The Iceland Project: Free diving, Ice Climbing and Paddling in the Land of Fire and Ice

Luca Sommaruga-Malaguti is a professional free diver who travels the world for competitions, for coaching and for epic projects in remote places. In November 2021, he embarked on a 14-day multi-sport adventure in Iceland with two other explorers Jimmy Martinello and Brian Hockenstein, with a unique means of transport connecting each activity: their Red Paddle Co boards!

Hi Luca, please tell us a bit about yourself. You are a freediver, how did you get involved with SUP?

I’m a professional free diver and athlete. When I had the opportunity to join as Red Paddle Co.’s free-diving ambassador I was very excited. I realized a lot of my diving and work, for example teaching and coaching took place in locations where access and safety was a priority for me. I mostly teach free diving in the Sounds of Western British Columbia. These “sounds” are basically large fjords, so currents, boat traffic, access to dive sites, etc. are always at the forefront of my mind. Paddleboarding out to my dive sites not only made everything far safer, but it allowed me to explore new areas and dive spots in a natural and self-propelled way.

What does it mean to you to be a Red Paddle Co ambassador?

For me being a Red Paddle Co ambassador means I can use this epic gear and test it to its limits. My background is in engineering, so intelligent design and robust materials are something I love in products I use. I currently work with one of the top carbon fiber free dive fin producers and a company that makes some of the best wetsuits. So, to be able to join Red Paddle Co. and use their products in the harshest environments shows the resilience and ingenuity of the brand. For example, I organized a trip to Iceland where we accessed icebergs via paddleboarding in order to ice climb them and dive beneath them, I love this. To work alongside a company that also genuinely wants to know your honest feedback, and asks, “hey how can we make this better, what can be improved about it, what’s epic, what do you love/hate? etc.” is also very motivating for me. I have input and Red Paddle Co cares about this.

Tell us more about the Iceland Project. It sounds like you had an epic adventure!

The Iceland trip was the realization of an idea that myself and Tim Emmett had been discussing for sometime. What is the connection between the mountains and the ocean? High altitude, way up there exposed to the elements of big mountains and way down there, submerged in the depths on one breath? As a professional freediver and an avid climber, I was obsessed to connect these two seemingly different worlds. Through the connection of the breath, breath-work and lung health, we found a common point. The mind controls the breath, and vice- versa, both are essential to master if you wish to climb up high or dive way down. The Iceland Project came into fruition when we asked ourselves a simple question, or rather to picture this: can we climb both an iceberg and dive beneath it at the same time? The answer was of course yes, and so that’s just what we did. Ice freediving, ice climbing, surfing, paddle-boarding and even mountaineering all on one trip!

In less than 14 days in Iceland. This multi-sport adventure and idea were so unique that world-class paddle-boarding company Red Paddle Co. jumped on board as our main sponsor. We were going to use their amazing paddle boards to access these locations; for freediving, for surfing and for climbing! The paddleboard was the vessel and the link, that connected all these cold-water sports together. Joining the team was Jimmy Martinello and Brian Hockenstein, photographers, filmmakers, all-round athletes and epic explorers. The Iceland Project met and surpassed all expectations of what can be done in a land that offers endless adventure.

Where are you based? Where are the best places to paddle?

I’m based a bit everywhere, but summertime you’ll find me in Squamish and Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Here I love to paddle out for free diving and spearfishing to sites that are otherwise inaccessible. I especially love the idea of paddling out to a spot to go spearfishing and harvesting my own food. A full-on self-propelled adventure where you really appreciate the effort you put in and earn your meal! I also spend a lot of time in Cyprus, Greece, Egypt and the Philippines, and Dominica (not the Dominican Republic!) is a second home. All these spots have world-class SUP spots. One of my future projects is to paddle out then free dive among the sperm whales. In Egypt I plan to do the same among dolphins and dugongs soon. REd Paddle Co boards give me the ability to do this, to have these adventures.

What is your own training program like? Do you compete? And, what are your plans for the coming year?

I don’t race in paddleboarding (not yet at least), my focus as an athlete is free diving competitions. I currently hold the Canadian Record in bifins down to 84 meters (275 feet) on one breath. My future goal (1-2 years) is to reach 100 meters (330 feet) on one breath. For me paddleboarding is more about accessing remote nature for discovery than anything. I also love ice climbing and mountaineering, so for me using a Red Paddle Co. paddleboard means I can look at a spot on the map and say, “we go there… safely!” This was basically Iceland: we had crampons, ice axes, helmets ready to ice climb but also fully kitted out with wetsuits ready to breath-hold dive. All of this while standing on a paddleboard you know you can trust as you literally break your way through an ice-covered lagoon. That’s the kind of stuff that gets me going with SUPing.

What advice would you give someone looking to start paddling?

This one is easy! Get an inflatable SUP for ease of use and access. Do your research, check product designs, materials, feedback, etc. This will likely lead you to Red Paddle Co. If not, let them know what product is being made better out there. I love competition, keeps people on the feet and always ready to innovate. Do your research, test out different models, designs, etc. Ask yourself why? Why do you need this? What and where will you go? What conditions and environment do you seen yourself in? Use this research and then begin your own SUP adventure.

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About the Author

Jenny Williams

Jenny’s passion for water sports started over a decade ago paddling Outrigger Canoe. Since then she’s gone on to start her own business coaching SUP and OC on the mighty Thames in London as well as proudly being the UK distributor for Woo Outrigger.