Published in Onboard Magazine Issue 120, February 2011
TEXT: TOM COPSEY & DANNY BURROWS
Iceland is a most unlikely incubator of snowboarding talent. This spiked protuberance of igneous rock mushrooming above the Mid-Atlantic ridge is famous for many things – it’s unique geological combination of glaciers and volcanism that famously inspired Jules Verne; spectacular scenery; the Cod Wars; and the eruption of one of its unpronounceable volcanoes that subsequently brought the aviation industry to its knees, to name a few – but the fact that it’s slap bang in the middle of the ocean, 200 miles from the nearest landmass (and that’s Greenland), and home to a mere 318,000 inhabitants means despite mountains, glaciers, regular snowfall and a few modest ski resorts, snowboarders from Iceland flew well under the radar. Until recently.
Then came Nikita, the Iceland Park Project and now the Helgason brothers and compatriot Gulli Gudmundsson. When we received shots of these three getting radical back home, we decided it was time we took a closer lookat Iceland, its scene and how a few rapscallions from the land of fire & ice came to hold it down in the ultracompetitive global shred scene.
“I think the first people that brought snowboarding to Iceland picked it up from what they saw abroad. It was 2 or 3 local guys around 1985-86,” says Asgeir ‘Geiri’ Hoskuldsson, marketing manager of Icelandic brand Nikita and a geyser of knowledge when it comes to his country’s shred heritage. But it wasn’t until Rúnar Ómarsson (who would later co-found Geiri’s current employer) started importing snowboard equipment with a buddy in 1989 that more than folks became tuned in to the shred. He then went on to open the fi rst snowboard shop, Missing Link, in 1992. When the store opened Icelandic snowboarders could be counted in the low hundreds, but Missing Link went on to organise sessions, contests and trips to foster the newborn shred community, and between 1992 and 98 there was a real buzz around snowboarding. “It was a tight family in the beginning, everybody knew everybody,” Geiri recalls, but quickly it exploded. “I reckon there were around 5000-6000 people snowboarding (or that owned a snowboard) by 98,” he adds. No small fry, but when you consider there’s not much more than 300,000 people on the whole island it’s a huge chunk of the population sliding sideways.
As happened in so many regions where snowboarding began to mushroom it inevitably encountered a resistance from the traditional snowusing community so it was left to the riders themselves to blaze their own trails: “Snowboarders in Iceland have always had to be creative as 99%
of the stuff that has been done is done by the snowboarders themselves,” states Geiri. “The Helgasons did not grow up riding perfect parks. They had to build their own rails, drag them to a spot and then session them.” Today, things have improved somewhat with the Northern resort of Hlidarfjall – a short drive from the Helgasons’ home town of Akureyri – putting effort in to set up hits, but there’s still nothing like your average European park for local riders. Not anymore, at least.
In 2000, Bjarni Valdimarsson, Rob Wyke and Graham MacVoy were shaping for the SPC Camps on the Hintertux glacier. They’d been mulling over the idea of setting up their own summer camp in central Europe, but with most of the glaciers already taken they started looking further afi eld. “Bjarni, being Icelandic, knew of this glacier (in Iceland). He had some distant family connection with it or something,” recalls Graham. After a scouting mission, the prospect of stunning backdrops, midnight sun and nearby surf spots had the three amigos convinced it could work. The Iceland Park Project was born. For the next fi ve summers the camp was operated on the Snæfellsjökull glacier (the setting for Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth) offering the possibility to ride a park with panororamics of the Atlantic.
With a couple of kickers, a hip, rails and a wallride it was no mega park but the unique set-up attracted mag crews and riders from the UK, US and Europe. You might have thought that such international exposure would have injected drive into the development of the Icelandic shred facilities, encouraging resorts to see the potential of such freestyle setups, but according to Geiri this wasn’t the case. “IPP was the best summer, snowboarding, drinking, meeting awesome people project ever! It gave Iceland a lot of exposure and helped the Helgasons and Gulli establish themselves. But to be honest not that many Icelanders took part in it. The 50 to 100 hardcore snowboarders turned out for it (not all at once), but most of the people running the resorts and general public still had no clue what IPP was or is. Rob, Graham and Bjarni deserve a lot of praise for making it happen. So IPP gave Iceland a lot of exposure in the snowboard media but the fi ght still goes on to improve facilities for snowboarding in Iceland.”
As Geiri hints, although it may not have impacted the wider Icelandic conscience one of the upshots was that the übercore kids turned up and were exposed to not only pro riders, but the shooters and scribblers who hold sway in the industry. Amongst these locals where ‘Team Devine’ from Akureyri, which included a fl edgling Eiki, Halldor and Gulli. “Eiki had a broken leg so he wasn’t there but Gulli and Halldor were riding sick (they were only 11 and 14),” remembers a stoked Graham, “but they kept saying we should see Eiki ride. They hadn’t really done big kickers by then but they slayed the rails. I’ve got a great clip of Halldor trying a double backfl ip on a tiny punter kicker when he was 12…”
THE MALUNG FACTOR
Team Devine had grown up riding street rails, pissed off and uninspired by the lack of commitment by their local resorts towards snowboarding. They were self made riders who were “mad stoked” on JP Walker, in particular his part in The Resistance. In fact they were so mad for JP that all their hotmail address started with ‘jpwalker’. They were already ripping when the IPP came to town but the camp exposed them to kickers as well as international pros and media and for two seasons they all worked as shapers on the camp.
The real turning point in their development, though, came not in Iceland but Sweden – or at the Malung Snowboard School specifi cally. The story goes that three older Icelandics returned from the school, ripping and extolling the delights of this centre of snowboard higher learning. “There was no doubt that that was the school we had to go to” Eiki Helgason told us.
Eiki was the first of the two Helgasons to wing their way to Sweden in the company of fellow rippers Gulli Gudmundsson and Viktor ‘Helgi’ Hjartarson and when Eiki came home at the end of term with a bag full of new tricks Halldor’s mind was made up to follow in his brothers footsteps.
Malung is divided into two schools, Locals and Riks, with the former taking on the majority of foreign students. According to the Helgasons the regime at Locals was far more lax, which suited the brothers and their gang. They rode the school’s perfect park nonstop, or as Eiki put it they “were the fi rst ones up and the last ones down,” pushing their riding to new levels. These dudes who had been riding homemade stuff and street rails now had a real park in which to hone their skills. They also took full advantage of the opportunity to learn Swedish, as well as the business of snowboarding beyond the hill.
THE NEXT ERUPTION
Geiri remembers getting to know Team Devine back in 2001 after attempting to become some sort of business grad but failing. He once asked Eiki on the hill what he wanted to become, with Eiki shooting back that he wanted to be pro. Leaving Malung he and his crew were well on their way; or in the words of Geiri “they all fell into a pot of magic elf potion at the same time” and came out ripping. It must have been this potion that bagged them a host of A-list sponsors and some killer parts in the Rome movie, Factor Films and Actionhorse on graduation from Malung.
Although Gulli and the Helgasons are stars in the wider world of snowboard, with outstanding parts in Standard and the Pirates in the past season, according to Geiri they are still pretty unknown back home. Here the scene remains mainstream and although the Icelandic Snowboard Association are organising events and trips he believes that what is needed to kickstart the local scene is another IPP or Ak Extreme event, and apparently the latter may well be on the cards.
But the question is: who are the next Team Devine? Whose email addresses might perhaps bear the name of these homegrown heroes?