Geiri hiking Iceland's highest peak
Pia Kaipainen catches up with Icelandic local and Nikita Marketing co-ordinator Asgeir 'Geiri' Höskuldsson to get the lowdown on the shred scene on the isolateld island in the North Atlantic. Think about Arctic wilderness, volcanoes and glaciers. Think about hot springs, scarce population, constantly changing weather conditions. Where's your head at? My head is in Iceland, talking to Asgeir 'Geiri' Höskuldsson -- a passionate snowboarder, Marketing Coordinator for Nikita Clothing and former Director of ISA (Icelandic Snowboard Association). It's always cool to meet someone like Geiri -- who truly is so dedicated, proud of his heritage and in this case, rooting for snowboarding from a small, but perhaps surprisingly versatile riding environment. Yeah, I must be the first to admit that I have never realized how much Iceland has to offer, and not only in snowboarding but surfing too. This place sounds amazing; let's hear what the native has to say!
1. Heilsa Geiri! I hope I got that little bit of Icelandic right... your homeland is really unique from the language to the surrounding environment. You must be used to pretty extreme weather conditions over there too. Do trips to the sunny Alps feel like a picnic to you? Hey Pia, I am proud of you for saluting me in my native language. Icelandic isnt exactly the easiest language to master. I don't even know how to say "Hi" in Finnish back to you but I can tell you that Pía is slang in Icelandic for cool chick. Yeah, we have a saying here in Iceland: “if you don't like the weather just wait a minute". You just got to stick your head out the window and see what the weather is like, the weather is the weather and you can't really do anything about it, just have to go with the flow of it. I have definitely had plenty of good days freeriding some remote locations around the island but I also like going to resorts outside of Iceland and checking on that scene and resting my hiking legs by riding “blinged out VIP" chairlifts. My first snowboard experience was at 11 in Val Cenis, France and since then I have tried to go to mainland Europe for riding at least once a year, if not more often.
2. So, could you tell us something about the local snowboarding scene in Iceland? By reading the ISA website it sounds as if it's a fairly tight knit community that pulls together. I got a feeling of some kinda true brotherhood that is really superb. The local scene is pretty local. Only 300.000 people live in Iceland and I would say the hardcore snowboard scene counts maybe 100-150 people so everybody knows everybody. A lot more people snowboard of course and on a regular day at the resorts snowboarders out number skiers roughly by a 60% to 40% ratio. Most events, sessions and days on the mountain are pretty relaxed and you can't avoid meeting somebody you know, which is cool.
3. It says on the site that ISA acts as the voice for all snowboarders in Iceland and that you aim to develop the local parks and make sure the resorts listen to the riders when making decisions regarding them. How is the atmosphere in general, do the snowboarders have to fight for their rights or is the co-operation with resorts going peacefully and smooth? The ISA was orignially founded in 2001 as a common ground for Icelandic snowboarders to get their opinions across, hold events etc. I took over as Director in 2003 and quit in 2007 due to lack of time and wanting to spend more time with my family. Linda is the new director now, she has got some good plans for the future of ISA and is doing a really good job. Some of the resorts here listen to riders and some don't, it all depends on the people working there. There have been some shouting matches and guerilla park building. It can be frustrating sometimes, like banging your head against a big glacier over and over again. Sometimes it seems to be more about politics then actually wanting to do something to improve the overall conditions for snowboarders. That said I am really proud of the local snowboarders all around Iceland. They have to be really creative when it comes to jibbing and setting up jumps, nobody is going to do it for them and a lot of the time the weather is working against them. It´s really amazing that the local scene has already produced some world class snowboarders like the Helgasons brothers, Gulli Guðmundsson and Viktor Hjartarson. You will always be getting unique riders coming out of Iceland as the only way to progress up here is to be creative and face the elements head on.
4. What's the level of the parks? Can you get some Freeriding days in too? Parks, what parks? I would say only one resort in northern Iceland has something which they could sort of call a park. They bought a pipe dragon and some boxes but havent really gone the full distance in their commitment in setting things up and having them available to snowboarders on a daily bases. Most jumps, rails and boxes which you will see around resorts here in Iceland will have been set up by the local riders themselfs. Endless Freeride possibilities here in Iceland. So many cool places to hike to and ride down. If you have a sled you can access so many untouched places. I have been hiking and Freeriding around Iceland for about 15 years and I am glad to say that I have still so many places left to go to and experience. I feel really lucky to have this playground in my back garden.
5. You work for Nikita Clothing, an Icelandic brand that has taken over the world of (mostly) female riding & streetwear gear by a storm. I think the unique background shows in the style, quality and attitude of the Nikita gear -- in a very positive way. I can imagine that it's a brand that someone like you identifies with easily so representing the brand feels natural, with a bit more heart than some random snowboard brand you might work for? I could not dream of a better group of people to work for and with. We just love doing what we do and I think that is a big factor in Nikita's global success. Heida and Rúnar deserve a lot of credit and praise for having the guts and determination to get the Nikita concept out there. I think a lot of people are benefiting from that today, me included.
