Finland’s swamp soccer and sauna endurance
The Swamp Soccer World Championships in Finland. (courtesy of Visit Finland)
What do throwing electronics, sweating profusely and carrying a woman all have in common? They are among the many unusual, and sometimes downright strange competitions held in Finland every year.
This Nordic nation, mostly known for saunas, reindeer and white nights, is also home to some of the least traditional sporting contests in the word, such as a wife carrying world championship, a mobile phone throwing contest and a naked road race.
The 12th annual sauna endurance contest would have been held this year, but it was dropped after a Russian contestant died after spending six minutes in a 110-degree Celsius sauna.
For anyone travelling to Finland this summer, here are some of the country’s most unusual contests, all open to visitors and locals alike.
Wife Carrying World Championships, Sonkajärvi, 1 to 2 July
At some point in this eastern Finland region, legend has it that men raided villages and carried women out on their backs. That legend is the inspiration for this contest that will be held for the 16th time this year.
To win, a man carries a wife – not necessarily his own, but one that is over 17 years of age and weighs at least 49 kilos – through a 253.5m track made of sand, grass and a metre-deep water obstacle. The record so far is one minute, six seconds.
For those inexperienced in wife carrying, the contest’s website verses you in different styles – the wife dangling upside down on the carrier’s back, or being thrown over on the shoulder – and offers tips on where to practice, such as at the local supermarket. The participation fee is 50 euros per couple for the standard contest. There are also team and sprint competitions. The winners are awarded the wife’s weight in beer.
Swamp Soccer World Championships, Ukkohalla, 15 to 16 July
This contest in northeast Finland is exactly what it sounds like. Two teams, sometimes knee-deep in mud, play what is otherwise a regular soccer game except for the field being a sludgy bog. The tournament began in 1998 as a way for cross-country skiers to stay in shape during the summer. It has grown from a contest of 13 Finnish teams to last year’s 57, coming from around Europe to compete.
Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships, Savonlinna, 20 August
Based on the idea that after enough dropped calls, we all want to hurl our mobile phones out the window every now and then, this event began in eastern Finland in 2000. There are two competition categories: over the shoulder distance throwing, and “freestyle” throwing, which awards participants for aesthetics and creative choreography. The winner of the 10th World Championships threw a mobile phone 79,60m. Registration costs 10 euros per adult and five for children.
Air Guitar World Championships, Oulu, 24 to 27 August
It is not clear how Finland became an air guitar mecca, but every August the winners of national air guitar contests around the world vie for the ultimate crown in Oolu, where unknowns are also welcome to enter via a Dark Horse Qualifying Round. A Frenchman has taken the air guitar crown for the two years in a row, winning a handcrafted electric guitar from Flying Finn Guitar Company. Participation costs 25 euros.
The World Championships of Berry Picking, Suomussalmi, 3 September
Wild berries are big in Finnish summer cuisine, sweetened by the long cycle of sunlight. Participants in this contest have one hour to pick as many lingonberries (an arctic tundra fruit) as they can. The winning lot is based on weight, with the current record holder picked 27,98 kilos in 60 minutes. Participation is free of charge and the winner gets a cash prize.
Naked Road Race, Vesijako, June
You missed it this year, but the annual nude race takes place every June in Finland’s central lake district. Form is not as important as attire in this contest. Participants can run, walk or Nordic walk the 10k route, but may only wear shoes, socks and hats (women are allowed to wear sports bras).
The event’s organizers say the event was conceived as a humorous alternative to the many, serious races around the country. The run begins at 7:30 pm, but runners will still be exposed – mid-June is the peak of the white night season. The three fastest runners get trophies and sparkling wine, and all participants are invited for a sauna and swim nearby.