Surfing In The Faroe Islands & The Bentley Bentayga
A whistle-stop recce to the North Atlantic's most unlikely surf destination the Faroe Islands, in a Bentley Bentayga.
For those unfamiliar, the Faroe Islands are an eighteen-piece archipelago that juts strikingly out the North Atlantic between Norway and Iceland. A self-governing territory within the Kingdom by Denmark, supposedly discovered by monks, conquered by Vikings and, most recently, occupied by the British. Made internet-famous to neoprene loving surfers everywhere by Burkard and friends, the seemingly isolated islands are home to 50,000 or so Faroese but very few homegrown surfers. Thanks to the Brit presence in the forties, you're more likely to find a fish and chip shop than a surf shop.
Our transport has been kindly provided by Bentley, who are keen for us to experience the Faroe Islands behind the wheel of their latest V8 powered Bentayga, a spacious and of course luxury SUV that’s more than capable of handling whatever we can through at it. Killing two birds with one stone, we enlist seasoned surf explorer and all-around nice guy Mr Mark “Egor” Harris as both driver and surf-plotter. If there is a wave to be had in our 48 hours on the ground, he’d sniff it out.
With the prospect of scoring surf a little on the slim side, it’s late summer, we also arrive with an eagerness to learn a little more about what it takes to call yourself a surfer here. In a country that is known only too well for its unpredictable weather, howling winds and hostile waters, local surfers are few and far between.
Rolling out of the airport carpark, it doesn’t take long to realise there’s something a little special about these islands. Grass-covered but tree-less landscapes fluctuate between deep valleys and impassable craggy peaks. Each twist and turn in the pristine roads reveal a further abundance of cascading waterfalls and sheer rock faces. Vast lakes and rivers are sporadically lined by red and black grass-covered cottages, whose hamlet sized clusters blend into the sheep grazed plains that surround them.
With our potential surf spots meticulously planned, we propose on making full use of our only full 24 hours on the islands by hitting a couple of locations that are most likely to deliver ridable waves, with our first potential swell magnet being the small town of Tjørnuvík. Although the tiny cove is located only 50km north of the capital, the mountainous landscape does throw up a few obstacles, mostly in the form of impassable 400m high rocky outcrops.
Luckily, the Faroese have been on a continuing crusade to keep their 18 volcanic islands as connected as possible.
Over the last 50 years, the Faroese have built and burrowed over twenty tunnels, bridges and causeways, effortlessly connecting towns and villages that would have previously only been arduously accessible by foot. Ranging from late-sixties, single lane, roughly finished and unlit mountain shortcuts to 150m below sea level, 3km modern masterpieces (that will set you back €15) it’s hard to consider how the locals used to get around. In fact, the Faroese have a word for stopping points where they can rest the coffins of their dead, from when they transport them to the nearest church by foot.
Thankfully those days are long gone (although there are still helicopter “buses” to the most inaccessible part) and a kilometre long tunnel helps us make out way to Tjørnuvík in just under an hour.
After hugging the east coast of Streymoy, we descend into Tjørnuvík down a dramatic single carriageway road, hundreds of meters below the ever-familiar towering mountains that disappear into clouds above. It’s obvious as soon as we approach the grey and white beach that we won’t be surfing here today, nothing more than a ripple rolls into the bay. But the sun’s out, and it’s attracted a handful of people to the small coffee shop that serves the villages 71 strong population, as well the few surfers that pass by in anticipation of the cove’s promising beach break potential. As we sit and look out into the sheltered bay, Mark explains how on a north northwest swell would produce matching left and right peaks on either side of the narrow beach. Overhearing our conversation, a Faroese local, Katrin, informs us that when it’s on, the waves break throughout the tide and even when it gets good you’re unlikely to find more than a handful of surfers in the water.
Making the most of the unexpected sunshine with a local beer or two, Katrin explains that she is one of the country’s few regular surfers and while we shouldn’t be surprised by the lack of swell in August, we should be shocked by the big ball of fire in the sky that’s uncharacteristically keeping us out of hats and jackets, despite being in the middle of summer. We chat for a while, as surfers do, about dealing with crowds, visiting surfers, storms, weather, when we should come back, when we shouldn’t and, more importantly, touch on the brief history of surfing on the Faroes. Keen to delve into the curious ocean culture that has evolved here over the last decade or so, we agree to meet later for a quick rundown on how the Faroes has become both a world-famous surf destination while remaining on the boundaries of surfing tourism.
We leave Tjørnuvík on the only road out of the village, satnavs set for Saksun, an even smaller town on the west coast of Streymoy. We’ve heard that a low tide walk past the valley’s tidal lagoon might just reveal a perfect left-hander.
It seems we’re not the only pioneers making the trip to Saksun. The local church here was originally built in Tjørnuvík way back in 1858. For reasons we’re unable to determine, perhaps it made sense at the time, the small brick structure was dismantled and carried, by hand, over the mountains we’ve just driven through, only to be reassembled in Saksun. The church now plays neighbour to a café and a small museum-come-gift-shop located in a single seventeenth-century farmhouse known as Dúvugarður, belonging to a farm that still maintains a flock of over 700 ewes.
Entertainment aside, Saksun finds itself at the mouth of a long-forgotten natural harbour. Filled with sand by an un-dated storm, the inlet now plays host to a seawater lagoon. Our arrival coincides with a pushing tide and we’ve been told that we need to be quick if we want to make it to sea without being cut off by the fast-approaching water.
