Maddog, also known as Ryan Mattick, was chugging up an ice-ridden road through the heart of the blizzard, the failing wipers of the rental van doing little to improve visibility through the 100 km wind blowing the snow sideways.
Driving’s a solo charge, the others in the van unable to do much other than sip their snow-cooled tins of Viking and hope that Maddog could guide them safely through the mountain pass to the nearest town and shelter. The main concern wasn’t sliding off the side of the mountain and plummeting to a petrol-fulled explosion, rather losing traction and rolling into the deep snow, unable to get the vehicle moving again. That’s how people die in Iceland. They get stuck, run out of petrol, can’t keep the heater going and freeze to death. But it wasn’t freezing to death that was niggling at the back of Maddog’s mind. It was Steiner. A six foot, 120 kg local mayor and hire car tycoon. A man whose life goal is to lock eyes with an angry male polar bear and come away victorious. Seriously.
Sitting in the hot tub later that day, after two of the best sessions of surfing in Iceland that I’ve ever watched (on film) and not perishing under 10 feet of snow, Asher Pacey—twin fin guru and focal point of the trip—took a swig out of the bottle of red that was being passed around. “This is the best trip I’ve been on in my whole life,” he declared. It was the first day of the mission, and also the first day that Maddog (who sponsors Asher through his wetsuit brand Zion) had spent with Asher in the flesh. Maddog had been to Iceland numerous times before but felt he hadn’t quite captured the essence of the place, let alone scored the cream of the surf. “That time of year, October and November, the seasons change and you just feel like you could die at any moment,” he tells me from the Stoke Factory, his Wollongong HQ. “There’s something within you that just wants to put yourself in this crazy environment. Pacey was keen to get cold, so off we went.”
Surfing in Iceland’s nothing new. For the best part of a decade, it’s featured in numerous films, usually footage of the right point with the snowy mountain backdrop, heaps of wind, bit of a novelty. But not in The Fjordman, the remarkable film that was the result of this trip. This time the boys scored. “The right sucks if it’s too big,” Maddog confirms. “When it’s smaller it bends a bit better. We drove through the night and got there at first light and it was really light offshore.” And that wasn’t all the boys scored: river mouths, left points, shit your pants right slabs. And Asher Pacey’s surfing on nothing over a 5’3, all with two fins, is award-worthy. The visuals—both surfing and otherwise—in The Fjordman are barely worth describing, so you’ll have to wait for it to come out. But I will say this. I watched it on Sunday night, after a weekend of little sleep courtesy of rediscovering a patriotic streak I thought long gone, care of the England soccer team. Feeling a bit fragile to begin with, the film gave me goosebumps. May’ve even shed a tear. Which is remarkable considering that Maddog filmed a fair bit of it with no shoes on. “I inherited—from my father—really sweaty feet,” he tells me. “I hate driving with shoes on and it was hot in the car with the heater on. So if I saw something worth shooting I’d just hop out, film it and hop back in the car. One of the days I ended up walking further than I intended to get the shot. During the 15-20 minutes on the way back and I thought I’d done permanent damage.”
Then there’s the score. The modern surf soundtrack generally entails trying to find the most obscure, forgotten artist imaginable, slapping their best-known song over the action and hoping the lawyers don’t call. When you’ve spent weeks sleeping in the back of a van with five other dudes in sub-zero temperatures, that kind of accompaniment’s just not going to cut it. “We wanted to capture the whole volatile, volcanic, impending-doom nature of the place at that time of year,” Maddog explains. “Dem ice feels.” So they got Russel Webster, a mate and one component of south coast band Shining Bird, to score it. It’s stunning, put plainly, and takes the film to a whole new level in terms of a cinematic experience. One with peaks and troughs, heart and moods. “Russ is crazy talented,” Maddog says. “When he does stuff on his own it’s generally happy and upbeat. But he’s got a darkness that we had to unlock. Like a man looking down the barrel of the Icelandic winter.” There’s one part in particular when Asher’s surfing a glassy point with sun-kissed mountains in the distance, accompanied by jangly, upbeat synths. Then the blizzard descends and it gets dark, the score going sparse and ominous before (what sounds like) a church organ kicks in. It’s far beyond anything I’ve seen in surf movies before.
My conversation with Maddog gets interrupted when a schoolkid and his mum walk into the Stoke Factory looking for a new wetsuit. After a sale, Maddog calls me back and explains that what he really wants to convey is what surfing in Iceland’s really like. Not the postcard-perfect version that other surf capturers might have you believe. “It’s sliding all over the road and sleeping at servos, eating hotdogs for breakfast and getting your money’s worth of the $10 soup refills,” he tells me. “Five dudes sleeping in a van and waking up at four am needing a piss. The yellow doormat. That’s the real Iceland.”