Nordurland: The making of an Arctic surf film

Charles Exon
Swellnet Dispatch

With Nordurland released today, Ryan Scanlon - needessentials founder and designer - reflects on the trip, his company, and the friendships that helped to make it all happen.

Interview by Charles Exon.

Charles Exon: What was the inspiration for this trip?  
Ryan Scanlon: Each year I head off to a cold water destination to test new designs in really cold water. I'd been to Iceland before, but I had always wanted to go back with a few friends, as it can be pretty sketchy surfing there on your own.

You spent nearly a month in Iceland, did you travel around or stay in the same area?
We traveled around a fair bit. You are always looking for waves around the next fjord or over the next mountain range. Getting to waves is quite a challenge because the weather is constantly changing.

We went in November so it's almost mid-winter there. The roads were icy, or closed, and you spend a lot of time driving in the dark to get to the waves. The sun was coming up around 10.30am and setting about 3.00pm in the afternoon. So, with trying to get a surf in, you only have one crack at it for the day.

(Photo: Ted Grambeau)

How did you guys get around then?
Well, originally it was just Torren, Ishka, and I going, and we got this little four-wheel drive van. Then at the last minute Laurie was able to get time off work, and Ted Grambeau, a photographer friend of ours, just happened to be in Europe and said he was keen to come too. I was stoked to have a good group of crew, but when we got there, we couldn't get a bigger car. So it was pretty cramped with all of us and boards and gear in this little van.

You have to put all the boards in the car because with the snow and temperature they just freeze into a solid block of ice if you tie them to the roof. We ended up with five of us and a stack of boards in the van, but at least it was warm in there!

The weather looks quite extreme in parts of the film, how was it to surf in conditions like that?
The weather in Iceland is just so changeable, in five hours it seriously throws everything at you. The ocean can start off oil glass, then change really fast to seventy km/h offshore winds with an air temperature of minus ten. Our car nearly got blown off the road once or twice. It was seriously like storm-force winds and we are cruising around looking for surf.

In Iceland you are trying to surf with so many different variables that you have to be aware of all the time, because if something goes wrong, you can get into trouble really quickly. In spots you have never surfed never before, in three-degree water and seventy km/h offshore winds you have got to be really aware of what's going on. If you mess up, you could lose your life. Really quickly.

(Photo: Ted Grambeau)

On one particular day there was this 4-6 foot perfect beachbreak. Pretty much as soon as Torren and Laurie got out there, the swell started to pick up and with the tide going up it was getting impossible. In the line up there are these huge blocks of ice. You can see them in the film.  They are basically massive rocks. With the rising swell and icebergs floating through the line up, it just got too dangerous, and they had to come in.

Conditions like that really make you respect the power of nature.

Were you concerned about the low temperatures in the water?
The suits worked really well. We were warmer in the water than out. It's the wind chill that's really cold. In that respect, Ishka had by far the hardest job, we were warm in the water, we were surfing for up to four hours, padding around and having a ball. Ishka was filming so he had to stand still, not moving, in freezing winds.

It's not the most user-friendly spot to make a surf film. You aren't hanging out in Indo under a palm tree. He would have to hike a long way in, carrying gear through snow and ice.

(Photo: Ted Grambeau)

Did you meet any Icelandic surfers?
The last time I went to Iceland I didn't meet any surfers at all. I never saw a surfer or a surfboard, so I was excited to head back with friends to surf with. This time we actually ran into a couple of Icelandic surfers. There's a tiny heartbeat of surfing culture that has started in Reykjavik and they are really hardy surfers.

I've got a lot of admiration for someone who lives and learns to surf in that extreme environment. It's freezing cold. It's windy.  It's not an easy place to go, "OK, I'm going to be a surfer.” They are incredibly hardy and tough.

So needessentials is nearly five-years old now, how has it changed since the start?
It started with just making a couple of suits for friends to offer them an alternative. I'm really grateful for everyone's support from the start, and as we’ve grown we have been able to employ a small team of people that are now all a valuable part of needessentials. I'm really proud it exists because I really believe in what we make.

