THE FORGOTTEN ARCHIPELAGO
A FILM BY BEN WEILAND AND WRITTEN STORY BY NATE ZOLLER
The small things matter. Watching warm air float from your mouth before the sun joins the mountains in the east. The glaring frost on the ground. The hawk sitting on the fence post. The deafening silence before the gate creaks open. The radiator rattle as the Defender four-lows over arctic shrubbery. Conversations with new friends as the heater blasts with the windows cracked. Talking surf with someone who has never surfed, who owns an island and doesn’t even know how to swim.
This place is inherently risky. Local maps show shipwrecks wrapping the entirety of the islands’ coastline. West wind from the Roaring Forties spits down into the Furious Fifties: the world’s most vicious sea. Exactly where we are headed, to a group of islands in the middle of it all, suiting up from head to toe. Entering the ring with the bastard that took centuries of mariners’ lives.
From the sky, the islands mesh together in a series of inlets and waterways, deep brown meets dark blue. Central California meets Iceland on Mars. We walk out of the airplane onto the British Forces South Atlantic base to sunshine and a brisk winter wind. Scanning my documents at customs, the agent smiles and says, “Oh you’re the surfer group; I heard about you guys.” Then she hands me a pamphlet and the first thing I read is, “Minefields remain on the islands.” It was clear this was going to be a surf adventure unlike any of us had ever set out on.
The five of us; Parker Coffin, L.J. O’Leary, Ben Weiland, Dylan Gordon and I are dropped off an hour bus ride from the airport at our bed and breakfast next to the cemetery overlooking the harbor. We drag our board bags up the driveway to find our host Arlette waiting to greet us at the front door with fresh baked sugar cookies. I look over at Ben and he’s beaming. Nine years of researching this far off land and he’s finally here in the flesh.
With the sun beginning to set we decide to head to the pub for a beer and some warm food to meet Sean Moffit, the man who posted online years prior, the person responsible for this trip. Sean is an enduro bike racer first and a surfer somewhere further down the line. Him and his brother are the only local surfers on the island but are busy with their local DIY hardware store. Instead of physically guiding us, he whips out a printed map of the islands and shows us what he knows, which outside the few local spots, is not much. But we know less, so we prod him with yes or no questions. We decide on a plan to be up at dark tomorrow, and when the sun rises at 8:30am we will trek out into the unknown. Nobody has ever surfed where we are going, not even the Argentinians.
We didn’t know it those first few days, but this would turn out to be a nineteen-day effort to uncover the surf we set out to find. With wind swirling in all directions and storms forming just underneath us, rhyme and reason become the difference between being at the right beach at the right time and missing the window completely. The keys to a farm led us onto a beach littered with penguins which allowed us to sniff out a reef break a few miles down the beach. One session in these parts is all you need to understand what tide, wind and swell direction will make it turn on. We spent the majority of the trip mapping out options of reasonable potential, and by the end we would return to score this wave in all its glory.
The archipelago is comprised of 778 islands, meaning there are enough coastlines here to realize many perfect days. Good thing for us is we linked up with a local sheep farmer who took us to his private island off the coast. Upon arrival, we all agreed this was as remote a place any of us had ever been in the world. And according to the map swell runs straight into the islands 8-mile coastline, with new surf spots waiting to be picked like a fruit ripe in season. After a full day off-roading across the island with little to show, we stumbled across a perfect A-Frame slab. Parker runs out and makes a barrel on his first wave. I follow shortly after and make one too, LJ following suit. The water here is 41 degrees, the air around 35 with a hell of a wind chill coming off of Antarctica. We trade infectiously fun wedge-barrels, just the three of us, for three hours. Half way through, a rain squall comes and goes leaving a full triple rainbow, the three of us screaming in a state of surf adventure ecstasy. All those long hours of travel and extreme cold melt away into a sharp feeling of euphoria. Because we are here mapping and surfing the unknown, turning stones in forgotten archipelagos.