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Opening spread copy 1200x800 - Cold as Ice

Cold as Ice

Would you be willing to sacrifice your love of warm, tropical kite spots to hit up iceberg-strewn beaches and glacial lakes instead? Oswald Smith and Camille Delannoy went on a mystical mission and fully embraced the chilly waters of Iceland. Clad in Mystic’s latest winter gear, they were ready to face whatever the Land of Fire and Ice threw at them.

WORDS: Oswald Smith
PHOTOS: Vincent Schaap
Oswald Smith and Camille Delannoy by Vincent Schaap 2 scaled - Cold as Ice

Warm water was obsolete, sunshine was a memory left in a rainy haze, and dry wetsuits were an unspoken dream. This trip was not about comfort or serenity, more like endurance and extremity. It was about braving conditions that would help dignify our ego. It was about the cold, it was about Iceland.

For a few months we had been eager to do a proper cold-water mission. We always brave the storm and yes, we climb out of the comfort zone. But riding in sub-zero water temperatures with gale storms above our heads felt like the new order. The idea was to head north of Europe, to the Arctic Circle. At the beginning of May we saw that a massive storm was due to hit Iceland. We booked tickets, made a cluttered plan and three days later the whole crew was in Reykjavik with a camper, a 4×4, a bunch of kite gear, and a zest to explore. “We had no plans, other than driving around the Icelandic spots trying to find the best conditions and shoot top-notch content,” said Camille. The group was small, but all essential to the success of the mission. Vincent Schaap was our photographer, his eyes minimalistic, prone to capture glimpses of magic. Jason Broderick helped orchestrate and gather the crew, driven beyond measure to let the scenes unfold. Jop Heemskerk, our videographer, would sacrifice his RED for any shot. And last but not least were Camille and I, the cold-water guinea pigs. The plan was simple: go and wonder, fill our hearts with fun and thunder!

On the drive round the infamous kite spot, it became apparent to us that this place had much more beauty than we had expected. Every bend and corner was painted with a green canvas of holy ferns, tainted with an evanescent message of a sub-tropical paradise. Waterfalls would dash on the sharp dolomitic rocks below with a dark ominous shadow connecting the two. White follicles of snow hugged the mountain range from afar, assuring us of the fact that we were locked into frozen Zion. We spent the first couple of days searching for wind and potential spots without much luck.

Oswald Smith and Camille Delannoy by Vincent Schaap 8 scaled - Cold as Ice

One of the main locations on our list was a glacier lagoon, but when we got there, well… unrideable. With a heavy heart we had to scratch that idea and move onto the next. Vik Beach would be our base and reliable spot for the winds to come. Vik is special in its own nature and has an ethereal glance to her. As beautiful as she might be, it’s a whirlpool of wind, waves and erratic rainbows. What makes this spot so good for kiting is its topography. There are huge cliffs next to the beach, creating a Venturi effect. The result: strong cross-off gale force winds. We had some interesting sessions here, from riding underpowered on 13s to stacked on 6s.

Complementing this natural phenomenon was riding at 1am. This might sound ludicrous to some, but Iceland only has about four hours of darkness at night during summer. I remember coming out of the water at 2am and couldn’t believe my eyes; what a time to be alive! Sleeping and living was not the easiest of tasks. I mean, imagine: a bunch of dudes overpopulating the tiny space of a camper van… Nonetheless it was full of laughter. Pasta was our primary diet and occasionally Vinny would bring out his master chef talent and treat us with a filet mignon and side dish of Icelandic beer. Cheers to that!

As the trip progressed, it became clear to us that Iceland is not the easiest place to kite. Winds would change course around every corner, and drop without notice. After the trial and error of trying to find the best locations to kite, we decided – screw it, let’s just kite wherever there’s wind. This changed the whole dynamic of the trip from perfect locations to abstract locations. We kited everywhere and I mean everywhere… in a riverbed with a waterfall and its laced legs sheeting down next to us… upstream between pebble stones… offshore between houses… anywhere. It was fun, but we still had not kited a glacier lagoon. As the days passed and time became of the essence, a foreboding question haunted us: Would we actually get to kite a glacier lagoon? This was one of the main motives of the trip and we had to do it.

Oswald Smith and Camille Delannoy by Vincent Schaap 11 - Cold as Ice

With no prospect of the usual lagoon working, we set our attention to Windy.com. We tracked down the northeast wind showing some promise deep within a mountain range on a huge glacier lake. With not much to lose, we set forth and gave it a hell send. We arrived at the end of the navigable road, still with no idea if there was wind or not at the lake itself. We took the chance, gambled the dice, and started walking a six-kilometer track into the middle of nowhere with only hope guiding us. Greeting us at the other side of this trek was Pachamama in her full glory: an isolated lagoon stretching into an iceberg field and massive glacier in the background, and most importantly… wind!

This was one of the most memorable sessions we ever had with a good mix of emotions. “I am very excited to ride this untouched spot, but also a bit frightened by the immensity of the place and the majestic side of it,” said Camille. “So cold I can’t feel my feet!” I shouted. Putting this experience into words is really hard for me. It honestly cannot be explained, only attained… Amen… Or as Camille said: “Riding in front of this glacier in the middle of the iceberg field in a 6mm wetsuit makes you feel really small and humble…”

If you were to ask me, “Should I go kite in Iceland?” I’d say, “Hell no!” That place is not made for kiting. It’s a tempest of emotion broiling within, shouting “Leave me alone!”. I guess that was her message to us. Till today she still amazes me – the deep intrigue of her black nights, the daylight rose of her haze lights. 

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