“Originally, it was just the mystery of it,” Arctic Surf project founder Ben Weiland tells GrindTV. “And also the absurdity of it, because I didn’t even really realize that there were surfable waves in some of these really cold places. It just never even crossed my mind.
“So when I first started coming across it, doing research on Google Earth and online, it sparked my imagination. And [I was drawn to] trying something that makes you see the world in a different way than what you thought it was.”
Weiland is an adventure filmmaker, illustrator and cold-water connoisseur based in San Diego, of all places. When he created Arctic Surf, he didn’t anticipate that he’d travel to many of the places he was researching, but seven years later, his passport is full of stamps from what many would call unlikely surf destinations.
Unpredictable weather, limited access and the need for more-rugged equipment are just a few of the challenges that surfers face in the locations that Weiland scouts.
Thus, the tribe of cold-water surfers is small and extraordinary, and those who don’t simply surf frozen waves out of necessity, but who actively seek out the darkest, coldest seas, are even more rare.
“Everything seems to be moving toward, ‘How convenient and comfortable can I make my surf experience and still get everything that I want out of it?'” Weiland says. “You know, Kelly Slater’s wave pool is blowing up and it’s almost like a vending machine of perfect waves, where there’s no risk at all. So, when you’re going into the colder places, it’s like, everything’s a risk. [Laughs.]
“You have no idea what’s going to happen, but I think that’s also where you find the greatest reward.”
Read on Weiland’s list of the six coldest surf spots on Earth, plus one wildcard.
The East Coast of Canada and Northern New England
“Nova Scotia and Maine have some of the coldest ocean temperatures in the world because of the way the currents work,” Weiland says. “There are also really great waves.”
Alaska and the Aleutian Islands
“Really all of Alaska,” Weiland explains. “The farther north you go, the colder it gets and the less swell it gets because you start to get into areas where there is a lot of ice, [but there are still waves].
“The Aleutian Islands get all of those storms that come straight off the Bering Sea and the North Pacific in the wintertime.”
“For sure. That whole country freezes over in the winter and the waves are incredible there,” says Weiland.
Weiland says, “I think [the water] was in the mid-30s, and you’re just in the tundra with no plants or anything; it’s just rock, snow and ice.
“There was a frozen river that was flowing into this pointbreak, and chunks of ice were breaking off and floating into the lineup.”
“Both sides of the country. There’s the part that borders Norway and the part that touches Alaska, and that gets super cold,” he says.
Antarctica“I was just talking to Steve Hawk, the [former] editor at SURFER, and he did a trip down to Antarctica in the ’90s and caught some waves down there,” Weiland says.
“They went to Elephant Island, which is where Ernest Shackleton kind of shipwrecked, based on a photograph they’d seen that Shackleton’s photographer had taken of them landing on the shore. In the picture, you could see a wave breaking, and so they went down there and caught that wave.
“Most of the people who have gone there have not gotten much out of it, but there’s got to be [good waves] somewhere. Somebody [once] sent me a picture that he took from a cruise ship of this perfect, barreling wave that’s breaking on an iceberg in Antarctica. It’s breaking on a reef of ice.”
WILDCARD: Hudson Bay, Canada
“Most of it freezes over in the winter, but I’ve seen photos of waves breaking there. You’d never go there for a surf trip, ever,” Weiland laughs.
“It’s super, super cold. It’s also, like, the polar bear capital of the world, so people go up for tours to see the polar bears. They drive in these safari vehicles with cages in front of the windows so that they don’t get ripped to shreds by the polar bears. It’s gnarly.”
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