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10 Questions with Ben Weiland

The Photographer and Videographer Lets Us in on the Secrets of Cold-Water Surfing

Posted by Gestalten—04/2016

In addition to being a successful videographer and photographer, Ben Weiland is a surfer with a passion for niche, cold-water spots and waves far from the beaten path. As shown in our new book Surf Odyssey, boarders like Weiland are exploring new gulfs, bays, and oceans with rich waves and consistent swells from Norway to New England. We asked Weiland a handful of questions about cold-water surfing; find out more about the niche sport in Surf Odyssey. 

Where are some of the most unexpectedly popular spots for cold-water surfing? 

Places like Sweden, Iceland, Norway, New England, Kamchatka, and British Columbia all have small communities of cold-water surfers. These places get very cold in the winter, but are rich with good surf at the right times.

How did you get into cold water surfing?

My interest in exploration and surfing in cold places began seven years ago with my website Arctic Surf. I researched new, unusual places to surf around the world and documented them on the site. Since then, I've filmed, directed, and produced films such as the Outpost series, and Cradle of Storms, a film about a trip to the Aleutian Islands. Other projects with Surfer Magazine have taken me to New Zealand, Northern Norway, Iceland, and Alaska. Aside from working on surf films, I work on other film projects and I am also an illustrator and designer.

Do you have a favorite place to surf?

I really enjoyed surfing in Alaska and Iceland. Both places have incredible scenery—surfing there was also really fun. 

How do the waves vary between temperate and cold-water zones?

The biggest difference is how the swells and weather patterns work. Further north, storms are much more unpredictable—it’s hard to know what the swell is doing more than a day in advance. As a surfer you need to be much more flexible when it comes to planning and identifying good surfing conditions.

What should aspiring cold-water surfers know before they dive into the scene?

The most important thing is patience. It takes a long time to figure out how the weather systems work when you are far in the north, and there are many times that winds or swells change. What might have seemed like a good surf day vanishes in an instant. It takes a long time to get an intuitive understanding of how the conditions work.

Given the recent rise of surfing in unexpected regions of the world, how has the scene changed and developed?

What were once thought of as crazy places to surf have now become more common, because more people are going there and surfing. With a good, warm wetsuit and the right preparation, anyone can surf in cold water. Part of it is learning to enjoy the feeling and challenge of surfing in cold water.

Cold-water surfing is a bit of a niche hobby with an international scope. How would you describe the community?

Many people in the community love the outdoors and structure their life around surfing. In places like California, it takes a few minutes to get to the beach and park; in more remote locations, surfing can be an all-day excursion. It takes a lot more commitment. It is also made up of people who understand that being uncomfortable and being challenged can be very rewarding.

When packing for an expedition, what are your must-haves?

Bringing clothing and equipment that can handle wet, cold weather is very important. I also try to pack as light and efficiently as possiblem as it is easy to get weighed down with too much stuff. I find that I always pack things that I didn't need to bring. It is a balance between the two.

What preparations went into your first cold-water surfing expedition to New Zealand? How different was the experience when compared to the shoots you usually did?

I researched every inch of the coastline to look for places that might hold good surf. I learned that looking at a map and actually being at a spot are two very different things: it is easy to point at a map and imagine what it must be like, but the reality of being on-site is much more challenging. It's a matter of keeping expectations in check and being able to adapt to unforeseen challenges.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I really enjoy the creative aspects of producing a film and telling unique stories, but I think that it is especially rewarding about these projects is that I get to see some of the most beautiful places on Earth—these sites are often in places that I never would have seen if it wasn't for surf exploration.

Images © Ben Weiland