6. You've been with Nikita for a while and experienced the huge growth it has gone through. From a small shop to a multinational success story is almost movie material! How has that ride been for you and the Nikita crew who have been there from day one? I was a regular customer in the shop that Heida and Rúnar owned and ran. If you were snowboarding in Iceland at that time it was the only place to get proper gear from, except those baseless Bent Metal bindings Rúnar sold me in 1997... I had mixed feelings back in the day when they sold the shop and launched Nikita. I was really proud to see them take Nikita to the next level but sad to lose their input through the shop on the local scene. Since then I watched the growth of Nikita from the sidelines and along the way they sponsored some events that I held through the ISA and films that I produced along with Team Divine. So my fears were really unfounded, Heida and Rúnar still managed to contribute a lot to the local scene through Nikita. I was invited to join the Nikita family in 2006 as Marketing Coordinator, for me it was just a natural fit. I enjoy going to work everyday, it´s the first company I have worked for were I can see myself in 10-20 years plus. So the ride so far for me has been really good, I am happy with the place I am at and I am pretty sure there are plenty of powder turns left in it both for me and Nikita.
7. You sent me some links to your MySpace page and other sites so I was able to take a sneak peak into your life. There's a lot of pictures/videos of you and your family, with your daughter snowboarding and the proud father looking after her. Obviously snowboarding is important to the whole home crew? My girlfriend Dögg and 3.5 year old daughter Lena Rut are my biggest inspirations in life. Snowboarding has given me so much over the years that it just felt natural to introduce them to it. I also try to spend a lot of my free time snowboarding but want to spend it with them as well, so it also feels natural to invite them along for the ride when I can. Teaching my little one to snowboard has also taken my snowboarding to a new level, I just love being on the snow with her and seeing how much fun she has with it. This is her first season riding and she has definitely been turning some heads on the slopes. I am just happy that it is something we can do together. I am proud of both my girls and our family that is probably why I am so good at updating my blog, flickr, myspace and youtube with family stuff!
8. Could you ever imagine living elsewhere or is Iceland where you always wanna be based at? The Icelandic word for stupid is: “heimskur". It translates directly to someone who stays too much at home and does not explore the outside world. The viking high code (Hávamál) also says: “who travels widely needs his wits about him, the stupid should stay at home". So, yes, I love having Iceland as a base, I am proud of my background and I couldn't think of a better place to raise our daughter but I also love travelling. When I was a child and teenager I lived 4 years in England, 4 years in France and 2 summers in Spain. It is definitely something I want my family to experience. I think it is necessary for everybody to travel, expand their horizons and experience different things. It opens your mind for so many things. The best thing about travelling though is coming back home. Iceland will always be my home and my base in life. There are few things better than returning to Iceland after a long trip and taking that first breath of fresh air and feeling the weather on your face when you step out from Keflavík airport.
9. Surfing in Iceland sounds pretty far off, but I read that the waves exist and are rideable? Being an island, Iceland is surrounded by the North Atlantic Ocean on all sides. There are some pretty good surf spots all over and we get some cool waves coming in from all sides. The surf scene is pretty hardcore. I would say around 25-30 people are surfing all year around but the scene has been growing steadily in the last couple of years. So you are never going to be fighting anyone for the waves up here except maybe a curious seal or two. There are some cool spots around, for example around the Snæfells glacier peninsula. If the conditions are right you can shred the glacier and go surfing all in one day. I really want to get more into surfing, I have only tried it a handful of times here in Iceland. It hasn't really been surfing but more avoiding drowning. It's one of the scariest things I have tried, defiently room for a lot of improvement on my half. I have heard pro surfers that have come up here describing the breaks, swells and wave conditions to that of Hawaii. If you think about it Hawaii and Iceland have a lot in common geographically. Both are volcanic Islands situated in the middle of nowhere so there are bound to be some similarities. The ocean is a “little" bit colder up here but if you have a good wetsuit on its does not really matter. So maybe we can say Iceland is the Hawai of the north and you definetly cant go snowboarding in Hawaii!
10. And as the last word you are free to give a little marketing speech why we should all book the next flight to Reykjavik and come check the local snow stash? The Icelandic tourist board has done a pretty good job of advertising Iceland as a hip, cool, beautiful, pure, natural, exciting, strong, unique, picturesque, geothermal, volcanic, party, absolutely brilliant must place to visit. So I wont go down that road with you. But I can tell you that if you want a different snowboard experience in untouched lunar-like landscapes riding untouched lines that end in the North Atlantic ocean then hop on a plane and ask for Geiri when you land.
Not that we needed that marketing speech anyways... it's enough when you check out the views this country offers and how nice the people there seem to be! I could think of worse things to do than hiking & riding glaciers for a day and then jumping into a hot spring while admiring raw, beautiful nature. How about you?
For more info on ISA, local resorts, events and so on, go to www.bigjump.is