Words: Eero Ettala / Photos: Sami Tuoriniemi
Lured by tales of epic sunsets, untapped backcountry and a yearning of local women for men from foreign lands, our intrepid photo editor struck out for the ‘land of ice and snow’ with the Cooking with Gas crew…
For the past couple of years Sami had been trying to get our CWG crew to go on a trip with him. Due to our busy filming schedules and his weird location proposals – Iraq, Nepal and India – we never really found the time or interest to go on a trip together. To be honest, Lauri Heiskari was also a bit concerned about the food in these countries. He really takes his daily doses of protein seriously.
It was the end of March and we were trying to decide the next destination to finish off the series. The very next morning my phone rang and Sami´s name popped up. We’d been talking about possibly going on a late season trip together and I was scared he was going to propose something as random as Afghanistan this time. I was relieved and excited when he told me that he had been planning a trip to Iceland to meet up with Eiki Helgason and Gulli Gudmundsson and needed few more guys to join. Immediately, I called Heikki, Lauri and our filmer Mikael. None of us had never been to Iceland, so the whole crew was on the same page: this time Sami’s suggestion sounded tempting and we were in.
We’d all heard a lot of good things about Iceland, but weren’t sure if any of it was true: for example, that 70% of the population are female and if you go to a bar there, all you need to do is to sit down, drink beer and wait for the girls to come over and hit on you. We were keen to find out if the myth was real. What we had seen in snowboard videos was mostly urban riding, but Sami made us believe that there was also good backcountry terrain to be found. And of course in the meantime Lauri had explored the internet to find out that there was a great spot for surfing 40 minutes away from Akureyri, where Eiki and Gulli live.
Sami had booked us a hostel in downtown Reykjavik called the Backpackers, where we could rest for the night and drive up to Akureyri the next morning. We checked in to our tiny room, that included four bunk beds and zero floor space after setting down our board bags. Since the room wasn’t too inviting for anything other than sleeping, we decided to get out and grab some late night snack from a gourmet restaurant called Taco Bell that we’d spotted on the way. Waking up the next day wasn’t too pleasant – I’m sure you can imagine what our room smelled like after five Finns with bean burritos in their stomach had been farting all night long. Avoiding breathing through our noses we gathered our gear and were about to check out from the hostel till the guy at the reception hit us with the shocking news: part of the road to Akureyri was closed due to a heavy snow storm and it was not clear when it would reopen.
We decided to make the most of being stuck in Reykjavik and headed to one of the biggest tourist attractions in town: the Blue Lagoon. It was only 30 minutes away from the hostel, but somehow our car ended up running out of gas two kilometers before the destination. We decided to leave the car on the side of the road and hitchhike the rest of the way, because we wanted to make it there before sunset. The Blue Lagoon is as rad as it sounds: naturally hot, baby blue-colored water and the best part is that you can drink beer in the hot spring. After an hour of bathing and relaxing we were forced to face our problem again. We were stuck at the Blue Lagoon with our car two kilometers away with an empty tank. It was Sami´s duty as tour guide to get us back safe, so he called the rental car guys to pick us up and bring us a canister full of gas. As weird as it sounds like, the guys from Cheap Jeep were happy to help out and get us back on the road and to our miserable hostel.
The second morning we awoke to a text message from Gulli saying the roads were open again and we could actually start our adventure. The six-hour journey actually went by real fast, checking out the incredible scenery and listening to Sami’s ridiculous stories. We rolled straight into Akureyri’s infamous Domino’s Pizza and called Eiki to come and meet us so he could lead us to his parents’ farm, where we would spend the next 8 nights. Our heads were spinning left and right driving up the road to the Helgason’s farm, everyone pointing out spots that we’d seen in Eiki’s video parts. He even told us a secret, that he had been shredding a total of seven different spots around the farm. Our crib was located behind the Helgasons mansion, a cozy little 4 bedroom apartment built out of a container with a view to the mountains. The perfect place to call home for 8 days.
Our first morning in Akureyri was all we had hoped for. Bluebird skies, +2 temperature and plenty of snow on the ground, so we quickly met up with Eiki and Gulli to figure out a solid game plan for the first day. They showed us photos from their cellphones and we would pretty much say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ depending on the look of the spot. We decided to start off easy and hit this abandoned Swedish boat with a rail on the deck; it had a natural inrun, so it made it easier to actually session it. Eiki and Gulli killed the spot with their tech tricks, I did something film worthy; Heikki and Lauri weren’t really feeling it. All in all it was good to get some useable footage to get the trip really started. After we’d cleaned up Mikael and Sami went back to the house and all the riders wanted to keep going and drive by some of the spots we had seen from the photos. Eiki and Gulli first brought us to this gigantic ball shaped sculpture in front of a school and we all were really hyped on the idea of bonking the ball. Lauri and Heikki made the call that we should build it ready for tomorrow there and then, so they could go surf early in the morning the next day.
