can handle the frosty conditions.
The pumping surf found off the Norwegian Coast has been featured in pop surf media since the early 2000’s, with a host of cold-water specialist pros making the pilgrimage each winter. A handful of world-class pointbreaks take top billing, with other reefs and beachbreaks making appearances in mags and vids as well. Conditions change quickly, so make sure you’re ready to brave the weather in between the glassy moments.
The jagged and rocky coastline of Iceland has incredible surf surrounded by a surreal volcanic landscape. Free-surfing photos trips have shown that hollow reefs, long points, and offshore beachbreaks exist in a variety of forms. The island’s open to swell from all sides, but its the west coast that takes the brunt of North Atlantic low pressure systems. The capitol Reykjavik has amazing culture and surf spots on two different facing coasts, making it a popular surf destination for more adventurous surfers.
The endless expanse of Alaska makes it one of surfing’s last frontiers almost by default. With it’s 6,640 mile long coastline, it would take many lifetimes to explore the thousands of Islands and hundreds of bays. Recent explorati0ns by top pro/photog teams have yielded legitimate world-class reefs that turn on during the right tides. However, a surf trip to Alaska is not for the faint of heart. Big bears and even bigger Orcas are locals, and the cold temps are low enough to keep most surfers from venturing that far north.
Russia’s coastlines have only recently been surfed as the country became more travel friendly in the 2000’s. There’s surf on it’s eastern coast in the North Pacific, an on it’s European coastlines in the Baltic and Black Seas, all of which look frigid. Small crews of local Russians have picked up the surf lifestyle, and are dedicated to scoring each region at its best. Harsh winter conditions and logistical issues make traveling to the rural surf zones difficult.
The Land of the Rising Sun has a long history of surfing and hosts major professional surf comps each year. But the wintry surf on the north island of Hokkaido rarely makes any headlines. Snow-covered coastlines get great surf during the winter months when storms come off the Kamchatka Peninsula to the north. With far less surfers than Southern Japan, uncrowded lineups can be found with a reportedly friendly local surf scene. You can snowboard and surf on the same day if you can handle that much exposure to the elements.