" We are now two weeks into our #vanlife mission to snowboard and surf our way around Iceland, while meeting some of this progressive country’s most inspiring women along the way. The adventure began the second we drove off the ferry. Recent heavy snowfall caused our line of camper vans to get stuck on the first mountain pass leading away from the port. Everyone was slipping and sliding everywhere. One van even ended up in the ditch. “We’ve got this” and minutes later we drove off with big smiles on our faces, while the rest of the van owners could only look on in wonder.
It was a bluebird day and the recent snowfall made the coastal drive to Reykjavik even more beautiful than we could have dared to imagine. We saw glaciers, frozen waterfalls, deer scampering in the snow, all to a constant backdrop of ocean and mountain views. It was quite simply out of this world.
We spent our first night parked up by the beach, and drove on to the Icelandic capital the next day. There we met Katrin Oddsdottir, an amazing woman, human rights lawyer and political activist, who was part of a small team that drafted Iceland’s new constitution. She told us how it stood for all people, in a progressive open approach with particular provision for women’s issues, and that nature was afforded its own rights. She described how they’d harnessed social media for good by inviting all Icelandic people into the process of writing their own constitution. She is the most incredible person to meet. Her mother had founded the Women’s Alliance in 1983, getting women’s issues on the political agenda in Iceland. We found Katrin Oddsdottir and her mother’s story massively inspiring, and to have experienced it on our first full day felt very empowering. It gave us great impetus to dig deeper into Iceland’s feminist mindset.
Our next meeting was with Vilborg Arna Gissuraardottir. She is a true modern hero here, as she was the first Icelandic woman to climb Everest and reach the South Pole; everyone in the country knows her name. She set up her own agency to train and inspire other women to take on these kind of expeditions, as she knows how significant realizing such dreams can be. She shared some brilliant motivational tips with us, which helped her during tough times in Antarctica.
We continued our drive to the Troll Peninsula in the north of the country, arriving in the most awesome of weather windows, with both recent snowfall and perfect waves peeling. We parked at the beach, got our 6 mill wetsuits, booties and hoods on and ran into the water as quickly as we could. There, with snowy peaks all around and the sun shining, we surfed alone happily for hours in the cold-water breaks, shouting for joy at our good fortune. Days later we still haven’t regained feeling in our toes but we wouldn’t swap that session for anything.
From the water we’d gazed longingly at the white mountains above and then the next day we got to splitboard up and then snowboard down them, while staring at the magical spot we’d surfed the day before. The dream scenario – in a crazy beautiful place. And to experience it all with a friend made it all the more amazing for both of us.
We enjoyed some more epic splitboard days and even a night mission, where we donned head torches in the evening, and climbed up just in time to watch the Northern Lights explode around us from what felt the top of the world. Our minds were blown again.
In the north we also got to snowboard with Heida Birgisdottir, Iceland’s first female surfer, one of its first female snowboarders and the founder of the pioneering women’s boardsports and street fashion brand Nikita. Her humble and easy-going vibe, lack of ego and commitment to getting out there and doing the things she loves, reminded us that role models come in all personality guises and that women don’t have to be strong or forceful to achieve their goals or follow their dreams. We loved our time with her.
Finally, we drove west for passing only the most remote couple houses along the way, until we literally reached the end of the road. Cliffs and fjords halt any path forward, so we’ve paused here to reflect on our time in Iceland and to contemplate the positive and powerful attitude to life that women have in this country.
During our trip we’ve met so many amazing outdoors-loving women and female mountain guides, we’ve easily met more here than we’ve ever encountered in the entire rest of our lives so far, which, considering we spend most of our lives in the mountains, says a lot. We asked these women what was unique about their mentality, and what made them take on these jobs and embrace them as their own. They all cited President Vigdis Finnbogadottir, and the subtle strength and power they’d gained from having a woman president in their life and times. “Go out and get it,” they said. “Without fear or hesitation, go and be whatever you want to be.”
We have not just loved our journey through this land shaped by women – we’ve thrived here and learnt so much too. Our film will come out this fall and be screened in mountain festivals across Europe.