It was a real moment for me to be able to do a trip like this with the company, taking two good mates and well-respected surfers with me.

(Photo: Ted Grambeau)

So how did Torren Martyn and Laurie Towner get to be involved?
It's happened very organically. We all live near each other and have similar ideas about life. They are as much a part of the company as I am. Torren is actually working with us everyday, making films, testing products, and helping with design. Laurie is doing a tiling apprenticeship, but works with us part-time, helping to develop and test products.

What started as a one-man band has now allowed an interesting group of people to have humble, enjoyable jobs, and a great lifestyle. A good friend of mine,  Albe Falzon, once said to me, “If you can take the business out of business, then you can have a good business.” That's what I'm aiming to do with needessentials - just to do everything with authenticity and with care for people's needs, and also with respect for the environment.

Watch 'Nordurland' now

Comments

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Monday, 8 Apr 2019 at 1:47pm

Good luck with your business.

uncle_leroy's picture
uncle_leroy's picture
uncle_leroy commented Monday, 8 Apr 2019 at 2:00pm

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Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Monday, 8 Apr 2019 at 2:14pm

.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Monday, 8 Apr 2019 at 2:15pm

Can I join in?

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Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Monday, 8 Apr 2019 at 2:28pm

.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Monday, 8 Apr 2019 at 2:25pm

Fuck, you've done it again!

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AndyM's picture
AndyM's picture
AndyM commented Monday, 8 Apr 2019 at 1:55pm

Looks like they're taking the business out of it in the best way.

I've got one of their wetties and I couldn't be happier.

ojackojacko's picture
ojackojacko's picture
ojackojacko commented Monday, 8 Apr 2019 at 3:19pm

nice
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zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Monday, 8 Apr 2019 at 3:37pm

.!

Watashi wa metabo oyagi desu.

OHV500's picture
OHV500's picture
OHV500 commented Monday, 8 Apr 2019 at 3:50pm

Awesome wetties - also their accessories (zinc and leggies) are top notch. I've had a few now over a number of years and they are perfect. Great to see some principals in business, kinda back to the way it used to be.

Elliedog's picture
Elliedog's picture
Elliedog commented Monday, 8 Apr 2019 at 3:59pm

best zinc on the market.!!! ..and this isn't a winge…..I have a short arm steamer (purchased 2 years ago) that is way warmer than the 3/2 steamer I got (purchased last year). Strange...… Love the idea and the ethos behind Need Essentials. More R&D and more products to come i'd think. Just don't go the way of Patagonia... start with great products based on quality (warm bloody wetsuits that lasted) to the general shit served up by the majors that doesn't last.

Luba

P'tai's picture
P'tai's picture
P'tai commented Monday, 8 Apr 2019 at 6:11pm

I thought I would give their product a try. Bought a short arm steamer 3/2 best fit best wettie i have ever worn. Now have steamers, long sleeve vests, singlet vests, leggies the whole damn shooting match. Cant fault any of the products. Fantastic value. My first steamer is about to go through its third winter!!!! Thanks Ryan, Love your work.

clif's picture
clif's picture
clif commented Tuesday, 9 Apr 2019 at 10:24pm

shame i had opposite experience. suit (6/5/4mm) didn't hold up here. one season. and traction pads peeled off.

"Don't try. That's very important: not to try." Charles Bukowski

belly's picture
belly's picture
belly commented Wednesday, 10 Apr 2019 at 7:40am

Yeah I had some glue go on mine, but figured for $200 will still get 2 seasons out of it.
Oh, and then I bought the basic vest and the stitching around the waist cord went on about the fourth wear. Twice bitten for me.

Patate's picture
Patate's picture
Patate commented Monday, 15 Apr 2019 at 8:45pm

Was positively amazed by their customer service, and happy with my shorty, 3 years in and still perfect to me,