Save The Wave: Thorli
It’s a story that’s all too familiar for surfers: A local politician, warm in the embrace of industry, is moving ahead with a project that will damage a world-class wave.
The difference this time is the story comes all the way from Iceland.
Because it's a common story, we know that sometimes these battles are won and sometimes, unfortunately, they’re lost. When they’re won, however, it’s always because a local crew draws attention to the issue and that’s exactly what’s happening in Iceland now.
Before we wade into the issue, it’s worth noting that if you’ve seen any of the surfing films recently shot in Iceland then there’s a very good chance you’ve seen the wave in question. You see, since it became a darling of the cold water jet set, Iceland’s locals gently requested backdrops or wide shots be left out. And to their credit, the filmmakers largely obliged and have done a brilliant job of keeping the waves low key.
In fact, this thinking has actually hampered the current campaign to save the wave as, for a while, local surfers were conflicted about what was unfolding. They didn’t even want to talk about it or do anything on social media.
Now, however, it’s getting serious. Icelandic surfers need the spotlight.
Davíð Ingi Bustion and Steinnar Lar of the Icelandic Surfing Association are willingly bringing attention to the plight of Þorlákshöfn, a righthander that breaks off the town of the same name. The wave is often shortened to Thorli and for the sake of not knowing where my umlauts are I’ll call it that too.
Located about 30kms south-east of Reykjavik, Thorli is the first great wave you come to along Iceland’s south coast. It’s also the country’s most well-known; each weekend will see Icelandic surfers in the lineup plus intrepid travelers from elsewhere. It’s become a cultural meeting place.
“It’s a long way to travel,” says Torren Martyn who in 2018 visited Iceland with Ishka Folkwell, “but it’s worth it because it’s such a beautiful place.”
“It’d be a shame to lose one of their best waves,” adds Torren, “the project seems incredibly short-sighted.
The ‘project’ is the expansion of Þorlákshöfn harbour, including its southern breakwall, plus an industrial site for warehouses and whatnot created from reclaimed land. The idea - devised by the mayor of the municipality - is to lure shipping away from Reykjavik and Keflavik, which are both another half-day’s sail away.
The economic good sense in that decision falls away when the goods simply have to be freighted to Reykjavik anyway.
Appreciating a few frosty surfers are no match for the might of industry, Davíð and Steinnar enlisted another surfer, DHI coastal engineer Simon Brandi Mortensen, to propose alternative plans.
Port expansion has been incremental over the last ten years, but what the municipality has planned now is to dredge the inner wall and deposit the spoil outside of the wall - i.e towards the break. They also want to erect warehouses on the new land.
“Under the current plans, says Simon, “you don’t need to be a coastal engineer to understand the results won’t be good.” They’ll cause the wave to get shorter and be awash with reflected waves.
As we speak, Simon is “proposing options to reduce the impacts, ranging from an option that will affect the wave less to one that probably won’t affect the wave at all.”
“At this point,” explains Simon, “it’s about getting the municipality to the negotiating table and saying, 'Let's find a compromise that’ll be acceptable to all parties’.”
Time to turn on the spotlight.