Nova Scotia

N.S. man bests beastly Icelandic stone with help from Game of Thrones star

Keith Surette of Yarmouth, N.S., trained for a year before his attempt to lift the famed Húsafell stone, which he calls the 'Holy Grail' of stone lifting.

Yarmouth's Keith Surette trained for a year before his attempt to lift the famed Húsafell stone

Keith Surette of Yarmouth, N.S., lifts Iceland's famous Húsafell stone. (Submitted by Keith Surette)

To a lot of people, Iceland's famous Húsafell stone probably seems like "just a silly rock."

But to Keith Surette of Yarmouth, N.S., it was a legend. The ultimate challenge. The Holy Grail.

"It just has this lure that just made me want to attempt it," Surette told CBC's Maritime Noon.

To "attempt" the Húsafell stone means to lift the 185-kilogram rock and then carry it about 50 metres around the sheep pen it once belonged to.

Only the world's strongest have managed to conquer it, and Surette can now count himself among those ranks.

The 40-year-old trained for a year before his attempt in May, wrestling large rocks off the beaches near Yarmouth and bringing them to the gym he owns to practise. He also used a metal replica stone with removable weights inside to build up his lifting and carrying abilities.

Surette, who has been competing in strongman contests for about 10 years, studied YouTube videos of other people lifting and walking with the stone, counting how many footsteps each person took and how long it took them to achieve the feat.

When he arrived in Iceland, he sought out expert help from Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, a professional strongman who is known for playing Gregor (The Mountain) Clegane in Game of Thrones.

Björnsson has not only bested the Húsafell stone; he also holds the world record for carrying it the longest distance, 90 metres.

Surette bought a day pass to the Reykjavík, Iceland, gym owned by the six-foot-nine, 450-pound Björnsson and the two "talked shop."

"He gave me some tips about how the stone tends to tip forward when you try to pick it up off of the ground," Surette said. "He said that if you fight it and you're strong enough, of course, that it will come."

Keith Surette, left, and Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, a professional strongman who was also an actor in Game of Thrones. (Submitted by Keith Surette)

And come it did — at least at first.

"Seeing the stone for the first time was not a confidence boost," Surette said. "I thought that there was no way that I was going to be able to lift it."

He said the stone is quite rounded, slippery and difficult to grip.

He managed to hoist it on his first attempt, but then it slid down his pants and Surette had a hard time getting it back up to his chest to begin the walk.

Then, the rock fell — nearly on top of him.

The Húsafell stone sits in the middle foreground, lying in front of the stone sheep pen. (Submitted by Keith Surette)

But like any dedicated athlete, Surette tried again, and succeeded in carrying the Húsafell stone around the sheep pen.

Before he left Iceland, he stopped in at Björnsson's gym to let him know how it went.

Björnsson watched the video of Surette's successful attempt, gave him a fist bump and congratulated him.

"It was an absolute incredible experience, not just to lift the stone, but to be able to meet the world's strongest man and get his stamp of approval," Surette said.

He said he doesn't know what's next on his stone-lifting to-do list.

"I really feel like this was the ultimate test," Surette said. "I just don't know what I could possibly do to outdo this."

Another Nova Scotian, Gregg Ernst, carried the Húsafell stone 70 metres at a world's strongest man competition in Iceland in 1992 to set what was then the record.

With files from CBC's Maritime Noon

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