"I remember that I had boots that were four sizes too big," says Heida Birgisdottir, laughing as she reminisces about the first time Runar Ommarson—her business partner and the father of her son, Frosti—took her to a mountain to teach her how to snowboard. "I discovered snowboarding in the U.S., but didn't get a chance to try it until six years later in Iceland."
It was there, in the back room of a small shop in Reykjavík, that Ommarson and Birgisdottir began toiling away to create the first streetwear label for female snowboarders, Nikita, which they launched in the '90s, later expanding to offer snowboarding jackets and pants tailored again to fit the needs of women. All this despite the fact that when Birgisdottir, now 44, first approached some of the leading snowboarding apparel companies with her idea, they told her there was no need for an all-girls brand.
But launching Nikita successfully wasn't Birgisdottir's only "first." She was one of the first female snowboarders in Iceland, and the first female surfer. She founded the Nikita Chickita in 2006, an amateur snowboarding contest for women beloved by pro riders like Erin Comstock and Vera Janssen. And she still finds time to ride more than 50 days per season—which is why when we wanted to know more about shredding in her home country, we knew she'd have some suggestions. Here, Birgisdottir's tips for making the most of a trip to Iceland.
Nikita has been around since the 1990s. What did some of the first pieces look like?
The first pieces were hooded polar-fleece jackets. The fit was quite slim and the hood had a high collar, which became kind of a signature look for Nikita. Then I made some baggy cargo pants that had a better fit for the girls than all the baggy guys' pants I was trying to use in the past.
You really revolutionized snowboarding gear for women, giving us options that aren't all pink. What else do women want in snowboarding gear?
I think girls want something that fits their bodies well, is comfortable, and looks great at the same time, and whoever said that girls need pink to show that they are girls? I like pink and we sometimes use pink, but we use it with a lot of other colors, and maybe in a different way than many brands did back when we started Nikita. I have always liked the guys' collections more than the women's collections from most brands, and I guess Nikita looks more like some of the guys' stuff, but with a better fit for us girls.
Where is your favorite place to snowboard in Iceland?
Hlíðarfjall in Akureyri. It's in the north of Iceland.
What are some common misconceptions about Iceland?
I guess it's mainly about the weather; most people think it's super cold here, but it's not. In the winter it stays a lot around 0 degrees Celsius, plus or minus a little bit, but it's the wind that can make it super cold!
What other outdoor activities are popular? I've heard the surf is great.
Surfing is great here—of course you need a thick wetsuit, since the water is about 10 degrees Celsius [50 degrees Fahrenheit] in the summer—but there are very few people who are active in surfing. Horseback riding, golf, and hiking are quite popular, and at the moment it seems like half of the population is riding road-race bikes and running. Skateboarding is also growing like crazy.
Where is your favorite place to hike in Iceland?
For snowboarding, up north around Akureyri there are endless places to hike.
The best place to grab a beer after snowboarding?
In Reykjavík, Kaldi Bar, and in Akureyri, Brugghúsbarinn. Both have a great local beer.
Where should we grab dinner?
At The Coocoo's Nest; it's a tiny place owned by a skateboarder, close to the harbor in Reykjavík, and then I really like Fiskmarkadurinn. We also have some really nice organic restaurants, like Gló.
What's the best way to travel around your country?
Rent a small camper at Kuku Campers and drive around the island.
Where do you go when you want to escape civilization for a while in Iceland?
Go up north to Akureyri for snowboarding. I own a part in a house there that is based just below the ski resort, Hlíðarfjall. I also love to drive along the south coast and just enjoy what nature has to offer.
For someone visiting Iceland for the first time, what should they pack in their suitcases?
Warm wind- and waterproof clothing. Even in the summer!
What is different about snowboarding in Iceland versus the U.S.?
We have much smaller resorts, small parks, but it's still great fun.
What's the coolest fact you know about Iceland?
That we had the first elected woman president in the world.
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