We were ready to leave the house at eight the next morning. 40 minutes of driving with the ocean on the right and mountains on the left, it felt like watching a real life National Geographic TV show. You could hear the excitement in Lauri and Heikki’s voices when we pulled up to the surf spot. World class waves, zero surfers and snow-covered mountains in the background. Heikki and Lauri quickly put on their thick wetsuits and ran into the water and snagged a couple really good waves. I think the smile they had the rest of the trip wasn’t only about the quality of surfing, but more about the once in a lifetime experience of surfing the freezing waters of Iceland. Our second film session of the trip worked out way better than the first one. Everyone from the crew got a banger shot on film and as a highlight Lauri pulled out a ridiculous laid out backflip over the ball of steel. With the session done, we had a little scope around the school and conveniently found a spot to hit for the next day, not 100 meters away from the sculpture.
Eiki had to leave the next day because he was going to the Canary Islands with his chick for a week. “Must be nice,” we all thought. Since his flight was in the afternoon we helped him setup his solo mission obstacle first: a rail to loop to drop. Yep, you read that right. Just wait and see the footage. After he got his trick in the bag it was time for him to rush to the airport and for the rest of the crew to setup this mean flat rail to drop, right next to Eiki’s spot. It was my turn to guinea pig the beast. Couple boardslides for a test and I was ready to hop on to the actual trick I wanted to get: switch front blunt 270 out. I was feeling confident about the whole thing till I got on the rail and immediately caught my edge, flying head first down a five-meter drop to flat. It was probably the worst slam of my life, yet all that happened was I winded myself and saw stars for a brief moment. To be honest, I could be in a wheelchair right now. After I was standing on two legs again I got back up and hit it couple more times to get a different trick on film. Lauri dropped in next, followed by Heikki and Gulli hitting it last. We all got good shots and the fourth spot of the trip was ‘great success’.
WIND DOWN, WIND UP
We’d been riding and shoveling for three days straight and my body was sore from the horrific bail, so we decided to take it easy for the next mission and hit a spot at the Helgasons’ farm. It was a cool wallride on the side of the barn only 30 meters away from our porch. Setting it up took us couple hours and to ride it another couple hours. It ended up being a rodeo fest, everyone spinning rodeos in all different directions. It almost felt like we’d had a day off, because we got done filming so early that day.
It was a bummer looking out of the window the next morning, realizing that most of the snow had melted due to the heavy rain and gusty wind overnight. A quick call to our Icelandic hero Gulli and he’d filled us in on the safest spots to hit snow-wise. We ended up driving 30 minutes to a golf course with a perfect down rail going over a little creek – I’m sure you’ll have seen this rail in all of the Helgasons’ movies and the rail really is as perfect as it looks. Me and Gulli ended up having a good session on it and got few more megabytes stored on Mikael’s memory card. This was already the 6th spot of the trip and the riders were feeling exhausted and frustrated at the melting snow situation. In our minds we were done riding for the trip till Sami told us that he still needed to shoot a banger spot to complete his photo story. The riders didn’t really want to stress anymore so we decided that the following morning we would just drive around to see if we could find something that pleased everyone.
JUST ONE MORE
Another warm and sunny morning in the heart of Iceland. This time we didn’t even bother to bring our snowboard gear to the spot hunt. The riders had pretty much given up hope of finding something spectacular enough when we spotted a sick-looking river gap next to a bridge. There was one part of the river where you could actually build a take-off, walk back on the bridge after hitting it and a landing on the other side. It seemed doable for the riders and Sami was pumped on the chance to shoot the final banger for his article. We all ended up hitting it and getting some A-grade shots for the video, so with a sense of relief at wrapping up the snowboard portion of the trip, with one more day in Akureyri we wanted to dedicate it fully to exploring the country.
Sightseeing days are the best. As professional snowboarders we get to travel a ton, but often we are stuck in our little snowboard world looking for the next rail to slide. Gulli offered us his guidance and took us to the most insane hot springs, steaming rocks and waterfalls that any of us had ever seen. After eight hours of driving around checking out the astonishing sites of Iceland we rallied back to Akureyri to make it to the liquor store in time. We were ready to celebrate our amazing trip to Iceland in a traditional Finnish way. What I remember from the last night is that Sami was trying to fight Heikki, Heikki was trying to fight Mikael, me and Lauri were trying to calm everyone down, and zero girls were trying hit on us. A classic ending to an amazing journey and still today I wonder why we even brought our backcountry kit on this trip…