Step Outside (your comfort zone) with Hunter Jones.
Hunter Jones & co. brave Arctic Iceland on an absolutely wild surf trip
There’s a quote that says ‘the comfort zone is beautiful, but nothing grows there’. While it’s great hanging at home in familiar routines and spending time with people you love, sometimes stepping outside is just what you need to refresh and get a new perspective. Get better. Be more engaged. For a lot of us, ‘stepping outside’ involves travel. Down the coast. Up a mountain. To a brand new country.
Hunter Jones lives and breathes this mentality. As a surfer in LA, he’s known for making films that inspire others to think outside entrenched patterns. Recently, he shifted gears yet again to venture to somewhere he’d never been – Iceland. Far from your average surf trip, the destination is a place of extremes: bitter cold, howling winds, insane distances between breaks. Instead of shying away from the challenge, Hunter embraced it.
We caught up with Hunter to get some inside details about the trip and his motivation to step outside his comfort zone as often as he can. Here is the interview…
Before we dig into the actual Iceland trip, what about stepping outside and travelling is so incredible?
For me, it’s all about appreciating things more. It makes me appreciate home. It makes me appreciate my ability to travel and adventure. It just equips you for other challenges too. This trip really reignited that for me. Travelling teaches you more about yourself, it pushes your comfort level, and equips you for the next round. I was really just so fortunate to go to a country I've never been to before, experience the culture, and ended up surfing waves that will be engraved in my memory for the rest of my life. It makes me so excited for next time. I think that's what surfing is all about.
What was the inspiration behind this trip?
I've always wanted to do a cold water trip. I remember growing up watching edits or stuff in the magazines of these crazy waves with snow capped mountains and no people around. I never really knew how I would pull it off. But I'm really close friends with Dane Anderson, and he's been to Iceland three times. He was just like, ‘I think you would like it. You want to do this?’. I was super down. So we made it happen with Jesse Mendes joining in too.
How did you prepare for the trip?
Dane just said to be prepared for everything and anything. It was obviously going to be cold. So we were in 5/4/3 wetsuits with 5mm gloves and booties. We had thermals for sleeping, because we were sleeping in a van the whole time. 12 days. And we had, you know, tons of socks and beanies and everything. It's really unpredictable. We saw the forecast and it completely changed by the day we arrived, you know, so it's so exposed up there. You can only plan so much, but I think that was part of the adventure.
How untapped is Iceland in terms of waves. There’s the right hander some people might be familiar with, but how much did you explore and what’s the terrain like?
It almost feels like you're on the moon, but it’s so alive. You're going past volcanic rock, glaciers, there's waterfalls around every bend. Outside of the one city, Reykjavík, you're in no man's land. You could not see someone for hours. We had a couple of spots that we knew we could go and wanted to time swell around, so strategically picked those places. But, we would check Surfline and Windy and kind of look at little nooks and crannies. We were definitely taking an adventurous route where we're like, ‘well, there's swell heading this way and this looks like there’s a little bay that we can go and check out’. We did a lot of driving. We calculated that we were in the actual car for something like 4 full days of a 12 day trip. It was crazy. But, to be honest, it was so breathtakingly beautiful that even when it was blown out or too big or wouldn't be working, it didn’t matter. A lot of it was just adventure and taking in the environment. It was one of the prettiest places I've ever been.
How did you go camping in the car the whole time in those kinds of conditions?
It was pretty gnarly. The elements there are no joke. We had such strong offshore winds that we were getting warnings on our phones. And we were parked at the beach. Our photographer opened the front door one time and it flew off. Like, blew forward. So the door was cooked. It was done. We managed to pull it back and jam it closed. Everyone was just like, man, I'm glad it wasn't me. We ended up having to pay for it when we took it back to the hire car place.
You scored one possibly undiscovered wave that no one has surfed in Iceland. How’d you manage to find the place?
That was definitely a highlight of the trip. We were actually on our way to check another wave driving on the highway. Dane scoped it out. He could see little waves breaking and went, ‘I think it's pumping out there’, but it was maybe a mile away, potentially further. We checked the other wave and it wasn't good, so decided to go back and look again, getting as close as we could to the ocean. We pulled into what I think was an abandoned airport or runway. Between us and the ocean was like this glacier fed river bed. We ended up launching the drone. It was like a dream scenario. We saw just spitting a-frames. We didn't know how big it was. It could have been knee high or well overhead, we had no idea. But you could tell there's waves, right? We had to get our whole crew down. And they were like, ‘okay’, it's kind of a big risk, because this was like a 30 minute walk through freezing water. We stood up in our wetsuits and went through these river mouths that were way deeper than you'd imagine. Huge props to the photographer and videographer Aaron Rathy and Daniel Gorostieta. They just braved the cold, put their gear on the top of their heads and found the shallower spots to get there. It was pumping. No one there. And it only got better through the day, we were losing our minds. They were the darkest glacier barrels I've ever experienced. I've never been in a barrel that dark. It was heavier than it looks on the footage. We were considering if someone got hurt, trying to get back from the beach would have been gnarly. It was more than worth the risk. That was one of those bucket list things, scoring waves like that, in that scenario. We were asking ourselves, ‘are we the first ones that surf this wave?’. We don't know if anyone's touched foot on that beach like that before let alone surf it like it was. So yeah, just a huge win. So rewarding.
Any other wild highlights or things that stick out?
We ended up seeing the northern lights which was sick. We stayed in an Airbnb one night, so we could shower and we woke up around 4am because we heard some voices around our place. Some commotion outside. Daniel, the photographer, was like, ‘I think there's northern lights!’ We woke up the whole room, threw on our jackets and went outside. It was so surreal. Something I'll remember for the rest of my life.
There’s a saying that it’s not an adventure until something goes wrong. Other than the door of your car caving in, were there any other challenges you had to overcome?
When we landed in Reykjavik, I ended up not having any of my bags. I think I went seven days without most of my gear. I just had my wetsuits and one backpack with some clothes and jackets. No OTIS sunglasses. No spare Sanuk shoes. Eventually the bags turned up, thank god. I learnt my lesson there.
Every night we’d also store our boards under the car and sleep in the van. On the final day of our trip, we slept overnight at the wave we were going to have our last surf.
That next morning, I was still in my sleeping bag in the van slowly waking up and Dane decided to pivot the van around for a better view of the waves. As soon as the car started moving I yelled, "Wait! My boards!", I got out to see both of my boards run over, traced with tire marks, and completely smashed. My favourite one of the two was done for. Our friend Sunny who was inside the neighbouring car captured the precise moment of destruction on her camera. A photo quite literally frozen in time.
Dane was so shook haha. We hugged it out, it was all good. I had only ever road the blue twin fin that was fully broken in Iceland, so that board became a memory board for me which was pretty special given the circumstance
So where are you taking those lessons next? Where’s the next place you want to challenge yourself?
Scotland. It's another cold water zone. There's some cool slabs and some places to get barreled. Another place I've never been before. I've had these little recurring spots I go to and now I want to adventure to some new places. Now that I know that I can handle some cold water, why not embrace it and keep going?
To follow Hunter’s adventures, hit his Instagram.
Or, check out the full film of his Iceland travels. This is, Step Outside (Your Comfort Zone)