Roark Revival: The Best Trip Ever
By Ryan Hitzel, founder of the Roark Revival
Photography: Chris Burkard
Roark is a return to bold adventurism through the eyes of an idealized figure. The brand follows Roark and his meandering travels; weaving his story into a timeless line of well-worn apparel, T-Shirts and trinkets. The collection is inspired by the images, people, textiles, thoughts and trinkets collected along the course of Roark’s adventure. They are the artifacts of his experience. Roark is as comfortable at the Sydney Opera House as it is in an Argentinian holding cell and the products reflect that – basic, durable, timeless, and well coordinated. You never know where the artifacts of Roark’s journey might appear. Fans of Roark can follow the story online, in zines distributed at its retailers each season, and through various Roark expressions.
The one question I’ve not only learned to expect from the passer-by, but enjoyed answering the most during my tenure chasing Roark, is painfully simple. “What’s your favorite place on Earth?” Although pedestrian in nature, it’s a hard one to answer. Not because I’ve traveled to so many inspiring places, but because they all offer different points of reference, and sometimes what seemed to be the worst trip in the moment, evolved into one that provided the most visceral of awesome memories.
OK, but if I could only go on one trip in my lifetime where would it be?
Well, India was brutal – one of the most spiritually challenging places I’ve been. Ripe with the most intense sights, smells, sounds and societal puzzles I’ve encountered. Vietnam was perhaps the most pleasant – full of friendly people, beautiful landscapes and a culture that offers the most complex cuisines one could explore. Nepal filled my soul with a goodness and boasts some of the most challenging topography in the world.
But Iceland stands alone. The refuge of Vikings, Pixies and dark lullaby exists in rarified air.
4 years ago I was sitting on a beach just outside of Havana with friend and photographer Chris Burkard. It was 90 degrees, flat and the mojitos were flowing like water. Where does Roark go next? I asked Chris. “North, to Iceland.” He replied. It seemed so dangerous, so exotic and so fantastic. It was the most extreme destination one could imagine while sitting on that beach in Cuba listening to the Buena Vista Social Club.
“Will he surf?“ I sheepishly pondered. “He will.” Chris answered. We’re in.” I confirmed.
And so began the best trip ever.
It was in mid-December, 24 degrees Fahrenheit during a blizzard that we realized that there was only 4 and a half hours of light each day. Welcome to Reykjavik. Bjork had painted the most vivid pictures of Iceland, but 4 hours of light? How could we see what images danced through our minds?
Our crew consisted of Chris Burkard, Raph Bruhwiler, Nate Zoller, Ryan Sirianni aka “The Wolf,” Myself, Dustin Wise and our guide named Siggy. We were a well-traveled bunch of friends that were prepared to explore the Island and our fortitude. Together we were renaissance men – surfers, artists, photographers, writers, survivalists and fixers. The perfect peloton to explore this place.
Iceland sits in between North America and Europe on a Northern latitude just below the path of the jet stream. Its exact location is critical to its magic. Although it’s positioned to be a frozen block, Iceland’s interaction with the jet stream gives it a unique climate that acts as the central protagonist of its story. It’s the exact reason why the Vikings loved it. It was Valhalla to them. The perfect place to rest after pillaging, with ample protected Fjords to hide treasure and an oddly warm ecosystem for its northern positioning. A hideaway where one could rest easy and dare I say, grow its population.
I digress. But it’s important context for the best trip ever.
As we loaded in to our Navy Blue 1986 Land Rover Defender at 10:00 AM, it was still dark and snowing lightly. It had metal spikes in the tires, a heater, a diesel fueled pitter-patter and a desire to go. It was clear very early on that this vessel would become a character in our story. She wasn’t all that easy to drive, but it felt like her conception had the treacherous roads in mind. Stable, slow and confident our Defender set forth into the darkness.
Iceland isn’t huge, but it’s big enough. Its diversified landscapes project a larger than life feel that’s dominated by extremes. One minute we were caught in a white-out only to turn a corner into a Fjord covered in rich green moss, blue sky’s and a temperature more reminiscent of California than a country with Ice in its name. It’s poetic in nature, ironic by design and provocative in the way that its landscape guides you through emotions and visual grandeur.
With 332,000 people inhabiting the island, encounters with humans were sparse. Combine that deficit with 4 hours of light, winter’s grip and the general allure of hibernation, and you’re ripe for an introspective experience. It was almost always exciting to see the passerby. With such a majestic landscape around every corner and no one to share it with – we were always stoked to see a local, mostly to assure each other we weren’t dreaming.
The mission was clear – circumnavigate the island in search or waterfalls, waves and pixies. Burkard had been to Iceland 15 times and truly knew it like his own backyard. Conversely I was nicknamed “white knuckles” for my inability to relax behind the wheel. By night we saw the Northern Lights and were warmed by Icelandic Vodka. Night played a pretty big role in the adventure as it dominated 18-hours of the 24-hour cycle. Especially when conditions were so treacherous on the road.
So the best trip ever was mostly experienced in the cloak of darkness. But what about those four hours of glory?
We decided that we’d chase a storm and explore the coastline in the North in hopes of pioneering a new wave based on some research Chris had done. It hadn’t been published and he didn’t think anyone had surfed it. We also agreed that we’d let the journey define the pace and that we were available for Iceland’s Pixie winds to abduct us. We made it to an unpronounceable
Point on the Northern Tip of Iceland, but the swell didn’t – and that was just fine. A few days in a hot tub eating reindeer burgers worked.
We did catch up with lady luck in the south. Our first session was a perfect entry at one of the most majestic beaches in the world. The surf was fun, head high with a water temp of 48 F. Not for the faint of heart, but doable if prepared. However, the main attraction was everything around us. Wicked snow capped peaks rose from the sea and were complimented by a black sand beach and rolling frostbitten dunes. Our existence wasn’t worthy in the presence of such grandeur. We set up a base camp with an old Icelandic Search and Rescue tent that provided some warmth and a place to rally around before and after our surf. That evening, as with most times you drive in the sand, our defender got stuck. We built bridge after bridge – foraging wood, destroying boardbags before finally digging her out after 3 hours of hard work. We laughed the whole time, then on cue a few dudes rode in on Icelandic Ponies to add an exclamation point.
A few days later the swell picked up and on the way to the airport the crew scored. Cold water is heavy, and a snow storm makes it even heavier – but when a right-hand slab is starring at you with no one for miles your heart warms and your step lightens a bit.
Raph and Nate traded waves and a few heavy drops before calling it. Burky and Dustin were set up on the point documenting the session as the temperature dropped and our window closed.
The best trip ever had provided the essentials. I’ve been to overtly spiritual destinations and places void of any soul-quenching. But it’s the trips that evoke an inner-personal experience with a deft hand without pandering or marketing that move me the most. Sometimes it’s the people, food and religion, other times the landscape or climate. In the case of Iceland, it was hard to put your finger on exactly what made it the best trip ever – but then again, maybe that’s the point.