We meet Katrin at The Tarv, a grill house on the Tórshavn harbour. She arrives with David, who she quickly explains is the person who started it all, the father of Faroe surfing. We order all involved the local IPA, Gullhornið from the Faroes based Okkara brewery.
“I never liked all the normal sports” David starts, “Football and handball were boring to me”. He explains how he wanted to enjoy what the Faroes could offer, the landscapes, the weather, the ocean. Windsurfing’s popularity in the 80’s has left a few local people committed to continuing the sport, and that’s what he picked up.
Fast forward a few years and the popularity of cold water surfing has developed into a continuing search for the final frontier of ice-covered beach breaks. Pioneering photographers and hardy surfers have been exploring neighbouring Norway and Iceland, scoring deserted perfection and in turn creating brand new surf communities in these once un-surfed regions. Left unexplored by wandering surfers until 2006, the exact birth of Faroes surf culture is still fondly remembered by David.
A surf photographer from Morocco, Yassine Ouhilal, contacted the tourist board about surfing, they didn't know the difference between windsurfing and just surfing, so they contacted me.
David tells us he and Yassi became good friends. Ouhilal was on the hunt for the large, slabbing waves that he was convinced the Faroes could offer, which meant extended stay on the islands, scoping out the coastline on jet skis and boats. With a phonebook full of international surfers ready to make the journey when the storms arrived, Yassi would make the call and teams of American and Hawaiin professional surfers would descend at the same time as the waves started rolling in.
Although keen to try surfing, David didn’t have many options, the only surfboards on the islands came, and then went, with these travelling surfers. Yassi encouraged David to the ditch the sail from his huge windsurf board and helped him get started with a few whitewater sessions. And that was that, David became the Faroe Island’s first local surfer.
“And he had it all to himself until I started in 2014!” Katrin interrupts with a smile on her face. “They said you don’t know how good you’ve got it” David continues, referring to the American surfers “10 year’s from now this will be full of surf shops and wannabes”. Well, the proficiency hasn’t come true just yet, with the two people sitting with us still considering themselves the countries only regular surfers.
With many other facets of the worldwide surf press picking up on the Faroes potential, it wasn't long before more wandering surfers put these islands on their Atlantic hit list.
But the prospect of crowds doesn’t really worry these two. “It’s never busy, even when it’s good,” Katrin says “Surfing is hard, lots of people start off enthusiastic but give up when it gets difficult or cold”.
Phone photos of our home breaks at their finest are shared and the ever-important social follows accepted. We take on a few more drinks but being rather exhausted from a solid day behind the wheel, we head to Hotel Havgrim, our boutique bolt hole for the night. Right on the coast of capital Tórshavn and outfitted with fjord inspired decor, the comfortable beds and generous breakfast makes a perfect centralised resting place for anyone keen on exploring these islands.
With our surf recce complete we dedicate our final hours to a bit of good old-fashioned tourism. The nice guys at Bentley have done their research and linked some of the Faroes must-see hotspots together with some of the island’s most picturesque and interesting roadways. While the Bentayga was never given the opportunity to bear its off-road teeth, the long way round to Gásadalur, our final sightseeing stop, promises even more empty mountain roads, single-lane tunnels and mind-blowing landscapes all served up with a side order of sheep, geese and ponies.
As we roar through one more subterranean echo chamber, we emerge straight into the tight hairpin that makes our arrival in Gasadalur. Surrounded by Vagár’s tallest mountain, the 700 metre high walls of volcanic rock have kept this town of 18 residents well isolated, even by Faroe standards. Up until 2004, when the freshly blasted tunnel allowed vehicular access, the town’s few residents only way of leaving, and therefore interacting with the rest of the population, was a strenuous hike over the 400m high peaks that separate the village from neighbouring Bøur, where they were forced to keep their boats. Long way to go for a spot of fishing and a chat.
The highlight of this diminutive dwelling is its impressive 65-meter waterfall. Surrounded by hundreds of puffins and a whole encyclopedia’s worth of seabirds I don’t recognise from children’s books, this now easy to access beauty spot is a must for anyone, no matter how short your stay. It’s only an 18-minute drive from the airport.
While we might not have scored the conditions we were hoping for, we haven’t come away empty-handed. Not only have we had the opportunity to experience a place few surfers have visited, but we’ve also got a pretty good idea of how the craggy cliff faces and sheltered beaches of this wonderful country work. We’ll be keeping a beady eye on those Atlantic low pressures over the next few months, and next time you see the Faroe Islands mentioned on these pages it will almost certainly be accompanied by a healthy dose of picture-perfect point breaks and solo barrel sessions in front of dramatic, snow-capped landscapes. Hopefully.
Netflix Series: Given that I’ve absorbed 99% of Netflix’s offerings over the last four months, I’m hitting the 90’s nostalgia trip that is Spaced.
Lesser-known App: Sun Surveyor, perfect for planning those golden hour shoots.
Work Music: Right now, Skyer by Postiljonen. Swedish dream-pop at its finest.
Travel Hack: Travel insurance or an American Express card that gives you access to airport lounges. Not always the full-baller-level First Class experience, but free beer and snacks go a long way before a long flight.
Late-night Gas Station Purchase: Scotch egg and Tangfastics. Classic road trip snacks that can be consumed without too much mid-drive difficulty.
Bucket List: As a video game obsessed 90’s kid I was always intrigued by the seemingly bizarre work of Japan. An easy win in terms of getting there, but
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FAROE ISLANDS FIELD WEAR